GEORGE MURPHY - Saturday, October 20, 2007
Bob Bradley made many changes going into Wednesday's friendly with Switzerland, not only to the roster and formation, but also to the overall strategy of the team.
The US started the match without anyone at the attacking midfield role, with Bob Bradley instead opting to play Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley side-by-side as defensive midfielders. This is the strategy that worked for Greece in Euro 2004.
For Greece, this was also along with two key components: strikers being able to create scoring opportunities through scrappy play and counterattacks to make up for the lack of distribution from center midfield, along with two consistent and reliable central defenders who can defend both in the air and on the ground. The United States lacked both of those components in Basel.
The thing I was most excited about when Bradley named his initial roster was the strikers that were named.
Initially, the players that were named to play up top were Clint Dempsey, Robbie Findley, Preston Zimmerman and Sal Zizzo. This meant that Bradley was not only expanding the player pool at a position where the United States is most needed, but also that a younger, speedier, and hungrier striker was going to have a chance to prove himself.
Then a week later Bradley names Taylor Twellman, and all of that excitement went out the window.
If ever there was a formation that would expose Twellman's lack of speed to get to balls to create counterattack opportunities, lack of size to win balls in the air or challenge on crosses, or lack of creativity to free himself against defenders in one-on-one situations, Bob Bradley was able to find it.
I can understand his initial thinking in that Twellman may be able to score a scrappy poacher-type goal at some point in the game, but that is about the only positive quality Twellman is able to bring to the international level. It almost seemed as if Dempsey's play struggled because he had to take on a bigger workload because his strike partner struggled to get in the game.
Life was injected into the match when Twellman was subbed off for Freddy Adu. The Benfica signing seemed to embrace the role of creating opportunities through creativity and pace, which lead to a goal from Michael Bradley thanks to a cross from Danny Szetela.
If Bradley continues with a more defensive strategy at center midfield, he will have to find a striker to partner with Dempsey that is able to create chances of his own, and the "Please Finally Cap Jozy Altidore!!" posts will continue to pop up in message boards around the nation.
When Jay DeMerit will get a chance to start along with Carlos Bocanegra at central defense is another question that will continue to come up.
I thought that maybe Oguchi Onyewu's pedestrian performances in the last few matches would be enough for DeMerit to earn his chance against Switzerland, but Bradley seems to think time heals all wounds and that Onyewu will all of a sudden start playing better.
Against a below-average Swiss team that was slowed by the rain, Onyewu looked very average.
His intimidating physical presence on the field has seemed to wear thin. He's exposed whenever he's up against speedier strikers, commits fouls when he's out of position, cannot pitch into the attack at all and is still not as consistent in the air as someone his size should be. He does have a knack for frustrating certain taller players when he plays more physical, but that's not an aspect that should keep him on the field. Maybe Bob Bradley took the first step when he subbed him off at halftime.
As a whole he continues to fail to dominate the opponent, while Bocanegra continues to prove that he's the best defender and that he deserves the captain armband in 2010.
The game wasn't much in terms of entertainment. The weather slowed the game and made it a bit of an eyesore. Whatever home fans decided to attend the friendly booed both teams at half, but I'm sure Bob Bradley is telling his team that a win is a win (especially in Europe), no matter how ugly it was. And it was.
Edu did well in his first game. The thing I was most impressed with was that he was able to play both ways effectively for the full ninety minutes. The former Terp and probable MLS Rookie of the Year still has some work to do to prove he belongs on the international level, but it was an excellent start.
The next obstacle for Adu in proving that he deserves a start, seems to be proving that he can go 90 minutes. Adu plays better up front when he doesn't have time to think and can run at players creatively, but will his shaky relationship with former club coach and current assistant national team coach Peter Nowak hold him back?
This should probably be the last look Eddie Lewis gets. He's not getting any younger or faster. Even if Bob Bradley is not sold on Pearce - which he absolutely should be after another excellent appearance - Jonathan Bornstein, Jonathan Spector and eventually, Cory Gibbs, should work their way into the mix well before Lewis is considered. Hell, even the Bruce Arena-era attempt at playing Bobby Convey in that spot would be a better choice.
It's a good idea for more central players such as Benny Feilhaber to give outside midfield a try, as this seems to be a position where is currently pretty thin. DaMarcus Beasley is probably a lock on one side, but with Dempsey moving up front, there's a void on the right side.
Szetela made a case for himself by getting involved in Michael Bradley's goal, but it was the first step of many that he will need to take to work himself into a crowded midfield pool.