Blog Archives

Red, White, and Bruised: How Will the U.S. Adjust to Altidore’s Absence?

john-brooks-600

It wasn’t often pretty, but Team USA ended their World Cup losing streak against Ghana on Monday evening, thanks to substitute center back John Brooks’ unlikely 86th minute winning header goal off Graham Zusi’s corner kick. The U.S. limps away from the Ghana street fight battered and bloodied (literally), but with the vital three points that pundits have insisted for months is a prerequisite if the U.S. has a chance of advancing from Group G.

The U.S.’ dramatic win is tempered only by the slew of injuries they suffered: defender Matt Besler didn’t play the second half as a precaution because of a hamstring issue, Clint Dempsey likely broke his nose, Alejandro Bedoya left with a limp late in the second half, and most notably, Jozy Altidore’s hamstring strain which may sideline him for the rest of the tournament. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s on-the-fly adjustments worked out against Ghana, but additional changes to the starting 11 may be necessary for the U.S.’ clash against Portugal on Sunday.

Austria_vs._USA_2013-11-19_(065)

John Brooks worked in a pinch (sliding in at halftime for Matt Besler), and his winning goal certainly can’t be overlooked, but Brooks had some shaky moments trying to withstand the Ghanaian barrage. If Besler isn’t fit to start the match against Portugal, Omar Gonzalez may be the more conservative pick to partner with Geoff Cameron in central defense. Gonzalez has been dealing with his own knee issues however, so if he isn’t completely ready, Brooks will get the nod, as the U.S. has no other center back alternatives.

Alejandro Bedoya has been surprisingly dynamic for the U.S. in the run up to this World Cup and he put in a hard-working shift against Ghana, but if he is unable to start against Portugal, the U.S. has several capable midfield wing options in Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, or Brad Davis. If Bedoya’s unavailable, Zusi seems most likely to start with his crossing ability and defensive backtracking know-how.

Clint_Dempsey_and_Marouane_Fellani_USA_vs_Belgium_2013

As for Dempsey’s apparent broken nose, he won’t get much sympathy from Klinsmann, who told reporters in his post-match press conference that he knows from breaking his own nose “three or four times” that Dempsey will be fine in a few days. Still, the injury seemed distracting to Dempsey who wasn’t the same threat post-injury that he demonstrated with his amazing first-minute goal against Ghana. A U.S. lineup without team captain Dempsey seems unthinkable; indeed, it will take more than a broken nose to keep Dempsey off the pitch.

Perhaps the biggest lineup conundrum for the U.S. then is how to move forward without striker Jozy Altidore. Aron Johansson is an exciting young player, who filled in capably when Altidore left the game, but Dempsey and Johansson were not tuned to the same frequency, and the U.S. doesn’t have another bench option at striker with physical strength comparable to Altidore’s. Certainly, Altidore’s injury makes the Landon Donovan omission all the more glaring. Chris Wondolowski may be a bit of a wildcard selection, but his superb movement and uncanny knack for being in the right spaces at the right time might prove a surprise foil for Portugal’s back line. While he is a very different striker than Altidore, Wondolowski is a pesky go-getter with a track record of scoring when Klinsmann calls on him.

20131119_Jozy_Altidore_IP2O2350

It was an exciting win for the U.S., but one that definitely came at a price as the match took much more out of the team than is ideal from a World Cup opener. Fans saw a lot of scrappy character in this U.S. side against Ghana, but with the injury setbacks, we’ll really find out what they’re made of when they face a chastised Portuguese team this Sunday.

On a side note, don’t forget to check out my brand new book Dallas ‘Til I Cry:  Learning to Love Major League Soccer which is now available on Amazon.com and on Amazon Europe sites!

Advertisements

Post-Gold Cup Debriefing

Changes needed before US can book 2014 trip to Brazil

Unfortunately, if the Gold Cup is any indication, US qualification for World Cup 2014 is not a forgone conclusion.  It should be.  I still expect them to make it, but we’ve got to tighten the belts and get to work to be certain.  Here is a handy to-do list:

1)  The US needs a defensive overhaul immediately if not sooner.  Fast counterattacks from the opposition should not be a surprise, yet fans hold their breath every time the US faces one because it’s inevitably a shaky moment.

Cherundolo’s the man, and Bocanegra has a lot of guts.  However, they’re not getting any younger and who knows where they’ll be in their careers three years from now.  Goodson and Lichaj have potential, but I’m not convinced they’re up to World Cup standards.  Maybe they will be by 2014, but in the mean time, we need to have a massive nationwide search for the best and the brightest.  Uncle Sam Wants You… to play some airtight D!

2)  The US needs someone to accelerate into space with the ball and attack the goal.  The best teams always seem to have a player or two who can move the ball solo when necessary, creating panic in the opposing defense and scoring opportunities (just look at Dos Santos and Hernandez in the Gold Cup final).  The US doesn’t have anyone like that right now.  Dempsey, currently the best all-around US player, is more confident and poised on the ball than he’s ever been.  But he doesn’t have the kind of open-field speed with the ball that the team needs.

Anyone who remembers the US teams of the 90s knows we’ve come a very long way in our possession game.  Now we just need to ratchet up the tempo multiple notches.

3)  Figure out our best roster and stick to it.  Teams need time to gel.  If we’re still tinkering by spring 2014, it will not be a good sign.  Give Maurice Edu some minutes (I don’t know why he spent most of the Gold Cup on the bench).  Kljestan surprised me in his limited appearances.  He’s worth another look.  Time-wise, the most proportionally impressive US player during the Gold Cup was actually Freddy Adu.  He needs to figure prominently in qualifying plans.

I’m not writing off Altidore yet because he’s young and could still develop into a great player, however, he’s had more than his fair share of chances the past few years and hasn’t produced nearly enough.  It’s time to look at some other striker options.  By the way, Agudelo and Wondolowski aren’t the answers.  I don’t like this strategy of cherry-picking whoever’s hot in MLS at tournament time.  Not that MLS can’t provide some excellent talent – it can – but the MLS picks for South Africa and the Gold Cup did not pan out.

4)  It’s time for a new coach.  I like Bob Bradley.  I didn’t at first.  After giving him a chance and reading more about him (Filip Bondy’s book Chasing the Game has a great section on Bradley), what I initially perceived to be arrogance I came to see more as dignity and wisdom.  He represented the country honorably and I admire that.  However, it’s time for a fresh start.  We need someone like Guus Hiddink or Jurgen Klinsmann.  Maybe someone with professional playing experience.  It seems counter-intuitive for Americans to pick a foreigner to coach our national team, but we could really benefit from the different perspective and experience a foreigner would provide.  Now is the best time to make a coaching change before World Cup qualifying gets fully under way.

What do you think – should Coach Bradley stay or go?  What else does the US need to address ahead of World Cup 2014?