USA vs. South Africa Friendly: Opening Notes

Update: Bob Bradley breaking out some new faces for a quick turnaround friendly? Ives from Fox Soccer is reporting Juan Agudelo is being called up and a Norwegian report is suggesting Mix Diskerud is in the mix. Lord have mercy, what’s gotten into Bob….excellent.

——–

What did the States get? That’s the question.

Who's marching into Green Point?

With our expose on white elephant stadiums and now the States playing an unusually far away from home friendly at Green Point, what did the States get during World Cup 2010 and have to trade the friendly for?

Was it the splendid training ranch or is it the World Cup 2022 vote from the South Africans? Both?

You can, I think, make a few safe assumptions about this friendly.

Well, first, it’s an exhibition. With MLS playoffs ongoing and Euro leagues in full swing, a one game jaunt (that is a thirteen hour flight form NYC and a eleven hour flight from London) will be less an evaluation point for Coach Sweats and more a task.

Two, expect a smaller squad. This will be a short trip, a short camp, and only 90-plus minutes of playing time to go around. I’d be highly surprised if Bob Bradley’s crew numbered more than 18.

Expect not to see a lot of the veterans of those Euro leagues. Two players I don’t see making the trip are Steve Cherundolo whose Hannover ’96 team got flat-out worked by Borussia Dortmund this past weekend, and Carlos Bocanegra, out of the St. Etienne line-up with a ding. Jermaine Jones, just back from an injury, probably doesn’t make this one either.

Finally, I think you’ll see a big contingent of MLS players not involved in the playoffs. Good chance to watch a few players who’ve had a few weeks off, but haven’t completely lost their fitness, like a Justin Braun or a Kevin Alston.

HOWEVER, if this were a legitimate camp, below here would be some legitimate thoughts.

• Shall we call him Roberto Bradley?

For those castigating Bob Bradley over trotting out a three man midfield of Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley, take a hop across to the Premiership lilypad and check out Roberto Mancini’s preferred midfield for Manchester City.

That one would consist of Nigel “Hits From The” DeJong, Gareth Barry, and galloping Yaya Toure. A very analogous midfield there.

City plays a 4-3-3 with a front three of Carlos Tevez, David Silva and James Milner (in the Craig Bellamy role)…

…and that’s the difference.

With City it’s often Carlos Tevez dropping deep for central carriage while Silva and Milner keep it extremely wide up top and open up linking and passing lanes.

While Bradley’s crew doesn’t have that firepower up top, it’s worthwhile for Bradley to employ the strategy another time if the three up front (likely Donovan, Dempsey and Altidore) can work space and build chemistry. Look for that front three at some point in the next year.

• On Jermaine Jones…and more of that crowded midfield

Damn, the US central midfield looks like a Japanese subway:

Unquestionable about Jermaine Jones’ presence on the field and on the ball for the States. Two things concern me though:

(1) Developing a playmaker with a history of injuries.

Jones was just shelved again for the next two matches for Schalke with ligament damage. Jones has played more than 20 games just twice in his seven year professional career and…

(2) Is the DNA a spot-on match?

I don’t think so. If you watch Jones play with Schalke he is highly effective as a complementary player and it’s where he is more dangerous latching onto a pass that gives him the opportunity to make a play (pass, shot, etc.).

We’ve only seen Jones in a few games so we’ll reserve judgment for now. Look, all we’re saying is he’s clearly class in the middle and the best the Yanks have at that playmaker role right now, but there are some questions still to answer before anteing up the throne.

That said, Stu Holden needs to get that chance in the midfield and perhaps it’s he sidled up next Maurice Edu. Holden has the playmaking capability, the speed and if you watch him at Bolton, is fast becoming a leader on the field in the middle for the Wanderers.

And…give Jones, who possesses an ability to create off his left foot, a shot at left back. Just saying… (No I don’t really mean this, but man the Yanks would go from having a hole at leftback to an “I’m not challenging that guy.”)

• About that forthcoming 4-3-3, outside backers?

One thing that I’m not a fan of is Bradley continuing to force Jonathan Spector at rightback.

While Spector has played strong there in the past, he’s suffering from a lack of confidence for seeing the 18 of all once for West Ham on the year.

Prediction: Spector is playing Championship ball come February of next year.

But the bigger issue is with a continued reliance on Carlos Bocanegra for the left back role–who won’t be playing there in 2014, and a pairing with Spector, the Yanks–friendly or no friendly–have two fullbacks that don’t get ahead in the offense. You just can’t have that.

Let’s get Lichaj in there and Franklin if the Galaxy get bounced (they didn’t, but had to mention my man), and heck let’s get Ponce as well. But–at the primal level–let’s just get some speed back there.

Oh–and look for soup-du-jour AJ De La Garza at leftback at a later date.

• Any player surprises?

Don’t think so. As we’ve commented a number of times, Bradley likes new players to get a good, stateside camp first, so a South African friendly that’s a quick hop-in, hop-out? Not usually the best time to bring someone in.

Exception perhaps? Maybe Mike Grella. The Leeds-to-Carlisle United striker will not have a January break. He appears to be in form as well.

Will Marshall finally be fit for a cap?

Player Forecast:

Without brackets, a strong possibility…(with brackets, perhaps)

G: Brad Guzan, (Nick Rimando)

Skinnysizing: Tim Howard, Bob Bradley’s security blanket? He should be given a break; will he get it?

Brad Guzan goes.

DEF: Eric Lichaj, Chad Marshall, Jonathan Spector, Michael Parkhurst, (Clarence Goodson), Kevin Alson, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Ream (thanks Joe)

Skinnysizing: Who’s playing leftback? Spector? Lichaj? or Alston?…or even DaMarcus?!

I had Clarence Goodson in here until his transfer. Oh wait, I still have him in there. Will he go? Probably.

MID: Benny Feilhaber, Ale Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Geoff Cameron, Ricardo Clark, Kyle Beckerman, (Sacha Kljestan)

Skinnysizing: Benny anchors the midfield…hey wait–this vaguely looks like last January’s “Camp Cupcake” line-up. Does Kljestan take a break from his club-team roller coaster?

STR: Jozy Altidore, Justin Braun, Eddie Johnson

Skinnysizing: Braun gets his cap?

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36 responses to this post.

  1. The term playmaker keeps getting used with respect to Jones, and it’s obvious he is a class above Edu and Bradley when it comes to passing ability and range. But in the two times I’ve seen him he hasn’t looked comfortable on the ball when he has time to stop and think, similar to Bradley. When time and space are minimal, Jones (and Bradley circa 2007) shines, but when there’s more time Jones would often find his passes shut down because he took too long to think about where he could go.

    Maybe this is just my personal bias about #10s coming out, but Valderrama, Etchevary (sp?), and even the new ones like Xavi and Xabi are excellent with their distribution regardless of how much time they have.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2010/11/08 at 1:52 PM

      The problem with people referring to Jones as a playmaker is that it is just incorrect. I’m not sure where the idea that he is a playmaker came from or it is just that people are using the term to mean something different than you or I think when we hear that term. To me, Jones is just a better version of Bradley.

      The writer does hit on the ideal pairing for the US, Edu and Holden. Edu is a similar type of player to Muamba who lines up alongside Holden with Bolton. Holden is much closer to being a playmaker than either Jones or Bradley. Unfortunately, we will probably not see this until WC 2018 when Bob Bradley is no longer in charge because I can’t see him putting his son on the bench even as it becomes more and more clear that he is no longer even close to the best option.

      I’m not sure if the writer is trying to compliment Roberto Mancini because most people think he is far too defensive with his formation and is costing his team routinely. Not to mention that he is already on the hot seat because City are dropping in the table. He’s also taken some criticism for not using Adam Johnson and Silva at the same time because he prefers a more defensive minded winger in James Milner.

      Reply

      • Posted by Standard_Deviance on 2010/11/10 at 8:33 AM

        Great points, Jared. I agree completely that Jones is a better version of Bradley, not a playmaker. I also agree that at this point, Bradley is pretty clearly a cut below a number of midfielders in our pool: in no particular order, Dempsey, Holden, Donovan, and Jones should all be starting above Bradley. Possibly Edu, too, though that comparison is probably a wash. Either way, I think our midfield should be based around getting our best players (the ones listed above) on the pitch. If that means Bradley, or Edu, or both, have to sit, so be it. Not that these considerations matter too much for the SA friendly.

        Nick, I agree that Jones isn’t a playmaker, but I don’t think it’s for the reason you give. In fact, what you’re saying doesn’t make much sense. If Jones is a good passer when under pressure, then he’s certainly should be a good passer when not under pressure. I’ve mainly just seen him in those two US friendlies but from what I saw there he’s not a playmaker because he’s not someone an offense is going to run through, he’s more a deep-lying midfielder who seems to have a knack for delivering good long balls. The key thing is that it’s hard to envision him as the pivot, or focal point, of an offense.

        Reply

        • My point is more along the lines of comparing Jones’s style of play to those other midfielders who make excellent passes most of the time regardless of whether they’re under pressure or not. If I could insert a table into this comment it would’ve been more effective.

          To be a playmaker (in my opinion) you have to be able to do the following:
          – Quickly release pressure with a one or two touch pass (Jones succeeds at this)
          – Connect on the “Homerun” pass, regardless of pressure (Jones has really only hit the one pass toJozy when under no pressure at all)
          – Being able to create off the dribble regardless of pressure (again Jones has shown that this is not his strength as he often times dribbles into pressure when there was none)

          So, because Jones succeeds in the first attribute, I wouldn’t call him a playmaker.

          I agree that Jones is a step up from Bradley when it comes to distribution, but we haven’t seen whether or not he can make up for Bradley’s knack to run onto the end of a play from deeper in the midfield. Some experimentation does need to be done, but will Bobbo sacrifice his son’s PT in order to find which combinations work best in which situations? It’s looking more and more unlikely.

          Reply

        • I meant to say “Because Jones succeeds in the first attribute, but not the others, I wouldn’t call him a playmaker.”

          Reply

        • Posted by Standard_Deviance on 2010/11/10 at 3:11 PM

          I agree w/ that assessment (both of what you have to do to be a playmaker and what Jones is capable of doing). It just seemed a bit counter-intuitive to say that Jones is a good passer when he’s under pressure but is not a good passer when he’s not under pressure because, by definition, if you’re a good passer when under pressure you should be a good passer when not under pressure (since the latter is easier to do). But if your point is that Jones dribbles himself into pressure unnecessarily, then yeah, I agree, he does seem to do that.

          And yeah, the bigger issue is that I don’t have tons of faith that BB will be able to be wholly objective when it comes to his son. Who would be able to be?

          Reply

      • Posted by Standard_Deviance on 2010/11/10 at 8:35 AM

        Great points, Jared. I agree completely that Jones is a better version of Bradley, not a playmaker. I also agree that at this point, Bradley is pretty clearly a cut below a number of midfielders in our pool: in no particular order, Dempsey, Holden, Donovan, and Jones should all be starting above Bradley. Possibly Edu, too, though that comparison is probably a wash. Either way, I think our midfield should be based around getting our best players (the ones listed above) on the pitch. If that means Bradley, or Edu, or both, have to sit, so be it. Not that these considerations matter too much for the SA friendly.

        Nick, I agree that Jones isn’t a playmaker, but I don’t think it’s for the reason you give. In fact, what you’re saying doesn’t make much sense. If Jones is a good passer when under pressure, then he’s certainly should be a good passer when not under pressure. I’ve mainly just seen him in those two US friendlies but from what I saw there he’s not a playmaker because he’s not someone an offense is going to run through, he’s more a deep-lying midfielder who seems to have a knack for delivering good long balls. The key thing is that it’s hard to envision him as the pivot, or focal point, of an offense

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/10 at 1:46 PM

          I feel that even calling him a deep-lying playmaker is generous! Yes, he put a couple of balls over the top, but they were hardly defence splitting, were they? Put it this way – if an opponent played the same simple and flat ball you’d be screaming at your CBs for not dealing with that, wouldn’t you? I’d say his best position is more of a ball-winning midfielder, where his primary duties are to defend and cover, rather than support.

          I still think with the players you have, a tweaked 4-4-2 is the best option. Remember, this is not table football – 3 straight lines don’t need to be used!

          Reply

          • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/10 at 2:43 PM

            Perhaps I worded my column the wrong way. The Yanks–beyond forward DEmpsey and Donovan–don’t have a playmaker in the midfield.

            Bradley was almost thrusting Jones into that role. Not really right for him. He’s capable of playing it, but won’t be great at it in my opinion.

            Reply

          • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/10 at 2:43 PM

            Perhaps I worded my column the wrong way. The Yanks–beyond forward DEmpsey and Donovan–don’t have a playmaker in the midfield.

            Bradley was almost thrusting Jones into that role. Not really right for him. He’s capable of playing it, but won’t be great at it in my opinion.

            Reply

        • Posted by Standard_Deviance on 2010/11/10 at 3:16 PM

          Yeah, we all seem to be in agree that Jones, Bradley and Edu are all best as ball-winning midfielders. (I just described Jones as a deep-lying midfielder, not as a deep-lying playmaker).

          Re: the over the top ball, you mean like the Ghana goal in aet? Argh…

          Reply

  2. Posted by Joe on 2010/11/08 at 1:23 PM

    no Tim Ream? Im hoping he’ll get a call up before camp cupcake

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/08 at 1:24 PM

      Good point — I wrote this before NYRB got matador’d out of the playoffs. Great addition.

      Reply

  3. Posted by scweeb on 2010/11/08 at 1:34 PM

    What about Guchi?

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/08 at 1:40 PM

      Perhaps…but you really don’t want to leave your club after you get in a little scrum, you know.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Jake C. on 2010/11/08 at 2:22 PM

    I made the comparison to Man City’s formation when I saw the Jones/Edu/Bradley formation as well. The problem with that comparison is 1) Yaya Toure, and 2) Gareth Barry (you can tell what I think of DeJong). Their playmaking ability–that is, passing ability–far surpasses that of the US midfielders in question, including Jones’ left foot. The lack of passing ability and organization in midfield really showed in the Columbia game; I think this was a major reason Brek Shea was running around like a deranged ostrich. In short, defensive specialists alone do not constitute a solid midfield. One has to incorporate passing ability to provide an effective transition between defense and attack.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/08 at 2:34 PM

      Agree — thought I think Shea probably has played in a 4-3-3 all of twice in his life.

      I could go both ways on the midfield. I mean, you look at the Dutch, and Van Bommel and DeJong took them to 2nd in the world. Or Chelsea…and much more passing aptitude but Obi Mikel is really not that thrilling.

      But then you also look at teams like Barca…a pint-sized Xavi and Iniesta play the middle often or Arsenal with Wilshere and Cesc and you realize you don’t need huge behemoths to play their either.

      The challenge for the US is the midfield has to be an offensive engine as well because teams respect Landon and Clint, but they don’t fear them like they would say, a Robinho (at the Internaltional level exclusviely) or Robben and augment their formation (frequently) for the American attackers.

      Reply

      • Posted by Jake C. on 2010/11/08 at 3:13 PM

        Valid observations. I think it’s interesting to note the ratio of defenders to passers in each of these “trio” midfields–Chelsea usually have two playmakers to one defender (depending on how you classify Essien, who I think is the most complete midfielder in the game right now), and Obi Mikel, while not flashy, has improved the passing aspect of his game. Likewise with Arsenal and Barcelona (though keep in mind the technical ability of Toure/Bousqets with regard to the latter).

        The lone exception would be, as you mention, the Dutch–the deadly destroyer duo of van Bommel and de Jong–although they too possess skills in addition to tackling ability, as van Bommel had the goal of the tourney for me. Honestly, though, I really do wonder how many of those tackles they get away with if they aren’t Dutch (in the sense that the Dutch “total football” reputation artificially primes referees to decide on what are/aren’t acceptable challenges–at least at the international level). It’s easy to say this since we haven’t reached a final yet, but I really doubt I would support the US to the extent that I currently do if they climbed to 2nd in the world in the manner that the Dutch did, what with diving and destroying and all.

        Completely agree with your last paragraph. Teams don’t give Lando or Demps the space that they would to more “reputable” players, and I think that’s why more of the attacking onus needs to come from the midfield. This the platform on which I would argue for Holden’s inclusion in this part of the field, but we seem to be on common ground there, so no need arguing the point further I suppose.

        Reply

  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/08 at 2:23 PM

    I agree with your assessment about the South African vote for 2022. But turning up with the C team is hardly going on the charm offensive, is it? And for this reason, I think there might be a stronger squad than you have suggested. Remember, this is a legit date in the UEFA calendar, and there are many friendlies being played.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/08 at 2:30 PM

      Traveling all the way to South Africa with the US brand name and filling that $tadium…that should be plenty for the RSA vote.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/08 at 2:54 PM

        The US doesn’t have the “va va voom” just yet. Plus the Aussies have a very long ‘relationship’ with RSA. This looks like it’s too little too late.

        What makes you think that you will fill Green Point? Most Saffers who can afford the ticket price are of English and Dutch heritage… and generally prefer rugby and cricket. But point taken on the potential $ and using the white elephant.

        Reply

        • Posted by cosmosredux on 2010/11/08 at 3:39 PM

          Oh, likely shouldn’t have said fill…how about “play there” with “some gate receipts” — ain’t nobody really playing in that stadium unfortunately.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/10 at 5:48 AM

          And just look at the US friendlies played on “home” soil. The only reason that they sell out is because the USSF are smart with their location strategy with respect to the opponents and local ‘immigrant’ population. If you cannot sell out 70,000 at home with a majority of “American” fans for a meaningless friendly, what makes you think you have the pull to do it overseas? And I just cannot see the locals in Cape Town thinking, ‘the Yanks are coming to town – cannot wait to see us put one over on them’. In sporting terms, the US is pretty far down the RSA’s totem pole.

          Reply

      • Posted by kaya on 2010/11/09 at 5:32 PM

        I never thought the day would arrive, but I think I agree with George. =o]
        I just can’t imagine a friendly getting you more than a nice spot to set up camp, though I was surprised at the anecdotal evidence of pretty strong american expat community I didn’t imagine in the run up to WC 2010.
        Perhaps if RSA already was inclined to vote american for 2022, this could simply be a nice gesture, but you’re sounding a little more Michael Moore than Ken Burns in your suggestion.

        Reply

  6. Posted by dude on 2010/11/08 at 2:38 PM

    I agree with Edu and Holden in the midfield.

    As long as we’re throwing in choices for leftback, why not Bobby Convey? He’s achieving a high degree of success at that position with San Jose, wouldn’t be ancient in 2014, and actually has a frame that doesn’t blow over in the breeze (Beasley). As for injuries and past form, he seems to have come out a wiser man. Plus he can cross. Why isn’t his name heard more often?

    Reply

    • Posted by Seybold on 2010/11/08 at 9:08 PM

      Absolutely, it’s time to give Convey a look. He retains his attacking skills, and has made a Phillip Lahm type transition to fullback. He’d do wonders for our attacking width, which will be badly needed in either the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.

      Reply

      • Posted by justin on 2010/11/08 at 10:09 PM

        Convey is playing with SJ in the playoffs. He’ll get called in later for sure. He’s the comeback kid of this fall, plus the top 2 or 3 fullbacks in the mls as of this moment. If he could have started this comeback a little earlier in the season he would have been in the october friendlies for sure. We’ll have to wait to see him in the stars n’ stripes till 2011.

        Reply

  7. Posted by Soccernst on 2010/11/08 at 6:12 PM

    Re: Man City
    Lets say for the sake of argument that the 3 midfielders can do the job, the problem is our front 3 don’t fit the roles described even if less talented versions. Who is Tevez the Carriage? LD? Ok Jozy and Clint out wide? Hmmmm don’t like that either. Those guys are drift middle kinda players.

    Where do Dempsey, Donovan and Altidore slot into the ManCity-style front line?

    Reply

  8. Posted by drizzl on 2010/11/09 at 6:36 AM

    any way we could get wambach in the USMNT? she could probalby compete with most of our strikers…

    Reply

  9. Posted by Alex on 2010/11/09 at 1:56 PM

    Why not Mikkel Diskerud? The Norwegian season is over, and this could be a great time to prep him for future matches and/or camps. For a 20 year-old in one of his first full professional seasons, he was quite good. Would be an upgrade over Rogers and Cameron, both of whom quite frankly have no chance of playing in the next World Cup and will probably never start in an international match that means something, i.e. qualifying.

    Eugene Starikov is another intriguing option at forward. Abby Wambach has had a tough stretch of games…

    Reply

    • Posted by Kevin on 2010/11/09 at 3:51 PM

      I would argue Cameron has a shot at 2014 since he is 24 or 25. With goodson and gooch as both CB’s for 2014 they would both be 32. That’s a pretty old back line, with no speed. Cameron is fast due to his height/strides and he can tackle. He’s good at CB and who else will be around 28-30 years of age in 2014? He’s still pretty raw at CB though because he hasn’t really settled into a position.

      Reply

  10. Posted by chazcar2 on 2010/11/10 at 8:15 AM

    Formations are so much fun to think about but mean so little. Its about playing the way the situation demands. Still it gives your players a base line of thinking and understand to start from. But watching games it isn’t about what you call yourself. Is a 4-4-2 anything but a 2-2-2-2, with two wingers running goalline to goalline? 4-2-3-1 is a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3 is a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.

    Given all that though, the US should be playing a 4-3-3, but reverse engineered to its origin, the Metodo (stupid name). Really its a 2-3-2-3. But the 2-3-2-3 idea is more descriptive of how you would like to see it play. The main problem that the formation addresses is the lack of a Dominate “playmaker”. The two inside forwards/attacking mids, make it so you have two player to share the role. Also look at how it stacks up against the 4-2-3-1.

    There are quite a few holes to fill in a 4-3-3 or maybe just questions to answer. As there are with all the formations discussed. Can dempsey and donavon play wide sucessfully? Can holden and Bradley work together effectively? What center back pair is the best? Who are the full backs? Does Bradley make sense at right full back with Feilhaber? and Holden at mid? Is Altidore one of the best 11? Do we roll without a “striker”? Out of Jones, Edu, Bradley who is the best defensive mid?

    This of this (remember its a 4-3-3 even its its written out funny):

    Dempsey——Altidore———Donavon
    ———–Holden——Bradley————-
    ????—————Edu————–Lichaj
    ——–Gonzalez——–????————–
    ——————–Howard——————-

    OR this?
    Dempsey——–Altidore———–Donavon
    ———–Holden——-Feilhaber———–
    Beasley?———Jones————–Bradley
    ———–Onyewu——Parkhurst?———–
    ——————–Howard——————–

    Reply

  11. Posted by Kevin O' on 2010/11/10 at 11:27 AM

    That “Crowded Subway in Japan” runs like a well orchestrated Monty Python sketch. (I’m sure Michael Bradley was the first one on board comfortably sitting.)

    Reply

  12. […] do all of these considerations mean? First, as our friends at The Shin Guardian have pointed out—the United States will likely bring a small squad and it likely won’t contain veterans from clubs … Second, with a limited group, the tactical choices by Bradley will likely be conservative and it is […]

    Reply

  13. Posted by Dylan on 2010/11/10 at 3:48 PM

    Jolazo strikes again!!

    Reply

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