With the October friendlies just one block over, it’s time to kickoff discussion on what challenges await the U.S.S. Bradley as it commences maneuvers for its 2014 assault on Brazil.
Some of these are specific to Bradley’s style or coaching; others are about getting more out of talented players.
This is by no means a comprehensive list as new issues will begin rearing their heads once friendlies, camps and Gold Cups get going, but it’s where the team left off at the end of June in South Africa.
5. Once a striker himself, can Bob Bradley cultivate Jozy Altidore or, if not, locate at least one man up top that finishes for the Yanks?
Conor Doyle, Justin Braun, Herculez Gomez. These all may be options up top (along with Charlie Davies or Robbie Finldey). So may those further from seeing the pitch for the Yanks, like a David Estrada or Pippo Inzaghi II (Jack McInerney).
In Altidore, however, the U.S. has a 20-year old striker with a world of physical talent that has only been exhibited in flashes. Let’s repeat that. He’s 20-years-old (with one World Cup as a starter under his belt).
With what is looking like little club time this year, can Coach Sweats wring more effort, more consistency and more importantly more scoring from the talented Jozy in his brief exposure in U.S. camp? A major and daunting task, but doable as well.
A quite note, I’m sick of hearing that U.S. strikers didn’t score for the U.S. in the last two World Cups. In 2006, the hottest striker (Taylor Twellman) was left home. In 2010, the hottest striker Edson Buddle got two sips of coffee on the pitch. Anyway…
4. Can Coach Bob get more out of a now-aging Clint Dempsey? Will he even try?
Bob Bradley’s challenge in locating Deuce on the pitch in the first go around was easily apparent. Dempsey’s style didn’t subscribe to Bradley’s frantic pressing and defensive posture, meaning Coach Sweats’ game plan seemed to account for Dempsey as a cog in the system with misunderstood talent, less as a star.
Dempsey will be 32-years-old when Brazil 2014 comes around. He’s already prone to fatigue and disappearing during games (as we’ve mentioned before, 85% of Dempsey’s career club goals have come in the 1st 20 minutes or last 20 minutes of a match).
Further, the nature of his game isn’t what one would call “career-prolonging.”
How does Bradley keep the oft-maligned Dempsey involved over the next four years? Is it as a point forward? Is in his customary wing role? Is it even up top where fewer options are apparent here in 2010?
Deuce is looked upon as a leader on the team and Bob’s treatment of the quiet, but intense ball wizard will speak volumes in the locker room. Aging veterans will take note of the Bradley-Deuce interplay.
3. Developing a centerback partnership that: (a) picks the right pieces, (b) gains valuable repetitions, and (c) is not often prone to youthful mistakes.
You might suggest that managing the central two of the back four was Bob Bradley’s biggest shortcoming during his first term as president of the USMNT pitch. That’s my belief.
Whether it was force-feeding Danny Califf (or Michael Parkhurst or Michael Orozco) into the picture early in qualifying before each player was seasoned or…
That nasty string of giving up set piece aerial strikes to the opponents during the 2009 Gold Cup or…
Failing to develop a capable central defender-in-waiting beyond the elder statesmen of DeMerit, Bocanegra or Onyewu or…
Continually playing and attempting to ready Chad Marshall for the World Cup despite obvious fitness concerns or…
Playing Oguchi Onyewu against England (and Slovenia) when it was clear he was not sharp and helping the team or…
Moving Bocanegra to the interior against Algeria and, worse–Ghana, and being overmatched physically or…
Well how ’bout just: * Allowing a game plan and team selection where all of the goals against the States at World Cup 2010 came from an attack up the middle, never from outside-in.
You get the picture.
This time, Bob Bradley has a wealth of potential players in central defense that should contribute during qualifying and present alternatives options to historical ones.
Omar Gonzalez appears ready to firmly plant himself in the middle for a long time. Onyewu should get fit–and hopefully get club playing time–to present himself as a perennial selection. The more veteran Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson and Hunter Freeman present options as do youngsters Ike Opara and Tim Ream.
Even Jonathan Spector might himself be a viable candidate.
Nailing a central pairing–and allowing it to develop a solid and tested chemistry–should be high on Bob Bradley’s clipboard.
2b. Michael Bradley is an excellent player. He’s a leader. He easily deserves to be in the starting 11 and one of the first on the team sheet, but…what is his appropriate role?
Let me make sure I phrase this paragraph correctly.
I think Michael Bradley is a good player. I think he’s got above average technical ability, a serious work rate, and the type of fire any coach wishes nearly every player had.
I also don’t think the role that he has played most recently–midfield quarterback–is one that should not be guaranteed to him outright.
It’s impossible to address this conundrum without invoking different formations, but simplicity in evaluation can still prevail.
In a 4-4-2, as the U.S. played in South Africa, should Michael Bradley be the chief ball handler and distributor? Those that push for a focus on possession in the 2014 cycle would be wise to give pause here.
For if Bradley was not pushing the ball as hard as possible up the field in the 2010 lead-up then he was often spraying it…somewhere.
In a 4-2-3-1, perhaps a ball handler sit above Bradley, who now sits as one of the two holders, carries the bulk of the distribution.
Then the question becomes can Bradley stay disciplined as a pairing instead of falling prey to his common predisposition to freelance and bomb all over the pitch.
For our part, TSG wants to see Stu Holden as the responsible party doing the linking through midfield. Michael Bradley is less accurate and less patient than Holden who possesses some of the field presence of a young David Beckham.
But if not Stu Bolton, Coach Bradley can also call on Benny Feilhaber, Mix Diskerud, Jose Torres, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan among others to fill the various roles in central midfield. Torres, Kljestan and Feilhaber are quarterback candidates like a Holden or Bradley. That’s five viabilities.
Will Bob Bradley have the audacity to reduce Junior’s role if the formation or situation demands it? That wasn’t apparent in the first go around mind you. (See Confederations Cup, Spain, Mike Bradley earns second yellow.)
2a. And the sister issue: With the wealth of talented central midfielders, how does Bob Bradley partition playing time and build chemistry there as well?
You’ve got that list of central midfielders above.
Here are some micro questions for Bob Bradley to ponder:
• Stu Holden is currently the starting central midfielder for Premiership side Bolton. He’s rarely been subbed, the chief distributor of the ball, precise with his tackles, audacious with his free kicks and consistently tracks back.
Is there any reason that he–and Michael Bradley (he a starter himself on currently relegation-bound Bundesliga side Bo’Munchen)–shouldn’t be your midfield general?
(Sorry, this point was so important, a second reinforcement seemed appropriate.)
• Jermaine Jones will himself be 32-years-old in 2014. Do you give him a fair shot in the middle of the field or do you continue to develop Champion’s League participant Maurice Edu?
• Wait a second! We have Stu Holden and Michael Bradley…how are Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones or even Benny Feilhaber getting on the field?
• Assuming a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 as is the trend and due to the lack of U.S. striking options, that still only allots for three central midfielders at best.
Again assuming Holden, Bradley and Feilhaber where does that leave Maurice Edu, Jose Torres, Sacha Kljestan, Ricardo Clark, Mix Diskerrud, etc.?
We posed a question a year ago about solving the gaping hole at leftback with a candidate from the midfield. Seems like moving some player from the midfield may make sense.
1. Can the U.S. throw off its inconsistent ways and dictate the game tempo to/on an opponent?
To a point, I will concur with commentary in the past from Bob Bradley and Sunil Gulati that bringing a team of players from predominantly overseas together and training for a brief period together is difficult in building cohesion.
I also get that many of the players didn’t necessarily grow up playing on a single youth team together and falling into positions versus their teammates and developing chemistry, a la a Brazil or Spain.
With that said, last September 5th a weak El Salvador team came into Rio Tinto stadium for a World Cup qualifying match and had the Yanks on the ropes for the first 30 minutes of the game.
A few days after that, the States (with a game and group of practices under its belt) went down to Trinidad and Tobago and was a Super Tim Howard performance and Ricardo Clark strike away from coming away with a loss.
Reread the last two paragraphs. If you’re Bob Bradley, it should give you indigestion…and combating those situations, specifically the former one of a qualifier at home against a weaker side, should be the prime focal point of the 2014 campaign.
If you believe that the States (through their World Cup performance) are a top-16 side, then it’s imperative that the States start behaving like a top team especially when facing inferior competition.
If the U.S. face El Salvador and T & T in qualifying, the opponents, not the Yanks, should be on their heels.
Mind you, this isn’t an argument for possession–unless that is the style that the Yanks morph to. This is an argument for the lay fan to watch a game–regardless of score–and think, “Wow, the States are dominating.”
Think Germany against Argentina at the World Cup or even the United States after going down against England or in the second half against Slovenia. The next step is tantalizingly close for the Yanks.
When a team dominates a game and dictates tempo, it:
» relieves pressure on its defense
» can be more creative and develop its attack
» builds confidence that in turn breeds improvement
In short, a team in control learns how to be a good team collectively. That’s the next step for the Yanks. It’s where the USMNT is in its development and it should be an important goal for Sweats II.