Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Cunningham’

The Sprint to Strike: EJ vs. Cunningham

We had such a good time with our poll yesterday, that we thought we’d come back to the same format today.

Results from yesterday? (As of 10:30 PST, November 10th), 56% of TSG readers do not want Sacha Kljestan, based on his on-field behavior not necessarily his ability, to represent the USMNT.

Today, we have a decidedly more upbeat, airy poll for you, prodded on by TSG reader Dylan’s comments in our preview piece.

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Let's hope EJ's production goes retro, pre-, not post-2006.

TSG has already illuminated possible stand-ins for Charlie Davies. And we’re also keen to see an in-form Robbie Findley post the MLS playoffs.

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.

Jeff Cunningham

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

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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.

Eddie Johnson

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

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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?

USMNT Battles Slovakia: We Know Little

….of Slovakia that is.

Well, I started reaching my Slovakia column a full week or so earlier. Why? Not much is known about the Slovaks outside a handful of players

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Sestak, celebrating: Let's hope the USMNT doesn't see any of this.

with a connection to the EPL (typically West Brom Albion who easily dropped a league last year) and Marik Hamsik.

Well, what do we know about the Slovaks?

• They are ranked #33 by FIFA in October (yes, we know Fifa rankings are the equivalent to playing darts after 10 white russians, with a blindfold…missing a thumb) up twelve spots from September.

• They qualified for RSA with a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw.

• They had a very uneven path to qualification including a 4-0 trouncing by Wayne Rooney and company in March followed by a 2-1  win over Czech Republic–USMNT fans will remember the Czech Republic unfortunately very well–in April.

• While all the current hype is around Marik Hamsik (got any doubts, just click this link), they’re undisputed goal scorer with 6 during the 2009 trials was Bundesliga star Stanislav Sestak. The 26-year-old Stanislav (which is also my grandfather’s name I might add) has netted 9 times in 27 games for the national side, but get this….he’s beaten the keeper 23 times in 62 games for his club side VFL Bochum–impressive.

• On defense is a collection of EPLers and former EPLers led by Liverpool back Martin Skrtel and extending

hamsik

Hamsik, soon to be a household name

to West Brom’s Marek Cech. With ten goals against in qualifying the backfield is strong, but not infallible.

The anonymity of the players on the Slovak squad to USMNT fans and players alike, though, provides a good observation point for evaluation. How does the USMNT act and react….on the road…against a team where many of the Americans have seen a maximum of maybe one player who will take the pitch for the opposing side? A good lead-off match to the “friendly” season.

Let’s get right to our customary preview.

  1. TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
  2. 11 at the Whistle
  3. *Disclaimers

TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”

Overview: With Coach USA’s roster selections handicapped by MLS playoffs, the USMNT will be just looking for a positive result in this one under the guidance of his remaining regular starters and veterans.  In fact, more than half the starting squad that beat back Honduras for World Cup qualification will be absent from this one.

In a new time zone with the typical short period of preparation, look for Bradley to rely heavily on his most familiar players and to cautiously, but purposely introduce a few new starters and subs to get a peek at the potential for 2010.

» Mr. Robbie Rogers, please report to the starting line-up. Claim your ticket to South Africa now.

Let’s face it. The USMNT doesn’t have a whole lot of depth on the wing….and we mean true wingers, after Donovan and Dempsey, who is more of a forward. Holden looks ready to lockdown the right side, but who else is making a play for depth? Torres? Coach Bob has used Torres more often in the middle lately or on the outside when deploying a 4-3-3.

Robbie, it’s clear Coach USA is giving you a shot. And your cameo in RFK provided some flashes of what earned you that spot–although we remain unclear why you sat for more than a half in the Crew closeout game against RSL.

TSG is expecting you to start Saturday….and, with no Torres or even Donovan over the shoulder, produce.

(Actually I should be clear. Matthew at TSG is expecting you to start and produce. Here’s a little email exchange with my brother Monday:

Matt: “I already have the preview done for Slovakia — if you want, go take a read. Two words for ya: Robbie Rogers!”

Mark: “Rogers will prove once again he sucks when given too many minutes.”

So a divided TSG on this one, but I, Matthew, see Rogers as a player with a lot of attacking ability who can contribute.)

» EJ vs. Cunningham: Let’s get it on.

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Welcome Mr. Fan Selection 2006!

Coach USA will have a few days to see both. The two “elder” statesmen: Cunningham the MLS golden boot winner at 33 and EJ a vet of the 2006 World Cup have the leg-up on a spot as Charlie Davies recovers.

TSG has clearly not been a fan of Cunningham. One game on the international scene could change that for us.

EJ, for his part, seems intent to get back on the pitch for both club and country. If Eddie didn’t have a history of inconsistency, it would be easy to accept a part-time EPL player making and competing for both a roster and starting spot. Heck, that’s what the USMNT has with Jozy right now.

Let’s see if EJ’s reps abroad have improved his play, especially his feel for the game. We don’t get to evaluate Johnson, or Cunningham, above Donovan this time around with Landy still in LA, but here’s your knapsack, go start on the road to redemption.

» Can the Bradley-Benny! pairing recapture Gold Cup magic?

It was just a little bit more than 2 years ago during the 2007 Gold Cup run that Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber looked like a central midfield pairing for many years for the USMNT. While Bradley, though inconsistent, has held up his end of the bargain, Benny’s path to national team prominence has detoured through injury and, from reports, attitude.

With Ricardo Clark ailing, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones still shelved, and Kyle Beckerman going to be a “DNP-MLS playoffs,” it’s up to Feilhaber and Junior this round. The duo however is coming of a shaky start in the final World Cup qualifier game against Costa Rica as they lacked understanding in the middle and one or the other was consistently not where the other expected them to be.

Can they reclaim their magic? It won’t be the easiest route back as crashing through the middle for Slovakia will be the aforementioned Hamsik.

» Does Clint Dempsey shine or sputter in Donovan’s absence?

Clint is on an absolute tear in the EPL, weaseling his way to 3 goals in his last 3 EPL games after starting the campaign goalless in the first 8 matches. Here is an interesting stat on Deuce? Of his 17 EPL goals, roughly 30% of them have come in the last 15 minutes of the game. Another 23% have come in the first 15 minutes. What’s he doing in the middle there? Is this clutch or just energy, stakes maybe or mere interest level?

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Casey: Show USMNT fans more!

Regardless, Sir Deuce will be asked to carry more of the offensive load with Landon buddying up to Beck’s in LA for more MLS playoffs. How does this change Clint’s game? Does this change Clint’s game? Without Donovan is there more focus on Deuce from the other team defensively or does it open up his game?

» Make us believe Conor Casey.

Conor, you still have us at “Honduras.” We’ll give you the RFK game with a lot of emotion and nasty turf. Show us that you can contribute more than Brian Ching knockaround guy stuff up top. At this point, you’re the starter, play “as if.”

11 at the Whistle

G: Brad Guzan

D: Jonathan Spector, Chad Marshall, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein

M: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers

S: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey

Subs off the bench: Cunningham or EJ, Kljestan

Disclaimers

  • Does Conrad get a start? Or even Goodson? in central defense.

Generally, I feel pretty good about the line-up above as the one the Coach USA deploys this Saturday. Having said that, there are nine defenders on the rosters and three of them play central back. Does Bradley investigate if Conrad still has it or if Goodson is coming along faster than he thinks?

Likelihood: 15%

  • Does Heath Pearce get in there?

If you’ve got Castillo coming (perhaps), you’ve got Frankie and Steve as your veteran back-ups and you’ve seen a highly up-and-down Pearce in the Gold Cup, why is he there? Does Coach B see something TSG doesn’t? Bornstein is in form, so it would be hard to keep him out of the line-up.

Likelihood: 5%

Remember that’s a 10AM EST, 7AM PST start on Fox Soccer Channel for this one. If you’re on the East Coast, you’ll get to experience a little bit of the joy Pacific coasters do in rolling out of bed Sunday morning and immediately putting on the early NFL game. Enjoyable.

Enjoy the game.

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