Jay Bell with his thoughts on today’s match. TSG’s match review coming shortly…
What happened to the US team that could go toe-to-toe with the Spains, Brazils, and Argentinas of international football without looking so poor at times?
Do not be fooled. The US was bullied around for most of the game tonight, but the US’s best young starlet continues to play beyond his years. The US squad was lucky that Tim Howard was in “beast mode” once again against Argentina. A young and inexperienced Brazil squad embarrassed the US back in August as well.
But it all starts with defense. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 the US back line had an in form rightback: Frankie Hejduk, Jonathan Spector and Steve Cherundolo; a leftback playing over his head: Heath Pearce, Jonathan Bornstein and Carlos Bocanegra; and resilient centerbacks who did not punt the ball upfield every possession: Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu. Well, none of those are the case any more unless Cherundolo goes into the summer continuing his good form.
And the US will need him to be in top form this summer. Timothy Chandler and Eric Lichaj should be options behind him because Spector should not be an option anymore. Onyewu is not the same player that he was in the summer of 2009. The US needs a leader in the back and Onyewu may not be it. Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and even Maurice Edu should be given the chance to step up at CB. Bocanegra can still play leftback, but he, Gooch and Demerit should not be on the field at the same time. Bornstein and even Chandler or Lichaj could get a look.
If the defense does not work out its issues, then a team like Costa Rica or Guadeloupe will surprise the US before they even get the chance to be toasted by Chicharito and Vela in the final.
How does the team go from typically one defensive CM to three, and the midfield pressure gets weaker?
Simple: They are all too similar. Mr. Kyle Martino said it best when he said all three of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Edu are left marking space instead of players. Stuart Holden obviously would have fit in somewhere, but now that will have to wait a while after his injury.
Spector or even Kljestan would work more efficiently with two of those three instead of clogging the midfield again.
Donovan and Dempsey HAVE to be allowed to create offense and the current system just is not allowing it.
Numerous matches have provided evidence that a bulk of the US’s attack goes through Landon Donovan. When Donovan is not in the driver’s seat, then Clint Dempsey is the aggressor. Coach Sweats was most likely hoping that Holden would be able to take up some of that attacking responsibility, now he must look for other options. It does not look like Bradley or Jones will be the answer with both playing further back.
With a combination of Spector and Bocanegra, Dempsey and Donovan are spending so much time in the defensive half and are unable to get forward. Cherundolo or Chandler may be able to help change that predicament, but Bradley will have to find an answer before the US matches up with Spain in June.
The end result? The US reverts back to a standard 4-4-2 for Gold Cup.
It seems inevitable now with Stuart Holden out. The rapid ascension of Juan Agudelo certainly facilitates this change as much as anything. Agudelo can pair with Altidore or even Dempsey or Donovan if necessary. Mikkel Diskerud (I want Mix Disk to catch on so bad), Sacha Kljestan, Spector, Alejandro Bedoya or Chandler could emerge as possible starters in wide midfield positions. Benny Feilhaber can maintain his role as a supersub for those positions as well.
The emergence of a crop of forwards can help as well. Agudelo is the star, but Bunbury will be an option once he maintains his health again. Edson Buddle, Chris Wondolowski and Robbie Findley will be fighting for inclusion when healthy. Kenny Cooper and, yes, even Charlie Davies are going to be pushing for a spot through MLS play.
So just prepare for it US fans. Fans have pined for an evolution away from the 4-4-2, but Holden’s injury likely stymies that development. The alternative is that Bradley forces the team to retain the 4-2-3-1 system in a detrimental manner similar to his attachment to Robbie Findley last summer.