Bradley goes for some youth and lots of speed

[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.)

14 comments about "Bradley goes for some youth and lots of speed ".
  1. Brian Herbert, May 27, 2010 at 12:46 a.m.

    "play balls over distance to Altidore"? Sad, even the Brits have moved beyond that old "everyone go deep on two" schoolyard ball. Won't work, defenses will key on it and Altidore for the most part can't pull it off. On another note, in reading this piece, it occurred to me that we still don't have even close to a definitive style, at least not one that is competitive internationally. And that, I think, is why we struggle to progress at the Cup - if we had a style, maybe we would not have been using last night's match as a tryout, but as a tune-up as other countries were doing with their friendlies. This match was important to have WON. A few reasons: team cohesion, confidence, and sending a message of strength instead of a message that we are still confused by the international game, from the head coach on down.

  2. Chaz Worthy, May 27, 2010 at 1:47 a.m.

    OK, Buddle makes me happy...we all know man for man we (USA)
    cant match up with those English superstars
    (christ, whatta team they have)...

    BUT we can depend on what Americans do better than Europeans (in general) SPEED, toughness, physical play, and goalkeeping...

    By definition, Americans are better athletes, the English have the skills but for one match we can push them around and frustrate their finesse game and, with good goalkeeping and a few hard tackles and a little luck we might get a good result…

  3. Bill Welch, May 27, 2010 at 9:52 a.m.

    I agree with Brian... If Team USA has not defined their style, then, of course, we are going to be confused. As a team, you do not want to "find yourself" during the World Cup. The right time to define your style of play should be a year or two before the World Cup. And, if the Czech game was an audition, then Mr. Bradley should be fired after this year's World Cup.

  4. Kent James, May 27, 2010 at 10:34 a.m.

    Good column Ridge. Bradley's picks make sense to me (though I was impressed with Rogers for the first time against the Czech Republic, and Ching played very well as well; Ching has never been an incredible talent, but he's rugged, showed a deceptive side last night that I hadn't seen before and provides a great role model for younger players, but talent-wise, Bradley was right to leave him off). I've not been convinced that Findley is top quality, but using his speed as a sub as defenders tire makes him a better option than Ching (much as I like Ching). Playing a lot of small, quick, skilled players will create more problems for our opponents than attempting to overpower them. Beasley finally looked like the Beasley of old (it's been a while). Although our defensive weaknesses were exposed against the Czechs (Gooch still needs time, Edu is better in midfield, Pierce is just not up to this level and Bornstein didn't have a great game but can play much better), that game was about who was going to SA, not needing a win. The Turkey game will be a better measure of where the team stands.

  5. Lloyd Elling, May 27, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.

    The issue of style is emerging with the inclusion of new players. Players with speed of foot and mind. Our style will be be created in the midfield...all five of them.

    I suspect we will see Dempsey with Gomez/Buddle/Altidore up front with Findley the late sub for a needed goal. I hope we will see a field organization of a 4-2-3-1. Spector, DeMerit/Goodson, Onyewu and Bocangra making up the back four in front of Howard. Edu and Torres (Clark/Feilhaber)can hold the ball and they have quick for them in the defensive midfield. Dempsey, Bradley and Donovan in the offensive conecting middle. Gomez up top. This is Donovan's World Cup to stamp his arrival as a World Cup star.

    The back four gives us players with ball skills, size, defensive committment and physical strength in the back. Edu and Jose give us speed of play, speed of mind, and possesion ability. The front midfielders give us steady defensive positioning and strong offensive options from all three. Gomez is hot, hungry and he,constantly,is finding the right position to score.

    Let's see how we organize in Philadelphia on Saturday against Turkey. I cannot wait to see the USA VS England match in Rustenburg, SA. It will become a classic for many years. It has the makings to move the USA much closer to the world's elite teams. We are a significantly better team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

    Yes, we will miss Charlie Davies. I hope he is sitting next to us fans in South Africa, but he will most likely join Sam's Army. He is one of our favorites. It would be great for VP, Joseph Biden and former President Bill Clinton to sit with us as well. We would all have a great time together.

  6. Fernando Paz, May 27, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.

    I also agree with Brian the USA needs a style. It is to late to come up with a style though. That is what is wrong with U.S. soccer we have not developed our own style of Play. To develop our style of play Starts with our youth systems and our own league the MLS. Look at other countries Mexico for example their game is build up possession ball take their time that is the only time they score. When they play Mexican ball. How about Brasil they may play overseas in european leagues, but when they come together they know its time to samba. USA needs to rethink how they are Training our youth. Maybe we can win a World Cup in 12 years or less if we make our own style that works.

  7. Mike Gaynes, May 27, 2010 at 11:37 a.m.

    "Nobody can scorch defenders, power through challenges, step over tackles, and put balls on frame as can Davies."? My goodness, what an endorsement. Makes you wonder how Davies scored only four goals in 17 full national appearances, and only one goal in 16 at the U-20 and U-23 level. A striker's measuring stick is goals, and I believe Gomez is better -- and I believe the best US pairing will be Altidore/Dempsey. As to England, they have far more talent at almost every position, but their defense is currently as vulnerable in the middle as ours is on the flanks, and the game could well come down to which goalkeeper makes more great stops -- in which case, advantage USA.

  8. David Sirias, May 27, 2010 at 12:28 p.m.

    Facts belie hope unfortunately. Bob Bradley's players are more talented than his rigid 4 4 2 justifies. Bob plays with no attacking midfielder in the middle such that his forwards are too far away to properly link up when we do get possession. It's this rigidness (based upon playing his son regardless of form or opponent) more than Bob's well known weaknesses in in-game managment that will probably undo the NATS. He tried something different in Costa Rica with a 4 3 3 that blew up in his face only because he put in the wrong personnel. Does he have the courage to change into a 4 5 1 against England? (Which is the only hope for a result) And the then go balls to wall with a real CAM on the field in the subsequent games? Time will tell. But color me surprised if he does. If you are not coaching a top 10 team (which we are not) playing conservative usually means 3 and out. All of our opponents are primed and salivating to play us in our standard empty bucket 4 4 2. Get it, Bob!

  9. Kenneth Barr, May 27, 2010 at 12:42 p.m.

    We have to stop looking at one on one match ups and look at the totality of the squad and the XI that we put on the pitch on 12 June. Do we have a Rooney? No. We do have a Donovan. Do we have a Carrick? No. We do have a Bradley. Rather on worrying about what we don't have, let's look at what we do have. The English Preniership is a great league, but it NOT the be all and end all of football. Club football is not international football. If it were, England would be the ten time defending World Cup holders. Instead, they haven't won one since 1966 and they are not winning this one. They are not even beating us. We have a TEAM, they have players. Final score, USA 3-1 England and it won't be as close as the score indicates. We will dominate them because we will go out as a unit while they will try to beat us as individuals. They have little respect for us, so let's just strap up our gear and stuff them.

  10. Eric R., May 27, 2010 at 1:04 p.m.

    I think Ridge is by far exagerating his point about the quality of the team in order to get responses. No one thinks this team is a dream team, but I don't think they need to be either. I think the issue about whether or not we have "a style" is overstated. We have by far the strongest team I can recall us having and I think the diverty of individual styles is actually a strength. Can't wait for this weekend's game against Turkey...or the big game on the 12th.

  11. Christopher Holden, May 27, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

    Let me remind you who played in the UEFA Championship: Inter Milan vs Bayern Munich. Where was Man United? Where was Chelsea? How about Arsenal?

    Facts be told Team USA is in great shape being in Group C. Even if England wins the group (which is no lock to be sure), we will take second and quite frankly we'd prefer to go up against the Netherlands or Brazil in the final game, so second in Group C is fine. Yes we'd have to go through Germany (or Serbia), Argentina, and Spain to get to the final, but that is the thrill of the World Cup. As far as the squad goes that's up to the coach - he has the fun and the pressure to make those final cuts.

    Do not underestimate the power of Howard back there directing traffic. Howard is a fantastic player in that he makes those around him play better and he is one of several leaders on the US team. I hope you folks who are panic stricken over a meaningless friendly loss get back on the band wagon after the 2 - 1 win over England. All the pressure is on the Premier League stars, and I'm sure they're afraid to lose to Team USA (as they should be).

    I hope Team USA play a 3 - 3 - 1 - 2 with one guy on Peter Crouch 24/7. Crouch is outstanding and in top form - as he goes so goes England.

    Please note that Howard has played against all those guys and he had 11 clean sheets in 38 games and 49 goals conceded (with a weak Everton D in front of him). Everton beat Man City twice and Man United once in 2010 and recall L. Donovan and T.Howard happened to be there - well, well. Fancy that.

    Has anyone forgotten the Clint Dempsey Wonder Goal vs Juventus - oh yes Dempsey did not play the other night, neither did Donovan, nor did Howard. OK you can relax now. All is going perfectly on Team USA.

  12. S K, May 27, 2010 at 5:06 p.m.

    Ruenes, you are correct. England is not that far ahead of us. In the past few years we have beat #1 Spain, went up 2 goals on #2 Brazil, and tied #1 Argentina at the Meadowlands. We are ranked #14 in FIFA to England's #8. Is Ridge serious when he says "none of the U.S. players look the match of their English counterparts"? Did he miss Donovan at Everton or Dempsey in the Europa League. Howard is streets ahead of any keeper for England. Seriously? Donovan and Dempsey would start on England's flanks and Howard in the goal. Bradley is a poor-man's Lampard. The distance is not far at all. Spector might even start on for right-back for England. He gives better coverage than Glen Johnson who'll probably get a nod.

    1950 All over again.

  13. Mj Lee, May 27, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

    Bradley made some good choice up top with Herculez and Edson. But his bandaged up and slow backline will prevent the USA from getting to the second round. By picking Onyewu and Bocanegra, he chose loyalty over health. Frankie Hejduk or the pair of Omar Gonzalez and AJ Dela garza would have been better choices. Beasley is another unhealthy selection. But fortunately, Bradley has quite a few other midfielders before he has to send Beasley onto the field.

  14. beautiful game, May 28, 2010 at 9:59 a.m.

    Service from the back will determine the success of the USMNT. If LD doesn't get 30-40 touches, we're in trouble. If the forwards don't get most of their service on the ground, they'll be wasting their time...speed means absolutely nothing if it can't be utilized to a player's advantage. Most importantly, the game is 90-minutes and the squad needs to focus for the whole game and no less.

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