And we’re back….with Part IV of our “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?” series. We’ll call this part the interlude though as the 2010 shakeout is still forthcoming and much is as yet in focus. It’s an in-between piece, not a full installment.
This has been a fun series to work on here at TSG and one that has garnered quite a bit of great user feedback and commentary. If you haven’t checked out the previous ones, it’s worth a gander before this one: Part I, Part II, and Part III.
Those previous features in this series focused on who the candidates were, what the possible formations were without a pacier striker option, and finally given the current personnel what offense should be employed.
What have we observed since our our last column?
• Jozy Altidore is being developed as and is thriving in the hold-up striker role at Hull City.
While Big Jeezy has gotten his fair share of scoring opportunities and somewhat oscillates on the over-the-top ball with Jan VofH in the most recent pairing, it is his the threat of reception-and-run at the top of the offensive third that has made Hull City a more dangerous offensive team.
It is interesting to note here that Phil Brown is going with the “twin towers” up top and having success, most recently against both the lead central defender of the Ivory Coast (Kolo Toure, Manchester City) and the lead central defender of England (John Terry, Chelsea).
Might that add some validity to the value of a Conor Casey pairing? Speaking of Casey….
• Conor Casey has not trended positively since his Honduras wonder game.
The Colorado Rapids bang-‘em up guy had a rough run to end Friendlyville 2009 (not to mention his stinker against Costa Rice to finish qualifying) and began 2010 with a less-than-awe-inspiring cameo off the bench against the junior varsity Honduran squad. Not exactly confidence instilling for the USMNT coaching staff.
TSG asked the question last week during our roundtable if Brian Ching was in camp to challenge for Conor Casey’s role. That’s a mighty statement given that Ching is arguably always been a fringe USMNTer and is getting long in the tooth.
Where to from here Mr. Casey?
• The Great Striker Battle of Jan Camp appears to have been nothing more than a quiet skirmish thus far.
It is hard to say that Robbie Findley or Jeff Cunningham didn’t establish themselves in the USMNT January Camp because TSG was only there for two practics, maybe in the 15 or so other ones either Findley or Cunningham stood out.
Here’s what we do know.
That Cunningham continues to get knocked off the ball and hasn’t put in but a single US goal of a poor turnover in his recent national team action. That Findley looks rough around the edges and, though he battled aggressively, was continually out-done by the Honduran defenders just a scant few weeks ago in Home Depot Center. Not the recipe from either for a roster bid.
However, Coach USA between Jan Camp and Feb Camp is getting about a month’s worth of time out of these guys…..we’ll follow-up on this in a bit.
• One striker comes West, another goes East in the search for playing time.
Kenny Cooper’s move to Plymouth (with a veteran of the MLS as the coach at the club) trumps Eddie Johnson’s Greek league attempt. While EJ is looking like he’ll get consistent playing time the Greek league is not a Tier 1 or maybe even Tier 2 league. If EJ starts putting up some gaudy numbers, well that’s a different story.
As for Cooper, should he perform at Plymouth, two questions still remain about the ex-FC Dallas enigma. Can he use his frame better? and…Is he fast enough?
Should he perform, then it’s certainly worth a shot at one more Friendly…..
• Landon Donovan has settled any niggling thought that he is, in fact, a striker.
We’ll humor you and repeat two statement that we have repeatedly made on Lanverton over the past 6 months:
1) It’s the threat of the pass and the clearing of the striker that makes Donovan as effective as he is.
2) Landon’s game improved dramatically with a strong striker in front of him.
Have you watched Landon play of Luis Saha? Brilliant. By the way, Saha is really turning in to the striker everyone thought he would be when he arrived on the scene at Old Trafford a few short years ago. Let’s just sleep on those kicks from the spot for now.
• Until proven, Charlie Davies journey towards recovery does not make him dependable come South Africa.
A tough one to swallow here if your a States’ fan. The question is not really, “Will Charlie Davies make it back for the World Cup?” The question is “Will there be enough observations of Charlie in competitive play that show he can contribute at the World Cup?”
Davies might be back near his old self, but he’s going to have to prove it before then in some capacity. Does he have the time?
Ok, great, so where does all of this leave Coach USA?
With a little over four months until truth, USMNT Coach Bob Bradley likely has nearly 85% of his roster set. We also likely have seen since November 2009 all the candidates were going to have for that striker role minus some amazing displays from either Kenny Cooper or, and we mean he needs to play like a bat-out-of-hell, Chris Rolfe. (In this article, we’re not counting the impressive forward or winger displays of such players as an Alejandro Bedoya or a Chris Pontius.)
On the positive side, Jozy Altidore is coming on like gangbusters, able to demand one defender and a shadow from someone else on that backline. Don’t kid yourself, as the US ambled through the November friendly set and struggled to score beyond Cunningham’s turnover collection and deposit, the glaring need for anything up front never beckoned so much. So this is good….
The USMNT still has no Inzaghi, no Defoe, no man to stretch the backline and to go, go, go when on a counter attack. Take a look if you can at Charlie Davies in either the Spain game or the Brazil game from the Confederation’s Cup….heck, take a look at him against Trinidad & Tobago. He was pushing the play at all possible moments. Not always the right or best decision, but it certainly bothered the defense. Gone was the pressing of Donovan as Davies could threaten behind them.
The USMNT needs that player–heck every team needs (and most have) that player. France has Anelka. England, Defoe. Mexico, Vela. Spain, Torres of course.
So let’s take a look into Bob Bradley’s head here on February 12th, a scant four months from d-day so to speak.
“Okay, can I put Mikey B up there?” Oops, sorry how did that creep in there.
In all serious, Coach USA has essentially two options to choose from here. Gone is the Dempsey Hub (Part III) as Coach USA won’t be able to test out Clint a forward role for some time. Gone is the Landonator, as Donovan has proven his mettle yet again resides with him on the wing.
So Coach Sweatpants two options:
1) Make Jozy’s barreling runs available over Donovan and slot Mr. Clean in on the other side.
Easier said than done here, but highly likely. With Altidore coming into his own and able to draw defenders, it makes the trailing Landon a threat. The challenge here? Jozy does his best bulldozing when he’s going right at the goal or when he was working on a direct line with it. So in essence and rather unfortunatley, he might get in Landon’s way.
Davies, due to his strong left foot, created oh-so-much space owning the flank that it really stretched the width of the defense.
Altidore for his part is a bowling bowl to CD9’s pinball. He’s going through the pins and in their wake would come Donovan and have to avoid getting hit by them so to speak.
Could work, will need practice. Bradley is a reps and “experience counts” guy so this is a very real possibility.
2) The Obvious: Deploy the a pacy guy up front in the starting eleven, but which one? And continually, who’s backing him up?
Yikes! This is where it gets dicey.
Here’s what TSG would suggest “the facts” are:
» Coach USA has at max two strike options open up top. Casey–unless Ching plays like it’s 2006 and then some–and Altidore are near locks.
Big B might very well think or know he’s employing Clint up there as well. So we’re looking at max 2, but maybe 1. Our best bet right now.
» Sweatpants, as we mentioned above, has both Cunningham and Findley for over a month’s time. It’s not unreasonable to think with that much schooling one or both are now locked in. Bradley’s been able to mold them into who and what he wants. Also, if you’re Bob Bradley, are you really inviting the mid-30-year-old Jeff Cunningham to camp if he doesn’t have a shot.
Case closed? Not quite….
» The wild cards are Eddie Johnson and Charlie Davies. The former with Cup under his belt, some time in the EPL (albeit unproductive for the most part) and the latter trying desperately to merely match his physical abilities of a year ago.
If you take the group stage games apart, heck if you even suggest that a Serbia or Germany are the US opponents if it gets passed that group stage, there is one commonality among all of those teams. Big, strong, tough defenders for the most. Sure England might go Ashley Cole or Glen Johnson on the outside, but then you need to contend with Terry, Lescott or Upson in the middle. Heck outside, you might even have Wes Brown at this point.
Algeria’s got a tactically deficient back line, but their interior guys play in the SPL, Madjid Bougherra, and EPL, Nadir Belhadj, respectively. You look at Slovenia and they’re a little lighter inside, but certainly play a tough middle.
So enough of the competitor evaluation…
….what’s the logic?
If you’re Bob Bradley, you may be thinking this: “A good balancing act is playing it safe with one player and taking a risk with another.”
So in that vain, I think you’re going to see Bradley’s think tank splitting the road with the following couplings:
Cunningham vs. Eddie Johnson.
Robbie Findley vs. Charlie Davies.
Let’s JC vs. EJ, first. Well, we actually did a write-up on this a few months ago and 77% of you said you were more excited to see EJ. Our thinking a few months later?
If EJ performs in Greeceland, combine that with his lightening speed, his Cup experience, and his stronger physique and, gulp, EJ is taking down the “safe” spot on the roster. Mind you, though, this is far from a matter of fact.
Now, we’re on to Findley v. Davies…and we’re going to punt here for now. If you’re Bob Bradley, you’re basically saying to yourself, “Unless Davies proves to me without a doubt….I go with the youngster.”
So our best bet for the top four up front come June 12th at this very moment and this very moment? With qualifiers, we go Casey, EJ, Findley/Davies (punting!), Altidore…..
…but let’s end this one with a wrench in the works.
Possible that Bradley thinks he can go with three guys since he tried out the 4-5-1 (albeit unsuccessfully) in the Confed Cup? Well if Altidore is really coming on…it’s possible.
Possible that Bradley thinks we can morph a little to a 4-3-3 and run Dempsey, Donovan…and oh-well-why-not a fun wild card in Bedoya (yes, we’re bandwagon fans) off Altidore at select times…it’s possible.
So a lot left to ponder…getting kind of close to that June 12th date though, huh?
Guus Hiddink ain’t solving this one any better…sorry thought I’d toss that on in there.
From the community:
“Ryan R” wrote this below and it’s worth including this above:
“I still think that we’ll see Dempsey up top versus England so long as Holden can get a modicum of time for Bolton and play on the right for the Nats.”
Agreed Ryan — I didn’t focus on Dempsey in this feature and I probably should have. To me, if Altidore and Holden continue development it makes a point forward in Dempsey all the more possible.
Thanks for the contribution.