I’m excited about the US -Turkey game. More excited that I was about the game against the Czechs last Tuesday. Sure, the game on Tuesday had higher stakes. A lot of the guys on the field were playing for a ticket to participate in the biggest event in world sports; probably for the biggest games they would ever play in their whole careers. Which is exactly why I’m more excited about this game. A number of those guys will be seeing few, if any, minutes in the World Cup. They are the backups. The second string. This is the game that should give us some solid insight on who Bradley is going to line up against England on June 12th. That’s what I’m excited about.
“We’ll have a team that is close to our regular eleven. As we get closer to the England match, we always have to make decisions about what will be our best team for that day. So we’ll use a tough matchup with Turkey to help us in that regard.”
So what are the decisions that he’s are still looking to make? Here are the four that are on my mind.
Who starts in the middle with Michael Bradley?
Its a pretty common assessment that either Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu will be starting next to Michael Bradley in the center of the field. Certainly there are other options that can play there, but for tactical reasons they make the most sense. Mikey can play the role of a defensive midfielder well, breaking up attacks and distributing the ball out of the back, but he is also valuable making runs on goal from a deep position, following up on counter attacks, and taking shots from long range; all of which he does reasonably well. Pair him up with another midfielder who is primarily focused on the attack and you lose a lot of that. Benny Feilhaber and Jose Torres both fit that bill and, thus, I don’t see them as first options to start.
So, Clark or Edu? It’s tough to call. They both have upsides and good track records, but I would go with Edu; especially against England. Why? I think that Bradley works best when he is paired with another midfielder that can alternate going forward on offense. Clark can be an offensive threat, he just doesn’t get forward that much. He had a great strike against Trinidad and Tobago, but it doesn’t happen often. Edu isn’t exactly a goal scoring machine either, but I’ve see him getting forward more often and he’s had a knack for scoring in big games. That, I like. Against England, a team that will line up with physical, skilled midfielders like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Edu has a size and physicality edge over Clark. If Edu and Bradley can sync their play in the midfield, alternating attacking runs and defensive duties, I think they should be our first choice. Either way, its good to know that the two players fighting to start are both quality.
What two defenders will start at center back?
Like I’ve said before, we want some combination of Onyewu, DeMerit, and Bocanegra starting at center back. Ideally, I’d like to see all three of them on the field, like we lined up against Spain at the Confederations Cup last year, with Bocanegra sliding over to left back. However, the question here is less about ideals and more about the reality of injuries. All three are coming off recent injuries that had them sidelined, some worse than others. Do we want to have all three on the field at the same time when there are questions about their fitness? Sure, Goodson is there as a backup. He played fairly well against the Czechs. Edu can play in the back if he’s needed. But it might be wise to rotate them game-to-game so that we don’t have to burn a sub one game to not tire one of them out or have them starting the next game exhausted. If they are all fit and ready to go, the answer is obvious to me. Gooch and DeMerit have been solid when paired together and Bocanegra can hold his own on the left.
Be watching the fitness of all three of these guys today. If they are all really back up to snuff, we should start to see the signs in this game.
Will the right back be Spector or Cherundolo?
This question can be answered a lot more easily if Bob Bradley decides not to play Bocanegra at left back. Jonathan Spector played left back all season long at West Ham and is a much better option than Jonathan Bornstein. You could play Beasley there if you were worried about stopping a speedy right winger, like, say, Theo Walcott. Shoot, you could put Cherundolo there, too, but I don’t like the idea of either of them out of position over Spector. He’s got enough practice on that side it would be hard to call it ‘out of position’.
So, if Bocanegra doesn’t start at left back (or Beasley starts there, or, heaven forbid, Bornstein is our first option) that leaves Spector and Cherundolo to duke it out over the right back spot. Like I said in my last post, Cherundolo is a really well rounded option. He’s respectably speedy. He’s got great endurance. He moves well with the ball at his feet. He can play a sweet short passing game when he gets forward. And, he has some great qualities as a leader and is uber-reliable. (He has played his entire professional career at Hannover in Germany, where he is one of the co-captains.) He’s not known for his crossing, though.
What does Spector bring to the table? He doesn’t boast the decade plus of experience that Cherundolo does, but he’s been holding down a starting job in the EPL for the past three years. That should speak pretty clearly of his defensive capabilities and general form. I don’t think that he has the pace of Cherundolo, but he definitely surpasses him when it comes to delivering the ball. He can drop in some great crosses and well placed long passes on the attack, a la the beautiful service that put us up 3-0 over Egypt and knocked Italy out of the Confederations Cup.
Who do I go with? This one is too close to say definitively because it would change based on who we’re playing. If recent history is any indicator, though, I would put my money on Spector. One caveat with this for today’s game. Bradley made reference to possibly a player or two that was tired. If he has designs on starting Cherundolo during the World Cup, then this could very well be him. He had a long season in Europe and went the full 90 on Tuesday.
Will Clint Dempsey start on the wing or up top?
When Charlie Davies failed to make the 30-man roster roster, we were left with a dilemma in finding another forward of his caliber that could start up top next to Jozy Altidore. Its no secret that we have been lacking sufficient depth in our forward pool for quite some time. The emergence Davies last year was like a dream come true. We finally had a fast, skilled, and physically gifted forward ready to step in and do some damage That potential was crushed (for now) by a foolish decision to be out partying at 3AM the night before out final qualifier against Costa Rica.
Behind Davies, Clint Dempsey is our next best option to start with Altidore, but that doesn’t mean that he will. The Dempsey-at-forward option worked out very well in the Confederations cup, but in a 4-4-2 setup that isn’t his really his normal position. For both club and country he’s been lining up on the wings for quite some time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dempsey start in either spot.
So what does having Demspey start at forward do for us? Dempsey has always had a great nose for the goal and loves scoring in big games. They don’t come any bigger than once every four years. If you put him where he’s closer to the goal, then maybe you increase the chance of him scoring by that much. However, I think that the biggest argument for pairing Dempsey with Altidore is who it frees us up to put on the field with him. Clint on one wing probably equals Donovan on the other, which equals Gomez or Buddle up top. Neither Gomez or Buddle are players that I expect to create much in the way of offense; just finish your chances, boys. Dempsey has an eye to making a goal happen where ever he’s positioned. Having him up top means that we get that from him and more creative play from the winger that fills his normal spot. For me, the first option would be Holden. Since he came on strong in the Gold Cup last year, he has consistently added to our attack as a creative player. We need lots of that. The other immediate option would be to deploy Beasley on the left flank and Donovan on the right. That’s not as inspiring to me as what Holden can bring, but if the real DaMarcus Beasley really is back, then he can be an impact player on offense. He’s got the skill, speed, and experience to do it, I only wonder if he has the will.
Here’s the starting line up that I’m hoping to see today (if you haven’t already guessed it).
The game is on ESPN 2 at 2PM today. Check back here afterward for some post-game analysis.