2010 FIFA World Cup: How the U.S. Can Be Successful Against Algeria

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2010 FIFA World Cup: How the U.S. Can Be Successful Against Algeria
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The U.S. Men's National Team has been a collection of personalities in its opening two games of the World Cup.  Changing from one personality to the next in each game, and each half.  

There was the gritty side that showed up after the fifth minute of the England match.  The overconfident and under-focused side that opened up the first half against Slovenia.  And the creative, attacking, risk-taking team that earned the U.S. a point it desperately needed in the second half against Slovenia.

Which of these personalities, or perhaps another altogether, will turn up against Algeria is anyone's guess.  But based on what the U.S. has shown in these Jekyll and Hyde performances, there are some things the U.S. can do to give themselves the best chance of progressing out of group play.

First and foremost, this team needs to protect its back line.  The U.S. has been leaking goals throughout the past month.  In the three games leading up to the tournament and their two games in tournament play, the U.S. has conceded nine goals.  Five of those goals came from the Czech Republic and Turkey, who both failed to qualify for the tournament.

A back four consisting of Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra is the best option for coach Bob Bradley.  So changes there likely won't help any.

What Bradley can do is give his defenders more support from midfield.  The U.S. has looked most composed when Michael Bradley is allowed to push forward and be relieved of some defensive responsibilities.  

As exciting as the prospect of pairing Bradley with Benny Feilhaber or Jose Torres is, the fact is that leaves the U.S. defense exposed.  When Bob Bradley has used Ricardo Clark, and at times Maurice Edu, the midfield appears much more purposeful at both end of the pitch.

It may not be pretty, but Ricardo Clark might well be the key that unlocks the U.S. midfield in this World Cup.

Second, Landon Donovan must get involved.  Donovan has stepped up for the U.S. and has the swagger of a player ready to put his team on his shoulders.  His time is now.  The only question is, how can Bob Bradley get the most out of U.S. Soccer's crown jewel?

The best answer is flexibility.  Bradley needs to field wingers and forwards who can be interchanged.  Being able to interchange Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the left and the right has proven to be a valuable asset for the U.S.  

The U.S. looked its most creative against Slovenia when Bradley allowed Donovan and Dempsey free reign alongside Altidore, while Maurice Edu anchored midfield with Feilhaber and Bradley distributing from central areas.

What Bradley must prepared to do is allow Donovan to move wherever he can get the ball.  Whether that be on the left, on the right, or as a withdrawn striker.  To give Bradley the flexibility to get the most out of Donovan, he may need to field Stuart Holden.

Holden has proved most capable as a right-sided midfield player, but has also deputized admirably on the left and in the central of midfield.  Should Bradley start Holden on a wing opposite Donovan or Dempsey with the other playing just off target forward Jozy Altidore, Bradley can put the U.S. in a position to get its most dangerous players the ball.

Being able to move Holden from wing to wing, and Donovan and Dempsey from wing to wing to forward, might be the best medicine to ensure the ball winds up at Donovan's feet.

Finally, the U.S. needs to improve its finishing.  Robbie Findley's speed created loads of space for the Yanks to operate in.  However, for all the chances he created, the harsh reality is that he was rarely capable of turning opportunities into scoring threats.

Findley will miss the Algeria match through suspension, so Bradley must decide who he can pair with Altidore and finish opportunities.  If he wants to be flexible, Dempsey seems the logical choice to start just off Altidore.  If he wants to be conservative, Edson Buddle would seem to be the likely candidate to get the start at forward.

But what this tournament has shown us about Bob Bradley, is that he's just as susceptible to the Jekyll and Hyde comparisons as his team.  Before last summer's Confederations Cup, Bradley never veered away from favored 4-4-2 and his selections and substitutions were rarely surprising.

This summer, Bradley fielded a 4-5-1 against Turkey and a 4-3-3 for a time against Slovenia.  Ricardo Clark and Brian Ching are no longer automatic selections.  Torres and Feilhaber have seen significant time in this tournament and Holden was a staple of the buildup.

In order for the U.S. to progress and make a serious run in this tournament, Bradley is going to combine his newfound bravery in tactics and selection with his stalwart holding midfield play.

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