USA vs. Mexico: Who Bradley Should Start in Saturday's Gold Cup Final
Tonight is the night we have been waiting for since August 12, 2009.
The United States and Mexico will finally take to the soccer pitch together once again, this time in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final.
While Mexico have dominated their way to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, with their only real blip being the extra time it took to beat Honduras, the United States have sort of limped in. They have been the better team in every game except their first ever Group Stage loss, which came at the hands of Panama, but they have lacked production on offense.
Bob Bradley's job hangs in the balance, one would think, so a win against Mexico is vital. It will be important to put out a strong lineup.
This is my projection for the lineup. It may hold a surprise, but there is a method to the "madness" which will be seen at the end.
The 4-2-3-1 has worked well since Bob Bradley instituted it against Jamaica in the Quarterfinals. It appears to play much better to the strength of the United States, as the weak offensive team can push more men forward while not leaving the defense vulnerable.
With the holding (or defensive) midfielders in place, the full backs can push forward to support when needed. Even one of the defensive mids can sometimes provide an outlet for the offense.
I think that after years of debate in the Bradley era, we are seeing a formation that works for the United States.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
I mean, this really goes without saying.
Howard is the obvious choice for the United States until such a time that Brad Guzan or even somebody else steps up and takes it from him, most likely after he retires.
He has been playing very well recently, and barring some freak accident today, he is the guy against Mexico.
Left Back: Steve Cherundolo
Cherundolo continues to play well. An established, key player in the back for the US, the captain of the German club Hannover will need to be at his best against the younger, faster Mexican attack.
Right Back: Eric Lichaj
In my opinion, the 22-year old from Illinois was the man of the match in the Semifinals against Panama. It was his first real big chance in the tournament following a great few months on loan at Leeds United from Aston Villa. He continued the good form he showed at Leeds and carried it into the starting XI last game. He was quick, strong defensively, and menacing working the flank on both sides of the ball.
Look for Lichaj to be a difference maker against El Tri.
Center Back: Clarence Goodson
Goodson has been playing pretty well in this tournament.
At first, the combination in the middle of Goodson and Tim Ream was not working. However, once Bocanegra moved back into the center, the defense started to shut down opposing attacks much more easily.
The tall, quick defender will need to be big in front of goal against the likes of Javier Hernandez if he wants to prove he belongs in the lineup and if the US hopes to win.
Center Back: Carlos Bocanegra (Captain)
Obviously the team captain will be in there.
Bocanegra's move to the center after starting out the tournament as a fullback has been a big move for the team. It has been one of the several in-tournament changes in tactics that have propelled the Yanks into the Final.
Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley
The 4-2-3-1 has pushed the coach's son into a defensive role.
It has worked out well so far—he has been playing well in support of the midfield and as the front line of defense.
Bradley has certainly enjoyed playing Mexico in the past. Lets hope things go well for him tonight.
Defensive Midfielder: Jermaine Jones
The German-born Jones is in fact a defensive minded midfielder, which bodes well with the new formation.
He has had a couple solid games in the knockout stage.
His great defensive play in the middle third could be crucial in the Final.
Right Midfielder: Alejandro Bedoya
I have been sold on the young star from Orebro, Sweden for a long time.
This guy has had some great performances in his time on the national team, and he played very well against Panama. His youth and speed make him a likely keep in the lineup.
This guy will be a mainstay on the national team for a long time.
Left Midfielder: Clint Dempsey
Half of the Americans' six goals are from Deuce.
My guess is that late on he could end up moving up top if the Americans need a goal.
Center Midfielder: Freddy Adu
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you for the first time as a mature, seasoned player, Fredua Koranteng Adu.
We all acted like Freddy Adu was dead and gone at such a young age.
People: He made his debut as a professional at only 14 and as a member of the senior national team at 18. Can we give him a break if he did not meet the ridiculous media hype that plagued his early years?
The Ghana-born midfielder made a return to the national team as a sub in the Semifinals after not playing for the team since early 2009. A beautiful pass to Landon Donovan led to the Dempsey goal which clinched the game.
Adu looked happy and energetic, and let's face it: Sacha Kljestan is a terrible option in the starting lineup.
Adu provides a much-needed energy that could really spark the attack tonight.
Center Forward: Juan Agudelo
Well, Jozy Altidore is out. Chris Wondolowski is not an ideal option as a starter.
That leaves Juan Agudelo.
But no need to fear, the 18-year old has really shown that he can be a starter. No goals yet in the Gold Cup, but he has had some good opportunities.
The goals will come, no doubt, and he is a great choice against Mexico with his youth and speed. I have a feeling he will find net tonight.
Why No Landon Donovan?
This decision could spark some protest, as it has the past two times Donovan has not been selected by Bradley (meaning the last two knockout games).
Guess what: Donovan coming off the bench works!
We have to realize that Donovan, having been a starter dating back to before the 2002 World Cup, has been on the team forever.
He is an old man on this team, when you think about it. There are younger, quicker players in the midfield.
The best way to use Donovan is to deploy him later on. Make the move to take Agudelo out of the game and move Clint Dempsey up top.
A fresh Donovan in the second half is much more valuable to the team right now.
End Result: United States Pull off 2-1 Win
Mexico will be the first team to break the US defense from open play, but the Americans will find their spark through the likes of Agudelo and Dempsey, with Freddy Adu pulling strings in midfield.
The defense will once again put in a strong effort and the United States will punch its ticket to the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013.