U.S. strategy: defend from the middle, attack from flank

Mike Woitalla reports from Havana
The USA training session the day before the game was closed so as not to reveal its starting lineup for its game against Cuba on Saturday. But most likely, Coach Bob Bradley's squad will closely resemble the team that won at Guatemala, 1-0, on Aug. 20. That means defensive muscle in the middle covering for attacks from the flank. The main question marks are who will replace Pablo Mastroeni in the central midfield and how much Bradley will take into account Wednesday's qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago.

The USA training session the day before the game was closed so as not to reveal its starting lineup for its game against Cuba on Saturday.

But most likely, Coach Bob Bradley's squad will closely resemble the team that won at Guatemala, 1-0, on Aug. 20. That means defensive muscle in the middle covering for attacks from the flank.

The main question marks are who will replace Pablo Mastroeni in the central midfield and how much Bradley will take into account Wednesday's qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago.

"Against Guatemala, we were very strong down the middle," Bradley said. "It started with Tim Howard in goal, Carlos [Bocanegra] and Oguchi [Onyewu] in the central defense. Pablo and Michael [Bradley in the central midfield, and Brian Ching up top. It was a real strong spine."

Aside from Mastroeni, out with a hamstring injury, those players should be back on the field Saturday evening.

Frankie Hejduk, in the midst of his fourth World Cup qualifying campaign, will replace at right back Steve Cherundolo, who started against Guatemala but is out with a red-card suspension. Heath Pearce will return to the left back position.

Landon Donovan will likely play wide right in the midfield, and DaMarcus Beasley may start in place of Eddie Lewis on the left flank. Beasley sat out Glasgow Rangers' Old Firm game last Sunday because he tweaked his knee in practice the day before.

"I'm fine now," said Beasley.

Resting the 34-year-old Lewis against Cuba could be strategy to have a fresh left flank player for the Trinidad game.

Clint Dempsey will likely pair up with Ching again up front as he did against Guatemala until he was pulled when the USA reconfigured because of the red card to Cherundolo.

Ricardo Clark and 2008 Olympian Sacha Kljestan are the candidates to replace Mastroeni. Clark may have the edge.

Clark played in the USA's first four games of 2008 - including a solid performance in February's 2-2 friendly tie against Mexico. He also played against England and Poland. But he hasn't seen U.S. action since.

Kljestan started in the second leg of the USA's defeat of Barbados in the preliminary qualifying series.

Whether it's Kljestan or Clark who pair up with Michael Bradley in the central midfield, the aim will be to support Donovan and Beasley (or Lewis) to initiate attacks.

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