Are the solutions at forward found in Kansas City? (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
In the spirit of Dr. Nick, hi everybody. I'm Joe and I'll be writing about the United States National Team on the Daily Wiz. I'll try to focus on Sporting KC as much as possible, but hopefully no KC players will be available for National team duty next month.
Obviously, we are in a lull right now, given the break between the Gold Cup and the World Cup 2014 qualifying, but there are certainly some issues to be addressed. We have transposition to a new coach (in fact, all of our coaches are new Senior to U-17) However, there are some issues to tackle before I start diving into the breakdowns of our November friendlies against France and Slovenia.
The US is currently ranked 34th in the world. Is this correct? Talent wise? No. Production wise? Yes. Remember the United States was the last team to beat Spain. No small feat, but a game later they took a two goal lead into half and then surrendered three to Brazil, much like the four consecutive given to Mexico in the Gold Cup while up 2-0. I would say that US team is closer to their true talent level. We are good enough to beat Brazil, Spain, or Germany, but we have to be perfect and they have to be Sergio Ramos casual in the six-yard box. We should be even with Mexico, but their talent is young and peaking while we are coming to the end of an era that began in 2002.
Issue 1: What is the United States system/shape?
Bob Bradley was often reviled for the 4-4-2 he played, but people seem to forget that the United States switched formations often after substitutions. Since we're going to relive the Slovenia match soon, it's important to remember Bradley switching to a three man backline in that match to push for an equalizer, which they got. The United States was more of a 4-2-2-2, with two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders playing inside out from the wings. This allowed the fullbacks to overlap as an upside but left the midfield to the other team, which killed them against Ghana.
The difference since the Jurgen Klinsmann hire has been pizzazz and an understanding presented in the United States-Ghana match. By placing Clint Dempsey as a deep-lying play-maker, he has given the holding mids a chance to link up in more than one direction. It also puts Dempsey in his comfort zone as this is the role he plays at Fulham. When given the threat of effective wingers, this allows Dempsey room to use the creativity he often has seemed to lack for the United States. Klinsmann essentially said as much after the Ecuador game.
Post-Match Quotes: USA vs. Ecuador - U.S. Soccer
We purposely tried in the last half hour to work with two forwards and Dempsey in the diamond shape in midfield. Clint has experience and can play as a floater behind the number nine or in the left in a flat midfield like he does at Fulham.
This was the other formation used by Klinsmann in the Ecuador match. I would have preferred Altidore was in because he works well with another striker, but it shows the emphasis on Dempsey being the play-maker.
However, this leads to an interesting problem.
Issue 2: In a Clint Dempsey-centric midfield, where is Landon Donovan?
In my opinion, Donovan's absence isn't a big story. He's been hurt and of all Americans, Klinsmann is more familiar with Donovan's skill-set than any other. So his eventual re-insertion into the lineup should be a non-story as well. His overlap play with Cherundolo in the last World Cup was one of the brightest sides to the United States attack. So I would suspect that he plays on the right wing as Danny Williams did in the last two games. Say what you will about Donovan's Gold Cup, but as of now the United States is much better with him in the lineup.
Issue 3: Where are the goals going to come from?
However, despite the more positive and attacking posture, the United States still has trouble scoring. It's noteworthy that their backup strikers in the Ecuador game were Edson Buddle and Juan Agudelo. Buddle is 30 and plays in the second division Bundesliga for Ingolstadt. Agudelo isn't even a starter for NY Red Bulls. Altidore is not a goal poacher; in fact, I would say every day he reminds me more of Emile Heskey. Most, especially the English would think I'm insulting Altidore with that comparison, but rather I would like to emphasize how well he shares the ball and holds up play to get others in position. However, that is not as much of a positive when you are a lone striker. Those watching him play for AZ Alkmaar can see flashes of him becoming that striker, as his runs are more incisive and his touch softer.
Other options past Altidore would be wiser than Buddle and Agudelo. As long as Bunbury is starting for Sporting KC, I think he should be chosen ahead of Agudelo. I don't think the two have separated themselves, and I would give the nod to Bunbury on playing time alone. Earlier in the year, the roles were reversed and that justified Agudelo's call-ups. Does Klinsmann still want a more experienced forward? What about former Wizard Herculez Gomez? He has been on a tear for Estudiantes Tecos this year, is a former Mexican First Division scoring champion, and fits the role of super-sub perfectly. He scored two more this week to bring his season total to seven goals in 12 appearances. He doesn't start often, but he scores more frequently than any of the other options. His not starting isn't necessarily hurting his form, as opposed to Agudelo being subbed on in stoppage time to kill time.
As for CJ Sapong, who has impressed for us in his rookie season, if he'll get a look, it will be in January when the United States holds a camp for mostly MLS players. Bunbury will probably be more likely to get that call-up as well. Both also seem to be good bets for the U-23 squad that will be attempting to qualify for the Olympics.
Finally, keep an eye on another German American player, Terrance Boyd, a 20 year old who just made the bench for Bundesliga reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. He had six goals in six matches for their Reserve squad.
Herculez Gomez makes case for U.S. recall; more Americans Abroad - Avi Creditor - SI.com
Terrance Boyd, F, Borussia Dortmund -- In the 18, did not play in Dortmund's 5-0 victory over FC Cologne on Saturday. Boyd, a 20-year-old with German-American dual citizenship, made his first appearance on the bench for Dortmund's first team after lighting it up for the reserves and is a candidate for the U.S. Olympic team. SEASON: 0 games
In summary, and by now it seems to be a broken record, finding a goalscorer remains the top issue for the Americans, and it is the key to matching the success of the last World Cup. However, I am almost as excited to see how the team transforms over this World Cup cycle. Although not quite to the same extent, the United States reminds me of Italy in 2010, when they qualified through the efforts of an aging core, and found when the World Cup came around the core was past its prime. It will be interesting to see how Klinsmann integrates the younger players into the team, and even more whether he supplants the consistent starters when a suitable younger replacement is found.
After the November 11th and 15th friendlies, we should have a better idea of where the team stands.