Going into this summer’s World Cup in South Africa, Bob Bradley has had some big choices to make, and some obvious problems to resolve. Finding a solution in attack has not been an easy task, after the disastrous injury to Charlie Davies and the loss of form in Jozy Altidore, but Bob Bradley solved it in the form of LA Galaxy’s Edson Buddle and Real Salt Lake’s Robbie Findley. Finding a good combination between defense and attack in the midfield has been a hotly-debated topic, but Bob Bradley seems to have that sorted as well, using a combination of Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, and Ricardo Clark to plug any gaps in the middle of the pitch.
The real problem Bob Bradley still faces just days away from the start of the tournament, is at the back. Bradley’s USMNT has played quite a few friendlies just before the World Cup, and stalwart defender Oguchi Onyewu, who was so reliable during the Confederations Cup last summer, has looked completely out of sorts.
The big man at the back, who currently holds a contract with Italian giants AC Milan, has only made one league appearance for the Italian side since signing last summer. While his lack of first-team opportunities is most likely down to his injury problems, which kept him out of play for the majority of the 09/10 season, he would still have been training with Milan legends like Alessandro Nesta and Gennaro Gattuso, but seems to have made little or no progress.
Taking a player who has had so little playing time in a whole year to a tournament like the World Cup, and pitting him against some of the world’s best strikers just signals disaster. In USA’s first game, if Onyewu starts, he will have to mark Wayne Rooney. He will have Aaron Lennon flying down the right side. He will have the technical ability of Steven Gerrard to deal with. A man who has had almost no competitive minutes on the pitch, and he has to deal with all of that.
Surely, then, maybe Onyewu’s physicality, although valuable, is replacable. In steps Clarence Goodson, who plies his trade in Norway for IK Start. While it may not sound as glamorous as Onyewu’s club career, Goodson is a first-team regular for the Norwegian club, and is even almost the same size as Onyewu. Playing Goodson just means that much more match sharpness, that much more comfortability right from the get-go.
Onyewu may still play a vital role in the USMNT’s World Cup tournament, but I don’t believe he should be first choice ahead of Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson at center-half. Onyewu’s lack of playing time, and his errors in friendlies most notably against the Czech Republic, a match the USMNT went on to lose by a score of 2-4.
While a backline of Cherundulo, DeMerit, Goodson, and Bocanegra may not be as recognizable or as flashy as one including Oguchi Onyewu, it would certainly be a lot safer.