Sunday, June 29, 2014

USA-Belgium - available players and options

So Belgium, huh? That is our knockout round opponent. Okay then.

Without going into a lot of detail, they are a very young, talented European side that is a little inexperienced and a little beat up.

Who is available?

For the US, we have quite a few players beat up or on short gas. Bradley, Beckerman, Jones, Beasley and Johnson have played pretty much every minute. Dempsey, Zusi, Bedoya and Besler have played almost as many minutes or clearly are close to empty on the gas tank. On the other hand, Diskerud and Yedlin are either very or pretty fresh. I wonder if Green is ready for the big stage or not, but am thinking not at this point. Chandler, on the other hand, could very well be ready to go.

So let's touch on a few points at each area before coming to too many conclusions.

Central Defense

Klinsmann took a gamble on Cameron and Gonzales, and it worked out. He now has Omar with some confidence and Geoff fresh. Might that be the pairing for Tuesday? Much as we love the John Brooks story, is he ready for 90 minutes against that level of competition? Or also, when does Besler hit a wall?

Wing Defense

DeMarcus Beasley is having a quiet but very solid World Cup. Is he still fresh enough to go 90 minutes, or is it time to bring in Chandler?  If Run DMB still has it, you go with the veteran. On the other wing, until Johnson shows he has completely lost it, you ride him. That guy is really scaring teams.

Central Midfield

First off, Beckerman and Jones look like they could go forever, so barring a surprise dip in energy, they stay in the lineup.

And Michael Bradley is not going anywhere. At least, not out of the starting lineup. That man has run more than anyone else in the Group Stage (look it up) and some are quibbling about some errant passes. Granted, I agree that he looks tired and isn't as sharp as we would like, but this is as much his team as it is Dempsey's. Until he isn't clogging passing lanes and doing the dirty work no one sees, he stays in the lineup.

The question is where. We will come back to that.

Wing Midfield

Lots of questions here. Zusi has been good at times, although he surely looked run down late against Germany. Does Bedoya's rest give him fresh legs for Belgium? I must admit, Brad Davis was unlucky in spots, but also wasn't effective in others. That is going to be a challenge to put him back in the lineup.


Clint Dempsey. 'Nuff said.

No, really. Altidore jogging does not get him ready to start against Belgium. Is he a late sub? Maybe. But at this level, Dempsey is the horse we rode in on.

I mean, I could very well be wrong. But I have followed and more recently covered professional teams and you don't go from jogging to playing in four days. Sorry folks.


To briefly discuss Belgium, they strike me as a team that we should treat like we did Portugal and Germany, but more aggressively in attack, especially considering the injuries to the Belgium back line.

How do we play this?

Midfield - The wingers have run themselves into the ground. It has been fantastic, but that is where we are worn out the most. I had an idea that I am going to share, but also saw what I now think is a better idea.

First, my thought was can Mix play the wing? Do the same as v. Portugal, but with Bedoya and Mix. This would get Zusi some needed rest and bring on fresh legs. Mix doesn't cross the ball as well, but he is a playmaker and that might take some pressure off of Bradley.

But then I read a suggestion that was to use Jones outside, move Bradley back in a little more and put Mix in his place. I am not super keen on the idea of Jones as a winger, but he certainly has been playing more outside than centrally of late. Take advantage of it?

Either way, I do think this is the game that someone new comes in. It could be Yedlin but I am not so sure for 90 minutes. Davis again seems unlikely. Zusi I think is running low. For another reason discussed below, I think Mix is your guy.

Defense - If Tim Chandler is going to play in this World Cup, I think the Belgium match is his game. In the same way as Klinsmann sat Cameron for Germany, I think he is going to sit Beasley for this game in favor of Chandler, in part because I think he will be very comfortable with Cameron, Gonzales and Johnson at the other three positions.

If Chandler isn't used here, I could see Klinsmann using Chandler on the wing - a 90 minute version of what he did with Yedlin against Portugal.

Forward - just to touch on this briefly, I do think that there is value to Johannsson, Wondo and Altidore. It is just as a late sub to try to score if we are behind. As a starter, none of them are what the US would need over 90 minutes in a Round of 16 game in the World Cup against Belgium.

Bottom Line

We have options and ways to keep things fresh. For what it is worth, a four day break isn't a bad thing and if used right, can help a lot of players recharge, so some of those things may not be necessary, but those are the options as I see it right now.

It is a winnable game. Not easy - I agree with the general odds-makers that have it 60/40 for Belgium. But that is better than what they had for USA-Portugal, a game the US should have won.

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