One Or More Games
By J Hutcherson
WASHINGTON, DC (May 28, 2008) USSoccerPlayers -- Wouldn't it be nice if an item that made the quote sheet from last night's Houston - Dallas game was actually true. In response to a question asking about Dallas giving up late goals three times this season, interim coach Marco Ferruzzi replied: "It happened tonight, tonight's game stands on its own."
Uh no, to the eternal chagrin of everybody not interested in broader story lines or statistical modeling, it doesn't. That's why the schedule has multiple games listed. Well, unless you coach for FC Dallas were something that happened one afternoon got your predecessor fired.
Even taking Wednesday night in isolation, it's the same question. Dallas gives up a remarkably late goal that not only gives the Frisco faithful excitement courtesy of the away team, but keeps them from taking first place while waiting on the weekend results.
Continuity is the coach's friend because it lets them gloss over the off nights, disappointments, and problems at least when talking to the media. Yesterday's England - USA friendly for example. Bob Bradley fields a solid defense, but a questionable midfield and attack with no real leadership. National Team soccer isn't about picking an all-star team from whoever might be available and hoping they gel, but that's looking like the point in the Bradley era.
Take one game or several, and there's lack of development of role players that is significantly hampering the US. Setting aside the backup issues in defense when the European players aren't easily available, the midfield lacks the true successors to Claudio Reyna and Chris Armas while the strike partnership continues with odd pairings.
Yes, Josh Wolff and Eddie Johnson were together for a season in Kansas City, a year where they finished 5th in the East and missed the playoffs. Unless Bradley is trying to prove that Kansas City team squandered the future of the Nation Team, it's an odd choice to bring them back together two years later.
It's not the first with the strike partnership, with Landon Donovan also getting a selection of unsuited partners when he was being slotted into a forward role. Donovan remains the natural successor to the Reyna role, basically running the offense behind the forwards while capable of doing the same thing in transition to defense. It's a complement to a quality player. Established, it lets the other US skill players feel like they can make runs without exposing a weakness on the counter.
Staying with a 442 and getting two forwards to actually partner with each other shouldn't be this complicated. Big/little, young/old, poacher/runner... coaches have been doing this long enough for there to be basic templates. Chris Rolfe might have a future with the National Team, but not partnering Landon Donovan. Wolff and Johnson could be options, but not together.
England was basically John Terry, Steven Gerrard, and Jermain Defoe, with David Beckham getting ample opportunities and only factoring on one. Send in a team minus the bulk of the Chelsea and Manchester United contingent like they're taking to Trinidad & Tobago, and England becomes at best average by any standard.
Any coach can get caught up in using the usual suspects even when he's new and promising better days. Bradley doesn't have that because Reyna, Brian McBride, and Brad Friedel made themselves unavailable.
What Bradley hasn't done in turn is develop. Even Michael Bradley, the success story of the early going, is being played out of position with the National Team. The insistence on playing a true defensive midfielder when there are no international calibre defensive midfielders available leaves a skill player like Bradley with too much to do.
Build a better idea of a midfield, one that can play both ways without needing a designated player to link the defense, and the US turns a weakness. Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, and Landon Donovan have all shown they're capable of defending. All of them can route the flow of the game towards the back four. All of them can attack effectively without overly exposing the counter. All of them can play a role at international level.
With Chicago, Bradley ran a 352 system because he had defenders, a defensive midfielder, and a keeper that could handle it, and later a skill player in DaMarcus Beasley who could run the wing at both ends for 90 minutes.
At international level, a three back set is begging for it. Trying to fake that with a converted defender in midfield or even a true defensive midfielder isn't as effective as loading up the back line. Stretching a defense to create space for crosses is on the short list of the obvious and early for any team. Nobody should be making that any easier.
Bradley knows that, and has gone against what worked for him in MLS. What he hasn't done yet is take the next step, figuring out what will work for him at National Team level.