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Friday, May 27, 2011

The US Gold Cup team: Missed opportunities?

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

On Monday of this week we learned the names of the players chosen by Bob Bradley to represent the United States at the Concacaf Gold Cup. There were certain omissions and also some surprising additions. Out: Timmy Chandler, Alejandro Bedoya, Mixx Diskerud, Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies, George John, Herculez Gomez. In: Robbie Rogers, Jonathan Bornstein, Freddy Adu, Chris Wondolowski, Oguchi Onyewu, Juan Agudelo.

Bob Bradley gave several reasons/reasoning for his choices: (a) Chandler is too exhausted from his first season as a starter for top-flight German team Nurmberg. (b) Rogers is a better fit than Bedoya for the team on the flanks at this point. (c) Adu has shown progress with Rizespor this season and merits a call-up. (d) Dempsey can cover as a second striker next to Altidore. (e) Onyewu is a stalwart with the team and is recovering from an injury perhaps in time for the tournament.

These are all very real and valid responses. Perhaps the most glaring one is the inclusion of Rogers over Bedoya when the latter has had a stellar season for Orebro of Sweden. The former has had an average start of the season with the Crew and was a bit disgruntled with the team early on.

Another important absence is that of Timmy Chandler. He is a two-way, multi-faceted player that can be shifted from defense to midfield at a mid-game notice. He was perhaps the best player during the last two games versus top opposition from Argentina and Paraguay. His ability to unravel the opponent's attack and his significant pace to get around players was a welcome sight for the American squad. While we may understand the reasoning behind his absence, a player of his caliber should welcome the advantage of being in a top-tier international tournament. His break-out season would be complete with another standout performance at the Gold Cup. Why not have him as a substitute at least?

The American attack should be concerned not just with the absence of a resurging Davies but with the production of top-striker Altidore. We all love him and believe in him but our forwards should be in top form. This leaves Dempsey as our top candidate to be our go-to scorer. Not a bad choice, but the midfield suffers as a result. This, compounded by the absence of Holden due to injury and Bedoya's exclusion, should leave us reason to worry. Will we see goals only from our midfield as we did at the World Cup?

Perhaps more important is the state of our defense. No DeMerrit and struggling Onyewu leaves two voids at center back. Yes, we can include Bocanegra alongside Goodson or Tim Ream. And left back? Bornstein? Bocanegra? Right back could be covered by Cherundolo/Spector/Lichaj. The latter two could play left back but aren't naturally left-footed. How do we defend against the fantasy of Chicharito Hernandez or the speed and abilities of Andres Guardado?

And this is where we end today. It will be up to Edu, Jones, Bradley to decompose the Mexican attack, and to Bocanegra and Ream or Goodson to counter the Manchester United ace. Chicharito is the X-factor in this tournament. Can this team overcome his magic as it did against Argentina? Or will we fall apart and be frustrated as we did versus Ghana (World Cup) and Paraguay (friendly)?

The players:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne), Jonathan Bornstein (UANL Tigres), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Eric Lichaj (Leeds), Oguchi Onyewu (FC Twente), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Freddy Adu (Rizespor), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

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