Charlie Davies Stalled Progress Creates Certainty for U.S. Attack

Ben TrianaFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27: Clint Dempsey (R) and Jozy Altidore of USA share a laugh during training at Ellis Park on June 27, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa. USA plays Brazil on June 28 for the FIFA 2009 Confederations Cup.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Sochaux president Alexandre Lacombe, the French soccer club where Charlie Davies earns his keep, has announced that Davies will not play for the remainder of the season.

While this is disappointing for many U.S. fans, it may have put an end to a controversial subplot for the United States.

If Davies would have (and at least according to him he will be), been healthy and able to perform, Bob Bradley would have been forced to make some difficult decisions surrounding his starting 11—decisions that emerged during the Confederations Cup, and ones he was able to avoid once Davies was injured.

As luck would have it (bad or good depending on your perspective), he may be able to avoid having to make them once again.

As the England/U.S. game loomed closer, Bradley would have had to determine who would start, and if Davies would have been at 100 percent or close to it, more than likely the starting 11 would have had a semblance of his team he chose for the Confederations Cup matches last year. A smart choice, but one that would have had the same issues it had last summer.

In particular the ongoing Clint Dempsey storyline, does he fit best as a midfielder or striker would have—and still might be—the major issue for the United States.

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For those with short memories, early in last summer's tournament, the American team's passion was questioned.

While not individually criticized, Dempsey's performance was one that was at the center of the matter. What's been frustrating for American fans is Dempsey's inability to replicate his Fulham successes on a consistent basis. Too many times Dempsey has disappeared rather than put his footprint on the match, something he has been able to do for his club, through his creativity, his finishing, or passing.

There seems to be many reasons for this. Even Bob Bradley has openly stated that he has had conversations with Dempsey over his frustrations at being an integral part of U.S. success.

And Dempsey's national team struggles have led to disaster for the U.S. In an attempt to become involved, Dempsey has dribbled at wrong moments, made disastrous passes, relinquished defensive duties in search of goals, and been found out of position (sometimes so much so he's moved to the other side of the field without defensive cover).

On a club team like Fulham, one built to utilize a player like this, there's little issue here. Fulham has the flexibility to employ Dempsey in the best way to optimize his talents. They want him to play towards his natural bent. The other players especially the central midfielders and outside backs, are aware and talented enough to cover his offensive soirees.

Unfortunately, the U.S. isn't able to cope, partly because of the defensive tactics employed by Bradley, and partly because Dempsey's counterparts aren't there yet. The American back four are not prepared to cover the holes left as Dempsey surges.

The defense plays so deep they have trouble pressing with the attackers (thereby keeping up the pressure, pressing, and possession) and disrupting a counter-attack.

Because of the contradictions between the team's tactics and Dempsey's natural disposition, there've been questions as to whether Dempsey, arguably the most talented player on the national team, should start, let alone be playing in the midfield.

This problem has been compounded by the U.S.'s inability to develop a striker able to take on the duties of a single attacker, which would free up an attacking midfield position, or find a suitable defensive midfielder (Michael Bradley is not one) able to absorb an attacking player's defensive responsibilities.

For a short period of time, this has made Bradley's tenure difficult. The only saving grace has been Dempsey's last minute goals for coach and country. But again, it raised the question, should he be playing in the midfield, or just dispense with the pleasantries and play the man upfront—a once crowded position as Charlie Davies rose to international stardom?

The question looked to be moot through injuries and the inability of any other American forward to step up to the challenge. Dempsey was the heir apparent in the attack. But then Davies' miracle rehabilitation had him on the road to recovery by this summer.

Once again, who to play where looked to be America's summer controversy. 

It would have been worsened if Davies wasn't 100 percent. No matter who started, there would have been calls for the other (still likely if Davies makes the team).

But with Lacombe's announcement, one choice has been decided for Bradley: Dempsey starts up front.

It's been a wonder that the Altidore/Dempsey tandem hasn't been deployed with more frequency before now. Since a speedy striker of international quality hasn't been discovered, then it makes perfect sense to start Dempsey...a very scary player with an eye for the goal and the abilities to single-handedly create offensive opportunities for a team that struggles with offensive creativity.

Now it seems like the only choice.

It doesn't matter if Edson Buddle or Herculez Gomez (both players the subject of much talk) make the team. For this World Cup, their role will be as the super sub.

Dempsey's the forward choice, especially with an outside midfield that has become overly crowded with the likes of Holden (who should be healthy), Beasley's resurrection, Alejandro Bedoja's emergence, plus Feilhaber and Torres' ability to play multiple midfield roles. Clearly, there's cover if Bradley moves Dempsey to the forward line.

Also, if for some reason Bradley keeps Dempsey in the midfield, expect there to be questions about the team being better served by a more "all around player" for a defensive minded U.S. team.

At this point, there really is little reason for Dempsey to play in the midfield. The announcement over Charlie Davies' halt in progress only solidifies his move to a forward position.