by Dru Boyer
The following is the third in a four part series comparing the 2011 Gold Cup rosters of the two “giants of CONCACAF”.
The Yanks: Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Freddy Adu (Rizespor, Turkey), and Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution) OR Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden)
El Tri: Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Antonio “Sinha” Naelson (Toluca), Christian Bermudez (Atlante), Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Israel Castro (Pumas), Andres Guardado (Deportivo la Coruna), Pablo Barrera (West Ham)…and sometimes Efrain Juarez (Celtic)
Edge: America, duh. This is an American soccer blog and I am an American…and about as fair and balanced as Fox News. In all seriousness, the recent form of Donovan and Dempsey along with Jones penchant for physical defense will provide a slight edge to the Americans…especially in the attacking sense. The USMNT will also have some depth with (most likely) Edu and Kljestan coming off of the bench.
Starters: Provided the USMNT comes out in a 4-4-2 look, I’m projecting that we see Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan and Jones. Dempsey should be given the freedom to push up while Jones should provide some help deep provided he is not picking up cards like a Vegas blackjack dealer. If you read this blog regularly, then you are a USMNT fan and you are well aware of the record setting season that Deuce put up for Fulham this season. His current form may be the best in all of the Gold Cup field minus a certain “Little Pea”.
There isn’t a bigger question mark in the American (starting) midfield than the man formerly known as MB90. He has spent the majority of this calendar year outside of the active 18 man roster for Aston Villa after transferring from the perpetually awful Borussia M’gladbach. At the time the move was made it seemed like a dream destination for Bradley and a place for him to hone his skills in the middle of an EPL pitch. However the Villan’s logjam at midfield created a practice player out of MB90 and reduced him to a role that we are very uncustomed to seeing him in…in the stands…in warmups…for 90 minutes. Let’s hope that he was just saving his energy.
It is difficult to gauge the performances of the various starting candidates against Spain because the opponent is far and away better than anything the USMNT will face in the Gold Cup, including El Tri. What can safely be said, however, is that MB 90 acquitted himself very well and the tandem of Jones and Edu, which I had called for, struggled mightily. More on Jones below, but Bradley appears to be worthy of a starting spot.
While Bradley played little in England and may deserve to start regardless, another player that made the mid-season move from Germany to England was Jermaine Jones, who played a great deal. In fact, Jones went from the second team squad at Schalke (after a bit of a dust-up with the powers that be) to playing 90-plus minutes a match for Blackburn. Quotes from Blackburn management would indicate that they would like to keep the American around after witnessing first hand his ability to patrol the midfield like a hungry shark…that is not a verbatim quote. Regardless, maybe he was fatigued, or maybe Bob Bradley’s tactical negativity limited him in Saturday’s friendly—but it is difficult to know whether or not he’s done enough to join MB 90 as a starting central midfielder. The good news is we’ll know Tuesday evening.
Landon Donovan, a name you may be familiar with, has 8 goals in 11 games for the Galaxy so far this season. That’s not bad, not bad at all. You may recall that he also found a way to score a goal in a relatively important match for the USMNT last time they were on a big time stage. I expect the face of US soccer to maintain his recent nose for the goal and find the back of the net a couple of times in the Gold Cup. Donovan missed Saturday’s match with an “illness”—let’s hope it isn’t a significant issue that affects his fitness throughout the tournament—because the facts are these: the USMNT can’t win this tournament without an effective Landon Donovan.
I’m looking for El Tri to start 5 midfielders in a 4-3-2-1 look for most of the GC. That will provide for Castro and Torrado as CMs with Guardado on the left, Barrera on the right and Sinha as the CAM. Much traveled and at times maligned Gio Dos Santos, who typically shines in a Mexican shirt, may also be afforded a starting position.
Barrera did not have the best of seasons for West Ham…but let’s be honest…who did? He is, however, fully fit and will provide an attacking option on the right side, not to mention he always seems to play better in his national team shirt. His running mate on the left, Guardado, also finds himself relegated after a disappointing season for Deportivo la Coruna. The ability to stay healthy has been the prominent issue for Guardado, but this summer’s GC finds him in relatively good form. Both of the Mexican wingers will likely be searching for new club teams…let’s hope that they don’t perform like an American football player in a contract year. Guardado has always seemed a guy who plays a bit of the Steve Cherundolo role for the Mexico—which is not to say he’s a defender but rather to suggest that he’s underappreciated and underrated as a very valuable and dangerous part of the Mexican National Team.
Sinha is getting a little long in the tooth at 35 years of age. He did manage four goals and a pair of assists in Toluca’s 2011 campaign. The center mids for Mexico will provide some wily veteran leadership and should be able to outperform every other squad minus the US of A, including defensive-minded Honduras, a potential knock out stage opponent with a fine midfield. As per, Israel Castro and Gerardo Torrado will provide a rock solid back line in the midfield. They will be able to roam freely and create disruptions with the strength of El Tri (in my opinion) directly behind them. I look for Torrado to be the workhorse of the Mexican midfield and if they are able to knock of the USMNT I expect it will be due in large part to a stellar performance from the Cruz Azul man.
Reserves: The USMNT will have the luxury of bringing SPL champion Mo Edu on as a stabilizing substitute, unless Bobbo pulls a Gerard Houllier and sits Bobbo Jr. on the bench. Edu didn’t shine in a more attack-oriented role for Rangers this year, but he was better by the end of the campaign and has improved dramatically as a passer. He’s better-suited to his national team role as a slow the game down and take the air out of the ball defensive stopper, and that’s a role he’ll likely get to play at thirty minute clips during the Gold Cup. One should be a bit disheartened by his lack of effort Saturday: the Yanks simply need more from him this month.
In addition, Sacha Kljestan, who played reasonably well yesterday, all things considered, gives Bradley flexibility—the young midfielder played a diverse number of positions for the very solid Anderlect squad all season long, and although his playing time wasn’t consistent, he was called upon often and in all competitions, including the Champions League. Sierra Mist fan and former Jo-Jo beau Freddy Adu surfaces from exile in the Turkish 2nd division to make his first appearance with the national team since 2009 and should be looking to improve his international stock…should he deserve any minutes. Rogers and Feilhaber will seek to prove that Bradley’s reliance on the strength of the MLS was well placed.
Mexico’s reserves, Bermudez, Zavala, and sometimes Efrain Juarez (providing he’s not defending) should be used to spell the aging starting El Tri midfield. Christian Bermudez will provide a dynamic attacking, play-making, goal scoring option off the Mexican bench. He led his club team, Atlante, in both goals (9) and assists (4) in the Primera, and is a slick passer with trademark Mexican creativity in his off-ball movements. Zavala plays for the Monterrey squad that knocked of Real Salt Lake in the Champions League. Zavala typically started for his club team in a defensive role while scoring a pair of goals, so look for him to come on should Castro or Torrado need a break. As Jon covered in his defensive piece, Juarez often finds himself on the back line of the Mexican defense. In fact, he may end up starting there. Hopefully, Mo Edu will be able to provide a solid scouting report on Juarez from the frequent Rangers v. Celtic clashes in the SPL for the USMNT. While it is possible he’ll play some midfield in the tournament, I expect that he will spend most of his time in a defensive role for El Tri.
As always, we at The Yanks Are Coming encourage your comments and discussion! Check back soon for the fourth in our four part series, “Am I being too forward?”
Dru Boyer is a Senior Writer for the Yanks Are Coming and can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on twitter @swampjankins.