With respect to the Amsterdam “final auditions”—four names again shine prominently: both the Rangers, Stu Holden and Jose Francisco Torres. With Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Deuce on the shelf– Beasley will surely get his chance. To even earn a final look is a testament to the Diamond Merchant’s fine form and resolve this year at Ibrox. His performance against this type of high-level opponent may rubber stamp a ticket to camp this June.
Edu is fascinating simply because he missed the entirety of the last half of World Cup qualifying on the heels of the shameful Celtic tackle in the Old Firm match. Walter Smith loves the box-to-box midfielder and he surely provides an athletic upgrade and a calmer presence with the ball than Bradley’s other options. If he continues to improve his form, he’s a near-certainty for the roster and the battle with Clark for the starting position could turn out to be the most compelling competition of the pre-Cup camp.
Outside of Beasley, Holden has the most riding on this match of any Yank. He finally made his debut for Bolton, taking set pieces for Wanderers in their 4-nil debacle at White Hart Lane midweek. It is uncertain how much more he’ll play this year in the EPL and his performance on the American flank against knock-out-round quality competition will perhaps be the compelling cinema for the American coaching staff in this match.
Finally, there is the most interesting story of the four—that of Torres. Gringo repeatedly receives the Bradley stamp-of-approval “call up”, but rarely plays. It is precisely because he is so often called upon that his lack of playing time is difficult to explain, and likely filled with half-truths. For example, his Confederations Cup resulted in nary an appearance and many have chalked it up to his fatigue after a long season in Mexico. Perhaps. More likely is that’s a half-truth, and there’s a bit of fill-in-the-gaps necessary to completely understand where Gringo stands with the coaching staff. ESPN Deportes thinks it so curious that they’ve devoted a whole segment of an eight-part miniseries on Mexican World Cup hopefuls to Gringo—in fact, Gringo’s segment and his choice to play for the United States will air last, after TYAC #30 Player to Watch Gio Dos Santos’ segment. Insert “save the best for last” clichés here, or just read about it and tune in. Perhaps this game will resolve the mystery. For a few reasons, and not simply due to last week’s Gringo game-winning Golazo (Fast Forward to 7:45) I think it would benefit Bradley and the American cause immensely to give the kid a long, hard look.
Gringo’s technical skill has been well-documented, and it is undeniable that his skill-set is catered to a style the Yanks aren’t completely capable of playing. The U.S. is still a team that relies on physicality and an improving and at times dizzying counter-attack. The players at their disposal are best-suited to this tactically and the attendant formations that best suit this style of play are Bradley’s chosen 4-4-2 and the (possible in South Africa?) 4-5-1. Torres’ skill on the ball, clever passing and creativity best suit a formation that deeply involves the central midfielder in the game, and allows him to grow more confident and stronger as the game moves forward. This style, seen with various Latin and South American club and international teams, is most suitably found in a 4-3-3 and the Yanks simply don’t have the personnel to play that formation at this point in their footballing-nation development. One need only look back to the disastrous qualifying defeat at the Saprissa (the last game where Torres featured prominently, interestingly) to note how ineffective the Americans are at this tactical deployment. Bradley seems aware of the personnel deficiency he is dealing with, and has appropriately discarded this idea as a tactic. That’s good. What’s bad is that it appears Gringo has been discarded somewhat along with the formation, rightly or wrongly, and it seems Bradley is not certain where to deploy him even though he repeatedly calls him into camps. So what to do?
Well, Gringo is still a very young player at 22, but as his golazo demonstrates, his technical skill is exceptionally advanced. He can control a game in the midfield and in fact often does at Pachuca, and to be quite honest, despite the talents of MB 90, the Americans simply don’t have a player that can hold the ball in the midfield. Mo Edu is almost this player, but not quite—and as evidenced in our recent losses, the Yanks problem is not getting the ball in the midfield, an area where Bradley and Red-Cardo are particularly apt—it is demonstrating that they can hold it when they get it, and complete passes efficiently within the midfield. Torres certainly could assuage our possession deficiencies, and coupling him with ball-hawking MB 90 could make for a vastly improved American center. With Kljestan not present, and the aforementioned injuries, this could and should be Bradley’s time to give the Pachuca standout the legitimate shot he deserves. Bradley has proven he is flexible and able to realize young talent that can no longer be relegated to John Terry mistress roles in the caste system that is the U.S. National player pool—see Charlie Davies. For the sake of this summer, and for the future of the American midfield, which in 2014 could be (don’t laugh, just comment and we can debate) among the finest in the world, let’s hope Bradley realizes Gringo’s time is now.
Neil W. Blackmon is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com or @nwb_USMNT.