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A look ahead at the US National Team

By Jeff Maurer

Let's talk US National Team (because I don't think I can handle the intensity of the "do we start Jed Zayner or do we play with ten?" debate surrounding DC United this week). The USMNT play their second and third post-World Cup matches this week, and it's a chance to look at some new faces. Jermaine Jones, Eric Lichaj, and Brek Shea are on the roster. It's a time to experiment, to determine the look of the team going forward, which raises the question...

Should the USMNT switch to a 4-3-3? Bob Bradley is a 4-4-2 man the way that I am a HD DVD man: he has stuck with his system through thick and thin. But surely, every now and then, it creeps into his mind that maybe he should consider a change (the same way that the complete and total implosion of the HD DVD format is causing me to consider a change. Eventually I'm going to want to see a movie made after 2007.)

Well, Bob: the time for change is now. Let me say: I'm a 4-4-2 man myself. I think you generally only go 4-3-3 if you've got the personnel of a Chelsea or Manchester United or Brazil. 4-3-3 is guady. 4-4-2 is the Ford Taurus of formations, and we are a decidedly middle-class soccer country. In most cases, we'd look ridiculous zipping around town in a flashy 4-3-3. But we need to switch to a 4-3-3 because our personnel demands it.

We have one striker. Jozy Altidore is the Hamid Karzai of this team: we keep him around because the other options are undeniably worse. Of the four no-brainer starters on this team (Howard, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley), three play in the midfield. Add in Jones, Edu, and Holden, and you have six quality midfielders. To play a 4-4-2, you either have to put Donovan or Dempsey up top (not horrible, but not great) or sub out one of your better players for Eddie Johnson or Robbie Findley. That is shooting yourself in the foot.

The best formation for our attacking six has to be something like this:

-----------------------Jozy------------------------

Dempsey-----------Holden-----------Donovan*

-------------Bradley---------Jones/Edu---------

* The role of Landon Donovan will be played by Benny Feilhaber this week.

This has a lot of advantages, first and foremost of which is: your best attacking players are on the field. Let's acknowledge now what should have been obvious during the World Cup: Stuart Holden is one of our 11 best players. He needs to play. Bradley and Jones/Edu can play the role they play with their club teams: deep-lying, ball-winning midfielders. They have minimal offensive obligations in this setup. Dempsey and Donovan also play where they're comfortable: attacking from the wings. Dempsey has said before he likes playing on the left.

So, let's see it. Let's put our best players on the field. Don't make me implicitly compare another striker to the Taliban, the way I did to Robbie Findley earlier in this post. Until a quality striker pairing emerges, let's test drive a 4-3-3.

Now a few quick thoughts about some of the players. Let's do this Mad Money style: here's who I'm buying and selling.

Buying:

Jermain Jones. Currently trading at: Ausgezeichnet. I haven't seen him play post-injury, but before his injury, he was a beast. Definitely glad to give him a look.

Steve Cherundolo. Currently trading at: Not dead yet. One of the only things I got right about the last World Cup was this: Steve Cherundolo at right back > Jonathan Spector at right back. The Mayor had a great World Cup. So good, in fact, that I'm not entirely ready to count him out as a 36-year-old in 2014. A lot will depend on how guys like Kevin Alston and Sean Franklin develop, but I'm not ready to give Cherundolo his gold watch just yet.

Stuart Holden. Currently trading at: Vaguely European. Settled in very well in Europe, and not just because his hair has been European for several years. If you watch Bolton often (and I would not wish that on anyone), you know that he's not only playing: he's one of the best players on that team. He's a subtly underrated two-way player. He should have been used more at the World Cup (that's the other thing I got right).

Jonathan Spector at center back. Currently trading at: Invisible. One time...one time...I organized a birthday party for someone at work, and then I instantly became the Birthday Party Planning Guy. A similar thing happened to Jonathan Spector: he started filling in at right and left back, and then everyone starting thinking of him as a fullback. He's not: he's a center back. At center back, his Achilles heel -- his lack of speed -- is less of a problem.

Justin Braun. Currently trading at: Lurking in the weeds. The best way to move up the striker depth chart on the USMNT is to not play.

Selling:

Eddie Johnson. Currently trading at: Better than Robbie Findley. He's getting playing time at Fulham! I can watch him every week! Which enables me to confirm: he's still not good at soccer.

Eric Lichaj. Currently trading at: Carrying all of our expectations. Look, maybe he's great, and I hope that he is, but a lot of people are already christening him our starting left back in 2014. You could have done the same thing with Frankie Simek a few years ago. I -- like most Americans -- have never seen Lichaj play. He seems like a good prospect, and I hope he impresses, but the expectations seem a little high at this point.

Jonathan Spector at right back. Currently Trading At: Hopeless. That's Avram Grant's conclusion, anyway, and I can't say I completely disagree. If you watched a lot of West Ham games last year (and, again: why would you do that?), you know that he had a rough, rough time.

I'm going to be out of the country for a while, so I'll miss the next couple United games (I'll cope somehow). I'll try to check in with a post or two.

By Box Seats blogger  | October 8, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer, Soccer, United  | Tags:  D.C. United, Jeff Maurer  
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Comments

Oh-so agree! Defense, long a strength of our side, is now our weakness. Sadly our strikers are not scoring much either. But here's the thing, if you start pushing your mids up into the attack, you never know what might happen. Get Altidore some service? What a novel idea. And those mids are where our strength is. Let them do their thing.

And then hope to have a world class game every night from Howard. Hell, there's worse game plans out there (see starting Clark against Ghana).

Posted by: Matte | October 8, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Jeff,

It may be a distinction not worth making, but isn't your formation a 4-5-1, not a 4-3-3? Or more specifically, a 4-2-3-1?

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | October 12, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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