Friday, June 17, 2011

A Step Behind

photo by eeekkgirlvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Mark, fresh from scouting the US Mens' National Team, returns to our pages with his thoughts on the Gold Cup:

The first round of the Gold Cup has been put to rest and there is enough data in to make a few observations on the latest iteration of the US national team. In today’s blog we’ll start with the defense.

The performance against Guadeloupe represented a shoring up of a defense that has been shaky at best in its previous three games. What we learned in the early cup games is that Tim Ream is not ready for prime time, and Clarence Goodson may not be either. As gifted as Ream is with the ball at his feet, he’s been manhandled by stronger forwards and had an equally difficult time staying with quicker forwards. Everything that comes his way in the air is an adventure, and there have to be some questions on whether the young defender will ever have the physical tools to play against top international competition.

Last cup Oguchi Onyewu and Jay Demeritt gave the U.S. a back line that was a step slow but had a nasty temperament. Nobody pushed the U.S around in the back. The word that best describes the current U.S. back line is probably soft. Goodson does well in the air but he has been frequently been caught a step behind streaking forwards. He has done some nice things on set plays, which is encouraging, but he looks like a stop gap measure until more talented U.S. defenders come of age. The best of the up and comers is probably Omar Gonzalez. At 6’5 the 23 year old Gonzalez is the center of the MLS’s best defense and a former rookie of the year and MLS all star. It’s somewhat of a surprise that Ream got the nod over Gonzalez to begin with, but look for the pecking order of young defenders to swap after the Gold Cup.

The move of Carlos Bocanegra to his natural spot in the center did wonders for the U.S. defense against Guadeloupe. He’s a “b” when out on the flank, but one of the best ever for the U.S. when he goes to the middle. But he’ll be 35 come next cup and a 35 year old central defender chasing the world’s best does not bode well for the U.S.

Out on the left it was encouraging to see Eric Lichaj put in a good performance against Guadeloupe. He appears to have the physical tools, demonstrated an ability to go forward, and most importantly looks comfortable in the position. This is a team filled with out of position players, and if the U.S. is going to go to the next level Bob Bradley can’t just keep shoving the best eleven on the field for the U.S. They have to a premier league level player at every position and be able to play the position. For the first time in years there is hope on the left flank for the U.S. If Jonathon Bornstein is his backup it’s clear there is no plan B so let’s hope that the U.S. has found its left back.

On the right side Steve Cherundolo has been an ageless wonder. It is hard to believe he can contribute to the next cup as his years advance, but Timothy Chandler looks like a strong candidate to give the U.S. a quality replacement for the long-time Hannover captain.

All in all, the Gold Cup back line has been shaky against any teams with quality upfront. The first iteration of the next World Cup’s back line didn’t pass muster and Bob Bradley has had to bring Carlos Bocanegra back into the middle and stall for time while he sees if Eric Lichaj is the answer at left back.

Look for a bumpy road in the next round of the Gold Cup and some open auditions going forward as Bradley searches for the right combination in the back.

This is farlieonfootie for June 16.

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