It has seemed at times that every moment the U.S. Men’s National Team begins to get a glimpse of what their squad will look like come the first group match of the World Cup, the injury bug strikes.
At the Confederation’s Cup, Charlie Davies became a household name and the U.S. finally had a much needed injection of youth into the striking corps. Davies’ pace and ability to get behind the opposing backline were something the National Team had been desperately seeking for years.
Sure, Eddie Johnson had displayed some glimpses of the kind of game changing speed that can put a match away. However, Johnson was woefully inconsistent and it soon became clear that he was not a future top – goal scoring threat for the Red, White and Blue.
Davies, on the other hand had flown under the radar for some time. Though the hardcore fans will remember his strong performance as a substitute at the last Summer Olympic games. He was given his chance to reach the next level, last summer in South Africa. And that he did. Davies became one of the top stories in the United States’ suprising run to the Confederation’s Cup Final. An early goal during qualifying in Mexico, essentially sealed him and Jozy Altidore as the U.S.’s duo up top.
Then the injury bug struck. Davies survived a horrific car accident with both his life and amazingly, the ability to continue playing the game he loves, intact. Despite intensive efforts to make a miracle comeback in time for the World Cup, Davies fell short of his goal and will not make the return trip to South Africa.
All of the sudden the U.S. had lost their speediest striker and a potent scoring option. No problem … Bob Bradley and his staff would have to adjust. Jozy Altidore finished off a solid campaign in England and Clint Dempsey plays well not only in the midfield, but also as a withdrawn striker. In fact, some may argue that Dempsey is better served in that hybrid playmaker / striker role, than out wide.
So it appeared that a new frontline partnership was in place, right? Wrong, next the bug bit Altidore, right on the ankle. A sprain in training has left the Haitian – descended striker doubtful for the much anticipated clash with England. Again Bradley and his crew may be forced to improvise.
Without his top two strikers, Bradley decided to keep Dempsey in the midfield for the squad’s final friendly before the World Cup. He went with two MLS strikers up top, in Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley. This is in fact, basically the same dynamic combination that Altidore and Davies brought to the table. A combination of game breaking speed, coupled with strength and quality finishing. For the most part this experiment worked out well, with the exception of Findley’s finishing.
Buddle continues to do for the National Team, what he was accomplishing for the Galaxy, finishing quality opportunities in front of goal. While Jozy may still get the starting nod against England, it’s good to know that an in form Buddle is waiting in the wings.
Hercules Gomez has also proven to be an excellent insurance policy. Gomez has taken on the role of late game changing sub and is perhaps the most complete striker on the U.S. squad. His ability to link up in the passing game along with the midfield is what seperates him from the others.
Oguchi Onyewu appears to be at least still psychologically recovering from the injury that sidelined him for months. The towering center back isn’t playing bad football, he just appears a bit hesitant to fully test his body. Luckily for Bob Bradley’s team, Clarence Goodson has filled in solidly, if unspectacularly in place of Onyewu.
The recent performaces in the last two friendlies has showcased the adaptability, versatility and newfound depth of the US squad. No matter what has been thrown at the team, they have found a way to play both attractive and productive football, though not without some nagging inconsistency. Still, even with all the injuries to key attacking players, Bradley has had his group push forward more recently.
This increased interest in attacking football has payed off. The team has managed seven goals in their last three matches and seemed to create numerous high quality scoring chances against a fellow World Cup opponent in Australia.
Bob Bradley has received his fair share of criticism since taking the reigns of the National Team. But it’s time he also be given some deserved praise. He has rolled with the punches and formed a versatile squad that does not give up. For so long, fairly critisized for some baffling squad selections, Bradley has put together a squad that compliments itself well.
In the Confederation’s Cup, gritty defense and an efficient counter – attack led to suprising success. The U.S. really managed to frustrate Spain and Brazil for a game and a half respectively, with their compact defense. Now it’s nice to see them also venture forward well and also show the ability to knock the ball around and play a more possession oriented game. There has still been some awful touches, however, there has also been increased fluidity in the team’s passing as a whole.
The U.S. team has always been known to have good athleticism. We have also been known for a relatively sturdy defense. However, when it comes to offensive capabilities and being able to score goals, questions have been risen. The improved play in the mifield (largely thanks to Donovan perhaps finally finding where his best spot on the pitch is) has made it easier for the team to get the ball into quality scoring chances. With the midfield playing so well, it’s taken some of the pressure off the strikers and enabled them to do their job more comfortably, putting shots on frame.
Last summer’s results and the grind of qualifying, coupled with solid play recently has the U.S.’s confidence right where it needs to be. This team believes that they can compete with anybody. They may not be the most aesthetically pleasing side to watch at times and they certainly don’t have the hype many teams have coming in. Yet their athletic capabilities and propensity for adjusting well on the fly, bode well for a tournament that has already been testing teams’ adaptability through a gamut of injuries.
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