Part V: Awaiting Davies, More Flavors Du Jour

*Stay tuned later today or first thing tomorrow for a special Tuesday at The Shin Guardian. We’re going to need everyone’s help.


Will CD9 be in time?

One of the more popular series at The Shin Guardian essentially goes by the name of the first post in the series, “With Davies in Repair, Who Strikes.” Shortly after Charlie Davies’ October injury, The Shin Guardian and our community began to look into, review and hypothesize just what could and would Bob Bradley due in the absence of the striker who arose from national team obscurity so quickly.

We’re back today with Part V, admittedly more because time has passed since Part IV (February 11th); we are still devoid of a plethora of observations.

(Again for those new to TSG, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV — they are worth meandering through if you’re just catching up on the national team.)

To go back to Part I in October 2009, TSG compiled a list of options as Davies healed.. In Part I, we were prescriptive about needing a pacy forward to occupy the slot ahead of Donovan. The list: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (pre-blowing up), Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Kenny Cooper, Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, Marcus Tracy, Preston Zimmerman.

Those we had ruled out at the time, but made our list, were: Edson Buddle (ta-da!), Brek Shea, Giusseppi Rossi (tongue-in-cheek) and Brian McBride.

In reviewing this list we have hit nearly every player–with the exception of Herculez Gomez and Justin Braun (January Camp)–who factors into the widest net cast of potential World Cup 2010 applicants.

Nearly all from the list above have gotten their shot, with the exception of Freddy Adu, Chris Rolfe and to some extent Kenny Cooper.

So where are we now, with less than 70 days until the USMNT takes on the Three Lions in the Rumble in Rustenberg. We’ll break this up as we did last column with “observations” and “outcomes”?

A multitude of players have experienced injuries further muddling the picture

A speedy return for Ching?

Brian Ching, who stretched his hamstring entirely too far, in the Dynamo-Real Salt Lake game is the just the latest complication to Bob Bradley’s headache.

Ching at this point is going to battle just to get fit for the May friendly series. Beyond Ching as a legitimate candidate (a veteran of the Cup, he knows the system, and understands his job), his presence would have pushed a host of players that have far from sparkled since 2009….we’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s actually the injuries to Stu Holden and Clint Dempsey that further confounded the situation. Dempsey was out for the March 3 Netherlands affair that might have had Bob Bradley tip his hand at using the Fulham in the forward role for the first time straight from the outset. Of course, the Holland match also saw golden boy Stu Holden be needlessly chopped down by Nigel DeJong and find himself on the US’s impressive IR list.

We missed a Deuce obervation in March...

With Holden and Dempsey out, Coach Bradley still tipped his hand in that friendly drawing Landon Donovan into the middle for short period below Jozy Altidore as the lone striker. With the introduction of both DaMarcus Beasley and the dynamic youngster Alejandro Bedoya the United States found some offensive stride in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Still the injuries have at the very least deprived the fanbase of seeing potential combinations for South Africa.

Oh, and let’s not forget the injury to Marcus Tracy, who never got a chance to should what he was made of at Camp Cupcake and is now out for the year.

The stagnation of some of 2009’s “darlings”

Put three in this group unequivocably: Conor Casey, Jeff Cunningham, and Robbie Findley. Let’s add a fourth just for the observation: Eddie Johnson.

While we’re not privy to Coach USA’s camp observations, the average observer can somewhat state that none of these players have “emphatically made their case.” Jeff Cunningham after a somewhat lucky break and score in Denmark showed that the international game is just not for him as he failed to do much against either Honduras and El Salavador in two friendlies. Cunningham was not offered a trip to Holland for March.

Cunningham didn’t score in FC Dallas’s first game this year.

Conor Casey from the moment of the 9th Minute Salute game against Costa Rica has been given every opportunity to strut his stuff and for the most part has failed to contribute. You can argue–and we will below–that Casey has enough understanding of the system and is an aggressive and physical body that–especially with Ching’s injury–he’ll likely be at worst a back-up in South Africa. But seizing opportunity Casey has not.

Casey too was not invited to the Netherlands. In two games for Colorado (and frankly over the past two years), Casey hasn’t been the best striker on his team–that honor goes to the lightening quick Jamaican Omar Cummings–though he struck a penalty kick goal on Saturday–on a foul that he didn’t earn. Casey–from what I’ve seen–has looked a notch faster, but I’m attributing that to the competition. And I’m also suggesting he’s benefiting from Cummings next to him.

Findley: Going backwards thus far in 2010?

Robbie Findley might look back on the past 5 months and wonder how he could have let should a golden opportunity pass him by. Findley is learning on the job for the USMNT, but his rate of growth has been at a crawl. It’s worth mentioning that Findley is already an older 24 at this point, we’re not talking about an Altidore-aged player. Further, Findley has found himself on the bench recently for RSL to start off the year.

I’ve witnessed both Findley’s game and what is troubling is the same mistakes Findley makes against arguably higher level international competition, he’s making for his club.

In observations of Findley’s game you can clearly see his ability, but you wonder if the MLS is where he’ll max that ability out. Findley lacks–to this point–a feel for the game and on national duty for three games in 2010. Might Bradley rue spending so much effort on a player that may not go or might not contribute in 2010? Time will tell.

The emergence of at least two new contenders: Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.

The former, Buddle, has now notched three goals in two games to open the 2010 MLS campaign. The latter, Gomez, is by all accounts searing hot right now in the Primera having notched another goal this past weekend for eight in his last 10 games. See next

TSG has commented on both players recently and I’ll let my bias be known with the following statement:

“While both players merit a consideration for the May friendlies, Edson Buddle, to this writer, is likely a better candidate in Bob Bradley’s eyes, than Hector Gomez.”

Look, a striker scores and Gomez is flat-out doing that. Heck, you could point out times last year where that’s all that Clint Dempsey did with some of his games on the pitch. But again, that’s the name of the game, more goals than the opponent.

Having said that I’ve watched nearly all of Gomez’s goals (not his off the ball action I might add) and seen deficient defense on nearly all. Continually, with Gomez you’re not exactly talking about a physical player.

In Gomez’s favor in my book, is that he’s doing this as a substitute, that’s the sort of “special teams” player off the bench in the 66th minute that the US needs. He’s also again at the highest of confidence right now and he’s a poacher in the mold of Pippo Inzaghi– you don’t need to be physical in that role, you need to be instinctual.

However, one last thought here before we move on. It was last year that a certain Jeff Cunningham rang up what 17 goals in 28 games. It didn’t translate to the national team level.

(See 6 more of Gomez’s goals here.)

In Buddle, the USMNT has been here before….albeit quite a while ago. Consider this Buddle relieved Brian McBride in his lone USMNT camp…that’s not really all that interesting…his strike pairing at the 80th minute of that match? Jovan Kirovski.

It’s been awhile, injuries and a bout with alcohol misuse, but Buddle has a number of things in his favor as TSG pointed out after his two goal performance on Thursday. We’ll repost it here:

» He’s 6′1”, 185lbs…(imagine him paired with Jozy)

» He’s got decent, not shocking, but decent speed.

» He’s 28-years-old…he’s been around the block.

» He already plays with Landon Donovan and knows how and when to make runs off Donovan’s plays.

Buddle’s got just a little bit more “in common” with the players Bob Bradley selects.

So outcomes

Where does this leave Coach Sweatpants and the team just a little more than two months before South Africa?

Here’s some prophecies:

• The USMNT will take at least three strikers to South Africa. There has been much “press” about the United States taking just two strikers. Both because of the lack of quality up top and because of the wealth of potential wingers (most notably Beasley, Rogers, and Bedoya).


Three is the minimum that Bob Bradley will take. Heavens an injury to Jozy Altidore against England, are you really going to count Conor Casey–perhaps–as your lone option up top. Nope.

Speaking of Conor Casey: The Colorado striker, Robbie Findley, or gulp Eddie Johnson are going to South Africa with Casey claiming the lead right now.

This is all Bob Bradley. You’ve got to remember that Bob Bradley is creature of habit and continually allows a lot of leniency to players that are “his guys.”

Casey, Johnson and now Findley know the system. It would hard to not take at least one of them given their education level, their understanding of the schema and their familiarity with their teammates.

As you might have noticed, we’ve dropped Jeff Cunningham–seemingly dropped by Coach Bob himself.

• Bob Bradley will likely have a look in May at a player that hasn’t trotted out for the national team yet in 2010.

Those candidates will come from one or more of the following: Charlie Davies, Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle.

Beyond Davies, I’m going with Buddle in this case and not because I favor him. If you look at the prospects that Bradley has thrown out there throughout all of qualifying, beyond Chris Rolfe and the enigmatic Freddy Adu, they all share one thing in common. They’re on the “heavier side.”

Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Justin Braun, Nate Jacqua, even Chad Barrett, all go more than 170lbs.

Herculez Gomez tops out at 160lbs, maybe. (Mind you I’d love to have a Jermaine Defoe or say Messi…I’m just saying that Bob Bradley have favored more physical foward/strikers)

A small and perhaps inconsequential data point, but Bradley does favor players that don’t get knocked off the ball.

• ….and finally, the formation.  The 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) with a fast striker ahead of Landon Donovan is ideal. The USMNT has been working nearly exclusively in that formation for the past year, the formation makes Donovan and even Dempsey to a certain extent more lethal.

However Bradley might have reached the point where he can’t squeeze any more out of a thin talent pool.

I think you saw Bob Bradley tip hand in employing a brief 4-2-3-1 against the Netherlands. Using our TSG periscope, you’d see Altidore up top, with “the Dempsey Hub” behind him.  Clint Dempsey flanked by Landon Donovan on the left and one of Stu Holden (favored if healthy), Alejandro Bedoya (#2 in our mind because of his physical nature and ability to cross) or DaMarcus Beasley (#3 in our mind because he’s left-footed) employed on the right.


When it gets down to it, we’re really waiting on….and hoping on…Charlie Davies.

28 responses to this post.

  1. A good analysis of the USMNT “left-overs”. Reading the article, and every time a new name was brought to the table I kept thinking “ahhh… no, but he’s……” and moving on to the next suggestion.

    You summed it up perfectly in the conclusion that really only Charlie Davies can strike for the Nats and we “wait” hoping that he’s prepared for the May friendlies. Everything else is underwhelming and troubling (with the exception of Dempsey up top I think…. Holden on the wing if healthy).


  2. Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/04/05 at 5:48 AM

    The formation is what intrigues me the most. If we can get the right formation we can use all of our talent to the best and greatly improve our chances. I also like the idea of Gomez or Torres at striker. We could try a 4-3-3, with a target man(Jozy) and two wingers(Davies if back, torres, Donovan, possibly Dempsey, etc.) and Bradley, Beasley, and Holden or Clark, or Donovan. As you can see, this formation is very flexible and would suit some of the most talented players.


  3. There’s no way Bedoya gets in before Beasley. Bedoya has shown well…….in his TWO appearances. I just don’t see Bob doing it.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/05 at 6:06 AM

      I would normally agree with you, but Beasley hasn’t been fit all year. That might be the bigger issue.

      Secondly beasley looks like the left side backup. A real shame that Beas couldn’t come through at lb. We wouldn’t be having Bornstein pearce discussions.


  4. Posted by Bob on 2010/04/05 at 6:18 AM

    Great article again Matt! I think yours is the only analysis that I’ve seen that points out that Buddle already plays with LD. That is an awesome point and also means that if LD wants Buddle on the team he can help to influence BB’s selection a little.

    Two other points on Gomez: he played out of position (so he says) in MLS and, like Buddle, he is older and has been around the block as well.

    One other emerging player: Ryan Smith. His dad is American and he says he would play for USA. What if he can blow up April and get attention? Oh all of England would be so p.o. if he played for us lol.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 6:55 AM

      I had no clue he was “half” American.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/05 at 8:15 AM

        George, of course Ryan Smith is American, how else to explain Arsenal and Crystal Palace not getting the most out of his abilities….wink…

        We’ve got, what, 66 days left…Bob Bradley may take one risky player…but it’s not going to be Smith…


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 9:56 AM

          I remember him on loan at Palace, but never saw him play. Palace fans generally get quite excited when we can get young Arsenal players for a season for free…

          66 is a beautiful number!


  5. Posted by robbie on 2010/04/05 at 7:56 AM

    This Davies series has been an excellent and necessary exercise. I think it is over, though. No one has emerged and it is just a (nice) long read now on the futility of the striker pool.

    If Davies plays: 4-4-2 with the only question being Edu/Clark/Feilhaber next to Mike.

    If Davies sits or subs: 4-2-3-1. Then you stick Edu with Bradley and have the duo play defensive. Edu would be in a sweeper role and is a perfect fit for the 4-2-3-1. Dempsey could play more offensive if you trust Landon and Stu to get back.

    I think it is that cut and dry now.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/05 at 8:14 AM

      Robbie, as the writer, I think you may be right…part of the article I admit was to counter some niggling things in the media, like the annointing of Gomez as an outright savior, the condemnation of Conor Casey, who scarily enough if Altidore goes down is the USMNT’s number one option up there right now and to put in perspective that a club goal scoring streak (Cunningham, Gomez, Findley to some extent) doesn’t equate one-for-one to national team success.


      • Posted by robbie on 2010/04/05 at 8:44 AM

        If his name wasn’t Hercules no one would care about him. I admit though, it is pretty badass.

        You are right with the media comment. Everyone kept saying that someone would step up; no one has. Now people are freaking out because of the weak options.

        I would honestly much rather bring a super young kid (Llegget, Gyau, Jerome, McInernenenenneny, Adu, that argintine kid) because they are at least capable of doing something brilliant. The options we have now provide absolutely nothing. There is no way those kids could be worse. I know the World Cup isn’t for tinkering and capping but by calling up the kid from Argentina that Juventus wants at least potential is there.

        Meh. Sorry for the frustrated rant. And for the grammar problems…this itouch is tough to type on.


  6. Posted by Dylan on 2010/04/05 at 9:42 AM

    I’m interested in what Buddle can do. I’m new to the soccer game and have attached my MLS fandom to the Galaxy. So I’ve been watching him and he seems to pretty confident and able to cause problems for the MLS defenses, so I’m wondering if anyone has any feedback on what he’s been doing until now and if he’s been a prospect or what the buzz around him is.
    Would be great to see Donovan feel comfortable with him in front of him.
    And I looove the idea of him pairing with Altidore, those two would beat down any centerback pairing out there, just in time for a speedy striker sub to come in and mop up a tired back line.


  7. Posted by Kevin on 2010/04/05 at 10:31 AM

    I think Robbie is spot on. If davies is healthy, BB won’t hesitate to use the 4-2-2-2, but if not we go to the 4-2-3-1. BB testing that formation in the Nederlands wasn’t so much as a primary option but a to be safe if davies doesn’t return option. He wanted to know what else would work IF we have to deviate. Frankly, I want to know what happens if davies is healthy but not 90 minutes fit. How would we sub? My best guess would be to start with the 4-2-3-1 with Holden on right, Deuce in middle Donovan on left, Bradley and Edu as DM’s and sub him on for Holden or Dempsey. It seems the most practical but my best guess is that the 4-2-3-1 is better towards the end of the game due to the speedy wing play.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 10:41 AM

      IMO, I think you’re mad to sub on a partially fit Davies for a fully fit Dempsey, who is one of your few players who is a genuine goal threat in open play.


      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/04/05 at 11:01 AM

        True and right after I posted that I reread it and wanted to take his name off. I just wanted two names to throw out. Holden would make sense, should he be healthy, but Dempsey would be stretching it. As the game progresses, players get tired though what I was trying to say was a late game sub should someone get tired. If Dempsey got to the point where Davies would be of more use than Deuce it would make sense.


        • Posted by robbie on 2010/04/05 at 11:25 AM

          Interesting thought on the Davies front. I’m going to assume that if Davies isn’t healthy enough to start he will sub on only when we desperately need a goal (either losing, tied, or need goal differential to go through).

          What I would do in that situation is sub Davies for Edu and shift from a 4-2-3-1 into a 4-4-2. Davies could go up top and shift Holden to midfield (or sub Benny or Torres for Stu).

          I could also see him easily subbed on for Jozy as Bradley doesn’t seem to trust Jozy for a full 90.


        • Deuce usually finds a way to pop-up up at the end of games too, see Confed Cup matches against Egypt and Spain, and to a lesser extent Fulham vs. Juve though he was a second half sub. If we’re getting to the point that we’d break from the 4-2-3-1 formation it’s likely because we need a goal, therefore I would think subbing off either Edu or Mikey for Davies and going back to a more offensive 4-2-2-2. However, Bobbo has shown a penchant for not subbing out his son, so we’ll probably see Holden replaced in this situation.


        • Posted by Kevin on 2010/04/06 at 2:26 PM

          Robbie- Davies as the lone striker I don’t think would work. It’s no disrespect to CD9 but not many strikers can handle being the loner up top. I don’t think he can do it alone because he needs someone else to run off of. Granted I haven’t seen many lone strikers but the only times I’ve seen it work was when they were techniquely gifted and were tough enough to hold the ball.


  8. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/05 at 11:41 AM

    I’m going to change the tenor of this conversation a little.

    Here’s my question:

    If you’re Bob Bradley, are you still looking for a potential third striker to compete for playing time up front OR are you looking for a supersub off the bench and content to go with Casey and Altidore at this point.

    If you’re considering the former, then Buddle gets a look.

    If you’re just looking for some Vinnie Johnson or Ben Gordon…some offense off the bench does Gomez get a view.

    I mean right now, if you’re Bob Bradley, you have one definitive striker in Jozy Altidore…I think then you have Deuce…and that’s all you’re really sure of right now.


    • I definitely agree about Buddle being better as a starter and Gomez being better off the bench. I don’t really think there’s a lot of difference in the USA playing a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with Dempsey as the second strikers, because Deuce drifts from holding to striking positions either way.

      I’m more interested to see if Bradley would go with a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation, with Dempsey and Donovan either acting as wingers or forwards alongside the striker Jozy. I think a line-up like that might be better for a side like England that has such great central midfielders. I think you could either go a bit more defensive and play Edu & Clark as defensive midfielders and give Bradley more of a “Xavi” role. Alternatively, you could go a bit more offensive and have one defensive midfielder in Edu/Clark, and Bradley & Feilhaber/Stu in more offensive roles.

      I love Bedoya, but to me he’d be much more effective as a sub that could change the look of the team than a starter. If we’re in the more defensive 4-3-2-1, I’d love to see Bedoya come on for Clark around 65-70 minutes. His pace is just dangerous against tired fullbacks.


  9. great article


  10. Posted by Freegle on 2010/04/05 at 5:23 PM

    The Edson Buddle bandwagon is filling up fast! One more goal and there will be no seats left.

    The “other” forward problem is the same as the left back problem in that we are simply picking the least-worst option. The fact that it is not outrageous to claim that Conor Casey is a lock for South Africa does nothing but prove our dire straits. My one solace with this group is that is possible, if not likely, that none of these (non-Davies) options will ever see the field.

    Available forward options should have these attributes (in no particular order): Physical size/strength, speed, ability to finish/poach goals, effort/intangibles, experience (against good competition as well as “in the system”). Including Gomez and Buddle (“because its a what have you done for me lately?” world), Casey (because sweatpants will), and EJ (because he is our best “across the pond” option).

    Size/Strength: Casey, Buddle, EJ, Gomez
    Speed: EJ, Buddle, Gomez, My grandmother, Casey
    Finishing/poaching: Gomez, Buddle, EJ, Casey
    Effort/Intangibles: Buddle, Gomez, tie- EJ and Casey
    Experience: EJ, Casey, Gomez, Buddle

    Well, I went through that exercise hoping that one candidate would stand out. That didn’t work. All it proved is that we NEED Chuck Deezy. He is #1 in ALL of those categories (probably even if he’s 75%).


  11. Posted by Bob on 2010/04/05 at 6:21 PM

    It is interesting that these seem to be some of the same issues we had last summer. Who should start in the Confederations Cup now that Ching is hurt? Remember BB had Adu on the bench down there? Somehow and somewhere Davies and Altidore emerged and we were all happy. Fast forward to Gold Cup. Ching is now healthy and playing in Gold Cup games. Another question emerged in August – who should start against Mexico – Ching or Altidore? A lot of people were guessing Ching. Ok, but at least Altidore is in the mix. Then Casey starts over Altidore in Hondoruas.

    Now, less than a year later, no one would ever imagine Ching or Casey starting over Altidore. Ok, now were set at forward, then boom Davies’ accident. Ok now what? Let’s look at the MLS for help. Well, Ching looks good in Feb., let’s take him. Now Ching is hurt again. Ok, now back to the other MLS and former MLS guys … wait Davies may be back. Who knows … we may just have to call on Freegle’s grandmother! It looks like it will be a very frustrating month until things start to (hopefully) fall in place. Hopefully by 2014 we will have the same depth at striker that we have at GK.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2010/04/05 at 8:31 PM

      “Hopefully by 2014 we will have the same depth at striker that we have at GK.” or midfield wingers


  12. Posted by Wilson on 2010/04/06 at 1:57 PM

    You said it matthewsf, We are waiting and hoping on CD9. If he can go he has to be on plane to south africa. Even if he can’t start. his knowledge of the game will bring better depth than Casey, Buddle, Findley, and Herculez combined. So I am banking on Jolazo and Dempsey as forwards. Hopeful of Charlie and Ching on the bench, If not Freddy Adu-shooting and EJ-speed I would rely on .

    This 4-2-3-1 formation looks potentially dagger in England’s heart. Howard-Spector-Gooch-DeMerit-Boca-Bradley-Edu-Stu-Dempsey-LD-Jolazo subs: Guzan, Dolo, Bornstein, Feilhaber, Beasley, CD, Ching

    That is me predicting what BB would do. fullbacks won’t push forward and ball played from inside out to LD and Stu giving them the opportunities to make the pass in the box.


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