The USMNT Indispensable Ten List

Where does LD10 sit?

Choosing a World Cup roster is one thing; TSG gave you our current selections and justifications for that last Monday.

But another way to look at both the roster and style of play is to evaluate how the USMNT could perform without certain players. In essence, who are the most “indispensable” players heading into World Cup 2010 right now with less than 90 days of training remaining.

Some of our answers below may surprise you.

Characteristics and elements to consider when making these suggestion are things like: 1) how deep is that player’s position? or 2) how much do they possess the ball? or 3) are they a leader? or 4) are they a veteran?

We teased the list a bit way back in October when we said that Charlie Davies was right up there at the top of an unreplacable list. Well, we now know that hasn’t changed. So how does that list look right now, 90 days until the US leaves the tunnel to play England in South Africa.

Coming in at number one...

1) Tim Howard

The skinny: Big T, the most indispensable player here in March heading into World Cup 2010?

You better believe. Sure, the USMNT has Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann in goal…they also could call on Big Bird Friedel in a pinch. That being said, Howard is indispensable for a few reasons.

First, you know he’s turning away one goal from the other team every game. Secondly–and this our key–with a defense in front of him that has been shaken up more than your Sunday morning bloody mary, Howard has been the single constant communicate and marshalling the line in front of him. In short, the one constant to the back four in front of him? Howard himself.

Third, the other team. Yes, the other team. You think other teams would be gunning just a big harder if it were a new name between the pipes coming in there just 90 days before the World Cup? Most definitely

And finally fourth, name another vocal leader for the USMNT on the pitch during those critical 90+ minutes? Waiting….

That’s right, Big T, the USMNT’s more indispensable with World Cup 2010 right around the corner.

2) Jozy Altidore

The skinny: Can you really argue with this suggestion? Should a pairing of Conor Casey and Brian Ching start up top against England June 12th? Name another United States “striker” in the truest sense of the form that is guaranteed to go to South Africa.

Case closed.

Let's swap that '09 kit for a '10 one...

3) Charlie Davies

The skinny: The USMNT desperately misses you Chuck Deezy, severely. Let’s ask some of your comrades their thoughts:

Landon: “I can’t get through the mess in front of me in the attack, everywhere I look someone is collapsing on me.”

Bornstein: “They just keep coming at me in waves over on the left flank. I don’t know what to do, but reach out and grab. When Landon and Davies were ready to fly the other way in front of me, there was like 100% less traffic coming my way.”

(Editor’s note: Don’t do it JB! Don’t do it!”)

Jozy Altidore: “So I’m posting up this Capdevilla guy and now who do I pass to. Who’s going forward? Anybody? Get Bedoya in here!”

Bob Bradley: “You can only spend so many hours with Findley in the tape room and on the pitch. It’s not something that happens over night. Doesn’t the American public understand this?”

Make it to World Cup 2010, CD9. Just for the hope!

4) Landon Donovan

The skinny: Landon down at number four. Yes, remember, we are not talking most valuable. We are talking most indispensable. Two factors contributed to us dropping Donovan to fourth.

First, his disappearance when he doesn’t get service, number one.

And, the presence of others (Deuce, DMB and even Bedoya) who might be able to slot in there–though perhaps not as smoothly–in his absence.

5) Clint Dempsey

The skinny: Clint Dempsey scores goals. In general, the USMNT does not. The winner of the game is the one that scores more goals.

Clint may be daydreaming about the offense being built around him from time-to-time. But he’s got the experience and know-how to be in the right place, and history shows that he knows what to do once there. Who else on the USMNT has that on it’s resume?

More for his defense actually....

6) Carlos Bocanegra

The skinny: Huh? The guy who may not start for the USMNT if TSG had our druthers is the sixth most indispensable? Yup.

While Boca–the captain–is starting to see the surface area of his abilities shrink precipitously, he’s still valuable across three of the four backline positions. Chances are still not 100% that Oguchi Onyewu is going to be dancing around the pitch on June 12th. Cue Clarence Goodson in the middle? Spector? Neither are up to that task yet.

Continually, while Boca’s skillset is not ideal for the left back role, there is really no one that Bob Bradley can clearly trust over there. While Boca will struggle mightily to contribute anything on offense, his versatility, pitch smarts and experience boosts him up to the sixth spot on our list. Too much has to go right for Boca not to be a starter and conversely too much will go wrong if he’s not right now.

If only he veered....backwards....

7) Stu Holden

The skinny: Too high? Consider this. Holden, can play anywhere in the midfield. Holden’s motor covers for plenty of defensive snafus down the right flank. Holden is good for at least one or two scoring opportunity crosses a game. Holden is completely a dynamic player able to figure out the method to playing whichever team and adapt his game for the US success. He’s like the Joe Dumars of the USMNT.

We don’t think it’s too high.

Onyewu...pledging to defend...

8a) Oguchi Onyewu

8b) Jay DeMerit

The skinny: The Heckyll to the other’s Jeckyll, whoever is out Boca steps into his role. That being said as a team, indispensable. See Spain, June 2009, Confederation’s Cup. The USMNT will be better for it if this team is together for the 3+ games in June.

10) Michael Bradley

The skinny: …or rather the short of it? I think plenty of players can step into Mikey Bradley’s spot. and perform adequately or just as well. Sure Bradley is a dynamic midfielder, but in his pop’s system he’s a square peg in round role. The aforementioned Holden would perform gamely as would a combination of Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark…or even Edu and a miraculously returned Jermaine Jones.

So why Bradley? Bradley is like the 3rd starter on a baseball team who gives you 200+ innings a season. He’s not going to winning many pitching duels for you, but a prolonged absence and your team is going to feel it.

Mike Bradley, who played the 3rd most minutes for the USMNT in the World Cup qualifying run is a constant. He’s indispensable in subtraction.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by 723FootballFilms on 2010/03/15 at 12:13 AM

    All Jozy fanboyness (new word) aside he has to be number one right now. If we lose him we are totally effed. At least we have Guzan in Howard goes down. I’d just flip-flop Jozy and Howard and your list would look good.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 12:18 AM

      Considered Jozy number one, which is a fair counterpoint.

      Here are my counterpoints:

      1) The USMNT won arguably their most important qualifier game in 2010 with JZA on the bench….yes Honduras…yes a different time

      2) The USMNT hallmark is defense. While I would love is the USMNT had a more consistent offense an offensive game plan…the reality is the team is set-up to win by employing a bend-don’t-break defense that relies on a strong defensive game coupled with taking a shot here or there through a counterattack or set piece on offense.

      You take Timmy away from that defense right now you are giving up a goal in a game (in my mind)…you take Jozy away you’re not necessarily getting a goal a game.

      That being said…Jozy is #1 or #2 for sure…no one is a bigger fan of his meteoric growth this year than this pub.


      • Posted by 723FootballFilms on 2010/03/15 at 12:24 AM

        Fair points. All I’m saying is that I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Guzan in goal than I would with Ching or Casey (oh god) as our main attack option.

        With that being said Timmy is undoubtedly a cornerstone of our National Team and should be our captain IMO but that’s another story for another time.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 12:28 AM

          I was hoping Josh Wolff or Chad Barrett got a run out :>

          Our TSG hope that we’d wake up to 1 goal, 1 assist from Chris Rolfe and 50,000 hopeful tweets about his ability Monday is sadly not going to come true.

          Kenny Cooper switches from 2nd Bundesliga to the Championship and he’s now rooted to the bench…boo on that too.


  2. I respectfully disagree with what you say about Sweatpants Jr ; no one can step in his shoes as is right now. He’s spent 2+ years playing at that position, with the same tactics. That makes for a lot of automatisms being created, on his positioning, on the positioning of other players. So if the US sticks with that formation, he is invaluable.
    I would love to see him paired up with Mo Edu who can discharge MB of a majority of his defensive tasks, something having Stu Holden in the middle wouldn’t do. Him and JJ would be a killer mid, for sure.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 12:37 AM

      Disagree with you there Martin:

      I actually think that Michael Bradley gets far too much credit in the middle of the pitch.

      He’s indispensable only in three respects: 1) his minutes 2) occassionally he’s mikey-on-the-spot with a goal 3) his consistency, Bradley rarely has a terrible game…many average games, but no terrible games.

      One observation to point to is the United States again Brazil in the Confederation Cup with Rico and Benny in the middle.

      The USMNT had decent offensive chances and conversely defensively they didn’t get beat in the middle of the pitch by the Brazilians…they got beat on the fullback flanks and on set piece service to the box.

      I would feel differently about Mike Bradley if he weren’t playing in Bradley’s system which requires him to be a holder…I’m on record as saying his tackling and defense is severely lacking.

      I would be comfortable with Benny and Mo in the middle…but looking up at that list the highest I could move Junior is 8th (ahead of the Gooch, DeMerit pairing), no higher.


      • Posted by 723FootballFilms on 2010/03/15 at 12:43 AM

        I agree with you about MB being misused and his lacking of defensive ability. He’d be a much better player if he was given the freedom to push forward whenever he feels necessary like he did with Heerenveen. IMO he’s got the vision and the quality of a CAM he just lacks the technical ability.


      • Posted by Michael on 2010/03/15 at 9:59 AM

        “I would feel differently about Mike Bradley if he weren’t playing in Bradley’s system ”

        What exactly _is_ Bradley’s system? Granted I’m relatively new to following the USMNT, but I can’t seem to figure it out. Is it defend and counter? If so, what does he expect Junior’s role to be? And does anyone really think that Jozy + Dempsey (which I assume will be our starting strike combo on June 12 barring a Charlie Davies miracle) lend themselves to being counter attacking forwards?


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 10:06 AM


          Coach Bob’s system demands that the interior/central midfielders close down the flanks on defense as the ball has been pushed wide to the wings of Donovan, Dempsey and Holden.

          Bradley would function better, because of his abilities, as a CAM with a CDM behind him in our opinion. He has enough quick passing chops up the pitch, but his defensive game is still suspect in our opinion.

          The USMNT system — and I believe Tim Howard in Grant Wahl’s recent article discussed it as well — is a stout defense with taking shots when you have them.

          For Coach Bradley, he’s done a smart thing in my opinion in that he pushes the ball quickly to the wings where the USMNT has more comparative class than go up the middle where it would bemore of challenge.


        • Posted by Scott on 2010/03/15 at 12:16 PM

          Bob’s system demands that his son plays every game in a role that doesn’t suit him. Contributing to the lack of ball possession for a team that doesn’t possess the ball at all thru the middle should tell you everything you need to know about him. With a strong holding mid/stopper ie Edu, I think there are at least 2 other players, if giving the opportunity to train there, that could contribute with more possession than Bradley. Could not be worse. The Confed Cup point is spot on.


  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/15 at 5:28 AM

    How can people say that Guzan is a good replacement for Howard, when he hardly gets any playing time for Villa and has only 5 caps for the USA? He has hardly proved himself in the EPL let alone international football. People should not underestimated a player who doesn’t make too many personal errors, especially in such a specialised position, where the smallest mistakes lead to goals at the highest level.

    @Matthew – “The USMNT hallmark is defense” – only because your ball retention is shite!

    @723 – I agree about Howard being the captain.


  4. Posted by hoosier on 2010/03/15 at 9:21 AM

    Howard should be no. 1 only AFTER the WC roster is finalized. If he tore his ACL today, Bradley’s first call would be to Friedel, and we might actually get better at the gk spot. Agree with Jozy at no. 2. Davies at no. 3? I just don’t see it. I know TSG founders are president and secretary of the Charlie Davies fan club, but the guy had one good tournament for the national team. Reminds me of Eddie Johnson, who has the speed to get behind defenders and lit up the scene when he first broke into the national team. When Davies does his thing consistently or scores in a WC, then I’ll believe (and happily eat my words).


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 9:44 AM

      Hoosier — thanks for contributing an fair points.

      Davies at number 3 might be high, but as we are seeing there is no–zilch–replacement for him. Even as a, say, Gaby Abonglahor Lite he would be immensely valuable. But his stature is certainly worth debate…


    • Posted by Bob on 2010/03/15 at 10:38 AM

      I agree with the GK assessment here. If Howard goes down between now and the end of May, Friedel jumps Guzan and MH to start for us (there would be too much pressure from the U.S. soccer media plus hardcore U.S. soccer fans for this not to happen). Also, I think if Howard does go down, Hahnemann will start since he is getting regular minutes and his form is pretty good right now.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 11:18 AM

        Bob: While that might be the best solution if Tim Howard goes down; I don’t see it. I don’t see Bob Bradley asking Brad Friedel so as not to disrupt team chemisty, nor do I see Brad Friedel lobbying for it.

        Ironically, my biggest challenge with Friedel (and I promote Tim Howard over Friedel for the USMNT) is his lack of mobility. However, if you looking at the teams the United States play, the lack of mobility is not as pronounced a liability…the US doesn’t face Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Chile or other fast teams really.

        The one team that really presents speed options, England in Walcott, Defoe and possibly Lennon, Friedel has the experiencing of playing against their players in club ball.

        That being said Bob Bradley would not disrupt team chemistry for a Friedel inclusion whether it’s the right move or not.

        I do see Hahnemann as even on the depth charts with Guzan right now.


    • Posted by pino on 2010/03/15 at 11:45 AM


      up until his injury CD had been doing his thing consistently. Look at his scoring record in sweden, his goals over the summer (Azteca anyone?) and the impact he had in the few games he played with sochaux. If you are skeptical about him returning to where he was pre crash thats one thing, but comparing him to EJ, thats just not very nice.


      • Especially since last I checked (two weeks ago) Davies was tied for the scoring lead in Ligue 1 for Sochaux FC. How many goals has EJ racked up since he came onto the scene: I think he had a whole 2 for KC before moving to the Cottage where he bagged 0, and has only 1 in Greece and none for the ‘Nats. Davies has 4 in Ligue 1 and one for the ‘Nats in the most inhospitable envirnoment for our boys, and both Sochaux and the USMNT miss him quite dearly.


  5. I have to say Landon should be #1. In the 10 games of final round qualifying he had 3 goals and 9 assists and USA only scored 19 goals. He was directly involved in 12/19 goals (more if you count Bradley’s goal and Bocanegra’s goal from his corners.) So essentially if he creates 1.2 goals a game isn’t that better than the 1 goal per game that Timmy saves?


    • Posted by Chris R on 2010/03/15 at 11:48 AM

      I agree on LD. In addition to his offense as noted above, LD does a great job of tracking back and closing down the opposition when they attack. A heavily involved Donovan makes the job of our left back that much easier given the support. We need that help.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/15 at 11:59 AM

        Evan, that is fantastic creative accounting – I applaud you! But if I was a spin doctor, I could also get those *same* numbers to back up my argument. Remember, we’re talking about averages here. What happens if Donovan has one of the 7/19 games where he doesn’t produce a goal or an assist? Remember this is tournament football and you have to produce every game…


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/15 at 12:01 PM

          Oh, and how can it be >1 if it isn’t a top-heavy fraction?


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/15 at 12:06 PM

          I sincerely apologize Evan – I misread and ‘saw’ 12 goals in 19 games.


        • Posted by CJ on 2010/03/15 at 12:33 PM

          If Landon doesn’t impact every game we lose, it’s that simple. It’s not like we have a team of superstars who can all make an impact on the game to the same extent he can when he’s having an “off” night. Sure, maybe Mo Edu bangs in another lucky bouncer like against Celtic again in the WC but, I wouldn’t say he’s a legend if he did that. Just really lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Landon can create those plays, and now, having just considered this, I think that Stuart Holden will actually take large amounts of the pressure off of him to do that as well. With Beasley subbing in and Dempsey, Donovan, and Holden on the pitch, we all of a sudden have a formidable speed/passing attack. Hope the leg heals well Stu!!!


        • Haha no worries. My real point though really doesn’t have anything to do with the numbers. Its just that without Landon our offensive potential is reduced so much that it can’t be replaced by anyone. The drop off to another keeper like Brad Guzan (who has 15 caps not 5) or Marcus Hannehman (spelling?) can’t be as great as it is from Landon to whoever will play left mid.


          • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/15 at 4:10 PM

            I concur with both Evan and Chris on Landon.

            Chris made a good point in conversation that Landon has enough juice on offense to go along with a solid defensive game that he makes teams not want to play to that side. If that is the case, I’ll take it for fear of getting exposed at our left back situation.

            Having said all this, I don’t Landon is anything higher than 3 to me.

            Tim Howard *is* so vital right now (90 days away) that even inserting Friedel doesn’t get the job done in my opinion. Think about Howard’s importance as well if Gooch is not there and coming out of the cafe…vitally important (though Big T has had some issues in club ball this year).

            On Jozy, it’s the absence of any depth behind him and his ability to actually now carry some offensive load. I was absolutely amazed at how Jozy abused Vermalaen on Saturday.

            Imagine we don’t have Jozy for England, I’m England I press whoever else is there for the States….the Yanks wouldn’t leave their offensive end.


            • Posted by danPa on 2010/03/16 at 6:24 AM

              I agree LD is about right, shouldn’t be higher…. at least no higher than our 1st choice strikers. Also agree that LD can disappears/ gets marked out of a game without threatening forwards.

              Almost as important, I think, is that LD gets the ball most often (where he is most effective: facing the goal) after our defenders play directly to a striker and the striker lays it back (another reason Jozy &CD9 should be higher than LD). It would be nice to put a central mid up higher in the ranking because he is quickly distributing from the defense to the LD and Clint/Stu on the outside, facing the goal… but that doesn’t happen often enough outside of the middle/low tier concaf teams.

  6. Posted by Woodz on 2010/03/15 at 4:17 PM

    I would have to say CD or Landon is number one here. The team has been very different since CD’s car accident and when Landon has a good game we do well. When he doesn’t, we do poorly. I am a Freidel fan so I think he could back up Timmy just fine if we could convince him to play.


  7. Posted by Wilson on 2010/03/30 at 2:25 PM

    1 Howard, 2 LD, 3 Gooch, 4 Jermaine Jones, 5 CD, 6 Jolazo, 7 Boca, 8 Dempsey, 9 Benny, 10 Stu


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