The USMNT friendlies are just over two weeks away….and once against TSG is already super stoked…and thinking about them.
Going into the matches against Slovakia and Denmark (and concurrently the Netherlands match in March next year) Bob Bradley will have a modicum of line-up questions to answer brought on by injuries to the first line, many questions that the fanbase is already all too familiar with, like:
♦ Where do I integrate Clint Dempsey back into the team now that he’s fit?
♦ Who is Charlie Davies’ starting eleven replacement? Is that where I slot the Deuce back in?
♦ I’ve got Jay DeMerit still living in a dark room and Gooch hobbling, who am I slotting in next to Boca? Do I take Chad Marshall away Warzycha with the MLS championship coming the next week–is Marshall even fit enough? Do I bring over Conrad who’s golfing? Clarence, Danny and Parkhurst are all in the area, should they be in the 18?
While all of these are very fitting questions for where the USMNT is right now; these are most likely not the questions that Coach B wanted to be asking this late before the World Cup next August.
More important for Coach Bradley than the question of “Who fills the void in central defense for the next 6 months or longer?” is the puzzle of “When will I have my top 11 together so I can start building chemistry and movement?”
A retracing of the lead up to World Cup 2006 cements just how critical that 2nd question is.
The US played a cream puff schedule of friendlies for the most part before the tourney with Coach Bruce Arena trying out multiple line-up permutations (after doing some digging I didn’t see one line-up where all eleven players were precisely the same as another…can you believe that?) in advance of heading to Germany.
• An embarrassing group stage exit with no wins in three games that we all remember all too well.
• A 4-5-1 line-up that showed zero ability to attack outside of 1-on-1 play because players weren’t familiar with one another.
• A whole the size of Nebraska in the midfield when John O’Brien couldn’t go after the first game loss to the Czechs
Do you know how many friendlies that Claudio Reyna played with O’Brien or back-up Pablo Mastroeni? Two. Just two out of 11. Can you believe that?
Those results many believe were in part the outgrowth of Arena using the USMNT international friendlies to figure out his best players at each position, not the best line-up of players as a whole and giving them time to mesh.
Coach Bradley–fans should be thankful–didn’t want to make that mistake. His very static and conservative line-up selections (while sometimes frustrating) and his mantra of “playing people who are fit and playing for their club team” speak to a recognition of the challenges of lack of familiarity.
Alas the recent injuries force him into the very predicament that was to be avoided.
Further, in the case of the central defense, what does Coach B do when Jay DeMerit and–presumably after a lengthier hiatus–Oguchi Onyewu come back? Does he try to slot them in and recapture the chemistry or does he go–as he did through qualifying–with those who are playing?
The return of players, nearly as much as their injuries, is sure to be disruptive.
Not the types of decisions that Bradley wanted to be making at this juncture. So, while TSG is not prone to issuing proclamations, consider these challenge when you’re evaluating the US performances leading up to and into the World Cup.
Oh and by the way, if you’re so inclined take a look at all the different central defender permutations that were going on in the lead-up to Cup 2006–you’d be amazed.