*Stay tuned later today or first thing tomorrow for a special Tuesday at The Shin Guardian. We’re going to need everyone’s help.
Will CD9 be in time?
One of the more popular series at The Shin Guardian essentially goes by the name of the first post in the series, “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes.” Shortly after Charlie Davies’ October injury, The Shin Guardian and our community began to look into, review and hypothesize just what could and would Bob Bradley due in the absence of the striker who arose from national team obscurity so quickly.
We’re back today with Part V, admittedly more because time has passed since Part IV (February 11th); we are still devoid of a plethora of observations.
(Again for those new to TSG, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV — they are worth meandering through if you’re just catching up on the national team.)
To go back to Part I in October 2009, TSG compiled a list of options as Davies healed.. In Part I, we were prescriptive about needing a pacy forward to occupy the slot ahead of Donovan. The list: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (pre-blowing up), Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper, Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, Marcus Tracy, Preston Zimmerman.
TSG will focus almost exclusively on the USMNT here in this preview as the side that Honduras is bringing is not immediately clear.
What we do know is that the first half should show some high quality competitive soccer, and the 2nd half as substitutions are introduced, might drop a notch in quality, but should be no less competitive.
TSG had a fine day at camp with the USMNT in what was the team’s longest practice of the camp so far. Bob Bradley kept the intensity level high as the team went through warm-ups, drills and conditioning before finishing with a scrimmage.
Some observations before we file some longer pieces on our experience later this week. (One quick note: Remember one of our favorite sayings at TSG, “You can’t look at one observation in isolation, you have to look at the whole body of work.”)
So, what do the USMNTers drive to practice? Caddy? Escalade? Benz? Charter coach? Nope, US players drive themselves in certified soccer mom-mobiles. That’s right, they pile out of minivans just like they presumably did when they were seven.
Two things that stand-out when you are at field level just feet away from players…Size and the pace on their shots. Boombosa is right!
Marcus Tracy, Kevin Alston, Robbie Rogers and Chris Pontius were absent for today’s practice. Alston came out and ran laps…so much so that I wondered if it was punishment.
Zach Thornton is….MASSIVE.
Long-time readers will be happy to know that Matthew’s head did NOT explode when Benny Feilhaber buried one in the back of the net during the scrimmage nor during his interview with the Benny! at the conclusion of practice.
Any San Jose Quakes fans out there? An auburn-cleated Brandon McDonald played exclusively at right back today, acquitted himself well and received counsel from Bob Bradley in the center of the pitch post-practice. Beyond losing the ball on a forward run during the 2nd half of scrimmage, TSG came away very impressed with McDonald’s play today who also netted a goal off a corner kick.
Coach USA took the next step to shoring up the remaining roster spots in South Africa today by inviting an inordinately large contingency of 30 players, 25 from the MLS, to camp this year in Los Angeles.
The annual January camps kicks off January 4th and making their way to the bunk beds will be:
GOALKEEPERS: Kevin Hartman (Kansas City), Troy Perkins (Valerenga), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)
DEFENDERS: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC), Brandon McDonald (San Jose Earthquakes)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jeff Larentowicz (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew),
FORWARDS: Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), , Marcus Tracy (Aalborg)
» TSG contributor Connor, see comment section, nailed the goalies. TSG thought Thornton–at 36 years–deserving, but a little long in the tooth.
» Unfortunately, no Sean Franklin. TSG suggested an invite be sent the injured defenders way, but understandable that it was not
» No Darrius Barnes, as TSG suggested. Just a little bit too young.
• Coach USA goes with a whopping 12 midfielders, suggesting that his midfield is hardly set and that players like Robbie Rogers and Jose Francisco Torres are not locks yet for WC 2010.
• If you look at the defensive selections, here’s TSG reading Coach Sweatpants mind, “I need to get reps for middle guys here. Goodson, you know have Gonzalez pushing you….your sub spot to lose. Let’s see what this McDonald kid has there too.
Got to figure that outside picture out: Show me something Kevin, Heath, and Marvell–Heath, Marvell this is your final shot.”
» Wynne was in the rotation late last year and early this year. If the speedy outside full can show he’s overcome the nagging injuries and that he’s matured in his read of the game, then he’ll be making a strong play for that left wingback back-up role….back-up for now.
»Note: The official USSF release has Brandon McDonald as a forward. Unless Coach USA sees something we don’t, McDonald should get trotted out at center back and center back alone. I’m this close (if McDonald shows well) to calling him “Gooch Jr.”
¤ TSG has lobbed an email into USMNT spokesperson Neil Buethe to get confirmation on the release and McDonald’s position.
¤ USSF amended their release and now lists McDonald appropriately as a defender.
• Is this the close of the Big Aloha Brian Ching’s USMNT career or is he being given time to rest his knee? If you remember Ching did some heavy lifting this year with the USMNT Gold Cup tourney, qualifiers and a Houston playoff run.
• In Ching’s stead and in the absence of TSG-promoted Nate Jacqua is Chivas USA’s Justin Braun. We’ll have to learn more about Braun here at TSG as we’ve only seen him play a handful of time. 6’3” and 22-years-old is a good start.
• A three-man race for the Charlie Davies role at camp amongst Marcus Tracy (Welcome to the USMNT program, Marcus!), Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham. Should be a good one to watch.
We followed this column with Part II that suggested that the answer to the USMNT striking problem may lay not with the players themselves, but with a different formation that took into account the rejiggered talents of the team that Bob Bradley could currently field.
So where do we sit today? Sixty odd days after the USMNT began addressing the issue for the South African replacement–sniffle–for one Charles Davies we’re still left with a lot of head scratching, if not even more.
Cakes: "I'm the man, but I'm still curious who's the man in front of me?"
TSG’s biggest question on the day and biggest requirement? How does the new look upfront impact Landon Donovan who clearly has the class now to be a difference maker, but needs the team and strategy tailored to his style. (Just ask Clint Dempsey about this….)
On our Landon issue, no current answers. With Landon absent for both friendlies, we learned little about potential replacements in Eddie Johnson and Jermaine Defoe Jr.–I mean Jeff Cunningham–who were called in to be considered for the role.
Cunningham scored in his starting debut, but was also knocked off the ball on multiple occasions. Eddie showed a little bit of pace, but a troubling lack of creativity in one-on-one situations. Further, since that friendly, EJ was moved to the discount rack at Fulham, buried on the bench and likely available to and at the mercy of the first suitor. No playing time for the potential South African hopeful.
Worse for the USMNT, it appears that Jozy can’t get a handle on things in Davies absence either, being wildy erratic and nearly invisible in the two friendlies–whether Jozy has been told to roam the offensive 1/3 or play hold-up is not known–what is known is that whatever role he was inhabited in Friendlyville it certainly didn’t breed confidence or create systemic opportunities.
JZA’s club situation has not shed any light on his future contributions either.
So going forward in this column, we’ll take a different tack in reviewing the possible players and combinations.
We’ll do the following: We’ll give some general priorities that Bob Bradley has favored through qualification. We’ll give our take on how the offense changes with various personnel and finally we’ll interject about the USMNT’s group stage opponents in helping us with our evaluation.
• Complement Mr. LA Galaxy Landon Donovan.
Let me lead this segment with a broader question: Should it be Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey who the team is built around?
Jeff Cunningham flew into the line-up and produced the USMNT's lone goal.
A quick note on the title…”boom goes the dynamite” is a reference to one of the all-time best YouTube clips. The classic line comes at the 2:29 mark.
No “W” for the USMNT and not even a “D” as a listless second half saw a 1-0 US lead go by the wayside in the span of about 7 minutes for a 3-1 win by the Danish Dynamite.
Since it is a friendly and everyone knows about the USMNT absences due to injury, MLS playoffs and other things (Cherundolo / Dempsey), there is not much to glean at a team level other than the fact that the USMNT doesn’t look all that deep.
Perhaps one observation of note is that the US seemed to struggle in the one area where they fielded the most regulars, the mid-field. This shouldn’t be that surprising since the Junior-Rico combo out there today has struggled for some time.
Overall, it was a forgettable performance that saw the US on its heels most of the game with short stretches of possession that rarely crossed into the offensive-third of the pitch.
(Note: In the unlikely event you want to watch a replay, it is available on ESPN360.)
Best Play of the Game — Jeff Cunningham’s goal: Sure it was gift pass from the Danish keeper that set-up the chance, but Cunningham kept his composure and buried it with his left foot! (He’s a righty.) Given that the 33-year-old’s strike was the only goal in 180+ minutes of play on this European vacation, he’s deserves some recognition.
Most Unheralded Play — Jonathan Bornstein getting a boot on the ball to stop the Danish counter in the first half: After a turnover in the mid-field the Danes tried to feed an outlet pass to their right winger. Bornstein managed to get his left boot on the ball and control. If the outlet pass had gotten through, the Dynamite winger had acres of real estate in front of him to set-up a great chance on goal.
The Golden Shin Guard — Benny Feilhaber: Played inspired ball in-front of his hometown fans. Benny made smart passes (including a beautifully slotted ball to Cunningham), drew fouls, took a few shots and limited the turnovers as he went the full 90.
♦ Edgar Castillo.
Frankie's last hurrah?
As expected, Señor Castillo collected his first cap for his country of origin. Castillo entered in the 61st minute at left-mid (with Feilhaber shifting inside). The lack of any semblance of possession or rhythm down the stretch severely limited his touches, although he did have one nice feed into Altidore that set-up a shot for Rogers at the top of the area.
As a projected left fullback by most (except TSG Matthew) it was certainly interesting to see Castillo play in the mid-field in his debut. Only time will tell if that is Bob-O’s long-term plan for Castillo.
♦ Okay, what’s going on now with the RB situation? Or should we call it the Specs situation?
TSG assumed Spector would man the right side, however he stayed in central defense with Frankie Hedjuk getting the starting nod. While Hedjuk is a fan favorite in part for his frenetic style, today’s start may have been his swan song for the national team as he looked over-matched all day and was borderline reckless at times. If Hedjuk’s 85th cap is his last, consider the captain’s arm band given to him when Boca subbed-off kind of like the gold watch at his retirement party.
While there is no additional clarity at the top of the RB depth chart with Cherundolo and Spector sitting 1-2 in some order, it should be noted that Heath Pearce didn’t even make it on the bench for either friendly.
♦ Will a woeful attack see a new strategy…..
Bob-O did switch up the strategy today which was both a product of the personnel he deployed and the 4-3-3 Danish formation. Bradley and Rico formed a holding tandem in the mid-field and the US generally attempted to push the ball wide to take advantage of playmakers Stu Holden and Benny Feilhaber on the wings. You also saw the central backs spread a little wider and work to get more involved in the attack to take advantage of Spector’s service abilities.
♦ ….or a new entrant?
Looks like the preview piece should have read “and / or” as both the strategy was changed and a new striker was deployed. The aforementioned Jeff Cunningham was awarded the start while Conor Casey didn’t even make the bench. Aside from the goal and brilliant hold-and-cross, Cunningham’s day was rather uninspiring although the lack of a cohesive attack plagued his chances.
This week’s Slovakia camp will give Coach USA a chance to, at least preliminarily, evaluate Eddie Johnson and Jeff Cunningham and how they interact and play within the team. The game on Saturday may give one or both strikers the opportunity to show Bradley just how they compete versus a somewhat formidable international side.
Who are you most excited to witness and why?
Per Dylan’s comments–being that he was probably born when I was already in high school–he has not seen a ton of Eddie Johnson before. When he mentioned that this morning, I remember thinking one thing: how every message board, blog, text message and more lit up like 5th Avenue during World Cup 2006 that Eddie Johnson would be somewhat of savior should Bruce Arena throw him out there against the likes of the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.
A somewhat difficult and insurmountable situation for the Florida-born Johnson who was all of 22 at the time. EJ finally did make a late cameo against Ghana.
So here is a tale of the tape. Vote and add your commentary.
Summary: The 33-year-old, 5’8” striker tallied an astounding 17 goals in 28 appearances in 2009, for an absolutely ludicrous goals to appearance ratio of 60%. Wait, I’ll make that stat more impressive for you.
» Cunningham only started 23 of those games. Yowzers!
» Cunningham was not the de facto penalty kicker taker, nor especially proficient I might add. The PK responsibility fell to Kenny Cooper who went 2-for-2. Upon Cooper shipping overseas, Cunningham took 3, but only made 1
Cunningham: Dominant for Dallas
To put that goals to appearances stat in perspective, Fernando Torres for Liverpool was 72% in his killer 2007-2008 EPL campaign and 58% last year for the Reds.
The much traveled Cunningham can be considered a poor man’s Jermain Defoe, quick enough to squirt and dart between defenders for goals on the run. Where he falls short of Defoe (who has bulked up even more this year) is on-the-ball strength, will the strong and able defenders who will be like weeds in South Africa (like a Glen Johnson on the wing or a Chiellini in the middle) be able to knock him off the ball? Cunningham goes about 165-170lbs.
While Cunningham is producing right now, he’s failed to do so for the USMNT (except by me in FIFA ’06 but I digress…he has just a wicked speed rating in that game) accounting for 0 goals in 10 appearances with his last cap coming in 2005 (I think, check me on that one).
Questions of attitude and commitment also dog Cunningham.
Summary: The 25-year-old EJ just crosses the 6’0 ft mark. Having recently been recalled to the Fulham mother ship, EJ is spending more time on the pitch in the reserves rather than on Saturdays at Craven Cottage. As we mentioned above, EJ was looked on as sort of an offensive knight in shinguards for the 2006 World Cup as Ba-Ba-Booey Arena (sorry the nickname is sticking…at least temporarily) continually trotted out 4-5-1
EJ: Still trying to blaze the trail at Fulham
formations that left Brian McBride to fend for himself. But I digress.
EJ’s career started off with a bang sonic boom as the youngster detonated on the scene at the World Youth Series for the USMNT becoming the tournament’s top goal scorer despite the US being knocked out in the quarters by Argentina.
From there it was on to the senior side, where Johnson’s early games bear a mirror-like resemblance to Jozy’s, including a hat-trick in World Cup qualification. EJ is still one of the goal scoring leaders for the USMNT in World Cup qualification.
On the club side, after a series of injuries, failed attempts to get over to Europe and uneven club and country play, EJ found himself at Fulham in 2008. Since that time he’s been loaned to Cardiff City and recalled and struggled to be achieve a consistent place in Fulham’s starting 18, battling the likes of Eric Nevland and Diomansy Kamara for the right to deputize for Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora. EJ has typically found himself 5th in that pecking order.
As for Eddie on the pitch, pace is something that EJ does when he is resting. Just like MLB announcer Tim McCarver might describe a pitcher’s fastball as having “pop” or “looking faster as it gets to the plate,” so is EJ’s deceptive speed as balls that seem out of range or an easy win for the defender are rendered fair game. What I like about Johnson’s game is his ability to finish off the dribble or pull-up and drive a laser shot. That skill cannot be taught.
The knock on EJ beyond his past three years of falling production? I’ll answer with commentary from TSG reader “Berg” who contributed this in our preview piece:
“I’m excited to see if he’s changed at all over the last 2 years. He’s got some wheels but what I remember about him is that he, A) needed a ball to be almost perfectly played to him in order to do something with it and B) Looked disinterested in the game if he felt he wasn’t involved enough. He basically had to get some chances in the first 15 minutes in order to stay in the game mentally.”
I’ll add that I hope Johnson has learned to challenge the offsides line smarter (I can’t count the times that I remember EJ taking off either too early and earning a flag or too late and the goalie eating the ball) and show a general better feel for the game–which I think echoes Berg’s comments of “disinterest” above.
So, you make the call. Simply, who are you more excited to see and why?