[USA 23]In perusing comments and reaction to the 23-man World Cup squad chosen by Bob Bradley and announced Tuesday, I’m struck by how much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing is aimed at how so-and-so can’t possibly stand up to Wayne Rooney, Aaron Lennon, John Terry, Frank Lampard, etc.
Let’s face it, kids, aside from Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, none of the U.S. players look the match of their English counterparts. Carlos Bocanegra gets a maybe for playing 4 ½ seasons in the Premier League. If the Americans play about as well as the English do on that day, they probably lose. If they play out of their skins and get a few bounces, they can win, as they did last summer against Spain.
This doesn’t mean the first game June 12 is a throwaway, nor does it mean that Jozy Atidore can’t bang with Terry and Rio Ferdinand, or that Michael Bradley can’t go toe-to-toe with Michael Carrick. Nor does it mean that the result against England is anything more than the result in the first game, since Algeria and Slovenia surely point to their meetings with the USA as games they can, and must, win.
When Charlie Davies suffered serious injuries in car crash in October, immediately began speculation as to who can replace him, and conclusions were quickly reached that the ideal candidate didn’t exist. Nobody can scorch defenders, power through challenges, step over tackles, and put balls on frame as can Davies.
In picking Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findley, Bob Bradley has, in effect, taken pieces of Davies’ game imbued in other players. Buddle has the knack for getting into good spots and finding space to take shots, and like Gomez has displayed far more tenacity this season than he did in the past. Persistence up front pays, as Davies demonstrated last June when he pounced on a throw-in and simply scrapped the ball into the net against Egypt.
All of the forwards will be playing in their first World Cup, and from the 2002 team, of the 23 players chosen only Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Steve Cherundolo are back. Not all of the debutants are young and fleet of foot, but they are new to this level of competition. Stuart Holden, for example, isn’t a speed demon, but he’s rugged, young (22) and can run all day.
Both Buddle and Gomez have decent pace, but Findley is a burner in the Davies mold that teams will find hard to track, especially if they are tired and he comes on as a sub, which Bradley mentioned in a conference call as to why Findley made the cut. If the USA cruises to a nice lead in each game Findley probably won’t be needed, but that scenario isn’t likely. He’s raw and has struggled to score this season after bagging 17 in 2009 MLS regular season and playoff games, so this pick is a gamble, but he’s got a quality Bradley intends to maximize.
The speed element in the squad is obvious, and is another reason for the inclusion of DaMarcus Beasley as well as the forwards and Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu. For all his supposed devotion to a big man up front, Bradley went with just one, Altidore, and jettisoned Conor Casey as well as Brian Ching, who heroically and efficiently played through an owchy hamstring against the Czech Republic.
The U.S. problems in breaking down defenses can be attributed to heavy touches and tactical naivety, but there’s also a slowness of foot and mind to be blamed. At times, it seemed Donovan and Davies were digital characters in an analog world, and that Dempsey and Bradley were trying to play a shrewder game some of their teammates couldn’t fathom.
And defensively, getting hit on the break is a chronic issue when the ball turns over, even against Concacaf teams, which really should rarely happen. If El Salvador can zip the ball through you to get a scoring chance, Algeria and Slovenia can, too.
The USA can still play balls over distance to Altidore and work off the knockdowns and one-twos such possessions can produce. Bradley has opted for players, with a few exceptions, who can do things quickly, which is in the mind – as per Jose Francisco Torres – as well as on the field.
(What do you think of Bob Bradley's choices? How will the USA do? Let us know in the comments below.)