Our 3rd entry in what is sure be a long-running journal all the way to Brazil 2014. By the way, did you know that after China and India, Brazil has the fastest growing consumer base online. Okay, back to soccer.
January 2011 was our last scribbling.
Here was our first entry in October.
After most camps and friendlies, TSG puts together a piece with the following components for discussion amongst the community.
I. The Best “A” Team starting eleven.
This is the team would play regardless of opponent, situation or formation if the Yanks had to choose a line-up blindly for a potential World Cup game….tomorrow.
II. The Depth Charts.
For each position we’ll list the top two, three or four players that Bob Bradley has in his quiver.
III. The “X” Things
The two or three issues that are top of mind coming out of the last match or camp.
I. The Best Eleven
Whereas last time we went with some combination of a 4-5-1. This time we’re back to a 4-4-2 with the rising stock of Juan Agudelo and the recovery period of Stu Holden.
G: Tim Howard
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Tim Ream, Carlos Bocanegra
(Changed from January: Jay DeMerit for Clarence Goodson, Bocanegra for Bornstein)
MID: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Landon Donovan
(Dropped Stu Holden and Jermaine Jones, added Maurice Edu)
STR: Juan, Agudelo, Jozy Altidore
(added Juan Agudelo)
The skinny: A few pretty major changes from January. Carlos Bocanegra at leftback. The captain showed he still had it to defend against the best.
Jonathan Bornstein is still worthy of a spot, but since he’s manning the midfield at Tigres, he’s not getting the necessary reps out wide in the back.
The midfield moves from five to four and with that drops two players. The first, Stu Holden is a given due to injury. The second, Jermaine Jones.
Precocious Juan Agudelo rightfully takes up a place, for now.
As a re-occuring theme with Bradley, you’re seeing speed favored on the depths charts.
The Depth Charts:
Goalie: (1) Tim Howard (2) Marcus Hahnemann (3) Brad Guzan (4) Sean Johnson
The skinny: Tim Howard is still Tim Howard as was witnessed against Argentina. Marcus Hahnemann stood in as #2 this past friendly series and, with Brad Guzan not called in and not a definite due to nuptials for the Gold Cup, we move up Marcus Hahnemann.
Sean Johnson stays on the list at numeral four. If you were picking one keeper to cultivate, you’d have to select P Diddy for now.
Left: (1) Carlos Bocanegra (2) Jonathan Bornstein, (3) Zach Loyd,
Captain Carlos has the tentative hold on #1….for now.
Jonathan Bornstein’s detractors are really just happy to have a whipping boy. Bornstein is uneven at worst–yet the defender has held his own against some strong attackers like Arjen Robben. (Sure he pulled down Robben on a give-and-go once, but he also did not get consistently beat. Trying say that to Michel Bastos.)
Odd that Bornstein gets so much hate at a position that is weak on depth, yet a player like Jozy Altidore–uneven as well–does not. Altidore gets criticism, but not vitriol.
Is that because of his age or because he was hyped before he was ready to delivery?
Zach Loyd stands up wingers. +10, nay +100, from TSG. We respect that. That alone gets him the #3 spot.
Right: (1) Steve Cherundolo (2) Timothy Chandler* (3) Eric Lichaj (4) Jonathan Spector
The skinny: Our much beloved Sean Franklin falls from the depth chart this go around.
Hold on. Let me collect myself.
[Three weeks later]
Timothy Chandler looked fantastic in two friends here in March. For now, he stays at #2. A Spain start and impressive showing will make Bob Bradley find him a spot–somewhere.
Eric Lichaj comes in right behind Chandler. Don’t be surprised if you see Lichaj–strong in the air, fair to above average on the ball, get some runouts at centerback. Bradley is always one to try to get his strongest side on the pitch and he’ll find a spot for Lichaj if warranted.
The poor man’s John O’Shea, Jonathan Spector, rounds it out.
Oh, and murmurs that Steve Cherundolo should get a run-out at leftback. Whether I disagree–I do–or not, when was the last time Bradley used an off-footed leftback in an important match-up.
[Three weeks later....]
Central Defense: (1) Jay DeMerit (2) Tim Ream, (3) Oguchi Onyewu, (4) Omar Gonzalez, (5) Ike Opara
*Injured: Clarence Goodson
The skinny: My-oh-my, in January, we had Clarence Goodson first in the pecking order. That’s how disjointed and unsettled the middle was or rather still is.
Now Goodson falls from the chart with his foot injury.
Jay DeMerit is first on the depth chart and here’s why. With Oguchi Onyewu clearly not himself since…since…San Pedro Sula? DeMerit is called on to quarterback the backline.
Tim Ream showed that he deserves–for now, at least–to settle in as a starter and see what improvement he makes with multiple reps.
Oguchi Onyewu goes third–and that’s strictly on trust factors for Bob Bradley and aerial defense for Bob Bradley. Note, if Bocanegra is at leftback just how will Bradley continue to recognize Onyewu and put him in there?
Ream seems most likely to supplant Onyewu’s role. The New York Red Bull backliner is green and challenged in the air HOWEVER he can complete a pass. Big difference maker there.
Ike Opara just sneaks on to the depth chart. Aerial prowess, speed, strength. We’ll be seeing from young Ike shortly.
Midfield (holding): (1) Michael Bradley, (2) Maurice Edu, (3) Jermaine Jones, (4) Dax McCarty, (5) Ricardo Clark
Oh the depth.
Where has it gone?
The States have typically two (sometimes) three starting central midfielders. One is clearly the third choice for his bottom of the table EPL side.
One is at a club that is in some serious financial peril.
The third has been marginal in his appearances for Blackburn, but is demanded back from to the Bundesliga.
Oh where have you gone Stu Holden?
Michael Bradley looks to be your Gold Cup quarterback. He’s like the Donovan McNabb of the USMNT. Always around, always plays hard, always gets a hard time, can win a game in many ways, you can get to the Super Bowl with him, but can be scattershot in the passing game.
Ricardo Clark will play off Michael Bradley…oops that’s really Maurice Edu in the Edu jersey. Seems Bob Bradley’s been fooled too because he’s deploying Edu precisely how he did Clark although their style is different. (Clark is a better tracker, Edu better at shutting down when he is face up.)
Jones has the biggest ability to swing the strength here. Watching the German-American it appears he’s lost a step. Bradley favors–again–pace and Jones’ Beamer may havee lost a gear.
He’s still good enough, but can he reclaim the form that made him a destroyer terror for Shalke ’04 a few years back.
Jose Torres is now named Dax McCarty and Ricardo Clark is always available to fall asleep twice on defense in 90 minutes.
Midfield (flanks & attacking): (1) Clint Dempsey, (2) Landon Donovan, (3) Benny Feilhaber, (4) Timothy Chandler* (5) Sacha Kljestan, (6) Mix Diskerud, (7) Alejandro Bedoya, (8) Brek Shea
The skinny: No surprises in the first two of course. I might have written that about 39 or so times in the past few years.
Benny Feilhaber, #3 by default. He needs to heal up and show that he can be the 2007 Gold Cup Benny.
Tim Chandler, the USMNT’s Scottie Pippen. Okay, too aggressive, perhaps Gerald Wallace? You have to find him a spot, you’re just not sure where.
Then you’ve got the tweeners: Kljestan who played remarkably well in his short stint last Tuesday and really deserves a shot in the middle though his defense is still just a notch short–it’s overcompensated by his offense.
(I choose the word overcompensated, so what?)
Mix Diskerud should still be in the running as should Ale Bedoya, but both need to show that they can consistently be dangerous in-possession and off-ball with the “A” team. Neither has done that yet.
Brek Shea is a lefty. That’s really all you need to know right now.
Striker: (1) Juan Agudelo, (2) Jozy Altidore, (3) Teal Bunbury, (4) Edson Buddle, (5) Chris Wondolowski.
The skinny: Blazing up to the top of the depth chart is Juan Agudelo.
You can argue all you want that he’s an “immature” specimen, still needs maturing, and doesn’t have many reps.
Ask yourself this question though: If you needed a goal in a crucial game would you rather the ball be at Agudelo’s or Jozy Altidore’s feet?
And…wasn’t Altidore allowed to develop when he wasn’t all there yet?
Next to make that push to the top of the depth chart is Teal Bunbury, who currently has the size, refinement, and experience base that Agudelo’s game craves. Bunbury, despite a quick nick to start off the campaign, played well in Spain and England during the offseason. What other striker can say that?
Rounding out the quintet is Edson Buddle (seemingly Bob Bradley’s back-up target striker in an emergency) and Chris Wondolowski (who seems to have an angle on Herculez Gomez’s old lunchpail job.)
The “3″ Things:
• Am I still testing this three- man central mid out now that I’ve lost a critical fourth wheel?
Bradley playing three central midfielders has transpired before, however it appears the US gets it best result when it can counter through an additional striker dragging the defense back.
The US attack changed with Charlie Davies. Now it has changed with Juan Agudelo. It’s about the personnel.
With Stu Holden ailing–and Benny Feilhaber not his right self this go around–will Bradley continue to refine the three-man midfield of Jones, Edu and Junior when his back-ups centrally are Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty?
Or is Bradley really about being stout in the first half, dynamic in the 2nd….not about the personnel?
Can Jermaine Jones reclaim some of the passing pizazz to account for what looks like a lost first step?
• Progressions of Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.
If those in camp, it is hard to ignore that Juan Agudelo had the best, not the greatest, but the best of the groups impact on the field.
Teal Bunbury is looking more “striking” by the day.
With the Gold Cup a critical tourney to win for the States’ Brazil strategy, will Bradley give time for some of the youngsters to show that they deserve playing time or will he rely on battle-tested Jozy Altidore and bring the kids along slowly?
• Similarly, can I trust Tim Ream.
Hard not to see that Ream’s stock is rising while Onyewu is struggling to reclaim his lofty perch. Will Bradley allow Ream to play himself into the starting role or will he go with “who he trusts” and sacrifice development for expectations this summer?