With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?

Now that the harsh, though thankful, realities of Charlie Davies’ injuries are known, it’s time for Bob Bradley and the braintrust to start contemplating the front line going into World Cup 2010.

Davies: Speed and strength

Davies: Speed and strength

Taking a step back, TSG would promote that Charlie Davies was the 3rd least replaceable player on the States’ roster. That’s quite a statement for a player who only factored regularly starting in July 2009 and has less than 20 caps to his name.

Think about it.

There is Landon — irreplaceable on offense, on the left wing and defense. And there is Tim Howard. While Brad Guzan would deputize capably, USMNT fans have come to expect and probably demand Howard’s one to two saves a game and on field direction that change the score.

Next up? Mike Bradley? Nope, you’ve got Benny and Rico, not to mention Paco and maybe Jones or Edu. Dempsey, no again, in fact Stu Holden might be more than his equal on the right wing. Gooch or Boca? I guess we’ll find out here with Gooch’s knee tear but it’s not not incredibly hard to envision Chad Marshall , JayDeMerit, or even a Jimmy Conrad or a Clarence Goodson filling in admirably for either of them.

Altidore? A player who remains the single biggest wildcard for 2010’s Cup theatrics oddly wasn’t on the pitch to start for the States’ two most important qualifier matches, away at Honduras and away at Mexico and remains on the bench at his club team. Ruminate on that.

Davies? Well there is….

In fact there is no one for an abundance of reasons. Charlie Davies, the 3rd least replaceable player on the US national team, and now likely gone through the World Cup.

In July that wouldn’t have seemed like much. In October, it means the entire team dynamics.

Take a look at what Coach Bradley was developing on the left side: Bornstein, Rico, Davies and Donovan–perhaps the four fastest players at their position.

With the Davies-Donovan combination on the left, the U.S. was first using it’s offensive prowess to cover for what deficiencies the team may have at left back (depending who you speak with).

Is it coincidence that both Mexico and most recently Honduras started their attacks down the right side? Nope, they knew that throwing numbers up the U.S. right flank was much less dangerous. Had they tested the U.S. left flank, either opponent would have had to deal with the explosive, yes that is the right word, counter potential the Yanks deployed. (See Confed Cup, Brazil, Rico to Donovan to Davies to Donovan.)

In fact the Davies-Donovan offensive pairing, more than covering for defense, was perhaps the U.S.’s best 1-2 strike combination ever. Yes, I said that–with apologies to Joe Max-Moore and begrudgingly Eric Wynalda. This combo wasn’t lofting a cross onto McBride’s head or Reyna slotting a run for Clint Mathis–this was much more. This was World Cup-grade striking teams avoiding the U.S. left flank.

"Who's this ball going to?"

"Who's this ball going to?"

This was Donovan being able to have a player that matched his speed in possession who knew how to create space for the offender behind him. As we talked about in our Costa Rica review piece (see the LD section in player ratings), Donovan clearly suffered from Altidore, though strong on his own, and Casey not clearing or positioning fast enough for his midfield runs against the Ticos. Charlie knew exactly where to go and got there…fast.

Additionally, Davies speed in and of itself with the ball would open that filling position for Donovan to trail the play and execute. Opponents had to respect Davies’s ability to get up the pitch and round the defense. Altidore, sure he will turn the corner on the defender, but whereas Davies “happens,” Altidore “unfurls.”

Get my drift.

And even smaller subtle things were developing. Davies penchant to go extremely wide and throw a cross on frame as opposed to just breaking down his man (see El Salvador). With Casey and Altidore lining up on the other side that was a very healthy and high probability-type attack.

Yes, CD9 you will be missed on the pitch.

The riddle now is two-part: Who replaces Davies? and Does Bob Bradley change his entire attacking scheme or does he try to slot in a player with some of Davies attributes (speed, one-on-one ability) in front of Donovan?

Come to think of it maybe it’s just one question: Who allows the USMNT’s best player, Landon Donovan, to have the biggest impact on the game?

While the USMNT should expect to see Deuce on November 18th in Denmark up top (he’s already overseas and already a trusted member of the starting team), Deuce possesses neither the speed or the sheer determination to get to goal that CD9 did. Deuce is more prone in these days–not in 2006 mind you–to slow up a play for a cautious attack or show the ball a few times to the defender and then beat him as oppose to just challenge the defense on a quick counter (See Clint, T&T, Sept 10th).

So Coach USA will have to take a few months here to investigate and evaluate permutations in front of Donovan and then with a few months to go settle in to an offense that has the necessary parts behind it to make it work.

With this in mind, here’s our review of fifteen players who might get a trial up top ahead of Donovan. Mind you only the 1st two groupings or so will even sniff the starting line-up.

Group 1: The Likely Suspects

Clint Dempsey

Positives:  The Deuce is a seasoned veteran with a good understanding of Donovan’s game.  He knows how and where Donovan likes the ball and

Demps: Miles ahead of EJ in the pecking order

Demps: Miles ahead of EJ in the pecking order

the two are comfortable feeding off one another. Mainly though, the former Revolution player scores goals–exactly what a striker is supposed to do.

It would be a boon to Clint who has also played his best up at top for Fulham FC. He would be free of the defensive responsibilities and tracking back that have fans questioning his desire in 2009.

Negatives: Deuce does not possess the speed or the single minded goal of getting to the net. Deuce also heads to the middle on his runs where other Galaxy stars like to frequent.

The Skinny:  While TSG expects Deuce to get the nod up top, especially as both he and Altidore are the main US strikers overseas, the reality is Clint is at best, a forward, at worst,  a decent wing halfback. Demps is at his best when he is linking in the middle and holding up play–this is the antithesis of exactly what Donovan needs ahead of him–namely someone to clear out.

Can the partnership work? Yes because Donovan more so than Demps is a dynamic player. That being said are we keen to see that pairing up top?

We’ll reserve judgment.

And a wildcard here, you may often see Donovan move up to the striking role if Dempsey can handle more of the wing half role. At least the USMNT gets some versatility.

Likelihood: Highly likely

Jozy Altidore

Positives:  Jozy possess the ability to both turn the corner and dish off the ball to a cutting Landon. Only 19, JZA may be at a much higher level come August 2010.

Negatives: JZA is not that mature yet with linking play quickly and controlling the ball. Also, wherever he drifts the opponent sends an extra defender who would be coming right into Landon’s operating space.

Can he liberate the US in Mandela country?

Can he liberate the US in Mandela country?

The Skinny: US fans got a preview of this in the final WCQ game against Costa Rica. Altidore sitting on top of Donovan and it didn’t look half bad. While JZA meandered around the pitch (not a terrible thing), Coach Bob’s though process it just perhaps to the put the States’ most pure and dynamic skill on one side. A lot of this will depend on whether Donovan and Altidore can develop a chemistry and JZA’s maturation as a player.

In this case, Dempsey or a target man, like Conor Casey moves to the right.

Likelihood: Nearly as likely as the Deuce in our opinion.

Group 2: Might Get a Look

Conor Casey

Positives:  Casey has shown a penchant for mixing in some finesse and strikability with his bang-around game. Despite being betrayed by his touch in RFK on October 14th, he possesses an admirable first touch.

Negatives: More suited to going up and receiving the ball, Casey does not possess the combination of speed with bull rushing that Davies did. CC has not shown a consistent ability at the national level to integrate himself into the side as evidenced by scoring in only one of his 16 USMNT appearances.

The Skinny: While Casey possesses a lot more player movement and on-ball abilities than he gets credit for, he is at best wildly inconsistent and at worst one dimensional. Shows a penchant for losing the ball on counterattacks (see Chicago, Honduras, June 6th) which is not a “skill” you want to have in front of Donovan. A quality reserve player in our mind. Not nearly ideal in front of Lando.

Likelihood: More likely than another brace in global competition.

Group 3: Only in a Pinch

Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper

The Skinny: Both players have heard the boo birds at the national team level. While Ching’s star seems to be fading with age, Cooper’s is at least holding steady due to his recent accomplishments overseas. Your better bet here is Cooper, but he seems most comfortable when being fed in a clear position to lash a shot. Cooper is more of a near-the box, not on-a-run sort of player.

Neither player, mind you, may make the World Cup flight. In fact, if you asked me right now, I would bet on that.

Likelihood: You Tell Me

Below this line, you’ve got players who have a world to prove if they hope to even get on the charter to World Cup 2010.


Group 5: Hey Coach, One More Shot?

Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe

The Skinny: All three players are, in some capacity, what we’d call “Diet Charlie Davies.”

EJ possesses the speed that had USMNT fans salivating for him to sub in during WC 2006. Alas, he didn’t bring the game instincts and consistency that merited more than just a late game cameo against Ghana in 2006. EJ, though, has been an afterthought at Fulham and continues to fight for pitch time outside of the reserves.

Will Freddy ever be at the head of the class for the USMNT?

Will Freddy ever be at the head of the class for the USMNT?

The Renewed Freddy Adu, as TSG has dubbed him, brings the dynamic creativity that had Chuck Deezy celebrating stanky leg style. Unfortunately, he’s not truly a striker, doesn’t bring the same pace and worse he gets knocked off the ball more easily than Schevchenko in the EPL.

As for Adu, a cameo on his home continent may be in the offing, but we’d recommend the youngster belt on a few lbs of muscle and truly set the Iberian penninsula on fire with his play over the next 6 months.

Rolfe was a January 2009 camp call-in by BB after having subbed in during the earlier rounds of qualifying however he failed to distinguish himself. It’s a shame for Rolfe that the Denmark friendly is not a few months later as Rolfe accepted a transfer to Danish club AaB Aalborg during the January 2010 window.

Another potential member of this group? Real Salt Lake speedster Robbie Findley.

Likelihood: Count on at least one of these players getting another look over the next few months

Group 6: You Look Surprised to See Me?

Jeff Cunningham

The Skinny: Let’s just cut to the chase immediately here.

The mercurial Cunningham, who is everyone’s favorite name du jour, has been here before. The Dallas striker capped for the USMNT ten times between 2001 and 2005.

Guess who's back? Back again? Shady's back. Tell a friend.

Guess who's back? Back again? Shady's back. Tell a friend.

At 33-years-old, having worn out his welcome at numerous stops, and with a steady diet of MLS defenses for the past 10 years, do we really expect Cunningham to be an impact player on the world scene?

TSG says no. Cunningham will get a look and may be a reserve if all the dominos topple the right way, but our magic 8-ball doesn’t have the best things to say here.

Likelihood: Cloudy with a chance of Cunningham, you bet

Group 7: Are You Dribbling a #3 ball?! Are Those Diapers You’re Wearing?

Marcus Tracy, Preston Zimmerman

The Skinny: This is something straight out of the Soccer National Enquirer, but if Bob Bradley wanted to go the way of then England coach Sven Goran Eriksson circa 2006 (Theo Walcott), he could take a flier on a USMNT U-something player. Maybe Coach B can catch another Charlies Davies’s lightening strike in a bottle?

Other possible take-a-looks from the junior corps include: Gabriel Ferrari and Jeremiah White–White is playing with USMNT super sub Benny Feilhaber on AGF in Denmark right now. It would be worth it for Bob Bradley just deal one of the youngsters into a friendly as wild card in case maybe, just maybe.

Likelihood: Depends on how much BB wants to travel

—– Below this line….forget about it—–

Group 8: Umm….It’s Not Ringing

Brek Shea, Edson Buddle

The Skinny: Let’s just move on.

Likelihood: Let’s just move on.

Group 9: You Stinking Traitor

Giuseppi Rossi

The Skinny: Sadly enough, yes, the absolute best American-born option to inhabit Davies striker role is none other than…curses…the New Jersey born Rossi who now suits up for the Azurri.

Most will remember Rossi for his June brace that led Italy back against the Yanks in the Confed Cup. Rossi’s ability to blast shots from afar only contributes to his ability to take his defenders 1-on-1. As well, he plays on the left side already.

Likelihood: Boo.

Group 10: Back to the Future

McBride: Your heart is missed

McBride: Your heart is missed

Brian McBride

The Skinny: While long-time fans might pine for a cameo to get Mr. McBride back on the national team pitch, the former Craven Cottage standout is just that….former.

Likelihood: Got a DeLorean?


Sure, where there are a few players we maybe missed along the way–Chad Barrett, Adam Christman or maybe even a Chris Pontius–but the reality is Bob Bradley is a creature of repetitions, veteran play and earning your chances once squad worthy. So once you get past, say, Group 3 above, you’re really talking about some long odds in even any of those strikers meriting consideration with just 10 months to go.

Bob Bradley real inner debate will probably stem more from the following question:

Who is in form and raised their game among the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and, yes, Conor Casey and how do I structure an offense ahead of Landon and the midfield that suits my team.

In RFK you saw a glimpse of what Bradley was thinking and if tomorrow were the early weeks of August 2010 you’d probably see it again: Moving Altidore around to create match-ups up top and space on the opposite wing for Donovan with Dempsey, not Casey, most likely to slot into that role.

This strategy will rely on Clint bringing his Fulham form to the natties and just as importantly Jozy’s development as a player.

For pitchtime, please make your checks out to Hull City, c/o Phil Brown (at least for now).

62 responses to this post.

  1. Great article gents. Good analysis. A great way for me to start my otherwise terrible (anticipated) day. I agree with your sentiments about Deuce up top and I’m hoping that BB giving him the green light up top releases some of that “conservative-ness” that we’ve seem from him.

    I hope it takes just one heart-to-heart from BB to Clint, “go and do what you do best up there and get at the goal”. Deuce desperately needs to let the pressure off himself like LD has over the last year and play his game.

    Here’s to hoping.


    • I concur about Clint. He may not have the pace that Donovan has been thriving off of, but he offers a little bit of the unknown for the defense. You don’t know when he’s going to come straight at you with tons of energy and vigor, like he did for Fulham against Arsenal, or when he’s going to sit back a little and be more of an understated influence in the proceedings. He has shown the ability to score when it matters which makes him very likely to get the nod up top. The problem is do you pair him with a target forward, or a non-target forward? Deuce hasn’t shown quite the propensity to play the target role, but would you really want him and Casey paired together? Jozy and Deuce seem to be better compliments for each other, but that would force the US to play more of a build-up out of the back style offense instead of the current dynamic (I may be a little too nice using that word) scheme where the fans (and possibly the players) aren’t really sure if we’re going to build out of the back, hoof it up top, or sit back and counter during any given stretch of the game.

      As for Freddy, he of course must get some meaningful minutes at Belennenennsnsensnsenes or however you spell it. If he does I think he could be the real X factor for the US; the game that he scored that free kick in was interesting to watch the interplay between him and JZA and Kenny Cooper. Granted it was against Guatemala and no one from the US First team was there. But, he has the knack to help find and create space for others, as long as the opposition is respecting him which they won’t until he begins to consistently perform. I’m not saying he should start as the other striker, but he could, stress could not should, definitely be a viable option off the bench if we desperately need a goal.

      As a last thought, what about moving Lanny up top? I know the whole point of this piece is to discuss who would work best in tandem with him, but…he’s got the speed that we’re missing. The downside is that he’s really come into his own this summer and fall on the left side of midfield, and he used to ghost in and out of games when put up tops as a second striker. Moving him up top would be contingent on at least two of the younger mids stepping up and proving that they can be reliable and consistently produce at the International Level as opposed to one striker having to step up. Guys like Stu Holden, Robbie Rogers, Torres (though he looks better suited for the deep CM role), or even moving Rolfe back to the outside mid. Just throwin’ that out there.

      He’s been spectacular on the left side of midfield this summer and fall, but he’s got the speed that we’re missing up top.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 8:50 AM


        I think Bob did two things by putting Landon Donovan over at left half. One, he opened up the slicing inside runs that Donovan uses so well to threaten the defense and two he plugged whole that has been open for who knows how long.

        I mean 2006 we had Eddie Lewis–he of the crosses and little else–and Bobby Convey. As anyone who reads here can tell, I’m not a huge BC on the USMNT fan.

        Also, BB’s rationale (and mine as well) is you don’t rob from one position to make another stronger. Then the nagging questions of going back to “old thing” come at you.

        I think BB–assuming JZA develops–needs to find a way to get Jozy on the pitch–then there is likely Deuce as really the only other options and the question remains who plays above Donovan.

        I think you’ll see a little bit of what you saw at RFK. Altidore over the top in concept, but really floating around the top so as not to clog for Donovan. Deuce would sit more towards the middle. That’s probably the best option right now and frankly probably next year.

        Out of all those options up top, I think any x number look at EJ won’t really do it. Chris Rolfe will be interesting to see what he does now that he’s healthy and overseas.

        I don’t see Cunningham nor any of the junior guys unless they are setting their leagues on fire.


  2. Posted by MG3 on 2009/10/20 at 7:37 AM

    I say Deuce goes up top with Jozy. Clint has always played with more “drive” when he plays up top and his only responsibility is to score goals (See late game changes at the Confederations Cup).

    Our midfield has the most depth, so I don’t think it will be a problem to take Clint out of that pool of players. I would argue that right-mid is the easiest position to step in to, so that can be filled by almost anyone.


  3. Posted by Rob Rodriguez on 2009/10/20 at 8:34 AM

    (A letter from Sunil Gulati to Chad Ochocinco)
    Dear Mr. Ochocinco,

    I write to you as a true fan and someone who can present the opportunity of a lifetime to make a lasting impact on a sport that you love. I implore you to take the time to consider playing for the US Men’s National Soccer Team in South Africa. Your speed and agility up top gives us the strengths we need to play to the best of our ability, and your athleticism is surely nothing to ignore but here are the top 5 reasons why I think you should come play for the USMNT in the summer of 2010:

    5. As you are probably well aware, one of our most beloved soccer players, Charlie Davies, has suffered injuries that will almost surely rule him out of play for the World Cup next summer. His play will be missed, but an even greater tragedy will be the absence of his “stanky leg” celebrations. We’ve seen the film and know that you can bring the “stanky leg” as well as other dances to the team’s celebrations.

    4. You love Twitter! Who doesn’t? Well our young USMNT players happen to share the same affinity for the online tool, and unlike your coaches in the NFL I’m sure Bob Bradley wouldn’t mind you twittering during the game. Come to the sideline during an injury or foul, and we’ll have water and a blackberry waiting for ya!

    3. Dancing With the Stars is passe. Look, I’m sure you’ll have a great time doing the show and make a great amount of money, but the fact is this is what everyone else is doing. Isn’t it time for Chad Ochocinco to make a statement? You’re someone who’s known for going against the grain so be consistent and come play for the USMNT. You won’t make nearly as much money, but I’m sure Marvin Lewis will understand. Besides, who needs OTAs anyways? Not Brett Favre.

    2. You have a teammate that already knows how to deal with international superstar athletes in Landon Donovan. I mean sure it seems like him and David Beckham had a rough summer, but they worked it out. I’ll make sure to tell Lando to get his guesthouse ready so that you guys can build chemistry during the NFL offseason. I’m positive that Landon’s wife won’t mind.

    1. You said it yourself this summer Chad, soccer is your first love. “Esteban’ Ochocinco is back. The most interesting footballer in the world. Everyone has to remember, I’ve always said that soccer is my No. 1 sport. I think Ronaldinho would be proud of me right now.” Wouldn’t it be great to actually score against him this summer?

    I think you’ll find that I make a strong case for you joining our squad next summer Mr. Ochocinco. My hopes is that you’ll consider my offer seriously as we are in need of some great speed up top, but don’t take too much time in making your decision as we might just call on another prolific receiver who’ll be looking for a job this summer. Do you have Terrell Owens’ number?

    Sunil Gulati


    • Posted by pckilgore on 2009/10/20 at 9:38 AM

      Terrible yet massively entertaining at the same time.

      Also 85 might just be the highest number I’ve ever seen on a soccer player jersey, but since I don’t have time to play googlepedia right now I’ll just leave that particular piece of trivia up to the masses.

      As for the striker question, I’ll go home and perform some simulations with FIFA10 and figure out whose better. Because at this point in the season, that will be about as accurate as any predictions the rest of us could make….


      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/20 at 9:52 AM

        Any interest in writing “Ten Corner Kicks On FIFA ’10″…basically ten interesting things about the game and we’ll post it on TSG?

        (I’ll get the game eventually, but am traveling for the next 10 days. Also, the last one I had was ’07.)


        • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 2:54 PM

          I’d like to say the last decent one I had was ’07. I won’t get the Fifa I’ve been the most excited for ever because I only have wii. *woo hoo*


      • Posted by Rob Rodriguez on 2009/10/20 at 10:48 AM

        I really have my eye on making into the Jimmy Conrad Wing of the Comment Hall of Fame, but I’m not sure if this letter to Chad Ochocinco is quite as good as the letter to El Tri. Nevertheless, I just hope this makes people who love both kinds of “football” chuckle.


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/20 at 10:42 AM

      It may be closer than you think:




  4. Posted by kaya on 2009/10/20 at 9:44 AM

    Saying Mr “Kersey” doesn’t have combination of speed with bull rushing that Davies does is like saying night is not day, up is not down, etc…
    As for your group #7… too bad we don’t have an Arsene Wenger to tell us “here’s who will make your metatarsal woes disappear.” Of course, Walcott played like 10 meaningless minutes, and we don’t have any Walcotts from the U33 down. But the “dawn of Davies” makes me wonder how many kids we do have out there who were eschewed/missed by O Holy Bradenton.
    How exactly does a group decide they can afford an old boys network when they’re still disregarded by the rest of the world?
    Anyway, quite a list!


  5. Posted by kaya on 2009/10/20 at 9:48 AM

    Did anyone else ever read Superfudge!
    Mebbe our best option is Peter’s raw egg shake for Davies every morning?


  6. Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 10:11 AM

    It’s too bad Ngwenya has already played with Zimbabwe. He’s fast.

    My honost answer says none of the above. You move Donovan to Attacking Mid and start Torres on the left side. Seems like an extremely unexperienced squad for the World Cup, but I think it can get the job done. Its not like Torres isn’t crazy fast like Donovan. I disagree with Casey though. Casey should never be on this list. Altidore and Cooper I want to see up top right now, with Donovan behind both of them. For the first friendly I want to see…

    Holden,1 of our 50 defensive mids,Donovan,Torres


  7. My favorite option is Kenny Cooper. He’s quicker than people realize because they are mostly entranced by his size. He also has the gift that all good strikers need, which is that magical ability to finish plays. However, he and the rest of our best options are guys that don’t really push the back line. There are players who you mentioned who can do this, but I don’t trust any of them to be able to put a soccer ball in the goal at the international level, let alone throw a tennis ball into the goal.

    My best bet is Deuce. I think he still has the ability to go to another level once he hits the World Cup, as was evidenced by his scoring in the Confederations Cup.


  8. Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/20 at 10:41 AM

    Echoing Matt’s sentiment above, Davies is one-of-a-kind when it comes to the player pool for the national team.

    Due to that fact, I peppered Matthew with questions about formation change as he wrote the piece. However, any formation change would bring its own problems in addition to the need to develop chemistry in any new system. So, as the saying goes, “better the devil you know, than the one you don’t.”

    It seems like the US hopes are now pinned to Dempsey regardless of what position he is ultimately deployed in. Given his recent stretch of less-than-inspiring play, that is not a good place to be in.

    Still, I remain hopeful that the US can earth (or re-energize in the case of Deuce) the right player / combination in the next eight months at least in the same zip code as the ascension of Davies or Holden. Remember, neither of them were considered key contributors to a World Cup run when the calendar flipped to 2009.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 12:14 PM

      with formation change we could go with a lone striker up top, but then I think we have to call up cunningham. I don’t think that will happen and I don’t know anyone else we have that could play that.

      I think Cooper will prove himself now, and I’m not a BIG fan of Cooper, but he does have quick feet, fancy footwork. Contrary to his speed is his height (which is why people can’t buy him as fast.) Look out for Coop


  9. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 11:02 AM

    Mark — maybe I’ll try and clean up our back-and-forth on the formation.

    I think the thing to remember if you have maybe what 12 friendlies, tops left before the World Cup. That’s not a ton of pitch time to be tinkering with line-ups and positions.

    Twelve matches and this is isn’t Spain where all the players grew up playing together.

    I think BB will compartmentalize the decision with a focus as I mentioned on “how do I great space and interplay for Landon.”

    He’ll try again what he did at RFK–that is slotting in our most dynamic striker Jozy in front of Landon, but allowing him to roam the pitch. In this regard if JZA and Dempsey can create chemistry “showing” for LD — that might be our best option.

    One wildcard as well, though Mark and I discounted this yesterday. If you get a Castillo perhaps on the pitch that creates some other offensive opportunities working with Donovan.

    Other than that, I am personally hoping for at least a flash from someone like Rolfe or Adu, just for the excitement aspect of it.

    If had to bet money on the most likely player to strike who didn’t really factor in the Gold Cup or WCQ, I would put it on Rolfe, then Adu, then EJ (pending his pitchtime).

    I’d gladly take someone’s opinion on Robbie Findley — I just haven’t seen him play quite enough to be confident in my own take.

    On the Pat’s note about Kenny Cooper, I think while quick for his size, he’s still not necessarily quick enough in the interplay role with Landon. Just my opinion.


    • Posted by Rob Rodriguez on 2009/10/20 at 11:35 AM

      The fact of the matter is we’re leaking at the back and the front right now with injuries to Center backs (ala Gooch and Demerit) and the obvious injury to Charlie Davies.

      With that said I think I’d like to see the combination/trial of the following:

      Specs,Gooch/Parkhurst/Castillo ,JD/Boca ,Bornstein
      Holden, Edu/Rico/J. Jones(D), Feilhaber/Torres/Adu, Donovan,
      JZA, Dempsey/Cooper/Casey

      And I hate to say it but if we happen to get lucky and are drawn into a group with at least 1 “weak” team, it might give us one extra game to have a trial by fire to see what works and what doesn’t work.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 11:41 AM


        I’m hoping that we get those trials by fire out of the way during the friendly season.

        Two notes here from your comment:

        – While we are leaking at the back indeed, I’m absolutely excited to see a Chad Marshall vs. Nicholas Bendtner match-up in Denmark on Nov.. 18th. I think, and hope, that CM passes that test.

        – I think of the whole entire line-up up there, the biggest wild card is Paco — everyone else kind has at least an idea of their role. For BB’s part, I’m not sure he knows what exactly to do with Paco. He’s either an attacking mid or a decent left wing.

        Sure there is the possibility of Donovan moving up to striker (maybe we see Paco behind him?), but outside of that where does Paco slot in — that will be interesting to witness.


        • I think Paco’s best role would be hanging back and playing with a Bradley or Benny, they’d have to come back on defense of course. But Torres would free them up to do some running off the ball while he distributes. Granted we only saw that against a tired CR team, but he seems better suited for the role than anyone else we currently have, therefore I would have to toss him out of the left-sided midfield equation.

          What about Castillo in the Left Mid slot? According to your other post, he seems better suited for that role and JB has been stepping up both offensively and defensively of late. Maybe a left side of JB, Edgar, and Lanny up top would maximize Donovan’s effectiveness while still giving us the speed to stretch the defense….


  10. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 12:25 PM

    OK, definitely going to re-post some of Mark’s and my email exchange yesterday.

    If you’re doing the lone striker thing up top, you’re only US option there is Jozy. Big enough to maintain possession and still a threat to score by himself. The key is really maintaining possession and being an immediate threat to score up there–and Jozy is really the only guy.

    Unfortunately Cunningham would get swallowed up there on the international scene. Disclaimer, I’m not a Cunningham fan and I’m having a really difficult time translating how a 33-year-old with a slight (read: not Jermaine Defoe) frame who’s feasted on MLS defenders for 10 years is going to be anything more than a late game cameo guy at best down in RSA.

    I don’t think there is any way against international competition that we go 4-5-1. We don’t have the managed possession to methodically move the ball up the pitch like a Barca or for an international side see Brazil.

    McBride was left to fend for himself in 2006 and that was not pretty. We had 1 goal in 3 games that was our own and only 10 shots on goal in the entire tournament.

    Oh heavens no! :>


    • I definitely agree with that sentiment. Altidore is our only lone-forward option. Jeff Cunningham? He’s a speed guy, not a possession guy. He’d be more adept as a wing player in a 4-5-1, and we have better options.


    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/20 at 12:41 PM

      The US went 4-5-1 once or twice in the Confed Cup, I believe.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 12:58 PM

        I bet that was only after they were leading–when they do that it’s more like a 4-4-1-1 as Dempsey sits behind the striker (usually Ching or Casey who are knocking around up top)

        Defensively, CC or BC will push the play one way and Dempsey’s responsibility is then the 1st pass.

        Oddly enough in the first Honduras game at RFK during the Gold Cup, BB came out with a 4-4-1-1 with Ching over Adu. Adu was less than impressive and was subbed out in the 2nd half for none other than CD9.

        The US went on to win with 2 second half goals from Ching and Quaranta.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 1:09 PM

          My brother just mentioned to me that the US went 4-5-1 to start against Brazil and Italy in the Confed Cup. My apologies.

          That being said the US got killed in those games.

          This is a great dialogue….I hope more folks weigh in.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 2:35 PM

      I was pointing out cunningham to basically say we have no reason to play in a 4-5-1. I don’t agree that Altidore would be effective in the role right now, and I was pointing out the only American striker that successfully plays it even at MLS. I HATE Jeff Cunningham.

      I’m a little confused though, what other formation changes could we really use? If we’re seeing, at least in my point of view, lack of quality forwards, than the only logical switch is drop a forward. If you have something you’re thinking of I’d like to know. The last thing I want right now is to throw someone alone up top like you said “to fend for himself”


      • I think the only other formation that could possibly work is the Brazilian 4-2-4 with the top 4 players in the “magic box” formation with freedom to roam. However, we’d need 4 defenders playing absolutely out of their minds and the two midfielders would have to break everything up as well as distribute. I don’t think we have the personnel to do it, but that’s pretty much all that is left to try, since the 4-3-3 didn’t work (see first CR game) and the 4-2-3-1 doesn’t really work against teams tougher than Cuba.


        • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 2:59 PM

          Yeah it’s just about the last thing to try, but the I think the biggest problem is we don’t have enough “magic players”


        • The 4-2-4 is essentially what we were playing with Donovan, Dempsey, Davies & Altidore in a 4-4-2. The 1958 Brazilians’s suicidally attacking 4-2-4 has evolved into a counter attack formation that’s really a 4-2-2-2 with 6 person attack consisting of 2 ball winners, 2 attacking players and 2 strikers with no true holding player. The system malfunctions when the other team is also set out to counterattack, hence problems in T&T. The 4-4-2 we played against Costa Rica was more traditional since it had Feilhaber and then Torres functioning as a holding player so it was in fact a different system.


  11. I’m not sure I’m on board with the whole “Landon has no room to operate without Charlie Davies” angle. I read something similar from Jeff Carlisle on ESPN.com (which I think he pulled from a Jimmy Conrad quote?), but I think that Landon’s relative ineffectiveness against Costa Rica had more to do with the fact that the Ticos scored 2 early goals and then sat back in a 7-player defensive shell for the rest of the game. Donovan seemed to be creating well up until the first goal, and even had a fantastic chance on goal that he squandered (as did Altidore and Casey). So, personally, I think the loss of Charlie Davies was huge, but not in regards to how it affects Donovan. If anything, having two target forwards makes his crossing and precision-passing that much more dangerous.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 12:34 PM

      Thankfully, we made that comment before Conrad and Carlisle. :>

      I think you bring up a good point about the Ticos sitting back in defense. That surely did not help Donovan’s game.

      But–since I wrote the piece :> — I disagree on Davies impact not being highly material to Donovan by pointing to the Confederation’s Cup. Only when teams started respecting Davies speed (he got loose a few times early against Egypt) did Donovan’s game open up. In fact, we didn’t score beyond a PK until Davies took the pitch (I’ll have to fact check that.).

      The US team loses some counter attack potential. But if you don’t have that threat of speed and finishing over the top of Donovan, then opponents are going to do what they’ll always done. Press again LD and have him layoff the ball laterally as oppose to playing it through.


      • The Confed Cup response is a valid one, and that competition was the most similar to what we will face in the World Cup. I guess the real answer lies in the next couple of friendlies. I would have thought that regardless of Davies’ speed, the back line of the defense sets how much room there is for our players to operate (Landon et all), but it will be interesting to see. Denmark has a solid defense (I watched last week’s Sweden/Denmark match and they held Ibrahimovic in check fairly easily). That will be a good test as to whether we can push the back line to create room for Donovan or not.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 1:35 PM

          Agreed on Denmark.

          Agger, Kjaer….not to mention Sorenson between the pipes. Sorenson is a stud in my opinion.

          So much better than playing the likes of Latvia and others like we did in 2006….


        • @MatthewSF

          I compeltely agree with the better competition pre World Cup and it made me think:

          Lately I’ve been softening my stance on Bradley and now I wonder whether he’s behind most of the differences we’re seeing for US Soccer on the whole, and if he had just a bit more charisma (ala Mourinho or Eric Cantona) and took a few more risks with tactics would he be considered by us in the blogosphere as the savior we’ve been waiting for, and anointed The Coach for life, similar to Dean Smith with UNC basketball or Coach K at Duke…..


    • Davies definitely stretched a defense and tended to occupy 2 of the back four, unlike Casey who a capable centre-back can handle on his own. That leaves the fullback to pressure Donovan. However, Costa Rica played a 3-5-2 meaning their was a more advanced wing-back right in the space Donovan tends to use to spring counter attacks between the fullback and wide midfielder.


  12. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/20 at 1:00 PM

    By the way, Kevin, Pat, Nick — really great commentary here today. I love that the TSG community is extremely knowledgeable and willing to contribute.

    Thank you.


  13. Posted by Berg on 2009/10/20 at 2:21 PM

    It has to be Dempsey pairing with JZA up top in my opinion. The move as a whole makes too much sense.

    A. You move a Dempsey into a position in which he has shown drive and a propensity for. It may be a very real fact that Dempsey at Forward > Dempsey at Midfield. Watching the Hull/Fulham game, I saw Dempsey again making himself available on offense as well as coming back to pick passes on D. Removing the constraints of being a wing player may just be the tonic that makes EPL Dempsey get on that plane to South Africa.

    B. Slotting Dempsey forward doesn’t come at a cost of talent. In fact, it may actually increase the talent on the pitch as a whole. Instead of playing a marginal talent in Ching/Casey as a replacement for Davies, you move Dempsey up and bring on one of the up and comers in Holden, Benny! or Paco Torres. The old robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t hold true here. While there is a relative dearth of talent at striker for the US, the midfield has a number of prospects outside the current starters who could be viable players. Not the least of these are the aforementioned triplets, as well as possible canidates like Edu, Adu, Jones, Castillo, Clark, Beckerman and Rogers. I can see Holden snaking in crosses to the waiting head and feet of Dempsey.

    As I said before, it just makes sense to me. My only reservation is that Dempsey is definitely a different type of player than Davies. He will pull the ball back on his foot, slow down and try take someone on along the byline. for continuity ‘s sake, Bradley may want a more similar (albeit lesser) skill set.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/10/20 at 2:43 PM

      I think Dempsey at striker makes too much sense, in a bad way. (cue the arguement)


  14. Jones just became eligible so the answer is obviously a 4-3-2-1. I really think the addition of Jones might make Bob start thinking outside the 4-4-2 box to get his son into the line-up and Junior is definitely more suited to the 3 man central midfield than the fulcrum (his club play 4-5-1 much of the time). The midfield 3 is Jones, Torres, Bradley. That is one seriously industrious midfield with Torres capable of setting the tempo, turning after the receiving the ball out of the back (this is what both Bradley and Feilhaber repeatedly failed to do against Costa Rica, despite having plenty of time) and playing penetrative passes.

    I think Altidore has had the epiphany he needed about the hard work that’s required and once he gets a good run of training in he’ll get the minutes leading Hull’s heretofore futile attack. VoH just isn’t suited to playing as a lone striker. Kenny Cooper is a reasonable substitute for Altidore since he’s so mobile. Casey/Ching would need a strike partner & change of system.

    Donovan and Dempsey are playing behind Altidore and reinforcing the midfield as neccessary when we’re out of possession. This is a way to give both Donovan and Dempsey more freedom, which is a liberty they tend to take anyway. The 4-3-2-1 lacks static width so we’d really want a Castillo to do well when he gets his audition on the left.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/21 at 11:00 AM

      @Tuesday — we’ve had the “Formation Conversation” before. :>

      In general with maybe 12 friendlies left and non of these players trying the 4-3-2-1 at their home club, I don’t think you’re going to see. IMO, I think it’s asking too much too soon in the tourney.

      The challenge I see with the 4-3-2-1 is that if you keep your midfielders central and narrow, while protecting the middle, you invite a lot of pressure at what is perhaps the weakest part of the defense (the outside fullbacks)–you’re bound too see a Robinho fly by a Spector (which you say in the Confed Cup).

      If you keep it wide then you force either Demps and Donovan back or you force Jones to play quite a bit of cover.

      In terms of Altidore, I think in the a 4-3-2-1 he’s got too much responsibility than he’s ready for, two he’s going to tire easier and three you take him further away from the goal in theory — all bad things in my mind.

      Our debate will continue….. :>


    • Posted by J mann on 2009/10/22 at 9:52 AM

      I was thinking the exact same thing as you i_like_tuesday. I’m not an expert but I think the pitches are going to be narrow in South Africa. Wouldn’t this be a plus for the 4-3-2-1 formation? The USMNT played with this formation last year against Cuba.

      Another formation I was thinking of is the 4-1-4-1. I would slot J. Jones or Edu in at DM. The other four I would put in the middle are Donovan, Torres, Benny, and Dempsey. Torres in more of a withdrawn position and Benny forward more. I feel like this is the best way IMO to incorporate Torres and Benny in the middle together. Of course Jozy up top. What do you guys think of this formation? Any players you would change? Why?

      If we keep the same formation I think Dempsey up top and Holden on the right is the best option. I just like thinking outside of the box.


  15. Posted by kaya on 2009/10/20 at 3:52 PM

    Consider me still a skeptic with The Bob. I think he’s methodical (credit) and is figuring things out as he goes along (not so much.) I’m sure he spends every waking hour watching countless video clips/games and reading and contemplating analyses, etc. Do I think he has it in him to put together our best possible selection given the circumstances: not really. It’s taken him a while to get where we were before all the injury news, and it’s not like there weren’t already gaping holes. Now we need to start over to a certain extent in attack and fix an enlarged hole in defense.
    I’m an admitted cynic, but luckily 50% of what gets most teams through in the WC is often a great deal of the emotional pendulum swinging your way and good fortune.
    Anyway, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the favorites for “best player in the world” are wingers nor that Landon has excelled in that position. This isn’t to try to say anything to Landon’s discredit, but rather to say I think more than trying to do a one for one swap with Davies, if we could find our CMF’s this wouldn’t be such a huge problem.
    I’m all for giving Jozy and Dempsey up top with Landon and Holden on the wings a shot. The eternal question is who’s in the middle and are they capable of enough possession and defense to give Landon room. I liked what I saw with Torres, but I wonder if he isn’t going to get beat up on by physically larger teams. I’ve admittedly only seen online clips of Jones, but everyone says he’s our savior in waiting. However, I wonder if he’s the one who expects others to cover for him defensively and would cause more problems than solve for the team if not catered to. I’m not crazy about the quotes I’ve read on his theories of why it didn’t work out for him on the German national team. (Being “different” and having tatoos…hmmm.)


    • Torres ability to stand up to CONCACAF style physical play will not be a worry because that will probably be subject to Confederations Cup style sending off at the World Cup. See: midfielders going to ground vs. Brazil/Italy. We will see much less contact than we’ve become accustomed to. Besides, he’s very quick. Size doesn’t matter when you’re as quick with the ball as he is. It doesn’t come across on telly, but in person he made Donovan look kind of slow.


      • Posted by kaya on 2009/10/20 at 4:52 PM

        His speed and presence came across quite well, I thought! The thing is, I didn’t know how much to credit Costa Rica’s implosion into a defensive shell… and he came on after Landon was clearly pretty gassed. No question he did an excellent job of shutting down most of the fleeting opportunities the Ticos may have had, but between him and Robbie Rogers I wasn’t sure if I was watching a breakthrough moment or if it was just a culmination of factors.


        • Sorry, I should have said “quick with the ball”. Just saying he’s at a higher level technically than the rest of our players. Torres was able to turn when receiving the ball and make penetrative passes. Bradley and Feilhaber had done well to keep possession but were reluctant to turn in the center of midfield even when they weren’t under any pressure. Too much playing the ball backwards or sideways meant the game was played in the middle of the park. I don’t think it was so much that the Ticos decided to drop back to defend in the late stages as they were pushed back into their own half in the final 30 minutes by the more penetrative passing in midfield.


  16. Posted by Brian on 2009/10/20 at 4:27 PM

    as long as casey isnt in the starting or ching ill be happy
    i see them adding nothing to this team and it would be better to move dempsey up top or and put in stu benny or torres

    as other people have said

    casey got lucky to score those 2 goals really i have no clue how he didnt get called for a foul on the first one


  17. Am I crazy for thinking that we don’t necessarily have just one optimal lineup? Doesn’t it completely depend on the team we are facing? For example, I would prefer Spector to Cherundolo against a team with a large winger (someone like Dirk Kuyt for the Netherlands, for example), but I would prefer Cherundolo against a speedy winger like Sean Wright-Philips or Aaron Lennon. Similarly my optimal midfield would depend on whether we expect to get attacked down the wings or through the middle. I’m kind of hoping that we DON’T see a static lineup in the World Cup. With that said, I do agree that the best move would generally be to put Dempsey up top with Altidore then move Holden to right mid. I still like Feilhaber as a super-sub rather than a starter. I think Jermaine Jones has a very good chance to replace Rico Clark as our primary defensive center-mid, and I’m cool with him making runs forward as long has he communicates that with Bradley or Feilhaber.


    • Posted by pckilgore on 2009/10/23 at 6:56 AM

      No I think you’re right, and I also think letting players know that they are NOT indispensable pushes them to perform in situations where they otherwise wouldn’t. A side note to this is our starting players shouldn’t be finding their match fitness in internationals – and for this reason alone its hard to hate on the MLS as a USMNT fan because dammit those guys are getting good minutes. Bradley can and should use who is the most fit and most appropriate player for any situation, and not stick with a one team fits all approach (Arena) or a willy-nilly one either (Maradona). This is one thing I think he has done very well thus far, and hopefully he will keep doing it.


      I can guaren-fuckin-tee you that if you bench Dempsey to start a game and put Holden in – you will see a pissed off and motivated Dempsey when he finally gets in as a sub or the next game. When you look back at his performances in previous years you can see its just the mentality he has. When he was younger it translated into aggression and idiot runs, but a few years in the EPL have seemed to have fixed that. Sit him for the first 45 against Denmark and have Ching or Casey play up top, then substitute one of the target men out and see what Dempsey does.

      An in form, motivated Clint Dempsey completely changes the makeup of this team. The Clint we’ve seen recently can and should be replaced with a player that looks like they want to play, and want to win (Paco/Holden).


  18. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/10/21 at 7:25 PM

    How about a 4-3-2-1: 4 in the back-Benny/Bradley/Paco or Rico/Benny(or Paco)/Bradley{all depending on an offensive or defensive mindset} with Lando and Dempsey as wingers but Dempsey is deeper and in closer to Jozy in the front and lando is more shallow/closer to the midfield to control the game more but still relatively out wide so he can work with Bornstein/Paco/or Benny as needed. essentially i’m hinting at a subdued(and offset) 4-3-3 which can change to more attack-mindedness when needed with lando and Duece getting up more(see Bayern Munich’s formation with Arjen Robben and that other guy). The only problem with this is that it doesnt give Clint the freedom he needs.


    • This is exactly my preferred solution. It actually helps our defense on the wings since the 3 move together, shifting back and forth to defend the wings. They play as the left or right 3 of a tradition 4 man midfield which has the added advantage of putting a ball-winner defending the flank instead of Donovan or Dempsey who are almost always cheating a bit to quickly counter anyways. The idea is that you concede the space on the opposite wing and compress to one side. This leaves space on the opposite flank, so the defensive job of the 2 advanced midfielders is to make a quick switch with a single long ball difficult. With our pressure style the tendancy is for the midfield shape to get pulled apart. With the 3-man midfield when Bradley is all the way out on the wing trying to win the ball, there are still 2 midfielders in the center, unlike now when there’s generally only 1 in a sea of empty space.

      The top 3 operate as a very fluid triangle that moves together in a rotation. I tried to to a graphic but this11.com isn’t working. Say Jozy makes a run to the wing, the triangle rotates pulling Clint up top to get into the box and Donovan infield in a supporting position for both Jozy and Clint. The formation is more about getting players to understand the idea – it is much more fluid in practice and could easily be described as a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. Basically, it liberates Dempsey and Donovan from the defensive duties they already take liberties with in either Bob’s 4-2-2-2 scheme or more traditional 4-4-2 set-up.


  19. […] in USMNT, World Cup '10. Leave a Comment Just an unbelievable dialogue on our “Charlie Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?” piece. Honestly, it is/was one of the best community dialogues I’ve seen on the USMNT […]


  20. […] We’ve mentioned it before, but we wouldn’t be responsible to our USMNT fans, if we didn’t mention it again. In […]


  21. […] the biggest (and most obvious) hole sits at striker with CD9 being out, however, TSG discussed that already. But what about Altidore? He is the default #1 striker, but will he be ready to carry the load? […]


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


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  25. […] Posted by matthewsf in USMNT, World Cup '10. Tagged: carlos bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Jeff Cunningham, Jozy Altidore, landon donovan, marcus tracy. 12 Comments Two months ago to the day, TSG wrote one of our more popular columns: “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?“ […]


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  30. […] 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 […]


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