Bob Bradley’s tactics are worrisome to begin with, but now player selection is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for the US National Team. The bucket formation which has been criticized from the get go as non conducive to international football (although the formation and its variations have been very successful in MLS). Bradley’s Bucket worked well in early CONCACAF qualifiers when at least one of the holding midfielders was a good ball winner, and positioned behind the rest of the midfield.
Generally this would require either Pablo Mastroeni or Mo Edu to play at all times. But by pairing Sacha Kljestan who I have never believed is ready for this level of football with the risky Michael Bradley, who should be on the pitch but in a more advanced position, Bradley’s tactics have opened the door for the US to be exposed away from home.
Another option is to pair Jonathan Spector who can play holding midfield with Bradley. Spector however may be more valuable on the back line however. One thing is certain: if the US goes to Costa Rica or Mexico with Kljestan starting in central midfield, chances of the US getting a result are minimal at best.
The bucket also requires creative and daring wide play. For three years now, DaMarcus Beasley has provided little if any quality on the left side. Beasley is too defensive, and too safe to be taken seriously as an attacking threat. Eddie Lewis in his mid thirties remained a better option than Beasley the past few years, but now Lewis is probably too old to play 90 minutes and other options have not been developed.
Bobby Convey’s work ethic and training habits have rendered him useless to Bradley even when healthy. Colin Clarke, and Justin Mapp have failed to develop to an international caliber game while left footed Freddy Adu and Jose Francisco Torres are more useful in the middle of the pitch than out wide.
So perhaps the US is forced to play Clint Dempsey on the left side going forward? But then who replaces Dempsey out wide on the right side? Landon Donovan gets lost when playing out wide. Donovan’s best role is as a roving attacking midfielder, finding space and holding the ball.
At the back Heath Pearce has been woeful although many of his problems can be ascribed to Beasley’s poor positioning and bad giveaways on the left side. Pearce’s lack of quality may in fact be a direct result of Beasley being completely outclassed on the left side against every decent CONCACAF opponent.
Carlos Bocanegra, who Bradley unwisely handed the captain’s armband two years ago remains inconsistent and continues to make mind numbing mistakes at critical times of big games. Oguchi Onyewu is the second best field player the US has, but when he is injured as he was Saturday night you see the limitations of the rest of the American backline.
Steve Cherundolo should not automatically regain his starting position on the right side. For 12 years now, if the US has won a big game, Frankie Hejduk has been on the pitch while the US has been substantially worse when the resourceful player who has lined up at every position at the back and several midfield positions also for the US through the years is not in the lineup.
As far as the attack is concerned the US has to work Freddy Adu, Jose Francisco Torres and Jozy Altidore into the lineup now. The US is likely to qualify regardless of who plays in CONCACAF because the US is so solid at home, having not dropped a point on US soil before World Cup qualification since 2001. So now is the time for Bradley to blood let the kids.
But admitedly working Adu and Torres into the bucket formation is nearly impossible. If Bradley remains married to the bucket, chances of both Adu and Torres ever playing in meaningful games is minimal. One or the other may play but in the current formation it is impossible to find a way to place both on the pitch at the same time.
The US will win Wednesday at home against Trinidad and Tobago. But Bradley has huge decisions to make about his tactics, formation and player selection to avoid an embarrassing defeat at Saprissa against Costa Rice in May.