Tuesday, April 07, 2009

USA 3:0 Trinidad & Tobago

Jozy Altidore scores three more, putting at scoring four goals in two games and a total of six goals in 9 games for the U.S.--and all that based on getting absolutely no playing time for his club team. The U.S. looked good, but should have won this game. Trinidad did not provide as tough a test as say Costa Rica will. I am happy for Altidore, but I really don't expect Bob Bradley to continue with this kind of set up going forward.

First, Altidore and Brian Ching are not going to work well together unless Bob Bradley sets Altidore free to roam, pick the ball up and carry it forward. The problem is that Altidore, who has the strength, speed and gumption to take players on, is wasted in that kind of a role. Altidore is a goal scorer and a poacher. He needs to be playing up top, holding the ball and dishing it off and going to goal to poach the net. But Altidore would be competing with Brian Ching for that role. Now, I think that over time, Altidore will prove better at the target striker role than Ching, if based on nothing more than age and size. But Bob Bradley has not shown any inclination to give Altidore that shot on a regular basis. Ching has demonstrated that he can do the job and take the abuse that is dished out by CONCACAF back lines, but I don't think Ching is going to be able to perform that role against stiffer international competition.

Second, the 4-4-2 set up Bradley used last week puts a massive burden on the outside fullbacks. With Landon Donovan on the left and Clint Dempsey on the right, what the U.S. has are not traditional wingers in any sense. Both men like to roam inside a little bit too much. Such a mindset robs the American attack of any width from their midfielders (and with Bradley's insistence on keeping his central midfielders pulled back with defensive responsibilities) and a great big hole is opened up in the midfield. The hole is either filled with Donovan and Dempsey or it is left open. When Donovan and Dempsey start moving in, the pressure is on the right and left backs to provide that width. So far, Frankie Hejduk has proved up to the task, literally running like the energizer bunny. I think Hejduk has the form to make it to the 2010 World Cup and has easily supplanted Steve Cherundolo as the number 1 right back, but the man is 35 and will be 36 next year for the World Cup, it is a risk.

On the left side was DaMarcus Beasley, not a natural left back, although he did play well. Beasley has a boat load of speed, the ability to take players on in the attack and the necessary defensive skills to play the position--if he could last 90 minutes making the regular overlapping runs and then getting back to defend, time and time again. By the end of the match Beasley looked knackered and did not contribute much on attack or defense. He is not going to be the solution for the long term and Heath Pearce is not the solution either. Can Jonathan Bornstein make the jump? What about Marvell Wynne? Alternatively, the U.S. might want to cosider putting Clarence Goodson into central defense and move Carlos Bocanegra (who plays left back for Rennes) to the flank. What about moving Hejduk to the left and slot Wynne into the right? There is not winger on the planet, including Gabby Agbonglahor or Theo Wolcott, who is going to out sprint Wynne. The problem with Wynne on the flanks is that his crossing ability needs some real work. Simply put, left back is one of the biggest positional concerns for the U.S. and I don't see a solution on the horizon.

But last week in Nashville, the U.S. fans were treated to a "what could be" display, with the combination of Donovan and Altidore, the best U.S. player combining with what could be the future best player that America has produced and it was a treat to watch them hook up and score goals. But really, it is little more than a what if display. I simply don't see Bradley giving up on Ching, although I think Altidore could do the job of being a target striker. Likewise, I don't really see the future of Donovan on the left wing. I would think that even if Altidore is playing up top, Donovan is more creative when given license to play all over, off of the target striker and that boils down to a 4-5-1. In the 4-4-2 we saw last week, there is simply not enough width to the U.S. and without the width, they become very easy to defend. Unless Bradley is prepared to play a 4-4-2 with more of a diamond midfield, i.e. a single holding midfielder and an attacking/playmaking central midfielder, the U.S. doesn't have the left back position solidified enough to make it a viable threat and option.

No comments: