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One of the more popular series at The Shin Guardian essentially goes by the name of the first post in the series, “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes.” Shortly after Charlie Davies’ October injury, The Shin Guardian and our community began to look into, review and hypothesize just what could and would Bob Bradley due in the absence of the striker who arose from national team obscurity so quickly.
We’re back today with Part V, admittedly more because time has passed since Part IV (February 11th); we are still devoid of a plethora of observations.
To go back to Part I in October 2009, TSG compiled a list of options as Davies healed.. In Part I, we were prescriptive about needing a pacy forward to occupy the slot ahead of Donovan. The list: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (pre-blowing up), Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper, Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, Marcus Tracy, Preston Zimmerman.
Those we had ruled out at the time, but made our list, were: Edson Buddle (ta-da!), Brek Shea, Giusseppi Rossi (tongue-in-cheek) and Brian McBride.
In reviewing this list we have hit nearly every player–with the exception of Herculez Gomez and Justin Braun (January Camp)–who factors into the widest net cast of potential World Cup 2010 applicants.
Nearly all from the list above have gotten their shot, with the exception of Freddy Adu, Chris Rolfe and to some extent Kenny Cooper.
So where are we now, with less than 70 days until the USMNT takes on the Three Lions in the Rumble in Rustenberg. We’ll break this up as we did last column with “observations” and “outcomes”?
• A multitude of players have experienced injuries further muddling the picture
Brian Ching, who stretched his hamstring entirely too far, in the Dynamo-Real Salt Lake game is the just the latest complication to Bob Bradley’s headache.
Ching at this point is going to battle just to get fit for the May friendly series. Beyond Ching as a legitimate candidate (a veteran of the Cup, he knows the system, and understands his job), his presence would have pushed a host of players that have far from sparkled since 2009….we’ll get to that in a minute.
It’s actually the injuries to Stu Holden and Clint Dempsey that further confounded the situation. Dempsey was out for the March 3 Netherlands affair that might have had Bob Bradley tip his hand at using the Fulham in the forward role for the first time straight from the outset. Of course, the Holland match also saw golden boy Stu Holden be needlessly chopped down by Nigel DeJong and find himself on the US’s impressive IR list.
With Holden and Dempsey out, Coach Bradley still tipped his hand in that friendly drawing Landon Donovan into the middle for short period below Jozy Altidore as the lone striker. With the introduction of both DaMarcus Beasley and the dynamic youngster Alejandro Bedoya the United States found some offensive stride in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Still the injuries have at the very least deprived the fanbase of seeing potential combinations for South Africa.
Oh, and let’s not forget the injury to Marcus Tracy, who never got a chance to should what he was made of at Camp Cupcake and is now out for the year.
• The stagnation of some of 2009’s “darlings”
Put three in this group unequivocably: Conor Casey, Jeff Cunningham, and Robbie Findley. Let’s add a fourth just for the observation: Eddie Johnson.
While we’re not privy to Coach USA’s camp observations, the average observer can somewhat state that none of these players have “emphatically made their case.” Jeff Cunningham after a somewhat lucky break and score in Denmark showed that the international game is just not for him as he failed to do much against either Honduras and El Salavador in two friendlies. Cunningham was not offered a trip to Holland for March.
Cunningham didn’t score in FC Dallas’s first game this year.
Conor Casey from the moment of the 9th Minute Salute game against Costa Rica has been given every opportunity to strut his stuff and for the most part has failed to contribute. You can argue–and we will below–that Casey has enough understanding of the system and is an aggressive and physical body that–especially with Ching’s injury–he’ll likely be at worst a back-up in South Africa. But seizing opportunity Casey has not.
Casey too was not invited to the Netherlands. In two games for Colorado (and frankly over the past two years), Casey hasn’t been the best striker on his team–that honor goes to the lightening quick Jamaican Omar Cummings–though he struck a penalty kick goal on Saturday–on a foul that he didn’t earn. Casey–from what I’ve seen–has looked a notch faster, but I’m attributing that to the competition. And I’m also suggesting he’s benefiting from Cummings next to him.
Robbie Findley might look back on the past 5 months and wonder how he could have let should a golden opportunity pass him by. Findley is learning on the job for the USMNT, but his rate of growth has been at a crawl. It’s worth mentioning that Findley is already an older 24 at this point, we’re not talking about an Altidore-aged player. Further, Findley has found himself on the bench recently for RSL to start off the year.
I’ve witnessed both Findley’s game and what is troubling is the same mistakes Findley makes against arguably higher level international competition, he’s making for his club.
In observations of Findley’s game you can clearly see his ability, but you wonder if the MLS is where he’ll max that ability out. Findley lacks–to this point–a feel for the game and on national duty for three games in 2010. Might Bradley rue spending so much effort on a player that may not go or might not contribute in 2010? Time will tell.
• The emergence of at least two new contenders: Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.
The former, Buddle, has now notched three goals in two games to open the 2010 MLS campaign. The latter, Gomez, is by all accounts searing hot right now in the Primera having notched another goal this past weekend for eight in his last 10 games. See next
TSG has commented on both players recently and I’ll let my bias be known with the following statement:
“While both players merit a consideration for the May friendlies, Edson Buddle, to this writer, is likely a better candidate in Bob Bradley’s eyes, than Hector Gomez.”
Look, a striker scores and Gomez is flat-out doing that. Heck, you could point out times last year where that’s all that Clint Dempsey did with some of his games on the pitch. But again, that’s the name of the game, more goals than the opponent.
Having said that I’ve watched nearly all of Gomez’s goals (not his off the ball action I might add) and seen deficient defense on nearly all. Continually, with Gomez you’re not exactly talking about a physical player.
In Gomez’s favor in my book, is that he’s doing this as a substitute, that’s the sort of “special teams” player off the bench in the 66th minute that the US needs. He’s also again at the highest of confidence right now and he’s a poacher in the mold of Pippo Inzaghi– you don’t need to be physical in that role, you need to be instinctual.
However, one last thought here before we move on. It was last year that a certain Jeff Cunningham rang up what 17 goals in 28 games. It didn’t translate to the national team level.
In Buddle, the USMNT has been here before….albeit quite a while ago. Consider this Buddle relieved Brian McBride in his lone USMNT camp…that’s not really all that interesting…his strike pairing at the 80th minute of that match? Jovan Kirovski.
It’s been awhile, injuries and a bout with alcohol misuse, but Buddle has a number of things in his favor as TSG pointed out after his two goal performance on Thursday. We’ll repost it here:
» He’s 6′1”, 185lbs…(imagine him paired with Jozy)
» He’s got decent, not shocking, but decent speed.
» He’s 28-years-old…he’s been around the block.
» He already plays with Landon Donovan and knows how and when to make runs off Donovan’s plays.
Buddle’s got just a little bit more “in common” with the players Bob Bradley selects.
Where does this leave Coach Sweatpants and the team just a little more than two months before South Africa?
Here’s some prophecies:
• The USMNT will take at least three strikers to South Africa. There has been much “press” about the United States taking just two strikers. Both because of the lack of quality up top and because of the wealth of potential wingers (most notably Beasley, Rogers, and Bedoya).
Three is the minimum that Bob Bradley will take. Heavens an injury to Jozy Altidore against England, are you really going to count Conor Casey–perhaps–as your lone option up top. Nope.
• Speaking of Conor Casey: The Colorado striker, Robbie Findley, or gulp Eddie Johnson are going to South Africa with Casey claiming the lead right now.
This is all Bob Bradley. You’ve got to remember that Bob Bradley is creature of habit and continually allows a lot of leniency to players that are “his guys.”
Casey, Johnson and now Findley know the system. It would hard to not take at least one of them given their education level, their understanding of the schema and their familiarity with their teammates.
As you might have noticed, we’ve dropped Jeff Cunningham–seemingly dropped by Coach Bob himself.
• Bob Bradley will likely have a look in May at a player that hasn’t trotted out for the national team yet in 2010.
Those candidates will come from one or more of the following: Charlie Davies, Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle.
Beyond Davies, I’m going with Buddle in this case and not because I favor him. If you look at the prospects that Bradley has thrown out there throughout all of qualifying, beyond Chris Rolfe and the enigmatic Freddy Adu, they all share one thing in common. They’re on the “heavier side.”
Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Justin Braun, Nate Jacqua, even Chad Barrett, all go more than 170lbs.
Herculez Gomez tops out at 160lbs, maybe. (Mind you I’d love to have a Jermaine Defoe or say Messi…I’m just saying that Bob Bradley have favored more physical foward/strikers)
A small and perhaps inconsequential data point, but Bradley does favor players that don’t get knocked off the ball.
• ….and finally, the formation. The 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) with a fast striker ahead of Landon Donovan is ideal. The USMNT has been working nearly exclusively in that formation for the past year, the formation makes Donovan and even Dempsey to a certain extent more lethal.
However Bradley might have reached the point where he can’t squeeze any more out of a thin talent pool.
I think you saw Bob Bradley tip hand in employing a brief 4-2-3-1 against the Netherlands. Using our TSG periscope, you’d see Altidore up top, with “the Dempsey Hub” behind him. Clint Dempsey flanked by Landon Donovan on the left and one of Stu Holden (favored if healthy), Alejandro Bedoya (#2 in our mind because of his physical nature and ability to cross) or DaMarcus Beasley (#3 in our mind because he’s left-footed) employed on the right.
When it gets down to it, we’re really waiting on….and hoping on…Charlie Davies.