Monday, June 28, 2010

U.S. Men's National Team: Who Raised Their Stock At The World Cup

America has lost and exited the World Cup. As the players head to vacations and a little time off before returning to their clubs, there is always recriminations and reflections. But I want to look ahead in the next couple of posts.

First up is the summer transfer window which will open up July 15. There are some players who, when combined with the club form, really improved their value this summer and moves are possible.

1). Michael Bradley. Can we finally put to rest the notion that Michael is only in the line-up because his daddy is the coach? Over the course of four games, only Steve Cherundolo could come close to the consistency Bradley showed in this World Cup. Bradley is not a holding midfielder, he is not necessarily just an attacking midfielder, although he demonstrated that skill time and again. If you watch Bradley, he comes deep to pick up the ball and carry it forward. He sprays passes around that shows he sees the game that perhaps only Landon Donovan can see for the Americans. He is strong on the ball, strong in the air and shows that he is on the cusp of being a world class midfielder. What I think Bradley's greatest strength is his ability to make that late run that slices through the defense (see his goal against Slovenia and his strikes against Algeria). Combine that slashing run skill and his ability to strike from distance and to scrap it up in the box on set pieces, I can see Bradley, in the right set up, as being a 15 goal scorer and killer ball control midfiedler.

2). Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber showed that he can control the ball, is comfortable on the ball and can be a game changer. His attitude and work ethic were suspect when he was with Derby County, which led to him being dropped by Derby County and leaving to play in Denmark, a lateral move at best. His form dipped at the same time and he dropped off Bob Bradley's radar, but he seems to have turned a personal corner and is working well. He did very, very well in his appearances, getting on the ball and moving it around in such a way as Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and others could cut apart a defense. Feilhaber could do better on the defensive side of the ball, but I don't think it is a total liability.

3). Maurice Edu. Bob Bradley clearly likes Ricardo Clark, but when Edu was on the field, the U.S. were far more dangerous. Edu is naturally a defensive, holding midfielder, which allows Michael Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey to do their best work on attack. But Edu also shows that he can pass the ball around, and is getting better at it, and read an attack well enough to snuff out the counter attack. But Edu also shows well on attack, particularly set pieces.

4). Landon Donovan. Donovan made a statement with this tournament. Combined with his performance at Everton this winter and with his LA Galaxy form, Donovan showed that he can play at the highest level and can show that he can put a team on his back and literally drag them back into the game. His new maturity and emotion shows that he is a leader both on and off the field. He has all the tools, the soccer brain, the passing, the touch, the speed and the fitness to make an impact. Now that he has matured as a man, a leader and a player, Landon will be for the off perhaps in July (which I think he should) or in the winter. He is legitimate $10 million dollar transfer player.

5). Jozy Altidore. This might be a little suspect and sure to gain a little criticism, but Altidore at Hull and Jozy for the U.S. are two different players. If you can find a set up where Jozy Altidore is not set up as a target striker, you can have a forward that can make an impact. Jozy has the strength and speed to play off someone, and the skill to get behind players. Does he need some work on his touch? Yes. Is he spotty in his performance? Yes. Is he developmentally behind other world class strikers? Yes. But Altidore did work hard, moved off the ball well enough to make a nuisance of himself. Altidore has improved in the past few months and as long as he keeps his temper in check, he can be an impactful player.

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