I rarely comment on other publications here at The Shin Guardian.
Mark and I generally believe that we ourselves can present both sides of an argument and debate, with our community, the merits. It’s one of the strengths–we believe–of our publication.
However, I have to take umbrage with a piece that ESPN introduced yesterday mandating that Bob Bradley change his formation as he is bereft of strike partner for Jozy Altidore.
The column had a number of challenging statements that I want to make sure readers have a counterpoint to here.
I’ll summarize the article as, “an indictment of Bob Bradley’s tactical line-up in the absence of Charlie Davies. The author mandates that Bob Bradley deploy a 4-5-1 with Jozy Altidore as the lone strike option up top and add a central midfielder.”
First, let me state something: 1) I have absolutely no problem with the premise and given that Bob Bradley has introduced both Alejandro Bedoya and DaMarcus Beasley into the Netherlands friendly camp, he’s probably considering it 2) I’m not attempting to defend Bob Bradley merely present a system of events as they transpired and why the author should not take the scathing and fallible approach he did.
First, let’s address the timeline and hindsight. A show of hands out there, how many people enjoyed the benefit of watching Jozy Altidore play 90 quality minutes before February?
Ok, put your hands…down….wait, they’re not up. That’s right, the emergence of Jozy Altidore as a plausible option to play alone at the top of the formation is a fairly recent development….as in a few weeks recent. Jozy is a 20-year old player who is starting to learn the striker role against the best possible competition. He’s also been far from consistent to date.
Next, let’s see how Jozy Altidore has succeeded in the 4-5-1 at Hull City. That’s not the case either. In fact, much like we put forth about Landon Donovan, Jozy has become much more of a weapon with the threat of the pass, playing off another striker, namely Jan Venegoor of Hesselink. “VofH “is benefitting from Altidore’s ability to create at the top of the offensive third. He’s been the recipient of many a threatening pass, two that have led to goals. (Here’s an article on that pairing.)
In a 4-5-1, it is sometimes very difficult to get that other striker involved when he is not on the pitch. Sarcasm intended.
So our first condemnation is that the option of Jozy Altidore as the author calls “the lone wolf” was not apparent until recently. We are just over 100 days until World Cup 2010 and the author condemns Bob Bradley for not employing this option when it wasn’t even an option until recently. I have no problem with Bob Bradley’s decision making here.
Next, let’s look at history here. We cited it in this column here, calling the formation “the McBride.” Admittedly it was a different time and space and of course a different coach, but in the 2006 World Cup Brian McBride was hung out to dry, namely by the Czechs and the Italians. Absorbing consistent pressure as the United States still does today, the US relied on over-the-top balls to McBride. McBride had no striker playing off him and no option to go forward. If the midfield troops weren’t there in time? Possession lost as we saw.
But wait, we didn’t just see that in 2006, no we saw that just last summer at the Confederation’s Cup with one Bob Bradley as their coach. Deployed in a 4-5-1 at the Confederation’s Cup against Italy and Brazil, the United States was basically annihilated, suffering from the same McBride syndrome that they did in 2006.
And why is that?
Because the United States attempted to play between the hash marks. The author of the article above suggests the United States has a surplus of midfielders to counter this. This is where I have the biggest issue for two reasons.
First, beyond the author suggesting that Brad Evans is fit to play at the World Cup in the midfield, surplus does not equal “strength.” Sure the United States has a surplus of midfielders. Let’s run through them. Mike Bradley, check. Ricardo Clark, currently coming back from injury. Benny Feilhaber, check.
Sacha Kljestan? Enigma.
Jermaine Jones? YET TO FIND THE PITCH IN 2010 (and before).
Kyle Beckerman? Unproven above the Gold Cup level.
Brad Evans? Um, did I miss when he was he trotted out for the senior side yet in the center of the pitch?
Surplus, which I don’t believe the United States has even, does not equal strength.
But wait! There’s more. Let’s throw out a few more names, specifically Cesc, Xavi, and Xavi Alonso. That’s the interior midfield that the US encountered in the Confederation’s Cup against Spain. So you’re telling me, you want to deploy our “surplus” of midfielders to move the ball up the middle of the attack and attack against those guys?
Ok, you do that, I’ll take my chances going up the wings with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Stuart Holden. Why would the US take away the width of the field, which is one of their few strengths, to play to other teams’ strengths, including group opponent England as is pointed out in the column.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense.
I feel no need to defend Bob Bradley–in fact TSG will have a column out in the next few weeks discussing Bob’s coaching profile positively and negatively–but I do feel the need to put things in proper perspective for the United States soccer audience.
Leander Schaerlaeckens I would ask next time merely that you present both sides of the argument, rather than offering a scathing indictment of the United States strategy without taking into account the timeline, the progress, the opponents, and the USMNT strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, it’s not so much about the formation as it is finding space and making runs with the personnel you have. This will be Bob Bradley’s challenge as he continues to evolve the team in the absence of a clear-cut strike pairing.
The United States will move their offensive parts all around in the Netherlands like they did on October 14th at RFK, the last time we saw nearly the entire senior side together. Bradley will try EJ and likely Findley running off Altidore. He might slot Altidore ahead of Donovan and move Dempsey up the pitch (in what would be considered a 4-5-1).
It’s hard to fault Bob Bradley’s formation and player moves after CD9 went down, with the possible exception of not taking another look at Kenny Cooper (who mind you is not starting and still just a month back from injury). Fans should see that he’s trying different options as close to the Cup as he is…look at England, their strike team has been nearly set since last summer.