Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bradley With Decisions To Make

The US closed out its World Cup tune ups with a 3-1 victory over Australia this morning, leaving Bob Bradley with a few big decisions to ponder.

Starting from the back, this match didn't really provide many answers, other than confirming that the US backline is probably the USA's biggest problem area, not the forwards that so many people fretted over.

Going into the training camp, the first choice back line would have been Spector/Cherundolo-Gooch-DeMerit-Bocanegra.  However, Gooch clearly isn't 100%.  I'm sure Bradley was holding him back because of the horrible field they were playing on, but that doesn't hide the fact that Gooch hasn't played a full match since October.  At one point they followed him walking/jogging during a lull in play, and John Harkes had to call him out on his awkward gait.

Would you trust Gooch against Wayne Rooney?  I wouldn't at this point.  That means the new central pairing is Goodson-DeMerit.  Today was probably DeMerit's worst match with the US that I can remember.  Goodson was just as poor on crosses and set pieces, something he's usually good at, but was more solid that DeMerit.  Is Bradley confident enough in this duo?  Boca is playing every minute at right back, because no matter if Bornstein played much better today in his cameo he still better not see a minute in the World Cup.  So Goodson and DeMerit it is.

On the bright side, the midfield looked good.  Or at least Donovan and Dempsey looked sharp.  Donovan's killer passes are making Buddle and co. look like an actual area of strength.  Bradley was Bradley, tracking back nicely (particularly one nice play where he covered for Bornstein after an ill advised foray).  He almost had another classic Bradley goal, cleaning up a rebound in the box, except Mark Schwarzer made a great reaction save.  (The follow up from that shot was definitely a goal.  Dempsey was onside, Findley was not, but Findley never made a play on the ball.  Bad call by the linesman.)

The only question in midfield is the other center midfielfer.  Rico Clark was ok, generally solid again.  I think it's clear Coach Bradley prefers Clark over Edu or Torres.  Against England he'll clearly go for two defensive mids, and even though I think Edu has a better overall game, Clark is solid enough and will get the nod.  I've liked Torres the best in these friendlies, and he'll definitely see the field at some point, and probably get at least one start in the group stage.

The other dilemma for Bob Bradley is going to be his starting duo up top.  Before the past two matches, this was an area of concern, but I'd have to say I'm not so worried anymore.  Now that's not saying I think Buddle, Findley and Gomez are sure things, but the overall flow of the US attack, with Donovan and Dempsey linking with the forward tandems, has generally produced chances and led to goals. 

One sequence on the counter looked positively Brazilian/Dutch in the 27th minute, when Clark won the ball in the back from Tim Cahill, Goodson released Donovan to one-touch to Bradley, who played to Buddle checking nicely at midfield to one touch right back to Donovan, one touch to Dempsey, who was denied by Schwarzer.  Reminiscent of Donovan's goal against Brazil in the Confederation's Cup final.

The dilemma though is presented by the fact that Jozy Altidore may not be entirely healthy and there's not much separating Buddle, Gomez, and Findley.  If you want another finsher, it looks like Buddle could be called to start, and Gomez is a good option off the bench. 

As the speed option, Findley is sort of infuriating. He made great runs, harassed the Aussie defense, showed surprising touch (and that after his fantastic pass releasing Donovan that led to Jozy's goal against Turkey), BUT also missed a  few glaring chances.  There was no excuse for missing the open net after he beat the offside trap and rounded Schwarzer, and he hit the post on the sequence leading to Dempsey's "goal," though he probably should have scored then too.  And he also never could get the final pass right the could've set up Buddle for a hat trick goal.  As my best friend texted me, he's ALMOST a good player. 

So who starts?  A lot depends on Altidore's ankle.  If he's healthy he still needs to be in the lineup, and whether it's Buddle or Findley opposite him comes down to who has the best chemistry with Jozy.  I'm inclined to go with the speed option Findley so he can harass an England back line that could isn't exactly fleet of foot with Ferdinand now out of the Cup injured. 

The best thing to come out of the past two friendlies is an increased confidence in the US attack, and it's tempering my increased nervousness with the backline.  And let's face it, the English generally present a number of match-up nightmares for the US (good in the air up front and in the back, negating a US strength, and pacy wingers that could expose the slower US fullbacks), so a draw would be a good result.  But I'm being encouraged that a draw is still a good possibility, and win is certainly not of the cards (and neither is an embarrassment).

Just under 7 days before the US adventure kicks off.

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