Whose Parade Is Bob Reigning On?

This is a guest post by Jay Bell

The Sequel: Who's recast, who's cut?

The re-hiring of Bob Bradley means he is starting his job over again. We will see the same strategy in regards to the player pool that we saw in 2007. We are going to see a lot of young guys given chances at the US’s most shallow positions. Bob is still looking for a consistent left back and a striker who puts the ball in the net. In 2007, he concentrated on central midfield. Feilhaber, Clark, Edu, and Bradley were rotated in during the year. This time he’s likely to concentrate on centerback with plenty of young MLSers ready to compete for a spot.

So which guys are going to benefit from Bob’s new reign? Who gets snubbed?

POSITIVE EFFECT

From Salt Lake semi-pro to....Brazil 2014?

Justin Braun. Bradley gave plenty of minutes to Ching and Casey in the last cycle, much to the chagrin of US supporters. They still played a valuable role. With an athletic forward playing off of them, they were more successful. This position should open up as Ching’s knees crumble beneath him and Casey slows down even more. Other than Jozy Altidore it does not look like anyone else is looking to claim this spot.

Enter Justin Braun. Like Jozy Altidore, he can almost win this position by default. Even when healthy Kenny Cooper is not transforming into a target striker anytime soon, also oft-injured Marcus Tracy uses his athleticism well but prefers to face the goal, and Edson Buddle likes to play more as the point of the attack.

Braun can throw his muscle around well and is a very good header of the ball. He can play well at his feet and drop into midfield to help with possession though. In that regard, he would fit better into the US’s new style than Ching and Casey did. HIs athleticism is a bonus as well. Steven Lenhard could be the only challenger at this spot in the near future. However, Braun’s production, athleticism, and dynamism make him the clear front runner at the moment.

Sacha Kljestan. Bradley catches a lot of criticism from fans for having some “favorites,” though every coach does. If he does have favorites, then Kljestan is one of them. Sacha and his flowing locks burst onto the national team scene in 2008 with some strong performances in the summer capped with one of the US’s better performances in the Beijing Olympics. After his hat trick against Sweden and a failed transfer to Celtic in January of ’09, Kljestan’s club form has fallen off.

Now he is in Europe though, with Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht. Even with his decreasing club form, Kljestan continued to get called up and now has his shot in Europe. He made it onto the 30 man preliminary squad for the World Cup, but did not make the final 23. Any change from Bradley’s strict 4-4-2 gives Kljestan a better chance of getting on the field. Jones, Bradley, Edu, Feilhaber, Torres, and Clark are all ahead of him in the pecking order, but Bob has shown Kljestan favor in the past. Any improvements in Europe will be rewarded.

Will Benny get Neo reincarnate?

Benny Feilhaber. The starter for newly relegated Aarhus looks to continue his role as super-sub for the national team. Without US callups, Feilhaber’s career would have few highlights. He only has 23 more club appearances than national team caps. He has only ever scored one club goal, but he scored twice for the US in the summer of 2007.

As a starter in 2007 and a sub since the summer of 2009, Feilhaber has shown to be important in Bob’s scheme. As a substitute, Benny changes the pace of the game and puts more emphasis in the attack. A new manager may have treated him like Capello did when Beckham came to MLS: “go somewhere better and then we’ll look at you.” Instead, Feilhaber will continue to gets caps whenever he is healthy.

Tim Ream. The rookie MLS centerback does not fit the mold of the usual American centerback, which may be a good thing. Marshall, Califf, Demerit, Bocanegra, Conrad, and Onyewu are big, strong, brash defenders. Those were the ones getting most of the minutes at CB over the last 4 years. However centerback will be where Bob is looking for new blood and Ream is unique among Americans centerbacks.

Bradley already gave Omar Gonzalez his first cap against Brazil a month ago. Now he mentioned Tim Ream specifically in a press conference. If healthy, Geoff Cameron and Ike Opara will use their size and athleticism to fight for a spot in the back too. Clarence Goodson made the World Cup roster and is not leaving the national team picture soon. Ream has different strengths though. He is not competing with those players simply based on form. Ream’s calmness on the ball has been well documented over the past 6 months.

Bob is going to look at plenty of guys in the back in preparation for the 2007 Gold Cup. Tim Ream is going to have his chance to prove that his passing can be an asset to the US’s counter-attacking style.

Eddie Johnson. Another alleged favorite of Bradley’s despite his exclusion from the national team between 2008 and his resurgence with Aris. This is the most recent addition to the list. Bobby Zamora’s (tragic) injury last weekend opened up the door for EJ. Dempsey, Dembele, and Gera are still going to get the bulk of minute up top as Hughes waits for Andy Johnson and Zamora to return. Johnson now has the chance to compete for those remaining minutes.

The sad part is that Johnson almost made the World Cup roster. Had it not been for the worst timed hamstring injury, he may have surged onto the 23. Other than Altidore and Davies, Johnson was in better form than any other US strikers during the entire cycle, until Buddle and Gomez’s stellar spring. He revived his career in Greece and scored some of the biggest goals of his career.

The good thing is that he looks to have continued that confidence in England. He no longer looks timid or passive. The guy known as “GAM” to his fans has surely grown up now. At 25, he has matured as a player and is ready for challenges. Whether he earns playing time at Fulham or scores goals for his next club, Johnson will be looked at as a veteran forward over the next several years, especially with Charlie Davies trying to recapture the magic of 2009.

NEGATIVE IMPACT

Edson Buddle. Bob showed two preferred forward pairings: two athletic strikers or one target striker with a smaller, fast forward. Edson is somewhere in between. Gomez got more minutes in the World Cup seemingly for quickness. If Buddle was going to get playing time, you would think that the World Cup would have been the time.

Another formation Bradley has tried a few times was with an attacking midfielder playing behind a lone forward. The attacking mid is given more responsibilities than simply being the athletic forward playing off of the target man. We saw Bradley use this against Brazil, putting Donovan just in front of midfield.

In all three situations, Altidore is likely to be on the field with a guy who does not fit the attributes of Buddle. He’s inching towards 30 and did not even carry his spring form into the second half of the MLS season. To get more chances with the national team, Edson would have to do even more than he did this past spring.

Will Torres get a legitimate chance to partner Junior again?

Jose Torres. What fan doesn’t like Torres? He is a good passer, he is unselfish, and he just plays a different style than most American players. For the next four years, that could be to his detriment. As opposed to Kljestan, almost any change in formation will hurt JFT’s chances for minutes. At least in the 4-4-2 Torres can appeal as a calming influence to move the attack. With a 3 man midfield Torres could maybe see minutes as the LCM. Other than that, Bob will look to other players.

If Bradley deploys two more defensive mids, then Jones, Edu, Clark, McCarty, and Bradley will get minutes. If Bradley plays an attacking mid in front of them, then Donovan, Dempsey, Feilhaber, and Holden fit that role. Even Alejandro Bedoya may be better suited for that position as that is what he plays for Orebro in Sweden.

Torres will still see minutes though. He is too good not to. Bradley is still likely to use him as a calming influence to a game, as he did against Turkey. However, he’s not looking at starting many games playing the way he does.

Bobby Convey. Convey and Bradley have had a running feud for years. Even when Bradley called him up back in 2007, Convey believed it was just a way of cycling him out. It looks like he may have been right. He did not help his chances with the national team with his form over the last several years though.

He may have found himself again in 2010. The US is still looking for consistency and attacking from the left back position, where Convey now gets his playing time with San Jose. Bocanegra can offer defensive solidity at the spot, but lacks speed getting forward. Bornstein definitely has pace, but his inconsistency is maddening even for his fans. Convey’s form may force Bob to give him another chance, even if he does not want to.

Kenny Cooper. Back when he was healthy, he was finally starting to play for the US in important matches. He scored some important goals for the US in the 2009 Gold Cup and was on the field for the dramatic 95th minute equalizer by Bornstein at RFK Stadium. That was just as much a result of the lack of depth at the forward position as it was Cooper’s hot start with his new German club, TSV 1860.

Cooper apparently pushed himself too hard to get back too soon in attempt to make the World Cup roster. Now injured once more, there is no telling when we may see Kenny Cooper at his best again. Other than that, there is a younger wave of strikers fighting for their chance. With Bradley as desperate as ever to find a goal scorer, Cooper may be classified as “been there, done that.” He’ll have to be better than he ever was before to earn another chance.

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dougs on 2010/09/20 at 6:40 AM

    Good analysis. How do you think Brek Shea would fit into Bradleys system up top? He’s got too much skill and speed to be just a holding forward. Is he a tweenie like Buddle?

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2010/09/20 at 8:20 AM

      I can see him in a Dempsey-esque role if he continues to develop and avoids stupid moves like that red-card tackle against FC Dallas.

      Reply

      • Agreed. I think a lot of people wanted him up top because of his size and then wanted to pigeonhole him into the LB mold because of the US’s lack of quality and depth there. The fact is he has never been either. He has too much skill to play in the back and he has too much athleticism to be molded into a simple target striker.

        Bradley and any other coach can see Shea’s potential.

        Reply

  2. I hope to all that is holy that you’re wrong about JFT, but I have a lingering suspicion you’re not. Torres may not be the “silver bullet” for USMNT success, but his posession orientated passing game is surely one of the ways forward compared to the “water carrier” style everyone else in the center of the midfield seems to have. This isn’t to bemoan quality players like Bradley and Edu, but building a team around these types with more of these types seems a bit misguided by Sweats.

    Bobbo and the coaching staff really need to come at this next four years with a wide open perspective and everyone starting fresh. Beasley and Convey have been fairly worthless to the US for the last few years but could come back into form. Maybe Freddy Adu figures out what this whole being a professional soccer player means and starts to realize part of his potential. Maybe the 4-2-2-2 isn’t the best formation for us…I hope Sweats isn’t too married to his way of doing things from the last 4 years and will keep an open mind.

    Reply

    • Torres is really the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Simply put, Bradley, Edu, Jones, and Holden are all in better form and playing on better teams. If Clark and Kljestan earn more playing time for their clubs it will be a tougher task as well because of the quality of their clubs. I think a lot of US fans confuse quality with style. Torres is just not one of the better options in the near term.

      In the long term a move to Spain would be very beneficial for JFT and may be required if he wishes to earn a first XI spot for the US. However, because of his style and age, 2018 was always going to be his best chance at being an integral part of a US World Cup team.

      Reply

      • Quality and Style aren’t being confused here. Can JFT boss a game like Xavi does? No. Does his style give us a different look? Absolutely.

        All of the players you mention bring wonderful attributes to the table; Bradley is box-to-box, Edu is a holding player, Holden has energy tackle and crossing abilities, Clark is disruptive to the other team, Kljestan is good when moving vertically up the field. However, none of these players have the ability to maintain possession horizontally while still providing danger vertically. In order to hold on to leads we not only need to shore up our defense but we also need outlets for the defenders to play the ball to, outlets that can calm down the pace of the game when needed or ratchet it up a notch. These are all qualities we’ve seen in brief spurts with Torres, and frankly I’d like to see more.

        I don’t hold any preconceived notions that 11 players of Torres ilk will make the USMNT the next Spain, but players who possess his skill set and traits need to be worked into the team more to see if we can be more than a bambi-on-ice defending and counter attacking side.

        Reply

        • Like I said, he’ll get minutes, but he’s not going to be a starter. Did you know the US had more than 50% of possession in 3 of the 4 World Cup matches? Or that the US had 47% possession against England? Those numbers would suggest that the US isn’t as desperate for possession as some people make it out to be. Slovenia was also the slowest team the US played in the World Cup BY FAR and Torres was one of the worst players on the field. Even teams like Canada and Honduras are just as fast if not faster than Slovenia.

          Torres very well may be that guy brought in to protect leads, but he’s not going to be a First XI guy for the US any time soon. With another coach in another system? Maybe. But its not a crime that he’s not going to be a major factor under Bradley either.

          Reply

        • The stats don’t lie when it comes to amount of possession, but from my rewatching of the second half of the Slovenia game, most of our possession went straight from the back 4 up to Jozy, or wide to Donovan. Granted these two avenues were working but they were also very easy to predict, Slovenia for whatever reason could seem to figure it out or keep up with us after 45 minutes. Other games, aside from England, if I remember correctly were more of a ping-pong or back and forth afair with little sustained possessing of the ball.

          Was he the worst player on the pitch and overmatched, I could get on board with that sentiment, and completely agree that he needs to be playing in a better league. My point remains that he’s the only midfielder that has gotten minutes at the senior level that plays his style of game (even Benny! is more vertically oriented) and thus should get more (though not a gift-wrapped starting role) of a shot this cycle. We need to get out of the mentality that we can only use hustlers and hard-triers, we can be more than that, and decidely morer varied than a lot of other nations out there if we start broadening the players we look at in the friendlies and Gold Cup.

          Reply

  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/09/20 at 7:23 AM

    Good article.
    Do people still think that Dempsey and Donovan will feature at WC 2014? At 31 and 32 respectively, that could alter Bradley’s thinking over the next 4 years. Obviously if they’re still the best players you have then they’ll go to Brazil.

    Reply

    • Posted by bunkelUSA on 2010/09/20 at 7:46 AM

      I’m sure they’ll still be in the picture. Unless their form drops off dramatically between now and then, I can’t imagine Bradley would leave them at home, given their experience. Having said that, I hope the team becomes slightly less dependent on these two to score and create goals, as they probably won’t be quite the players they were this go around.

      Reply

      • I think that is the key. The team relied too heavily on Donovan’s creativity and Dempsey’s knack for scoring goals in 2009 and 2010. Donovan is arguably the best USMNTer ever and is still one of the US’s best athletes even at 28. I can’t see his quality or athleticism taking the kind of dive that would see him lose his spot by 2014.

        Dempsey’s a different case. IMHO, Dempsey has to embrace the role of a striker. I think he prefers midfield because of more playing time and therefore puts in more effort at LM and RM. However, his skillset and lack of speed make him more suitable for the forward position. We saw how Hodsgon liked him up top a lot and now Mark Hughes does too.

        Hopefully a few guys like Holden, Edu, and Jones can make the team rely less on them tracking back on D as well as their playmaking in the attack.

        Reply

    • I think you have up and comers like Holden, Bedoya, etc., that will be pushing for those wing spots, but I can see Dempsey and Donovan deployed in different sorts of roles if not as starters. Dempsey I see as an ideal supersub, definitely a game changer and able to slot in almost anywhere and add some creativity in the attack. Donovan could fit a similar role as a very dangerous substitute on the wing or at striker assuming he maintains his pace.

      It’s quite possible they could still be in peak form and pushing for a starting spot in a few seasons though, time will tell.

      Reply

      • Posted by bunkelUSA on 2010/09/20 at 9:00 AM

        Good point…both Donovan and Dempsey are super versatile, so I suspect that even if Bob changes systems, these guys would have a spot on the substitutes bench, at the very least.

        Reply

        • I think Donovan and Dempsey are such a quality above most of their competitors that they will still be around through 2014. Donovan in particular still has world class speed even at age 28. His athleticism and quality would have to take a serious dive for him to not still be one of the best players in 4 years.

          The key is for the players around them to step up more.

          Reply

  4. Posted by Soccernst on 2010/09/20 at 12:08 PM

    Regarding a diminished role for Torres: what does JFT offer that Holden does not? Smart tackling, good distribution, and IMO Holden is better going forward if needed. Holden is currently playing very deep for bolton in a role at least somewhat similar ti JFT at pachuca. I guess JFT does offer a left foot on free kicks out right.

    Reply

    • JFT is more creative; Holden has more energy and bite on defense. Both players are versatile in different ways: Holden offers you the winger look; JFT can be deployed as a deep-lying playmaker and an advanced creative midfielder (though neither are true #10s.)

      If there’s a Holden-JFT debate, it just might be the Tastes Great!/Less Filling! debate of US Soccer, in that there’s no reason that you can’t play both at the same time (assuming they’re both on form) in a 4-2-3-1. Bradley and Holden in the second band, with Holden a bit more advanced; Torres in the middle of the three–fill out the other three attacking players as you like it.

      Reply

      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/09/20 at 1:17 PM

        Holden and Torres are both much more versitile than most would think. Holden plays great on the right side and plays much differently in the middle. Torres plays in the middle and can play on the left. Although Torres isn’t the winger most people imagine he also has dangerous speed and can cut quite well while playing on the left. Neither are #10’s but together they could really do some harm and keep possession. In 4-2-3-1, Bradley Edu (for now) and Torres, no secret there on the more advanced midfielder. On the wings we have Holden and… whoever chooses to make themselves worth a go on the left side. Theres still Feilhaber, Donovan, Dempsey etc. but I’m saying someone young should go on that left side.

        Reply

        • Torres just does not fit the role of any potential US lineup other than the 4-4-2. He is definitely not a winger in Bob’s system. He’s not fast enough: Donovan, Beasley, Holden, Rogers, Bedoya, etc. And he’s not aggressive enough: Dempsey, Donovan, Holden, Feilhaber, etc.

          If the US plays with 2 deep mids, then Bob is going to go with a defensive guy. That spot will be competed for between Bradley, Edu, Jones, and Clark. Dax McCarty is already on Bob’s radar for that position as well.

          IMO, Torres just isn’t as creative and aggressive as he would need to be to played as an attacking mid either.

          Reply

  5. Posted by Tim M. on 2010/09/20 at 5:20 PM

    Torres isn’t an aggresive attacking midfielder by nature. At pachuca he usually play’s a holding role and drops back just linking passes and i think that will continue, unless he moves to another club, either in europe or the americas.

    I think Marcos Vidal deserves a look. He moved to pachuca and has worked his way from not making the 18 to being a bench player, and now starting and putting in 90 minutes this past weekend. He hasn’t been nurtured by one club his whole life, and that really helped him become a real veteran in the FMF. I don’t see him as being a player who’s afraid or timid like or usual pool of midfielders can look like at times.

    I can’t say there’s any one else at this point who should be looked at in Mexico or South America. Michael Hoyos hopefully will be playing for us in the Olympics and if he starts getting playing time again, i’d enjoy him being called up to the senior team. Maybe Sammy Ochoa at Tecos, again in Mexico.

    Of course probably are biggest prospect is Miguel Angel Ponce who’s starting and getting 90s minutes week in and out for Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico at the LB, but i think its safe to say he cares more about playing for Chivas then the US national team.

    Reply

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