The topic. Who’s getting in line for a spot on the USMNT at World Cup 2014?
TSG gives you some breakdown of whose names may be on the gym wall come 2014, but first it is vital we lay the groundwork with some broad strokes and guidelines that lend credibility to our selections–lest we be just picking some random names from a player pool.
• Don’t assume a 4-4-2
Even if Bob Bradley is the coach, you can’t even pencil that formation in. (Just a reminder, that Bradley moved from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 throughout his tenure.)
Over the past two years, two scheme changes have seemed to dominate many of the world’s top club and international sides:
» First, the deployment of 4-3-3 formations to try to gain width when striking and create an imbalance with the traditional, and staid-and-stale, 4-man backline.
With a 3-man attacking front, the offenders can either thrust outside flankers up the pitch to create a five-versus-four offensive advantage or “fill” narrowly with their midfielders to achieve a 3-2 advantage against the opponents two central defenders.
» Second, the advent of flipping a winger so that their natural foot is the lead foot when moving in from their wing position. Using the aforementioned central seams, voila, shots on goal. See David Villa Spain against Portugal.
To combat the 4-3-3, some teams in World Cup 2010 employed a 3-man backline (Chile, New Zealand, CONCACAF-rival Mexico). This positioning offset a 4-3-3 by–depending upon the strategy–matching up 1-on-1 with the three attackers or re-positioning the backline more narrowly and tasking wingbacks with shifting back defensively for 5-man defensive lines.
Okay, great TSG, but do you have a point here?
How does that impact your depth chart for 2014?
Good questions. We’ll start on the defensive, so to speak.
Acutely important in 2014– and a reason that TSG has long championed the “promise” of Jonathan Bornstein–will be the need for faster and more mobile outside backs, to track the next Robinhos and Robbens and support the offense. This seems to be an indisputable trend occurring.
Thus, players with the complexion of a Sean Franklin and even a Marvell Wynne become more valuable as the game gets more dynamic on the flanks.
Similarly, Jonathan Spector–who was continually exposed against speedy wingers at West Ham and more recently in the United States game against Turkey–may be more of a candidate for central back come 2014.
Moving up front, if you look at the some of the forthcoming personnel in concert with trends of the game above, it is now time to make the argument that a front six in a 2-3-1 or 3-3-3 or even a 3-2-1 makes a lot of sense.
The single striker scenario is likely because zonal marking has gotten so good in terms of one defender passing an attacker to the defender next to him. That’s much harder though when you have a striker traipsing across the entire defense, from left flank to right flank let’s say, in front of the entire back four.
It’s no coincidence that some of the best movement for the Yanks’ came when Jozy Altidore, in the 2nd halves of the Slovenia and Algeria matches, was employed alone up top and initiated a run on one side that dragged across to the other side. It created a target in front of Donovan and space behind him for Clint Dempsey to work.
Which gets us to the skillset of the forthcoming personnel….
• Style–and available personnel of course–help shape the team
How will the United States play in 2014? Good question and the answer is, “Don’t know yet.”
It depends upon the coach, player development and an assortment of other questions.
Will the Yanks again be built again completely around the strengths of Landon Donovan and his spacious open field runs? Doubt it. It’s possible though. Portugal went “semi-final” in 2006 often relying on 33-year-old Luis Figo to engine the offense. (By the way, I’m starting to find the comparisons of Donovan to Figo more on-point).
That said, if you look at the pedigree of players that may be ready to lead the attack from the midfield, names likes Stu Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, Jose Torres centrally and Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers and even Brek Shea potentially outside, beyond Landon Donovan you see a very different look-and-feel to how the US might play and attack come 2014.
Skipping the box-to-box destroyers or holding players like Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, there are two groups: a) extremely methodical possession-oriented players centrally and b) bigger, more gallant, dynamic attacking players out wide.
The best preface to this set-up from the States in 2010?
Think of the Yanks’ second half offense in their friendly against the Netherlands, where DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya marauded wide and Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley carried possession internally with Maurice Edu watching the back door.
• Youth–specifically youth with experience–will be served.
Think Eric Lichaj and Omar Gonzalez, not Tyler Polack. Let’s explain why Polack likely doesn’t make sense.
Polack–whose game I really liked under Wilmer Cabrera in the U-17s last year–will be all of precocious 22 when the States head south in four years. However, it’s not specifically Polack’s age, but it’s his need to improve his resume of experience, and fast, to be considered.
In World Cup 2010, only 25 defenders, or less than one per team, were 22-years-old or younger.
Nearly 80% of these players, didn’t start or have yet to come off the bench. Sure, there are some exceptions, but they are, in one word, exceptional.
Names like 21-year-old Simon Kjaer for Denmark and 22-year-old Gregory Van Der Weil for the Netherlands. The former Kjaer already has two years at Serie A Palermo as a starter while the latter Van Der Weil is tenured for over 14 years as part of the Ajax system and has started for four years for the senior side.
No United States defender was younger than 24-years-old in South Africa–though Kevin Alston, 22, was the youngest during the lead-up though he only got some “B” side run.
So basically, if you’re pulling for Polack, you’d have to have to see a somewhat unprecedented stratosphoric…..a meteoric rise to a “decent club” accompanied with some serious playing time reps for Polak combined, of course, with his physical development.
Sounds like a stretch.
This leads to the general axiom to invoke when taking a shot at the 2014 roster, “The further you move away from goal positionally, the lesser experienced, and generally younger, a player can be.“
So a goalie–like Tim Howard–can still be prime in his mid 30′s. Central defenders? Early 30s.
Two reasonings for this:
» First, the closer to goal you are, the more an inexperienced mistake can hurt you. And that obviously makes sense–make a critical mistake at goalie and your team is likely down a goal; at defender and 9 times out of 10 your team is down a goal…a striker doesn’t put his team in peril often with a mistake.
» Goal scoring and attacking ability are always at a premium. In short, if you can deposit the ball in the net, it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 45.
This year twin 23-year-olds, Dutch Eljero Elia and Uruguayan Endison Cavani who faced off Tuesday, were looked at as major offensive sparks for their respective team.
General premise conclusion. If you’re going to take a risk on youth in 2014, that player needs experience. No experience, then they likely need to play far away from goal.
• Expect the focus again to be on Americans abroad
No knock on MLS here whatsoever, but more American are finding their ways overseas these days.
Until MLS competition arrives at, say top-10 league status in the world, coaches will want players who have been hardened in better leagues and have come up against the players they’ll face in the World Cup–it only makes sense.
One thing that TSG pointed out after that March 3rd friendly against the Dutch, was that DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu–both from the Scottish Premier League–adapted much more quickly to the level of play during the game than Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley.
Okay let’s get rolling.
TSG might pick more than twenty-three players below. We’ll see how it shakes out.
TSG will move to a 4-4-1-1 for this discussion.
And note, our choices might be off, but we believe in the guidelines we just set out. Note, we will accompany the player with their age at World Cup 2014.
Leading candidates: Tim Howard (35 in 2014), Brad Guzan (29), Bill Hamid (23)
The skinny: Tim Howard’s got great reflexes. Should he avoid injury and continue his fine form, hard to not make him the favorite on the depth chart.
Brad Guzan needs to get some playing time at Aston Villa or elsewhere. Charlie Davies calls Guzan “the most underrated player on the US”.
Good chance he nails it over the next few years and at least pushes Howard for that number one spot.
That third spot right now? Names like Chris Seitz or Dominic Cervi swirl. However, while both players are good keepers, they may not be international difference makers.
The third goalie for the States will likely not see the field. With Howard outgoing and Guzan perhaps the next inline, Bill Hamid has that potential and should be the selection if he continues his growth. I also think it’s possible though you’ll just see an experienced veteran in South America.
Others in consideration: Chris Seitz (27) , Dominic Cervi (27), Troy Perkins (32), Nick Rimando (35)
The Union goalkeep is going to need to get some run overseas to have a shot in our mind. Cervi, third stringer for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, is going to need to push for time or find a new club. You have to wonder if it makes sense to groom either of these players considering their age proximity to Brad Guzan’s.
If the US coach wants a clipboard carrier and good citizen, both Perkins and Rimando seemingly have a shot right now.
Leading candidates: Sean Franklin (29), Eric Lichaj (25), Kevin Alston (27)
The skinny: I discussed wide backers above. They need to be mobile and fit. Just ask Diego Maradona who likely wishes he put Javier Zanetti, or just about anyone, at right back against Germany instead of fish out of water center back Nicolas Ottamendi (22-years-old we might add) who had a most regrettable game.
TSG was championing Lichaj for at least a look-see this year, but only becuase of the Yanks’ options. The reality is with four years of seasoning, the apple of Martin O’Neill’s eye should be at least be ready to compete. Lichaj is expected to crack the 18 at top-6 EPL club Aston Villa this year.
(Note: Lichaj played both rightback and leftback last year in his first loan of the season to Lincoln City. Aston Villa however see him as both a rightback and a centerback.)
Should Lichaj earn consistent playing time he would arguably–nay, easily be–the most accomplished American defender in the EPL since Carlos Bocanegra. And, in our opinion, he should have a lot more press right now, especially given the new three-year deal he just inked.
On Franklin, TSG was at a US camp practice earlier this year and we were talking with a L.A. Galaxy beat writer. His comment to us on Franklin, “Bruce Arena says Franklin is one of the smartest players he’s ever coached.”
Quite a compliment.
Franklin, MLS’s rookie best-in-class just two years ago, needs to maintain his fitness–he got knocked out of most of his 2nd campaign for the Galaxy–and will likely need a loan or trip overseas.
Kevin Alston, who we mentioned above, will also be in play if he continues to trend positively.
Other in consideration: Marvell Wynne (29), Jonathan Spector (29), Danny Williams (25)
Wynne may get another look. TSG has no clue about Danny Williams–who hasn’t been capped yet by the States–but other reports seem to suggest he’s an option.
Jonathan Spector we’ll discuss right now….
Leading Candidates: Oguchi Onyewu (32), Jonathan Spector (29), Omar Gonzalez (25), Ike Opara (25), Chad Marshall (29)
The skinny: Center backs, as we stated above are typically older and wiser. It’s why Onyewu, despite his poor form, started against England. Bob Bradley knew he needed the experience.
At 32 years-old heading to Brazil in 2014, Onyewu will be just passing the prime of his career. Seems like a starter if he can get reps at AC Milan and prove he’s every bit as athletic as before.
His partner? Take a flyer on Jonathan Spector. Nimble enough inside, decent in the air and with a very good ability to distribute, Spector’s got a shot to start there if he keeps getting high-level playing time.
That said, youngster Omar Gonzalez in our opinion is the real deal. He kind of reminds me of American-turned-Norwegian Brede Hangeland, aggressive in postioning and play and goes to headers with abandon. I think he’s that good; he’s third.
And finally, I’m coming around to Ike Opara. Living in San Francisco, I get to watch quite a bit of Opara’s games with San Jose. He’s improved quite a bit technically and his instinct for the play is very good.
With extremely shifty players for Mexico (Vela, Hernandez) and Costa Rica (Bryan Ruiz) up top, the States are going to need to Cannavar0-type to pressure up the pitch. Opara would seem to fit this role. Well.
Other in consideration: Clarence Goodson (32), Gale Agbossoumonde (22), Tim Ream (26)
Agbossoumonde has the physical goods, but a little young for the centerback role in 2014.
The leading candidates: Jonathan Bornstein (29), <Insert back-up rightback here>
The skinny: Will the Yanks ever solve their leftback conundrum? Perhaps Bornstein will continue to develop and make that leap–he looked more the part in South Africa than he ever has.
Beyond Bornstein, you’ll likely have one of the rightbacks (Lichaj, Wynne, etc.) migrate over.
Sleeper: Robbie Rogers (27)
Ability to use either foot. Speed. Offensive ability. Big body. Someone let me know why Robbie Rogers isn’t working hard on his defensive deficiencies and making himself more marketable on the club and international front.
A name you didn’t see here is Edgar Castillo. TSG will toot our horn as we were the first–to much guffaw as he was being hyped in 2009– to label Castillo a midfield and midfielder alone.
Leading Candidates: Landon Donovan (32), Alejandro Bedoya (27), Edgar Castillo (27), Robbie Rogers (27)
The skinny: Hard not see Landon starting. Sobering thought though for Mr. US Soccer: Donovan likely just finished his best World Cup.
TSG is a fan of Bedoya. First, he’s a nice guy, but more importantly, he’s got a big body, killer drive and offensive moves. He’s looking real likely for 2014 in our mind right now.
Central midfield candidates Stu Holden and Benny Feilhaber almost merit review. Formation will matter here. If the US deploys in a 4-3-3 suddenly forward candidates like Charlie Davies might make sense up top and more possession Maxi Rodriguez-types (like Holden and Feilhaber) would sit in the middle third. Not going that route for now.
Oh and let’s cut this Bob Convey nonsense out. In the next four years, Convey will need to find his way to a better club or outright dominant MLS (as in top 3 star). He’ll need to play even better defense than the solid defense he’s played this year. In short, don’t bet on it.
If you want to consider an older player, maybe it’s a three-time World Cup attendee who’s injury-free and re-committed to the cause.
Other in consideration: DaMarcus Beasley (32), Brek Shea (24)
Sleeper: Ryan Smith (27)
Smith will be 27-years-old at World Cup and the former Arsenal product has the right mix of on-the-fly cross prowess and moves to fit in with the likes of Donovan and Bedoya. Will someone take him down to the passport shop and get him one with a United States seal on it?
Attack/Possession candidate: Benny Feilhaber (29), Stu Holden (28), Mix Diskerrud (23)
The skinny: Wow, shaping up to be a huge fight in the middle here. Does the Yanks plethora of wings and midfielders auger for a 4-3-3. Quite possibly–let’s not go there in this column.
Dempsey will be the wide sage and will not be strong enough to be employed up top. At 31, he’ll still have game.
In our mind, Stu Holden is itching for a breakout year. He’s there.
As for Mikkel Diskerud, nearly every report I see has him dominating games in the midfield for Stabaek up in Norway. I’ve only seen him a few times, but he both controlled run of play and created numerous opportunities in the those games. I’ll be watching him more on some pirate feed this year.
Others in consideration: Freddy Adu
Barring an intervention of grandiose proportions, I believe Freddy Adu’s club career to be hanging by a thread in a Europe.
Box-to-box/Holder candidates: Michael Bradley (26), Maurice Edu (28), Jose Torres (27)
Michael Bradley, a given and possibly the captain if he keeps maturing. Maurice Edu, earning his hard knocks in Scottish Premier League, it’s hard not see Edu playing for someone like Blackburn or Wigan in the Premiership–in fact Wigan’s style and horrible pitch would suit Edu perfectly.
These seem like locks to me barring injury. Jose Torres as well might get a look in more of a holding role.
Other candidates: Geoff Cameron (27), Ricardo Clark (31), Sam Cronin (27), Jared Jeffrey (24)
Cameron fits somewhere in this mix–let’s leave him here for now. Ricardo Clark will be a World Cup vet. I’m not penalizing him for his gaffes in 2010; I just think his game is limited to his physical speed which will be slowing in a few years. He hasn’t proven more to me yet. (Mind you that same contention can be made about Jonathan Bornstein)
Extremely interested to see what Cronin can do now that he’s in San Jose. He’s got the ability to fit in wherever needed.
Jared Jeffrey is at Mainz in the Bundesliga. Bob Bradley was keeping tabs on him through the 2010 qualifying campaign.
Leading Candidates: Clint Dempsey (31), Chris Pontius (27), Sacha Kljestan (28)
The skinny: Clint Dempsey despite his advanced age seems like a natural in Brazil in his natural role though Sacha Kljestan–if he can ascend overseas–will threaten.
MLSer Chris Pontius likely gets a look if his game continues to developing. He’s the clearly third from the group above.
Likely candidates: Charlie Davies (28), Jozy Altidore (24)
The skinny: If Jozy Altidore can find consistent 90-minute effort and the back of the net, he’s the boss of this group. Charlie Davies is penciled in too if he returns to pre-injured form. Tristan Bowen, already getting reps for the Galaxy, is a likely option until another tyke establishes their candidacy.
Others in consideration: Eddie Johnson (28)