Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Changes in Store for USA Against Trinidad?

Despite another victory at home, the US remains in a rather precarious situation in the CONCACAF hexagonal for a World Cup spot. After a few shaky performances and some changes in personnel, I expect Bob Bradley to make a number of changes ahead of tomorrows match in Port of Spain against the Soca Warriors. What might we see?

-An entirely different backline. Part of this is good. Oguchi Onyewu returns after a yellow card suspension. The bad is Jonathan Bornstein has played himself into the Land of the Lost: population DaMarcus Beasley and Sacha Kljestan. Actually, that was probably one of the better things that could have happened, because it clarifies at least who shouldn't be playing and it didn't end up costing the US the game. With Jay DeMerit injured, it's likely that Chad Marshall will remain in the center and Carlos Bocanegra will shift to the left again. My unending clamoring for Jonathan Spector on the left wasn't helped by his average showing, which knowing Bradley will likely precipitate the desire to start Steve Cherundolo. I wonder how many people are now dying to see Edgar Castillo at left back, even though like every other left back in the US player pool he's not the best defender, though he is supposed to be an excellent attacking back.

-Changes in center midfield? It's possible that we could see a new central midfield pairing. Bradley and Feilhaber didn't play poorly, and the duo showed the ability to make some nice plays, but they got stretched and didn't control the tempo, particularly in the second half when slowing the game down with the lead would have been preferred. Dad will probably be tempted to play son with Rico Clark, a more defensive duo that suits the US tendencies on the road. That idea is partly based on the belief that Clark knows to sit behind Bradley when he surges forward box to box, whereas Feilhaber and Bradley can get caught high with no protection. Of course that's what Feilhaber is supposed to do, attack, so let me suggest something here that no one has really given thought to, or at least had the cojones to say aloud: maybe Michael Bradley's spot in the team shouldn't be so automatic. This is not to say he isn't one of the best options in the middle at this moment, but maybe a more defensive player like Clark should play with Feilhaber, and when other players get healthy, like Mo Edu and Jermaine Jones, Bradley's automatic place should be more in danger. At the least, competition for a spot will help keep everyone sharp. Still, Bradley is a gamer, he performs in the Bundesliga, and most importantly he's fairly consistent, so you know what you'll get from him, whereas Clark is much more volatile and offers less going forward, and Feilhaber has less defensive quality (though that part of his game is underrated in my mind) and he can disappear and be ineffective.

-More Jose Francisco Torres. Torres has always done well on the ball, and the youngster seems to have a strong backing from US fans. He finally saw the field Saturday, had some nice touches, and he had that one great run and header that would usually end up a goal more often than not. His problem is largely one of positioning, or rather finding the right spot for him in the lineup. He could start in the middle with Bradley, providing a calmer possession player in the middle than Feilhaber or Clark. Coach Bradley seems to like trying him on the left, but the wings are the purview of Donovan and Dempsey in the starting lineup. Nonetheless, I'm another one of those people who'd like to see more of him, and he may well come on as a substitute again.

-Stuart Holden is solidifying his roster spot. Anyone who has watched MLS the past three years or the USA Men's U-20s and Olympic teams has known for a while that it was only a matter of time before Holden started getting looks on the full Men's National Team, and he is certainly taking advantage of his opportunities. He brings a lot of energy, the ability to play on the wing or center midfield, and can actually hit a good cross and take free kicks. As a second half energy sub, especially against the speedy, athletic wingers on T&T, the US could do a lot worse than Holden.

-The same starting strikers. I will scream bloody murder if Brian Ching or anyone other than Altidore and Davies starts up top. That is all.

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