This is a guest post by Jay Bell
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.