Part III: Davies Still Repairing, Who’s Striking?

(Part IV of the series coming real soon….)

Two months ago to the day, TSG wrote one of our more popular columns: “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?

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.

General priorities:

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?

Wow! Did you see that question coming?

Don’t worry, TSG’ll help you. Clint Dempsey, whose got over 56 shots on goal this year for Fulham, finds his shots. Clint’s talent is a reactionary talent. He fills the gaps in the offense, or defensive vulnerabilities if you prefer, because of his splendid reading of the game. Clint is not so much a creator as a conduit and a  finisher after opportunities are created for him.

Landon, as we know, plays differently. Landon is proactive, seeking to force the action of the game as a means of creating the imbalances that Clint feeds of off.

So we answered the broader question. With Landon as the chief offensive talent…and by the way, despite what Bill Simmons may suggest, Jozy is nowhere ready yet….the USMNT needs to recognize, as Bob Bradley has, who is going to muster the scoring against the best in the world in June.

The Landon experiment at left half–originally created by Coach Sweatpants to fill the USMNT deficiency more than anything else–worked for a number of now clear reasons: 1) LD likes to hitch in on his good foot on his runs, being on the left open this up  2) Landon’s best and most dangerous skill is, at TSG now calls it by his namesake, the “Donovan” the art of perfectly led pass that opens up the striker on a run and 3) Landon works best playing off a striker who has cleared out space for him.

Our forward-strike combination absolutely needs to account for making the best UMSNT player dangerous.

Protect the left flank through the threat of counter attack.

The commentary on the starting left fullback situation hasn’t changed in nearly 6 months. Primarily, many are concerned that Johnny Be Good Bornstein is just not up to the international task. In fact, after Gold Cup 2007–where JB shut down a disinterested Messi for 1/2 of play–the reviews on Bornstein have mostly been….”Wait for the DVD” or worse.

Secondarily, there is the Great Mexican Hope of Edgar Castillo. We’re on record as favoring Castillo for a half back role. His defense–and the  Mexican league is not a bastion of defense–is not up to Bob Bradley’s standards, we’re surmising.

Even DaMarcus Beasley’s current form doesn’t answer the lingering and stinging question of “Who shuts down the left side?,” lest we remind you of Beasley against say, Gautemala in 2008….the word “sieve” comes to mind.

Coach B has tweaked furiously to get the combination right to protect that left side, make a threat in counterattack, and attempt to push the opponent’s offensive motion up the States’ right flank where Conor Casey attacks at the point, Stu Holden’s abundant energy lies, the cover of Mike Bradley is sufficient and a decent–if not speedy–combo of Jonathan Spector and, until recently, Oguchi Onyewu lay in wait.

And, notice this subtlety, frequently Bradley has the right halfback (Holden, Rogers, Benny) playing inside on the wing…trading the width in the attack for the ability to push the opponent wide when they’re on the attack.

It’s a subtle tactic, but it has been rather effective (with the exception of Spector’s challenging run in the first half against Honduras on October 10th).

Conversely, and the focus on the left side, has been use the attack to protect a weaker left defense that features the less mobile Bocanegra and the less experience JB and a focus on keeping the ball away from that side of the pitch.


So…what offensive line-ups, tactics and strategies can Coach USA consider:

(Caveat A– depending the opponent Coach USA will use multiple combos up top during World Cup 2010)

(Caveat B — these are just some ideas…there are more obviously)


• #1 – The Davies Replacement

Cunningham: Too slight or finally coming of age?

Summary: In short, easier said than done. The plan? From the likes of Marcus Tracy, Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, and Eddie Johnson a potential starter is yielded. To the opposite side, likely goes Jozy Altidore or possibly Conor Casey in the target man role.

The positive:

Nothing much changes. The team is used to the counter potential off Landon’s flank. One of the quadrumvirate above fills in with the speed necessary to make it happen and the USMNT goes with 99% of the strike capacity they had when CD9 was pinging around the pitch

Glen Johnson & Wayne Bridge: The former the likely the starter and the latter the likely 1st sub for opponent number one, England, in South Africa. The former likes to get up the bit and is exceedingly vulnerable to the counter attack. The latter has difficulty containing speedy wingers. Sound like some potential for attack if the USMNT exploys pace up top?

The negative:

They’re not there yet: Robbie Findley, too green. Jeff Cunningham, too old and slight. Eddie Johnson, has never put it all together. Marcus Tracy, not quite the pace. (For those that have not seen Tracy, generously he’s more two parts CD9 Jr., one part Altidore Jr. Has the speed, but it’s not blinding. In short, none of the current prospects can fill the CD9 void.)

One mistake counts: . The World Cup is the best. Just one mistake–a ill-timed yellow or red card, a failed defensive assignment, in a game from the youngsters, specifically Findley and Tracy, can lead to more harm than their potential good.

The skinny: It’s wait-and-see. Likely any of these candidate would need an absolute monster start to 2010 to be considered for the starting XI. This, as we know, is highly unlikely. Hope is where it’s at.


• #2 – The Dempsey Hub

"We want this guy!" (Notice the jersey)

Summary: With a lone striker, likely Jozy Altidore, sitting above, Clint Dempsey comes in and is employed in the withdrawn striker/forward role. Dempsey holds up the play in the middle, feeding Jozy and a surging Landon from the left. This is the most likely USMNT strike scenario right now

The positive:

The Great Dempsey Shake-up. The USMNT gets Clint Dempsey on the field as a focal point of the offense. He’s in a role that he’s more familiar. He’s absolved from playing defense track back that he seems allergic to from time-to-time.

More middle pitch. No secret that the USMNT struggles with linking in the center of the pitch. Adding a player of Dempsey’s caliber to own possession, might just change the complexion of that linking…and improve it.

A roaming Jeezy: As we saw in the impassioned October 14th game at RFK, with Casey playing up the pitch as the target man, JZA was allowed by Bradley to roam around the offensive 3rd. Should JZA and Donovan find their rhythm, this could be devastating–a little strong wording we know–for the USMNT offense as JZA could read the play off of Dempsey and know if he should provide a lead pass opportunity for Donovan or merely stay out of his way.

The negative:

Does Clint Dempsey go clubbing?: This point has become redundant at TSG.  Clint Dempsey, magninmous for club….sulky for the USMNT. Does a move like this rejuvenate Clint? Can he stay focused and positive the entire game?

Can Jozy pull a Spain?: This strategy isn’t just reliant on Clint Dempsey in the forward role. It’s reliant on Jozy occupying a defender or two and being a threat in the post up game. JZA showed it in the Confed Cup in Spain, but you’d be hard-pressed to point out a string of two games in a row where the youngster has been a factor.

The skinny: Probably you’re best bet here as Bradley likes to favor experience and certainly needs experience on the pitch. This also effectively puts your best top 6 on the pitch….allowing Holden to play the right wing where he’s proven himself more than any new face that arrives on the scene.


• #3 – The McBride

JZA: Not ready to dictate play yet....

Summary: Probably not going to happen, see Bruce Arena, World Cup 2006, 1 USMNT goal. The USMNT employs a single striker up top–most probably JZA if that’s the case.

The positive:

Your Time to Shine.Grab your shucker, Mr. Altidore. The world is your oyster. Can Jozy make WC ’10 his coming out party? If so, then USMNT certainly has its pickings in the five behind him: Jermaine Jones, Benny!, DaMarcus, Landon, Castillo, Mikey Sweatpants, Rico and Stu. Can it work?

The negative:

World Cup 2006 Revisted: A different coach and a different team that will arguably be more prepared. That being said 2006 saw McBride in a street fight against multiple big-time defenders. We all know it wasn’t pretty; and struggling to score is an understatement for the 2006 team.

The skinny: Whether it’s Jozy or Conor Casey in that lone striker role, the USMNT will need to track meet it up the pitch to provide the support for whoever is that target man. With better defenders and quick midfielders on some of the opponents, I just don’t see this being a viable option.


• #4 – The Landonator

Summary: The USMNT moves their best offensive weapon, LD10, up the pitch to fill the role vacated by Charlie Davies. DaMarcus Beasley or Edgar Castillo step in to Donovan’s role.

The positive:

Landy Unshackled: Free from tracking deep and providing cover over the top of Bornstein or Boca, Landon plays defense up top and is one pass away from opening the gates and putting the US on the attack.

The negative:

Donovan 50% – Perhaps–actually definitely–the biggest negative here. It’s the threat and the execution of the pristine Donovan pass that opens up space and make Donovan so effective. In forward roles before, LD’s devastating accurate passes have gone without a capable striker coupling, making LD less effective.

Two wrongs don’t make a right: Unless you are certain of the contributions of Castillo or Beasley, you’re essentially weakening LD by removing the pass from his repetoire and your weakening the left winghalf position that Donovan has shored up. As TSG is wont to say, you don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.

The skinny: Plausible, very plausible. However we think Coach USA is too comfortable with Donovan in that left flank role to move him up. Also, should this happen, where does Dempsey go? Over to Holden’s position?



Obviously the jury is still out on the striking role and strategy. The European friendlies did little to illuminate Coach USA’s thinking. If we had to guess, Bradley was looking for two things: 1) a pace-y forward to assert himself and 2) for Jozy to own his position. Neither truly happened.

Now we’re on to the January camp. We’ll get some more answers, but until we pair Landon with the striker coupling up front, TSG says wait to christen the pairing upfront.

Let me end this column by wondering why it’s not a more popular or why there is not more commentary on the notion that Landon Donovan started thriving once he had a classy striker and speedy striker in front of him. This isn’t a knock on Landon, but, as we mentioned above, it’s the threat of the pass that makes Landon’s runs so effective. TSG has spoken ad nauseum about it and thinks that notion deserves more press from others.

30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joe on 2009/12/21 at 12:34 AM

    Questions we have all been discussing on the US forum were all included here. My personal opinion which seems to go well with other fans would be to push Dempsey up to more of a CF position instead of leaving him wide. I’d like to see Jozy and Dempsey as strikers for once. Our midfield is pretty solid, I mean Torres is a great possession Mid. Let dempsey compliment Jozy as a powerful scoring chance. Donovan needs to be our 10, he’s gotta be the maestro and dictate the game like he usually does. We all know Clint plays defense like a NBA All-Star game. Lets get him forward and creating.

    To be honest, Conor Casey has gotta stay on the bench with Bornstein. We got the speed to fly by ANYONE, casey is a big, slow truck that doesnt fit. Bornstein is more like a ghost than a LB. Castillo hasnt been seen enough to make a decision on him. Left Back is a HUGE HOLE, the other defenders are SICK. spector-Demerit-Gooch-???? Huge hole. Friendlies may help answer.

    Its a tough one without CD9. Cunningham, Casey, Ching, Beckerman…. stop using those guys please and look for some REAL SOLUTIONS.

    With the usual 4-4-2, I;d like to see this for one game…

    Spec–Demerit–Gooch– to me Castillo BUT…ANYONE PLAY LB IN AMERICA? YOU GOT A SPOT!

    Holden–Bradley–Jones maybe?Torres?Benny?–LANDON



    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/21 at 7:47 AM

      In midfield I would prefer…
      Holden–Torres/Beasley (who ever can prove themselves first)
      Then up top…

      That is only one option


  2. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/12/21 at 2:31 AM

    “Damarcus Beasely & Edgar Castillo.” Slow down with the hype there. And you forget Robbie Rodgers is actually a Left Winger. . .


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/21 at 7:16 AM

      DaMarcus and Edgar are nowhere near the answer…yet. But what I am suggesting, rightfully, is that this is a plausible solution.

      I think BB likes Rogers versatility on the right wing, but his style is a fit for backing up the *right* side…he’s not a quick, pacey winger…maybe on long runs, but not no the counter…so that is why you’ve seen BB make Robbie Rogers a *right winger* against the Ticos and in both recently friendlies against Slovakia and Denmark.


    • Posted by pckilgore on 2009/12/21 at 11:22 AM

      Robby Rodgers a winger? I think my operational definition of winger is a bit different….

      You mean outside midfielder, correct?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/21 at 11:25 AM

        Correct — in fact I think Rogers plays best when he draws in and allows the wingfull to overlap….


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/12/22 at 4:30 PM

        My definition of a winger is a more offensive minded outside midfielder. a good example is Aaron Lennon, as opposed to David Beckham. So that’s why i refer to El Pistolero as a “winger”


  3. I think the best bet until Findley has a break-out couple of games or EJ finds his confidence again is Clint up top roaming free. Moving ‘Cakes around will be detrimental to him and the team, as you’ve said, it’s the threat of his incisive passes that make him infinitely more dangerous on the left side of midfield. Putting him up top with our current crop of forwards will see a return of the ghosting in and out of games Donovan that we got in the Bruce Arena era and the beginning of the Sweatpants era.

    As for Dempsey’s defensive abilities, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I think it’s Bobbo’s direction for the USMNT that keeps Deuce’s deuceyness on display. Against Manchester United, Dempsey of all people was back on the touch-line in his defensive third helping out. Did he have quite the monster game that he did against Arsenal, no? But, he was dangerous enough throughout, looked focused, and even provided an assist and helped set up another. Maybe the interwebbers were blaming the wrong person for the deuceyness, maybe it’s Bob’s tactics or role that he wants Dempsey to fill that are the problem with him in particular. Hopefully when Sweatpants was talking to Hodgson he got a little insight into the Craven Cottage Kool-Aid recipe…


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/21 at 8:03 AM

      If you move Donovan to attacking midfield I don’t think you lose his passing/vision/creativity. If you put someone on the left like Beasley or Torres who has pace you can still have the counter attacking with Donovan making runs as if he were the striker every now and then.

      The option I less favor when moving Donovan is putting him up top with Altidore and Dempsey plays attacking mid. If you put a Beasley or Torres on the left, you yet again have a good counter, but Donovan is much less effective.

      I think what I’m getting at hasn’t changed at all since the Confed cup. The USMNT needs an attacking midfielder. Now with the abscence of Davies I think we need an attacking midfielder to be potent in attack.


  4. Posted by pckilgore on 2009/12/21 at 11:29 AM

    Dempsey as a withdrawn forward, Holden (or others) in right mid. Altidore up top.

    It just has to work this way unless we get a Christmas striking miracle. There are just too many downsides to anything more drastic – I’d love to go into more detail but I gotta finish up my last exam here .


  5. Posted by americansoccerhooligan on 2009/12/21 at 12:17 PM





    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/22 at 9:46 AM

      Torres in the middle? You do realize he plays outside right?


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/01/21 at 2:26 PM

      Bocanegra at LB? He will get slaughtered by Lennon / Walcott. And I cannot see Donovan tracking back sufficiently. This might work against the lesser teams / group play, but if the US are serious about progressing, this cannot be right.

      Would you not consider a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/01/21 at 2:31 PM

        Hi George — welcome to TSG….

        I think that (and check out Part II of this series) that Bradley is married and rightfully so to the 4-4-2…he’s experimented with the 4-3-3 (the US had serious challenges in the midfield) and he’s tried the 4-5-1 (to no success in South Africa).

        At this point with just 140 days or so away…I think the Bradley would be hard presses to not develop continuity with the formation that 95% of the players overseas play in…(with Donovan in a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 now that percentage is probably a little high).

        I think Landon works best from the midfield when he has the threat of the pass.

        Boca at left back? Check out this piece…

        We’re going to have the follow-up shortly….


  6. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/21 at 12:25 PM

    @americansoccerhooligan — welcome to TSG.

    Boca out wide…I think we have a piece coming shortly on Boca….thanks for the input.



  7. Posted by B-Mac on 2009/12/21 at 12:41 PM

    For me it seems like having Dempsey as the withdrawn striker is the definite best move in the present. I think the construction of the midfield is the much more intriguing question right now. With Dempsey up top, we have two definites in the midfield: Donovan and Bradley. I look to form in the second half of the season to determine who out of this pool of players (Clark, Jones, Benny, Holden, Beasley, Edu, Torres?) gets the last two spots. I personally would be intrigued to see Donovan in an attacking midfield role with Holden on the right, Bradley in the Middle and Beasley on the left. Defensively suspect, but an intimidating attack. Of course, a healthy Jones or Edu could change the equation greatly.


  8. Posted by Dylan on 2009/12/21 at 4:22 PM

    Anybody know where I could watch a video of the Denmark Friendly? I forgot to DVR it and I’ve been wanting to watch it again.


  9. @matthewsf – Thanks, glad to be here.

    I guess the thing that frustrates me with the lineup is Bradley is our starting center mid. I just don’t think he is good enough if we are going to rise to the next level in international soccer. The thing is, with his dad at the helm this isn’t going to change. His passing just isn’t crisp enough, and he does not have the ability to control the pace of the game. He could be servicable as a defensive center mid, but I would much rather someone like Jones (if healthy) fill that spot. The USMNT will not return to the level of 2002 until they replace Claudio Reyna. Bradely just isn’t that person. Maybe by 2014 he will be, but he isn’t right now.

    Torres is the guy (and I don’t seem to be alone on this) that should be our attacking and controlling center mid. Or at the very least given more of a chance. Look at how the game changed when he entered against Costa Rica. Having a player like him, who can receive a pass, control it, and evade the first defender takes an incredible amount of pressure off the team. Its like getting the ball to the point guard in basketball. Imagine an offense with Torres in the middle, Holden sending in dangerous crosses from the right, Landon attacking from the left wing, and Dempsey as a withdrawn forward. Jozy is the big question mark, and is still young and inconsistent. But with those other guys out there, it might open things up for him.

    With a lot of candidates coming off of injury, it will be interesting to see who the elder Bradley gives a shot in these crucial friendlies. Hopefully they can figure it out.


    • Posted by Joe on 2009/12/22 at 9:27 AM

      you’re right hooligan. I thought the same thing about Torres. I like the formation you had set up there and think it should be tried out at least once in these friendlies. Hes gotta get away from playing guys like casey, ching, and cunningham. Try out a real formation!

      Who actually is asking for BEASLEY? are you kidding me…..hes played 5 different positions and found himself on the best one now. RIGHT BENCH


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/22 at 9:57 AM

      I agree on Bradley but I don’t think torres is the answer. He does not play centrally and I can’t get myself to even imagine him centrally. Torres in the center role would be a huge liability but playing on the wing would be great. Because this is not the first time I’ve heard this I’m a little curious as to what makes you think that he would make a good central middie?


  10. […] love from TSG for the USMNT’s own Landon Donovan. The world knows about Donovan and the USMNT will need that striker ahead of him. If the States go far, Jozy will need to make […]


  11. […] get closer here. Check out the latter columns of the “Who Strikes?” series. Part II and Part III. Part III is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written….wait, did I say that out […]


  12. […] Shaun, let me start with an argument I made in this piece right here before getting into credentials or dealing with the “Demps has proven it in […]


  13. Posted by JZ on 2010/02/08 at 4:33 PM

    Just a thought: 4-2-3-1:


    Altidore (F)
    Donovan (RW) Stu Holden (LW)
    Dempsey (WF)

    Benny (DCM) Clark/BB jr. (DCM)

    Boca (LB) J Spector (RB)
    Gooch (CB) Demeritt (CB)


    Sort of a 4-3-3 / 4-4-2 Hybrid. This is all set up around Donovan attacking down the left side. He can cut inside to his favorite right foot and connect with Altidore and Dempsey inside the area, or beat his defender to the outside and whip crosses into Dempsey, Altidore, and Stu Holden with his left foot. It isolates him 1v1 with the oppositions outside back, and when (not if) he beats that player, your’re drawing out a center back to deal with him, which leaves Dempsey and Altidore 1v1 with a Center back and Holding Mid.

    Alot of options. Its basically a 4-4-2 with the outside mids playing higher and playing with stacked strikers.


  14. […] This has been a fun series to work on here at TSG and one that has garnered quite a bit of great user feedback and commentary. If you haven’t checked out the previous ones, it’s worth a gander before this one: Part I, Part II, and Part III. […]


  15. […] goes all the way back to our third column in our Davies Striking Series in that position-wise Bob Bradley needs to find something ahead of Donovan to unlock his pitch […]


  16. […] let’s look at history here. We cited it in this column here, calling the formation “the McBride.” Admittedly it was a different time and space and […]


  17. […] Bob Bradley is still searching for players, formations, and options among realizations in CD9’s […]


  18. […] 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 […]


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