1. Although he played well against a weak China side, Gooch is still kind of worrying me. Now that my heady notion that he would be here to anchor the US backfield through the 2010 World Cup and even beyond is gone and I saw is first experience in a top-4 domestic league not go accordingly to plan, I’ve begun to see his shortcomings. He has straight-ahead speed, but his quickness is not there. I really hope no one lets this guy see the weight room for a few years and, instead, puts him through every quickness/agility/flexibility drill that the Dutch have ever invented while the rest of the team is bench pressing. He has size at the expense of quickness and agility. His NFL frame has, in some ways, become more of a problem that an asset. I’ll be watching Gooch closely to see how he fares against quicker attacking players. Hopefully better than he did against the Ecuadorians.
2. Since the we have a laundry list of candidates for a left-midfield spot in 2010, Beasley, Convey when he returns to full-fitness (and he WILL return to full-fitness; after JOB, I’m not watching another one of our most gifted players spend the better part of his prime on the shelf), and maybe just maybe Freddy, I would like to see BB try Justin Mapp in the wide-right midfield. Although Bradley seems to be depending on Ralston and Dempsey as right-mids, I would like to see Mapp out there because Ralston is not a viable option for 2010 and maybe probably even 2008, and I want to see BB try Dempsey up top like he said he was considering. I believe that Mapp is most dangerous cutting in and unloading with his left rather than penetrating wide and sending in a cross. Mapp seems to prefer running at the heart of the defense rather than finding space out wide for a cross. The defining play of his brief National Team career was his mazy dribbling run from the right side that ended with him sliding the ball into Jonathan Bornstein for the eventual game-winner against the Danish reserve side. I don’t see how moving Mapp to the right would really interfere with what he brings to the table and, if anything, it seems that it would help him be more effective. I guess I’m also hoping that it is something about the left-side of the pitch that turns him off to the idea of defending. Maybe on the right he would foul somebody or half-heartedly close on the ball like he is almost somewhat responsible for trying to win the ball back. Probably wishful thinking.
3. Bob Bradley. First matches since the interim tag has been removed and first meaningful National Team matches in his career. I think he’s done some good (his half-time adjustment against Ecuador was brilliant. By bringing on his son for Eddie Johnson he accentuated several of the US’s possible strengths in the match while covering a weakness. He took off Eddie Johnson who hammered a sitter over the top of the bar point blank from about 8 yards out. Just not Eddie’s day. He brought on Mike, who dropped deep with Feilhaber and provided an extra buffer for the Conrad-Onyewu pairing which was struggling with the quickness of the Ecuadorian attackers AND gave the US a great possession player who would take care of the ball and minimize the opportunities that Ecuador would have to utilize their speed advantage up front. This adjustment also got Donovan closer to the Ecuadorian goal in what was clearly a golden opportunity for Landon. It was a wide open game and Landon was feeling it after that goal in the first minute. Landon was poised for a huge second half and Bob knew it so he moved him up front with Brian Ching (an ideal partnership). As a result of this one half-time adjustment, Onyewu and Conrad were not exposed by the quicker Ecudorian forwards in the second half and Donovan ran wild on the Ecuadorian defense.) and some not so good (the Rolfe-Donovan pairing against Mexico is still perplexing). I am particularly looking forward to see how Bradley approaches the opener against Guatemala, the only team that he has not been able to figure out in his very young tenure as National Team coach.
4. Taylor Twellman will finally get his chance to prove that he should have been in Germany. A string of bad breaks left Twellman out of the winter friendlies aside from mop-up duty against Ecuador, but he should definitely get a chance this summer. Twellman needs to carry his fast start in MLS over to the National Team and show that he can be effective at the international level. Following this July’s Under-20 World Championship in Canada, Bob Bradley may look to begin taking a look at teen phenom Josmer Altidore, and maybe others like Johann Smith and Gabriel Ferrari for the senior team. Add those guys to a group of foreign based youngsters like Kamani Hill, Charlie Davies, and Lee Nguyen, who will be hoping to earn their first cap this weekend against China, and some youngsters playing here in the States like Chris Rolfe and Kenny Cooper, and some veteran forwards will be in a major fight for their future with the National Team. I’ve been a fan of Twellman since the beginning of his professional career and I hope he is not the odd man out again.
5. The left-back spot. I’m not as sold on Jonathan Bornstein as most people seem to be. I like his willingness to get involved in the attack, but defensively, he has some work to do. Even in MLS, he seems to be a bit overwhelmed by his defensive responsibilities. This is none-to surprising since he’s played up-front through college and only become a left-back in his first season with Chivas under Bob Bradley. I saw plenty of positive from him in his two appearances for senior team, but I’m not quite sure that he is ready to step as the US’s starting left-back. As for Jonathan Spector, he turned in a very mixed performance against Guatemala in March. Although he is also a converted forward, Spector does not have Bornstein’s attacking savvy, but he’s much stronger physically and fares better in 50/50 challenges. Spector seems to have all the tools to be a serviceable left-back for the US, but at this point, he is far too inconsistent. I don’t want to see Carlos Bocanegra at the left-back. He’s played there several times for the US, but I believe that he is our best option in the center of defense right now. Not to mention that’s where Carlos seems to be most comfortable. Then there is Heath Pearce. Left out of the Gold Cup roster, we can probably expect to see him in Copa America. The 22 year-old Pearce plays professionally in Denmark and has a few senior caps to his name, including an appearance off the bench against Denmark in January when he sent Kenny Cooper through on a break-away to secure the win for the United States. As of now, Pearce seems to be the number 3 at best, but a good performance at Copa America could certainly change that. I’ll be interested to see who gets the nod during the Gold Cup. Right now, my money is on Bornstein. As head coach at Chivas, Bradley drafted Bornstein and converted him to the left-back, which ultimately lead to Bornstein being named MLS Rookie of the Year and Bradley spearheading a major turn-around at Chivas, which greatly contributed to both being a part of this Gold Cup.
And here’s my projected starting eleven against Guatemala:
Hejduk Bocanegra Onyewu Bornstein
(I’d rather see Simek at right-back, but I think Bradley will go with Hejduk)
And here’s what I would do:
DeMerit Onyewu Bocanegra
Hejduk Bradley Feilhaber Beasley