BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, October 12, 2009
Fulham FC
Can Dempsey find game for US?
Throughout this 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign Coach Bob Bradley has made many changes to the USA National Team. However, now that the USA has secured passage into 2010 World Cup, there are many crucial issues that have yet to be addressed for the USA to move forward into 2010 as a stronger team.

The topic of Bob Bradley's tenure has been controversial among USA fans, but the truth of the matter is that there have been some positive changes to the team this year. The biggest change has been the establishment of a reliable and sometimes explosive striker combination of Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore.

The first two years of Bob Bradley's tenure were marred by the unproductive use of forwards. Most of USA's offensive production at the start of 2009 came as result of set pieces. Now with a set striker combination, the ability to score from the run of play has been greatly improved.

Another positive change Bob Bradley has made has been moving Landon Donovan to left midfield. Donovan has always been the most productive USA player under Bradley, but his position on the field has shifted a number of times between forward, right midfield, and center midfield.

Moving Donovan to left mid has both filled the enormous hole the USA has had at that position and allowed Donovan to increase his already high productivity.

Finally, we have seen Bob Bradley hold accountable a number of prominent players for poor play. Players like DaMarcus Beasley, Danny Califf, Heath Pearce, Pablo Mastroeni, and Brian Ching had all been considered either starters or automatic roster picks at the start of 2009. Now in October they are all backups or are off the roster altogether.

Despite all these positive changes, many hurdles remain for the USA if they want to reach their potential for the World Cup itself.

First and foremost, the position of left back remains a huge weakness. To be fair to Bradley, he clearly is aware of this problem and is not happy with his options. In the World Cup qualifiers in 2009, Bradley has used Heath Pearce, Demarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jonathan Bornstein. While Bornstein has played there as of late with very inconsistent results, there are some more options on the table.

First, Bradley could move Jon Spector from right back to play left back. Spector has played left back a few times this year for his club, West Ham United, and has done so to relatively average reviews. The question then becomes whether or not it is worth losing Spector's superior offensive abilities at right back and replacing him with Steve Cherundolo.

The other option at left back, and one that is increasingly popular among USA fans, is Edgar Castillo who plays for Tigres in Mexico. After recently switching national team affiliations to the USA from Mexico under a brand new FIFA rule, the New Mexico born Castillo is anxious to suit up for the nation of his birth. However there are concerns with Castillo in that he has earned an unflattering reputation in Mexico for frequently getting caught out of position and concentrating too much on offense while neglecting his defensive duties.

While this may be true (Castillo even admits to not being a strong defensive player), his superior natural talent makes him an option that Bob Bradley must at least explore. While a recent hamstring injury has ruled Castillo out of the October qualifiers he should and probably will be given a chance in the near future.

The next and most obvious weakness that Bob Bradley must address is that of increasing possession. In many of the games so far in 2009, the USA has found itself with less possession than it potentially could have. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest factor is the in ability of the backline to control the ball and initiate the ball into the attack.

Right now the American defenders are in the habit of clearing the ball aimlessly upfield or out of bounds, and this almost always seems to result in a turnover. Also,with the defenders never contributing to possession or attack, opponents against the USA have been able to put more defensive pressure on the midfielders and force them to make hurried or unnecessary passes, which frequently result in more turnovers.

Going forward to the end of 2009 and into 2010, if the USA is to increase its possession, it must employ a system that gets more ball control out of its defenders. While using different and more possession-oriented midfielders like Jose Francisco Torres and Stuart Holden can also help, improved passing and control among the defenders will yield the biggest improvement in possession.

Finally, another challenge facing Bob Bradley is that of getting more production out of Clint Dempsey. The discrepancy between his play for Fulham and his play with the USA national team is far too wide. There is clearly something wrong when a player is above average in the English Premier League week-in-week-out but is rather ordinary against teams from CONCACAF.

Clint Dempsey has too much talent and experience to waste, and Bradley needs put his best players in systems that get the most out of their ability. One option that could be explored is to move Dempsey to forward and allow Stuart Holden to claim the right-midfield position.

So while the USA has improved significantly in some areas, there are serious challenges that must be overcome in the next nine months if the USA wants to compete well at the World Cup in South Africa. It is true that all 32 teams in the tournament will be addressing problems over this time, but the USA's challenges are clearer than the challenges facing most nations. Whether or not Bob Bradley has the ability to help the USA take the next step remains to be seen. USA fans will all be hoping for the best.
Saturday October 17, 2009 9:53 am
I think Dempsey needs to be as up front as possible. He needs to replace Davies. In the Confed Cup, he seemed to be effective when he was in the box, scoring opportunistic goals. Behind the two forwards, he disappears.
Thursday October 15, 2009 3:15 pm
GREAT article, very well put (needless to say I agree with almost everything!).

The best back four I've observed during qualifying was spector gooch demerit and boca. castillo and cherundolo would be great coming off the bench and I'd love to see Lichaj and Whitbread get to experience the WC as well--even though they haven't been called up, they are the future and could contribute.

Torres looked great last night. I think he deserves another look for a full 90.
Thursday October 15, 2009 1:43 pm
How about pairing Dempsey and Altidore?

As much as I would love to see it... I don't think Davies fully recovers by then.
Thursday October 15, 2009 1:31 pm
i like the idea of dempsey up front with altidore. something has got to give with dempsey. each time i see him with nat team i am yelling at coach to get him off the field. i say give him shot up front. he scores with club lets see if he is more productive thier. i woudl liek to see holden and rogers continue to get shot to claim right midfield stop. and lastly i wish coach bradley could keep getting torres on the field in the middle. he looks so confortable on the ball we need to maintiam possesion and he seems to be that guy.
Wednesday October 14, 2009 11:03 am
This is the sanest article I've read on the topic to date. A few things:

Howard doesn't seem to want to roll the ball out to his defenders to play forward. The back four has been shaky since the end of the Confed Cup. Spector does play great crosses but his overall play lately has been shaky. Perhaps that is due to his limited time with Westham. Tightening them up should be a big concern for Bradley.
Christina Mantha
Tuesday October 13, 2009 11:00 pm
Great article! I hope Bradley can step up. Looking forward to tomorrow's game.
Tuesday October 13, 2009 3:51 pm
I almost feel as though our possession problems stem from an american sports philosophy. The idea of returning to defense or going backwards in order to redirect an attack is so offensive to the minds of american athletes, that it is not practiced in any of our sports. basketball has a rule against it, in baseball it doesn't even make sense, and football revolves around advancing the line of scrimmage. I agree though that the solution is for our defenders to support the attack more. Almost always the game is won and lost in the middle third. Also, being able to possess is the ONLY way to win a world cup.
Tuesday October 13, 2009 1:37 pm
As much as I like Spector, I'm not sure where "superior offensive abilities" comes from with respect to Dolo. Spector does pass fairly well and provides some nice crosses, but it's a leap to call that superior to Dolo, who's strength has always been getting up the flank moreso than defending. Spector on the left, Dolo on the right is certainly worth a try as is Castillo on the left. Those saying that it's already been decided and Boca is it obviously don't realize the deficiencies there. Boca on the left works when you're willing to concede the flanks against a team like Spain, because they aren't an arial threat. Obviously, it can't prevent goals against a team like Brazil or Germany who thrive on crosses and have the ability to challenge us in the air. Boca on the left is only situationally viable. Against teams that play down the wings and thrive on crosses, you need a true outside back that can defend the flanks and prevent some of those crosses from getting into the box rather than conceding it in favor of defending the middle.

PS - No reference to Feilhaber in the article? Clearly one of our best possession players and our most creative passer.
Tuesday October 13, 2009 11:36 am
I gotta say I like the sounds of a Dempsey partnered with Davies up top, or a 4-4-2 diamond where Dempsey is the top of the diamond, Holdon on the right an Donovan on the left with Jones or Edu as the holding midfielder.
Tuesday October 13, 2009 10:59 am
I agree with Jeff above, the 3 forward system would fit the US and presents the defense with problems. See Barca and even my Gunners have rolled it out.

Not about this Dempsey whining, as a Revs fan* I watched Clint play and he took some of the same criticism here. Seems Harkes' opinion has tipped over into accepted fact.

Climb off the Deuce and enjoy his play. He does score and last I checked that helps win games.

*I guess that makes me a homer, I'll accept that.
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