Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

The Forwards

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Ah, the initial post.  After bothering most of the soccer fans I know with incessant emails, it’s time to start a one-person echo chamber which no one else will read.  Alas, we begin…

Since Charlie Davies’ accident in October, the myopic focus of US fans has been the question of who would complement Jozy Altidore as the second forward.  Yet a second question was ignored during this process: “What if Jozy can’t play?” It’s interesting, to me, that this nightmare scenario wasn’t discussed more.  Altidore is, after all, a young player who prematurely ended his loan spell in England after head-butting an opponent and being dismissed from the team.  Surely, then, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to consider that he may not be available for every game in South Africa?

The natural solution to the “second forward” conundrum was to move one of Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan up front from their normal position on the wings.  Neither would prefer to play in that spot, but both could deputize ably, if needed.  However, the question of what the forward line would look like if Altidore was unable to play raised a separate, more complex problem.  While it’s possible–however unlikely–that Bradley could use Altidore alone up top, it’s nearly unthinkable that he would choose to field a sole striker if his options were Dempsey, Donovan, or the rest of the forward pool.

That left Bradley with a giant headache, and could well have led him to search for someone who is a) endowed with a least a modest ability to play a hold-up role, and b) is fit enough to play 65-70 minutes in a bruising position.  Gomez wasn’t a candidate–for all his goal scoring exploits, he doesn’t appear pass either test, as he tended to come off the bench for Puebla, and will never be mistaken for a target man.  Ching would be an obvious selection, but has played only 28 minutes since April Fools Day.  Eddie Johnson was worth a look, but doesn’t seem to have developed as a player since he was brought into the national team six years ago.  With the pool thin, we’re left with Buddle.  While Buddle will hever be mistaken for a Ching clone, he has the ability to fill the role, as viewed most recently on Tuesday night against the Czech Republic.  Most importantly, Buddle is match fit, with an ability to play 65-70 minutes at a high level.

So, with Buddle penciled in as a guy who could fill the target role for 70 minutes, should the need arise, the question turns to who could provide a late-game spark.  This has never been Ching’s forte–to the extent that he was valuable coming off the bench (and to be sure, he was), his value lay in helping to steady the pace of game when points had been secured, not to score a quick goal.  Instead, Gomez seemed the best fit for that particular role, coming off a scoring title in Mexico during a season when he consistently scored off the bench for Puebla.  Johnson could have conceivably been in contention there as well, depending on how he showed in camp (in the end, fitness was his downfall).

Looking at it this way (and taking into account Ching’s lack of fitness), Buddle and Gomez were locks.  The final spot, then, came down to a battle between a semi-fit Ching, Robbie Findley, and Alejandro Bedoya.  Findley’s inclusion was simple:  his pure, unadulterated speed offers Bradley a game-changing dynamic that no one on the roster can match.  Ching wasn’t able to play 90 minutes; he wasn’t a good bet to bring on late in the game as a spark; and he wasn’t going to offer game-changing speed.  Yes, he could have been valuable to help preserve a lead by slowing the game and taking pressure off the defense and midfield.  In the end, Bradley felt tactical changes to preserve points could be made further back in the lineup.

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Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 28, 2010 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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