Fresh off a four year contract renewal, Bob Bradley officially began his second World Cup cycle atop the United States Men’s National Team with a 2-2 draw against Poland.
I’ve seen a lot of mixed opinions over the performance, but not many writers have taken the time to see the game from multiple perspectives.
So to shake things up a bit, Ben Triana and I have decided to collaborate our minds and approach this game with a two-man attack while also looking forward to tonight's match up against Poland.
Introductions, aside, let's take a look at the games and answer some important questions.
1. Who were the best performers for the U.S. against Poland?
CW: In my mind, there are a few of players who really stood out for the U.S.
Starting from the back, Tim Howard had a superb game. He can be faulted for neither goal, and he kept out several others that should have given Poland the win. Super stuff from Super Tim, as usual.
Moving forward, Steve Cherundolo was the lone bright spot in a bleak back four. Dolo has been in impeccable form since just before the World Cup, and he’s carried his excellent play from South Africa to both club in Hannover and country against Poland. Like a fine wine or Diane Lane, he only gets better with age.
The real star of the show, however, was Jermaine Jones. He was the dominant force in midfield on both sides of the ball, closing down and forcing wide Poland’s central attack, and his assist on Jozy Alitdore’s opening goal was something of a quality unmatched by his American peers.
Forgiving the second goal, which was a product of a misplaced Jones pass, and his debut for the Americans was everything I was hoping for.
He didn’t need it. Once again Howard reminded everyone why he’s the first choice for the U.S.
What Cherundolo keeps reminding the U.S. is the importance that a well-rounded fullback brings to the table. He’s able to get forward and help out the attack. His performance (and its importance often overlooked by analysts) reminded the U.S. what it needs from its left back, and its youngsters.
I agree that Jermaine Jones was the standout. There was some criticism in a couple of corners about his play, but Jones changed the entire demeanor in the midfield.
His passing accuracy especially on long balls was something missing from the U.S. attack. He adds a new dimension to the offense. Instead of errant passes coming from the back four or other midfielders,Jones is able to hit his target, and that makes America’s speed and counter twice as dangerous.
I don’t know if you noticed it, but I thought he added an intangible element to the midfield as well. Michael Bradley seemed more calm and organized, and Holden and Dempsey were given more freedom as a result.
Speaking of Holden, I thought he was the other standout. He pretty much claimed the outside right position. If the U.S. can develop fullbacks that can cover the outsides, Holden will be dangerous cutting to the middle.
He also frees up Dempsey and Donovan by taking over the duties out wide. They can push into the center, or Holden can as well. Overall, Holden gives the offense another weapon.
What do you think of Dempsey and Altidore?
CW: Dempsey was too quiet in the first half, but that’s a result of his positioning. When he was allowed to drop deeper in the second half, he really started having an impact on the game.
Altidore, despite his goal, was disappointing—which brings us to question number two.
2. Who was disappointing for the U.S.?
CW: Jozy made several easy chances look quite difficult, and I’m not sure he’s any better than he was at this point a year ago. His hold up play is no better than it was when he was playing in Hull, and I don't see him getting enough playing time at Villareal to progress much more.
Right now, to me, he's still a very average forward with a ton of unfulfilled potential.
Another guy who struggled was Maurice Edu. I like Bradley’s idea in moving him to the back, but you could tell Mo was uncomfortable. Physically, he’s a great center back, but mentally, he’s out of place. His positioning was poor, and the communication between him and Onyewu was non-existent.
Carlos Bocanegra showed his age, as well, as Kuba, albeit a talented winger in his own right, ran circles around Bocanegra out wide. His lack of pace coupled with the fact that he gives us nothing going forward will relegate him either to central duties or move him out of the picture.
BT: I agree with your assessment of both Altidore and Bocanegra. Even on Altidore’s goal, he miss-trapped the first touch and luckily, the bounce was kind, the goalie couldn’t get there and he had a second chance.
The excuse will continue to be how young Altidore is, but he’s clearly an unpolished work in progress. Without constant playing time, I don’t know how he’s going to clean-up his rough edges.
I think Bocanegra is what we’re going to get from a number of the aging defenders. By this point in their careers, they are what they are. Some will still prove useful, others will be relegated to second tier games (i.e. CONCACF qualifiers and friendlies when first team players aren’t available); it’s just a question of which defenders it will be.
But a lot of the struggles we had can be narrowed down to tactics.
Question 3: What do you make of Bob Bradley's tactical decisions against Poland?
BT: The question I’d love to ask Bradley is whether or not he decided to move to a 4-5-1 on his own or if he stumbled upon it because his player selection forced him into this formation.
By the end of the Ghana game it was clear that the team was moving towards a system that allowed Donovan and Dempsey more fluidity in its positioning, but in the past, Bradley would always revert to the 4-4-2 again.
Now though, he seems to realize he’ll need a different formation to get the most out of Dempsey, Donovan, and basically the rest of his midfield.
What I would like to see is more thought put into where and why he moves Dempsey from attacker to outside left, to all of a sudden behind Holden. It seemed like he was moving players to different positions based on a whim.
I’d like to see him move players because of matchups, spacing, or a reaction to the game as it is developing. It’s the next step in this process.
The big question will be Bradley’s decision once everything’s on the line. He has become more and more open to new formations and ideas, but he panicked in preparation for the Ghana game and returned to his comfort zone.
He might be trying new formations right now, but will he revert to his old ways once the games count?
CW: A lot of people criticize Bob for being tactically stubborn, but I think he's more pragmatic than anything.
I like what he's doing tactically right now. The 4-4-2 works when you have strikers that complement each other, like Charlie Davies and Jozy did, but without that speed threat, we basically have two guys up top who can't get the ball at their feet in space.
Lone striker will be the way to go in the future. You see a lot of teams running 4-2-3-1, and I'd like to see the U.S. do something of that mold.
Against Ghana and here against Poland in the second half, Bob basically went Christmas tree, with the two supporting players (Dempsey and Donovan against Ghana, Dempsey and Holden against Poland) dropping deep to spark possession.
This works effectively when Michael Bradley is on his game, but he was pretty passive against Poland, so the space freed up by the dropping of the two supporters often went unused.
Still, I like the experimenting. That's exactly what these games are for.
But enough about Poland. Let's look ahead.
Question 4: What do you hope to see for the Columbia game?
BT: I’d like to see Goodson and Lichaj get some good playing time. It may be early, but the young defenders need to gain experience, and an intelligent leader needs to run the game from the back.
That type of defender, especially in the middle, was missing during the world cup. The U.S. needs to find him.
And speedy, supportive fullbacks need to be developed. Others have already said this, but if the midfield is going to cut inside and support the attack, the outside backs need to be able to handle the extra responsibilities.
I disagree with you about Dempsey. I thought he worked harder than he has in the past, and he and Donovan need to get used to playing as the second striker. As they age and because there are few alternatives, they’re going to need to be comfortable in that role.
I’d like to see Bradley continue with new formations and make more substitutions. For a friendly (and I know some players weren’t available), there should have been more substitutions.
He needs to get a look at other players and not get too comfortable with his holdovers from South Africa; that’s the first step to stagnation.
Other than that, I’m not too concerned with the score. I just want to feel like strides were made (even if they’re small) in preparation for qualifiers and 2014.
CW: Well, as for the fullbacks, both Cherundolo and Bocanegra have returned to their clubs, so we'll definitely see fresh faces there.
I'd also like to see more experimenting in the center of defense. Onyewu and Goodson will be too slow of a pairing to play together, so I'd like Edu, or even Jones, to get a look back there.
I'm also hoping Eddie Johnson gets some time. I'll get some flack for saying this, but I don't think he's that much worse an option than Jozy. Of course, they bring totally different skill sets to the game, and Jozy is certainly better on his day, but EJ has a way of scoring in bundles—when he's on form.
He's been getting minutes for Fulham, so maybe that will be the boost he needs.
Ultimately, however, I want to see some better composure in the back. Our defenders need to be more steady with the ball at their feet, and our midfield needs to link up play better. Also, fewer defensive gaffes and failed clearances wouldn't hurt.
Colombia will be a fast team, much like the sides we'll have to beat in the Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying. Our fullbacks must do better when run at, our center backs must be on the same page, and someone is going to have to emerge as a go-to forward.
Ben, it was a pleasure. Let's do this again sometime, say, after tonight's result?
BT: Absolutely. We'll talk soon.