Domino effect of U.S. absences goes beyond Bradley

By Ridge Mahoney

So what’s he gonna do?

Times like this try the souls of soccer managers, and without the team captain and three other regulars, it’s time for Jurgen Klinsmann to show his stuff. Michael Bradley is hobbling on a sprained left ankle, and suspensions have sidelined Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore heading into the eighth-round Hexagonal qualifier Tuesday against Mexico in Columbus.

Since taking over the national team more than two years ago, Klinsmann has altered its style of play and infused competition for spots. Both characteristics will be closely scrutinized in a match by which the USA could clinch a spot in the 2014 World Cup against its bitterest rival.

“I think it’s encouraging to see that with an exception here and there, at left back particularly, the national team is probably two-deep at each position,” said former U.S. coach Steve Sampson before the loss in Costa Rica. “The one player we don’t have a ready replacement for is Michael Bradley, and that concerns me. We don’t have anyone who can do all the things that he brings to the national team.”

Cameron replaced Bradley on short notice for the 3-1 loss in Costa Rica Friday when Bradley rolled his ankle near the end of pre-game warmups, then the Stoke City player picked up a caution that rules him out of the Mexico game. The suspension of Cameron affects the back line as well, as he could have been an alternative to Besler, who is also suspended for a second caution that will go down as one of the most absurd in the long, tattered tradition of Concacaf officiating.

Defender Clarence Goodson has played alongside Omar Gonzalez twice this year: in the snowy March defeat of Costa Rica and 4-2 loss to Belgium in late May. He skipped San Jose's game with Philadelphia Sunday night and is one of four players called up by Klinsmann in the wake of the Costa Rica defeat.

None of them are forwards, so the coach felt no need to replace Altidore directly. None of the four players called up by Klinsmann in the wake of the Costa Rica defeat are forwards, so he felt no need to replace Altidore directly. The forward ranks are already somewhat thin, with Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd and Chris Wondolowski not selected, and Aron Johannsson yet to start in his two appearances.

So the onus probably falls to Eddie Johnson, who could be deployed up top with Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan in the hole behind him. Johnson has also played a wide role for Seattle as well as the USA, and how he interchanges with Dempsey and Donovan will likely dictate the rhythm of the U.S. attack.

There will be periods of cat-and-mouse play, so the threat of a ball played over the top for Johnson to run down would plant some wariness in the minds of Mexico’s defenders. Against Costa Rica, Dempsey played at forward with Donovan behind him, and their similarities helped Costa Rica to contain them reasonably well for most of the match. Johnson is limited compared to those two, but his size and strength and speed carve open space for teammates to exploit.

By calling up three midfielders, including two who play their club ball in Mexico, Klinsmann has given himself myriad options. Brad Davis has a gifted left foot and can toggle between going wide and tucking inside; Jose Torres is also left-footed and adept at linking the back and front lines; Joe Corona is another skilled player with experience on the flank as well as in the center. Yet it’s quite possible none of them will start.

Klinsmann’s admiration of Kyle Beckerman is well-known and his solid play the past two months for the U.S. in the Gold Cup as well as for Real Salt Lake stamps him as perhaps the favorite to take Bradley’s central slot. One might ask the question of Beckerman didn’t get the start in Costa Rica, yet Cameron played extensively -- in different positions -- during the earlier Hexagonal games, and playing even a wounded Mexico at home is an easier task than being thrown into a qualifier on the road.

Plus, Beckerman’s solid play was an important component of the 1-0 USA win at Azteca last year, and though it was a friendly, the game did present Beckerman an opportunity to match up with some of the same players who could take the field Tuesday. In this game, attacking acumen won’t be as important as controlling the middle and moving the ball, both of which he does very well.

Could Klinsmann opt for a true attacking presence in the middle alongside Jones: Donovan, one of the three midfield callups, or Alejandro Bedoya or Mix Diskerud? Doubtful, but possible. Going against the grain has been a Klinsmann trait since he began his coaching career with the German national team in 2004.

“I know he’s not a traditionalist, for sure, so that’s one of the things that always makes me worry about him,” laughs former U.S. international defender Marcelo Balboa, who will be in Columbus to work the Univision broadcast. ‘The good think is, he’s got some good options.”

After mulling a few options, Balboa picked Beckerman – “he’s playing some of his best soccer right now for Real Salt Lake” -- as the probable choice to partner Jones, but also stressed the inclusion of Johnson because of his versatility.

“He can get in behind whether he plays out wide or up top,” says Balboa. “He and Clint play together now in Seattle so I think [Klinsmann] will want to use that to his advantage. So what’s he gonna do? That’s a good question.”
7 comments about "Domino effect of U.S. absences goes beyond Bradley".
  1. R2 Dad, September 9, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.

    Besler card should be rescinded:
    ...given obvious video proof. And the AR or 4th official who thought they saw something should not be allowed anywhere near a FIFA match again. Once again, CONCACAF referee: FAIL
    FFS, fly in UEFA or CONMEBOL refs where possible conflicts of interest exist.

  2. Kevin Sims, September 9, 2013 at 10:11 p.m.

    It will be very interesting ... my, how Bradley's stock has risen ... he has been key for some time, but has raised his level to be the class of the midfield corps ... he does many things so very well in the USA shirt: tracking defensive midfielder, midfield initiator receiving balls off of backline, schemer, rhythm conductor, quick counterstrike balls, switching play, finishing, winning headers, winning tacklers, maintaining possession, killer passes, covering massive amounts of space ... I could go on

  3. Scott O'Connor, September 9, 2013 at 11:33 p.m.

    Thanks for posting that video. Besler's "foul" occurs at the 5:45 mark in the video if you want to forward to that. What a crime. And the sideline judge went along with it because you saw Marco getting a message in his ear, he points to Besler, and then pulls out the yellow card. FIFA should give the CRC player a yellow card for crappy sportsmanship. I'm proud to be an American and we would never abide by our players doing that kind of crap. That's why we're at such a disadvantage playing with these dogs in CONCACAF who will cheat and do anything to win. I'd rather lose honorably than win that way. Being up 3-1 and with no more games against us, why would that guy want to cheat Besler into a yellow card? It makes no sense.

  4. Thomas Brannan, September 10, 2013 at 2:05 a.m.

    What does Klinsman see in Jones. He can't pass the ball well at all. From the Gold Cup Beckerman showed he can pass the ball. No one player can make up for Bradley, but having Diskerud and Beckerman both in the mid field could make up for some of Bradley. If it is a 4-3-3 then Donovan or Dempsey higher and one deeper as AHB.
    And why consider Eddie Johnson at all when Aron Johanson is there. Re: 30 mins. in the Gold Cup.

  5. beautiful game, September 10, 2013 at 9:29 a.m.

    Bloggers,you are whining too much. Since his MLS debut as an 18 year old, Bradley showed above average soccer IQ and above all passion and tenacity. Over the years he has honed his skills and developed an understanding of the nuances of the game to make him head and shoulders above most of the USMNT squad members. It is obvious that the bloggers are clueless about the nuance factor, disregarding it for player changes as a panacea. Beckerman, i.e., is an example of average soccer IQ and iffy decision-making weaknesses while tenacity and athleticism are his positive attributes; this does not cut it on the international platform.

  6. Kent James, September 10, 2013 at 10:41 a.m.

    R2, thanks for the video post. From Besler's reaction to the card in the game (I believe "incredulous" would describe it) one suspected that there was not much there, and the video is clear proof. SA should have included that in the article. I believe it was Campbell who "created" the yellow card. FIFA should punish such egregious behavior. As Scott points out, this incident makes no sense (unless their is betting on yellow cards?). It would be refreshing for Paul Gardner to weigh in on this one; I'd like to see him, for once, criticize a creative attacking player (and defend he honorable behavior of a defender) for bringing the game into disrepute. Yes, intentional physical fouls are more dangerous to the players, but Campbell's pretending that he was fouled off the ball makes a mockery of the idea of fair play. And behavior like this encourages more foul play in two ways; first, when people get away with cheating, it encourages more of it. And second, when people fake injuries on little to no physical contact, it encourages players who are penalized for the contact to say to themselves "if I'm going to get penalized anyway, next time I'll make sure he feels it". So come on Paul, show some even-handedness and decry Campbell's cheating. I won't hold my breath (but one can hope, yes?).

  7. Kent James, September 10, 2013 at 10:48 a.m.

    Thomas, while I agree with your assessment of Jones, I think JK sees Jones as his security; the "hard" man to do the dirty work that skillful players either can't or won't do (high work rate, physical play). But I think he's wrong. I think Beckerman is a more intelligent defender than Jones, and better on the ball. I'd like to see EJ and Dempsey up top, and a midfield of Beckerman, Donovan, Zusi and F. Johnson (with perhaps Corona or Torres in place of or subbing Zusi).

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