What’s the word Bob Bradley? We know you see it.
Is Omar Gonzalez or Brandon McDonald a sign that you don’t believe Oguchi Onyewu will ready despite reports–is it telling that you have 5 central defenders in camp? How much of a factor for South Africa is rooted-to-Columbus defender Chad Marshall?
The notion of a balking backline has been creeping in all of qualification. The signal grew louder August 12th in Mexico. In Trinidad & Tobago, even louder and to a crescendo October 14th in RFK.
Tim Howard added insult to questionable performance with a mic’d up, “Every f%^king time!” howl that wasn’t personally directed, but could have been.
While both Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit were bit by the injury bug, the biggest question that TSG has is “Does Carlos Bocanegra have a spot in the starting back line in South Africa? And if so, where is it?”
This is Part of I of II where the Shinguardian will dissect Boca’s role in defense….Part I today is central defense; next will be at wingback.
The fan in us has some serious trouble even contemplating that statement above, the analyst must ask the question.
Captain Integrity Bocanegra did not factor for his club team, Rennes, in December.
Stades Rennes seems to have went younger by reshuffling their backline. Rennes has inserted Senegalese big man Abdou Kader Mangane in their central defense, moving French nattie player Rod Fanni (that’s an unfortunate name, no?) out to rightback, pushing right back Romaine Danze out to leftback. Boca hasn’t had a whiff of the pitch.
The move puts more size in the middle for Rennes as well more youth. For the USMNT it has relegated the captain and defensive stalwart to the bench of his club team. It’s a disturbing development for Boca who worked diligently for the US during qualifying at both the central defense and outside back positions, but showed very visible signs that he was beginning to show he is on the decline.
Three observations point to this: Mexico, August 12th, T&T September 9th and Costa Rica October 14th. Here are our player ratings and comments for Boca over-that-time:
LB: Carlos Bocanegro – 5
Not the best game for the captain. Was shaky in positioning and certainly in possession. He wasn’t match fit–I’ll be concerned if El Salvador reveals the same issues.
CB: Carlos Bocanegra – 5.5
As TSG mentioned in the preview, Boca is the hands-down best mental player, but the Warriors gave him fits all day in the air and on the ground. Got rounded twice. Tough day for Boca. Not terrible, but tough.
Costa Rica: 10/14
CB: Carlos Bocanegra – 6
Played the game with intelligence, but his physical skills have eroded a little due to age. Case in point, he couldn’t get over in time to make a difference on CR’s first goal. Classy move by Captain Carlos to address the crowd…if only ESPN’s Bob Ley didn’t talk over him.
Three observations here for TSG, but as package very telling–and we’re following the TSG laid-in-cement matra: “It’s about the body of work, not observations in isolation.”
In our opinion and it looks like his club’s, Boca has lost a step. Does the value of Captain Carlos’s leadership and intangibles on the field outweigh his propensity to get beat once or twice a game and his inability to be an impact player in the center defense?
Does a player who is getting no reps at his club team AND playing a different position than the one intended in South Africa get a free pass due to years of service?
Going back to Howard’s comments during the RFK game above….they were directed right at Boca both times, first when Howard parried a corner, then on the second goal when Boca (and MB to be fair) fell asleep.
Is you’re captain and central defender is someone you should feel you need to protect or hound for cover? Ask Manchester City this…they are going through it right now and lamenting giving away Richard Dunne.
The problem with all of this and why we called out Bob Bradley in our first statement: Coach USA loves his experience, loves his veterans and he’s loyal to a fault.
Leaving Boca in, you would imagine Coach Bob has set his heart on doing, creates a dilemna for the States:
What happens as Jay DeMerit re-enters the fold? And subsequently, what happens when both Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu are back in the mix?
First on DeMerit, which is the next juncture for Team Son of Liberty…the Yanks rather.
Are you really going to pair two vertically challenged central backs together and go up against the likes of an Emile Heskey in Game 1 or worse a Peter Crouch. If I’m Peter Crouch–and thank goodness I’m not–I’m staying out even later at the clubs in Johannesburg, knowing I have a towering advantage in the morning.
Reviewing this year’s Confederation Cup, the it was the interplay of Jay DeMerit and Gooch (not Boca) that worked wonders for the USMNT down the spine.
Gooch would take the physical striker and leave DeMerit to freelance a little bit more up the pitch to win a header or be the guy to track down the defender making a run. Gooch would own the air, DeMerit would snuff the run. Beautiful.
And it’s that type of partnership that works elsewhere.
England’s got John Terry going up for skyball corners while Rio Ferdinand (no slouch in the air himself) is the man-on-man defender.
Italy has the stout Chiellini (where Nesta once patrolled) to let Cannavaro challenge ahead of him.
Some even suggest it was the cover of Nesta that allowed Cannavaro the ability to make such an impact on the national game that won the Cup for Italy in 2006.
Now parallel this with the States.
It’s hard to suggest–despite the three goal second half comeback–that the pairing of Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu didn’t rise to the challenge earlier this year in South Africa.
It’s also not hard to see that the U.S. defense suffered as first DeMerit, then Gooch, sporadically, were ruled out during the qualification run. Pairing a less-than match fit Onyewu with Boca saw pockets open up in the center that Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark failed to clamp down on.
To be fair, Rico just about burned out his engine covering Boca and Bornstein on the left and usually got the brunt of the flack in the press (and probably a few times on this publication).
The dilemna and concern: DeMerit and Boca are the “same” type of central defender: a stopper-type better served with back-up “last-line” type behind them. DeMerit goes 5’11”.Boca 6’0”
Can the USMNT really expect to succeed with this pairing in South Africa?
Further, neither DeMerit or Boca (or even Gooch for that matter, but we’ll get to that) are especially adept at organzing the back line or shouting direction.
Let’s run with a parallel here.
I remember taking in the Chelsea – Club America exhibition at Stanford stadium two summer ago. What amazed me most about that game–beyond Didier Drogba ringing the cross bar that the nerds over at the Google campus probably thought it was an earthquake—-was clearly hearing John Terry above the din of the crowd shout instructions to his backline.
The backline (without any regulars beyond Terry mind you) moved in unison in near ruler-straight perfection and led
to countless offsides. Now, not all of Terry’s decisions were without fault, but working as team in the back supercedes tactical perfection in many cases.
Back to the States, and the backline clearly lacks this. Additionally, it does not nearly have the athletic enforcer to win ball’s in the air.
And leading to a more personal point, as we foreshadowed in the beginning here, does Boca even belong as an option if the attempt to pair him won’t be fruitful either?
Assuming the Bob and staff actually see this and assuming the Gooch’s trip to South Africa will occur with little pitch time and observsation….what are their options as January camp dawns.
1) Accept that you are not switching out Captain Boca and pair him with Jay DeMerit, your next best central defender
The scenario and described in detail above leaves the USMNT extremely vulnerable to aerial threat…as in don’t-do-it vulnerable. Free kicks, corner kicks, service from say, Ashley Cole or Glen Johnson in the rear of the defensive third to Heskey, Gerrard and Crouch. Yikes.
We don’t have to go back to 2006 either to remind you of USMNT troubles on set piece and aerials. First, the matter of Gilardino skying for the lone Italian goal and a “little” man by the name of 6’8” Jan
Koller for the Czech Republic that scared the bejesus out of me through the TV screen.
DeMerit and Boca…sitting ducks. Oh and one more thing, Boca and DeMerit have never worked in tandem in the middle in a USMNT game….never.
Finally — what happens when the big dog Onyewu comes back?
2) Accept that you are not switching out Boca and pair him with a stronger, stouter defender as in Jonathan Spector, Chad Marshall, or dropping a notch, Clarence Goodson.
So you are going to relegate a heart-and-soul player in JDM to the bench because you want to keep arguably a lesser option in there? Tough call their Bob.
Do we think Chad Marshall is ready for the best? Clarence Goodson — certainly is not.
Spector, interesting case…but your first step automatically weakens the flank.
We witnessed the Spector pairing in Scandanavia–the West Ham 5th man coming and doing a more than admirable job and showing off some serious ball movement skills. Spector provides one of the fleeter options. Discount the three goal barrage against Operation Dyamite up in Denmark as Denmark countered a bewildered Frankie Hedjuk with a cacophony of Kobe Bryant-like attacks (inside, outside, over the top, the lob, etc) and left Spector largely unprotected.
Specs can most likely play that inside role however now you’re relying on Steve Cherundolo’s Age as your starting RB without a proven back-up.
So a decent option….if it didn’t weaken your right flank…..and if either gets any experience playing inside–which they are not likely to–
before South Africa ’10.
3) Reluctantly relegate Carlos to the bench or move to the left back, pair DeMerit with Marshall or Spector, or Goodson.
Bob, this is probably your best option. It gives you Jay DeMerit’s experience in the middle and gives you an effective first line-last line pairing.
If Gooch comes back, then you immediately slot him back in. I’m not sure you can take that same risk with Boca that Gooch will be back.
In TSG’s opinion, sending Boca to the bench–begrudingly–for the captain is the best if you don’t put him out wide.
4) Pray for Omar Gonzalez, or Brandon McDonald, to play out of their minds every game up until June.
Not a viable option here. But TSG had to mention the heart-on-his-sleeve Gonzalez who goes 6’5” or 6’6” in cleats to Gooch’s 6’4”. Wow!
Gosh, we wish that Gonzalez had a few more seasons under his belt.
Having tantalized his future, the likelihood of either of these guys getting even a toke in the Netherlands friendly is at this point laughable.
And those are your options Bob, unless you want to throw a wild card in for 6’0” Maurice Edu who captain the Beijing Olympic team in 2008 from the central defender position. Think about it.
If you’re asking TSG, we take option 3, pray for a speedy Gooch recovery and have Jimmy Conrad buzzing in Omar Gonzalez’s ear like Ray Lewis pushing him to get better.
Our best pairing right now if we’re taking on England in one month: DeMerit, Marshall.
Forthcoming Part II: Boca Out Wide. Can you really prep to have Gooch back or a Chad Marshall up to snuff?