May Musings A Month Before South Africa, Part I

At least one of your bloggers is still kicking after a too long hiatus– then again with the nationals on their longest MNT break before 2010, it is appropriate that we take in the end of the EPL Season and the conclusion of the Champions League. (In case you wondered– I think Barca will win the tournament, despite the fact that they needed one of the worst refereed matches in history to survive their dual with Chelsea. I almost….ALMOST…feel bad for the Blues. I’m a bit surprised in fact that Hans Gruber (who actually owns Chelsea– little known fact)– has not pulled a “Mr. Norwegian Referee will not be joining us…for the rest of his life” moment in the week following the Swindle at Stamford.

All joking aside– we are nearing a point where Bob Bradley will have to choose a side for the Confederations Cup. Speculation abounds about the Gold Cup that follows, and whether the US will play a young side similar to the one it sent to the Copa (with disastrous results) two years ago– but there can be little doubt that it will be the full, “A Team” American side in Pretoria, South Africa on June 15 as the Yanks take on the Azzurri in a rematch of one of the most exciting games played in Germany at World Cup 2006. The question then remains– what exactly does that “A Team” look like. A look at the form of some of the Yanks abroad indicates a few certainties. The first is Michael Bradley, who appears poised to be the Claudio Reyna anchor of the American midfield for the next two World Cups.

I mention Bradley first not because he is the player in best form abroad or even home in MLS– though one cannot argue about his form despite his failed penalty two weeks ago against Eintracht Frankfurt. He was the best player Gladbach had against Bayern last week and should have equalized late, and has been really their best player for half the year. If a transfer to a mid-table EPL side is not available- it may serve the national team, and Bradley, for that matter, best if he remains with the surely relegated Gladbach side until the end of 2010. This will assure his continued development and pitch time, and his confidence may even soar against the lesser competition of the Bundesliga Two.

That aside handled– I mention Michael first because the Yanks most crucial problem heading not only into the summer but for 2010 will be figuring out who holds the central midfield with Michael. Several players will get their shot. In no particular order– the most likely candidates are Mo Edu, Pablo Mastroeni, Sacha Klejstan, Jose Francisco Torres and Ricardo Clark. Benny Feilhaber will need a whale of a Gold Cup to force himself into the discussion to even travel with the Yanks to South Africa next summer. What is my preference ?

Thanks for asking.

The Yanks are Coming still supports Sacha Klejstan. The justifications for this support have become a bit more tenuous certainly after a so-so effort against El Tri and a poor effort that forced substitution against El Salvador. The latter is even more concerning because it continues a trend where outside of the Olympics– Klejstan has failed to prove that he can be as effective a force when not on American soil. Jon and I support Sacha, however, on the grounds that he provides the most creative and offensive flair to support the ball-hawking Michael Bradley. That said– his form until last week’s man of the match worthy effort against San Jose has been troubling– and he must show the elder Bradley more offense, especially given Bob’s continued tendency to want a defend first mentality on his senior side.

Jeff Carlisle writes much more about other candidates here, but I think the most likely scenario to unfold in a month is as follows. Bradley trusts history, rather than his gut, and starts the red carded three years ago Mastroeni, against Italy in 32 days. His tenacity on defense, physicality and consistency are all bread winning traits, and one cannot argue with his sheer number of caps. He’s played against those sides before and won’t be intimidated. At 33– he is no spring chicken, and the concern is 33 rapidly becoming 34 by next summer.

Against Brazil– and a bit will depend on result against the Azzurri, but I expect a tactical change by Bradley. I’m not him except on Pro Evolution Soccer– so I can’t guarantee a thing– but I would imagine he will opt for more creative flair and offense against the Brazilians, as the Yanks will not be able to escape with a point unless they find the onion bag. Klejstan seems poised to get the call here– but Jose Francisco Torres has form that may force Bradley’s hand and get him onto the field for what will truly be “his shot” at cementing his position. Torres is perhaps the best young passer in the American pool, and he calmed the American midfield down markedly against El Salvador and was an impact sub against T and T as well. His pace compensates somewhat for his diminutive stature– and Brazil may be the best chance to optimize his skill set.

The wild card in the whole lot is Mo Edu, who has impressed none other than Walter Smith immensely in the past few weeks at Rangers in Glasgow. He’s still young and wildly inconsistent– sometimes even in the same match– but he has filled in admirably for the drunken Barry Ferguson with sobering performances that have earned him the praise of the fickled Rangers fan base. If Edu can translate his athletic ability, physical prowess and tremendous defense to a formula that equals international consistency– he would be an upgrade to the aging but consistent Mastroeni.

For more– I strongly recommend the link to Jeff’s article above.

The second cemented spot, or spots– appears to be the Dempsey/Donovan flank. Donovan is far more impactful running onto the ball and downhill, and his presence is a must for American W’s. The perfect complement is the extraordinary versatility of Clint Dempsey, who has really emerged as “The Franchise” at Fulham and seems ready, along with Daniel Murphy, to get the Whites to Europe in the next two weeks. His development from a defensive minded mid at Furman to a steady, sharp passing, creative mid who can even play striker in the EPL is nothing short of remarkable and a tribute to Deuce’s tireless work ethic and desire to get better. It’s even caught the eye of the sometimes brutally negative Jen Chang– who gently compares Dempsey’s ascendence to none other than EPL POTY Steven Gerrard.

This flank attacking situation will complement young Jozy Altidore, who still can’t find the field at Xerez (WHO KNOWS)– but has shown flashes of becoming if not a World Class Striker at least a consummate European professional striker in the near future.

Whither Freddy Adu? What to do about the left back spot and the ailing Steve Cherundolo ? Where does Demarcus fit in? All solid questions that I will try to answer, maybe with a little help from the irreplaceable Jon Levy– in the next week as we prepare for the Confederations Cup. I’m actually getting excited for that tournament already. I
t’s nearly go time.

Yankette of the Month to follow, tonight or tomorrow. Be safe.

Filed Under: World Cup 2010

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  • Will

    Call me crazy, but I really feel like Jeff Carlisle may have this one backwards: specifically, that Bradley’s choice of a midfield pairing for Little Mike will actually be highly dependent on what happens with his left and right backs. Why? Because he’s Bob Bradley, and he’s <>gotta make sure he’s got enough defense on the field<>.

    That’s why I’m wondering if a guy like Edu isn’t a much likelier choice for that spot than Carlisle indicates. Out of all Bradley’s possible options, Edu’s one of the few (if not the only) who’s demonstrated recent box-to-box effectiveness against proven competition. If his form continues through the next month (and there seems to be no indication it won’t), he’ll provide reliable marking and tackling at the back end to support the backs while still furnishing adequate-if-unspectacular distribution up front for the more dynamic (Michael) Bradley AND full-pitch energy up and down for ninety minutes. Plus, he can always be substituted for in a pinch, allowing a Kljestan, et al. to take the field as circumstances demand.

    Like I said, I could be way off base on this one. But it seems like given the available candidates, Edu’s ability to cover back while still providing consistent, useful offense might be a little more appealing to Big Bob than it’s being given credit for.

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    Will- At first, I thought you were off base. The second reading however leads me to believe you have a great point.

    Edu is clearly the best defender of the lot, other than the aging Mastroeni, and Edu is more athletic. Edu’s passing is sufficient, and this is why you are correct. It is just that– sufficient.

    MEANING: Bradley will depend on runs from his backs to get better service. As such– the health of Stevie C. and the WHO of what he does at left and right back will dictate what happens with the other midfield spot. Bradley and Edu alone don’t provide enough service potential and don’t frighten you offensively, even though Bradley can bury a howitzer occasionally. What does make it interesting is that if the backs are healthy– you have two who are good with service in Cherundolo and maybe DeMarcus– and the at least imposing runs, though lackluster passing, of Frankie Hejduk.

    I think we may even get Bob to tip his hand about the Confederations in the two World Cup qualifiers (which are of course more important than the Confederations) leading up to the Italy game.

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