WHAT IS THE POINT OF DRAFTAGEDDON
This has been asked by some readers.
What is the point of anything? We're all just moths in a tornado, trying to hold on for one more rotation before our wings are torn from us and we still continue ascending in violation of all expectation. A grapefruit on a bicycle rises through the dust and says "I'll get you, my pretty HAHAHAHA."
In non-existential terms, the point of Draftageddon is to assemble a football team from available players in the Big Ten this year. At the end, the winner is the team that seems the most impressive, as judged by people who want to vote on these things. All participants are winners in their own mind, especially Heiko.
The point of Draftageddon is also to preview the Big Ten. By the time we're done we have a grasp of the various high points of the Rutgers defensive line and Maryland receiving corps that would not happen otherwise; after it is done we do a roundtable post about what we've learned about the upcoming Big Ten season.
ROUND 7 - PICK 1: DE Frank Clark, Michigan
O: QB Braxton Miller (OSU), RB Melvin Gordon (UW), WR Stefon Diggs (MD), OT Rob Havenstein(WI)
D: DE Frank Clark(MI), DT Carl Davis(IA), CB Trae Waynes (MSU)
BRIAN: One of the reasons I was rather lackadaisical about getting a DE is the fact that the Big Ten just has them in spades this year. I did make note of Cockran because I love grabbing Minnesota DL I can taunt you with for decades, but there is another, older, more established guy available. Despite four DEs going off the board already I'm able to select Frank Clark, who was second-team All Big Ten a year ago with 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
He's poised to break out again as a senior, as his numbers don't quite reflect how well he was playing once the light went on midseason. I watched him develop from looks-like-Tarzan-plays-like-Jane into a legit plus player over the course of last year. By late his combination of power and agility allowed him to make certain tackles look downright silly.
He still has plenty of ceiling left to reach at 270 pounds; incrementally better performance over the course of the year should see him hit the mid-teens in TFLs, 8 or so sacks, and get drafted somewhat high by the NFL. The gap between Clark and the guys already off the board is not that big.
ROUND 7 - PICK 2: Andre Monroe, DE/DT, Maryland
O: RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA)
D: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DE/DT Andre Monroe (MD), LB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
ACE: I've been thinking about making this pick since the fourth round, but I waited, banking on the fact that he plays for Maryland and has generated zero draft hype to cause him to fall. I can't wait any longer.
Andre Monroe is a senior who's played nose tackle and five-tech DE in Maryland's 3-4 scheme, but he's moving to the edge as a senior. There's good reason for this: he was by far the best player on a solid D-line, tallying 42 tackles (23 solo), 17 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles last season after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury. In 2011, he earned freshman All-American honors with five sacks in just nine games. He's not just capable of standing up to double teams; he's an accomplished pass rusher.
Those stats weren't just compiled against the dregs of the ACC, either; he had 3 TFLs with a sack against Florida State and 3 sacks against Virginia Tech in 2013. The VT game shows off his diverse pass-rushing arsenal. Here's an outrageously quick swim move to the inside that momentarily paralyzes the left guard. Here he uses his hands nicely to get off the line clean before one-arm power-rushing the left tackle into the quarterback. Here a straight bull-rush off the edge does the trick. Here the video inexplicably starts a half-second after the snap, but whatever the hell he did left the LG performing a befuddled pirouette.
Okay, VT's line wasn't very good last year, but... I be like dang anyway. If you're not convinced, here he is as a nose guard sacking Jameis Winstonafter blasting the center off the line. If you're still not convinced, here's a video of him showing off some surprisingly nimble dance moves at a fundraising event.
I assume you're convinced by now.
So why isn't he getting draft hype? Simple. He's 5'11", 275 pounds. An NFL scout takes one look at those measurements, bugs out his eyes, and moves on to a prospect with a remotely decent fit in a pro defense. This is college, however, and Monroe has proven he can be productive at two different spots on the defensive line, and his pass rushing ability gives me little doubt he'll succeed this year as a destructive rush linebacker. He can provide a great deal of versatility in any defense.
As for where he'll fit on my team, we'll see—I could use him as a disruptive, undersized three-tech or let him blow up double teams and use his edge-rushing skills as an SDE. (Given the lack of top-end linebackers, a 3-4 isn't something I'm really considering.) Either way, I know this: as a solid run defender and consistent backfield presence, he's the ideal complement for Shilique Calhoun.
I can't snark here, both because I'm shedding a tear for the lost reuniting of the Aceconsin Cheesebenders and I'm hopeful this is the year Frank Clark puts it all together.
[AFTER THE JUMP: everyone takes my guys because they're jeeeeeeerks.]
In our continuing pursuit to explain to outsiders "what is Big Ten football," and, more importantly, "why is the Big Ten football," we turn to the world of metaphor. Or simile. I forget.
We look now at the Big Ten through the prism of the characters of Breaking Bad. Minor spoiler alerts, of course, but the series has been over for almost a year, so if you haven't seen the series GET ON THAT. Totally worth the time
Self-assured to the point of arrogance, but his brash exterior belies a deep-seated insecurity. He's not used to losing, so when stuff starts blowing up around him, he gets rattled. Everything started to go wrong when this upstart “Heisenberg” fella started to upset the order of things. He proceeded to pour unprecedented resources into chasing Heisenberg, like tailing people for weeks on end or spending $850,000 on a new offensive coordinator. He experiences successes, and occasionally seemed set to take down his quarry, but in the final confrontation with Heisenberg (who is, it turns out, family) he ends up busted and bleeding.
Walter White (aka Heisenberg)
He spending years – nay, decades – as the doormat for those around him. But then through a series of unlikely events, Walter finally found himself on top of his world. He is suddenly the one who knocks. He IS the danger. Still, his inferiority complex shines through from time to time, and he spends as much time trying to prove he isn't the man he used to be as he does being Heisenberg.
Some would call them “sleazy. ” They would prefer to think of themselves as calculating. They have a very well-oiled system and the resources to make it work. He occasionally gets punched in the mouth by Walter, and is threatened by Hank, though Goodman always stays just out of reach of the law. Also, of everyone in the show, he's the guy you really want to see get punched in the face, and you'd be like, "yeah, he probably deserved that, if not for this then for other stuff."
Careful. Almost boringly careful. Nothing is unnecessarily flashy, which is what makes him effective. At the end of the day, you realize he’s probably a step ahead of you. He will run the zone stretch six times in a row until you think “I’ll jump the zone stretch and take over the drug empire,” which is when he goes play action for 36 yards. Then goes to the zone stretch.
I suppose I could have gone with "Badger," because, well, Badger. But Badger was a chubby white guy who somehow survives. Wait...
They were there at the beginning, and for a while they kinda fit with the whole scheme. It was full of fumes, had terrible accommodations, and was in the middle of nowhere. And usually there were only a couple of people there. If you get stuck there for a couple of days, it will probably turn into the worst weekend of your life unless you can figure out how to MacGyver a battery out of some brake fluid and pocket change to get the everloving hell out of there.
She used to be a major part of the drug empire until some turmoil threw that into doubt. Despite being marked for death a couple of times, and seemingly being on the cusp of being pushed to the side several times, she continues to find ways to be relevant. She's also conspiratorial as hell; she always thinks someone is out to get her. And while sometimes that's true, it's because she did some really, really bad things.
As soon as she shows up in an episode, your immediate reaction is "ugh, this is gonna suck." She's a somewhat major character, but she does absolutely nothing to drive the plot. Instead, you just get caught up in small and annoying side-plots that just make you hate that you're spending time watching this. There is no depth to her character; she's pretty much a one-note kind of gal. But all things considered, her character flaws are pretty minor, especially when compared to some of those around her, so it could be worse.
It isn't really his fault, per se, but his arrival signaled an epic shit-storm that made everyone around him not want to be there anymore. Plus, Tortuga means "tortoise" and a terrapin is a turtle. Which is like a tortoise. So it fits.
The plucky, scrappy little guy. Historically a f*ck-up, but occasionally pulls his act together enough to pull off a train heist or something. You root for him, largely because he's the lesser of however-many evils. His style is kind of refreshing, and often acts as a nice alternative to the heavy, dour roles played by everyone around him. Also, does a lot of meth.
No one likes you. We get that you are good at some (limited) things, but that doesn't mean we want to see you ever.
"Tio" Hector Salamanca
He seems like a pretty bright guy, and despite his quirkiness you find yourself rooting for him. But then one day, someone is like "you know, with the way things are going, YOU could run things in the West Division." And he starts to get all excited, and then BLAM.
In a way, he should have seen it coming. He isn't the type to lead. He's a born middle-of-the-pack type. Nevertheless, even though the natural progression of the plot needed him to... uh... exit the plot, we felt a little bit bad that it had to happen like it did. Also, tell me this pose doesn't look familiar:
A chubby, gumpy-looking white guy who somehow manages to survive the whole damn series. He's not really a protagonist or an antagonist. You find yourself happy when he wins, but in the same way you're happy for your dog when he finally finds where you put his water dish. Sure, his accomplishments might not be impressive in the objective sense, but give the little guy a pat on the head anyway.
What is this? Wait, this is it? This is what we're doing? WHYYYYYY?????
It's cotnagnous. Last week we learned that red squigglies are turned off in Ann Arbor when Mikey Weber posted a photoshop he'd been sent; this week we find out that red squigglies are also off in Columbus.
"DEILVER." Didn't they have a WR named that recently?
And we all had a laugh at this funny old world and moved on. Except perpetually aggrieved DJ Byrnes, who rushed to his damsel's defense, sword in hand, reporting that anything without an Official Urban Meyer signature was fake. Weber, who probably didn't even notice the typos—the mind tends to gloss over such things—responded that an Ohio State coach sent it to him. So of course the thing to do in that situation is double down and call a recruit a liar.
So, there are three scenarios: 1) Stan Drayton is moonlighting as a graphics designer. 2) They're now sending out work lacking all the hallmarks of his other work. 3) Weber is fibbing to save himself some embarrassment.
Buckeye Occam's Razor insists that a Michigan fan posing as a Buckeye coach made this terribly embarrassing photoshop as a false flag operation, and that Weber is in on it. JenniferLawrenceOkay.gif.
Meanwhile in somehow less embarrassing responses to this event, the Free Press claimed Weber was vouching for the "verascity" of the photoshop. Well done, well done.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS. Because Spellgateoff is a national crisis, The D Zone interviewed Weber about it. Weber says that minor typos on fake magazine covers are not going to impact his decision.
“Really my opinion on it is it really isn’t a big deal. I know people make mistakes. It was kind of ironic, but it isn’t something to blow out of proportion,” Weber (5-foot-10, 200-pounds) said today in an interview with The D Zone.
Come out of the bunkers, everyone. It's over. It's finally over.
Hooray, but please still redshirt. Incoming DE Lawrence Marshall is a larger man these days:
Michigan commitment Lawrence Marshall tells me that he's up to 6'4"/250 as of today.
Marshall will enroll at Michigan in a little less than a month and is considered a player who could potentially play early depending on how things shake out at defensive end.
Taco Charlton's move to SDE complicates things but Michigan still has Ojemudia behind Clark and for pants sake just redshirt somebody at some point. With Clark, Ojemudia, and Ryan sliding down for nickel duty Michigan is set at WDE.
Robinson moving up boards. Chad Ford says that Glenn Robinson III is impressing in the bits of NBA draft testing he was always going to, and that this is reviving his flagging stock:
Robinson III was one of the four or five players who helped themselves the most at the draft combine. His elite athletic abilities, a slimmed-down physique and some very solid shooting numbers in the drills all gave him a boost in the eyes of scouts. Not to mention the fact that according to multiple GMs he absolutely nailed the interviews.
So what does Robinson have to do now? Show that he can apply those skills to actual basketball.
Ah, that. Robinson did develop a highly reliable elbow jumper that NBA teams are going to like a lot, and he's been shooting it well in workouts and such. Ford says teams in the mid-first are poking around and that he should go in the 20s.
The big ol' preview. Bill Connolly previews Michigan, and hits upon a salient point:
Michigan faces only three teams projected better than 37th, and they're all on the road. The Wolverines face seven teams projected between 37th and 78th, and five of the seven are at home. And 2014 Appalachian State is in no way 2007 Appalachian State. This is about as low-variance a schedule as you'll ever see. Whether Michigan ranks 20th or 45th, the easiest result to project is about 9-3.
I would have said "about 8-4", but yeah. This is a year where being outside of that 8-4, 9-3 range would be a major shock. Unfortunately, 8-4 and 9-3 are the kind of records that keep Michigan in limbo about Hoke's future. It is what it is.
And then there's the fact that you should probably just predict 9-3 every year for accuracy's sake. Predictions are bad like that.
Latest eyerolling opportunity. Ticket sales are not going well—you can see the relative enthusiasm for Michigan football in graphic version at right, where our HTTV kickstarter is struggling to get over the hump. You know it, I know it, let's not belabor it even further. But I have to highlight this from the inevitable ticket packs (200 bucks for PSU, Miami(not that Miami), and any other game, a… deal?):
Michigan football fans can choose from three ticket-pack options with the 'Go Blue' Pack, the Fan Choice Pack and the Family Pack presented by WWJ Newsradio 950 as well as a new group sales option.
Check "ticket packs" off the list of things that haven't been sponsored yet.
Etc.: Barking Carnival has a boot camp series that will teach you football things. Gap and force responsibilities in this one. Kansas State releases Letitia Romero, so they have nothing to show for this latest PR debacle except terrible PR.
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
I WAS NOT KIDDING ABOUT MORPH YOU GUYS
5/27/2014 – USA 2, Azerbaijan 0
This was a CONCACAF game. The frustrating 90 minutes of set pieces and 11 Azeris behind the ball was very familiar. The US plays a dozen of these every cycle in Panama or Honduras or El Salvador. There were even adverse conditions, as the wind at Candlestick was fierce enough to blow free kicks away from their designated spot. The thing ended like various CONCACAF games, with the US making a set piece breakthrough and then finishing the game out.
So what was the point of that? I don't know. A game like that makes all the sense in the world before the start of the final round of World Cup qualifying. Now it is a wasted opportunity.
For what it's worth, there's no shame in struggling to assemble a goal against Azerbaijan. Group winner Russia scratched out 1-0 and 1-1 games in qualifying against them. They are a tough nut to crack.
Except on set pieces. It is literally impossible for a striker to be more wide open on a corner than Johannsson was on the second.
This reminds me of one of two goals I scored in my brief adult rec soccer career (which ended when my ACL went bye). That's how bad that was.
A few minutes into the game they set Wondolowski loose on a free kick and I marveled that things like that keep happening to Wondo. While I do think his movement is brilliant and he doesn't get enough credit for it… uh… maybe not the best opponent to make his case.
And the other goal. Just one of those things that happen when the ball falls in the right place a couple times.
The most important thing from the night.
Klinsmann: Dempsey groin issue "not serious at all." Expects him to be ready for Turkey.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 28, 2014
Not having your most creative attacking player also contributes to the inability to unlock the Azeris. As long as he's fine, it's fine. Fine.
That last bit was a joke. But "fine" is apparently our watchword today.
“Everyone did fine. They did what they were supposed to do,” Klinsmann said. “Overall it was fine.”
It was. It was fine, as long as you say "fine" in a tiny bit of a snit.
The Jones experiment. Jones was deployed as a solitary defensive midfielder for the first time in his USA career and I didn't even hate him at all. There was one mildly dangerous surging run in the first half that is probably a bad idea against higher levels of competition; other than that I think he fulfilled his role well.
Jones was very smart about when to apply pressure to get the ball back and when to commit fouls to prevent Azeri breaks off of turnovers. He even got one of his long shots in when a rebound popped out of the box. His passing wasn't really off, as the swirling winds made it impossible to judge anything longer than about 15 feet. It seemed off relative to the rest of the team because DMCs tend to make long passes to either wing. In this game that meant "make an obvious turnover." Aside from that, thumbs up.
Level of competition is an issue; so far so good. He is a lot more proactive than Beckerman, which is good until it's really not good.
The Fabian Johnson experiment. Johnson felt like the best player on the field for large chunks of the game, surging up the right side like we've seen him do on the left for some of the USA's best sequences of play. I know he's been playing there for his Bundesliga club and in the World Cup training camp; I did not expect him to seem so natural there and play so well.
He didn't get tested defensively, but defense is defense no matter what flank you're on. He provided a threat going forward that the US has not had from that spot the last four years.
The substitution pattern revealed Klinsmann's thinking when Chandler came in to replace Beasley at halftime: Johnson is all but locked in at right back and Klinsmann's working with Chandler on the left to see what he should do if his first choice guys aren't available.
Too many turnovers. The Klinsmann era has been one long attempt to turn the USA into more of a possession side against anyone. I particularly remember a friendly before the last World Cup against Holland in which the Dutch had the ball 80% of the time because the USA could not play their way out of the high pressure being applied. Time and again they resorted to the soccer equivalent of icing wherein a panicky center back would wallop the ball upfield in the vague hope the lone striker could do something with it.
There is a ceiling on that sort of play. (That ceiling is the 2009 Confederations Cup.) Klinsmann has been so desperate to break that mold that he's played almost nothing but midfielders at outside back; in this game three of the four defenders played midfield for significant chunks of their careers. The US now tries to deal with high pressure by playing through it and keeping the ball. It raises their ceiling.
In this game it led to a number of alarming turnovers that gave the Land of Fire their brief moments of offensive threat. Wind (more in the fact and lack of familiarity with the formation had something to do with it… but I wonder if part of the reason was that the US back line couldn't find options because Jones wasn't providing them as well as Bradley or Beckerman does.
Can't take anyone on, but never could. There were few instances where a US player facing an Azeri defender created something dangerous by going by him. Johnson did relieve some pressure by popping up the wing; Altidore had one run into the box from the left wing; Brad Davis (of all people!) got to the end line and got in a dangerous cross. That was about that for mano-a-mano chance creation.
This has always been the USA's lot, especially without Dempsey, and Landon Donovan doesn't fix that. While I share the dull-eyed frustration of various pundits today it doesn't mean much other than this is what happens when the USA plays a deep that is bunkering down hard. In a trash tornado, even.
In all. Okay. Kind of useless. Good to see Fabian Johnson play so well. Left mid now biggest question mark. Bring on the Turks.
USA vs Azerbaijan
Send Off Series Friendly
San Francisco, CA
|WHEN||10 PM Eastern|
|LINE||I don't know man|
FINALLY, THE TIME HAS COME TO GET REVENGE ON—uh…
well my one Armenian friend is totally pumped?
THE THEM: LAND OF FIRE
The "door to hell" is actually in Turkmenistan, but call yourself Land Of Fire and this is what you get
When not getting way more mileage out of their Atletico Madrid shirt sponsorship than they expected, Azerbaijan specializes in being on fire. This generates tourism? I am unclear on the way marketing works.
The Azeris finished fourth in their World Cup group with a 1-3-6 record (note: using standard American win-loss-tie notation here) and a –4 goal differential. They weren't good, finishing only ahead of Northern Ireland and Luxemborg, but they weren't terrible either, scoring a 1-1 tie and 1-0 road loss against group winner Russia. Their only multi-goal defeats came against USA group stage foe Portugal, which won 2-0 and 3-0.
This represents a high water mark for the country in their short history as an independent entity. Their current FIFA ranking of 85th is an all time high; ESPN's less dumb SPI metric has them 97th, one spot below Canada. Other nearby CONCACAF teams include Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador.
As to the players themselves, I have no idea. The goalies and entire defensive corps plays in the Azeri league; the forwards who play abroad generally do so on the lower levels of the Turkish and German ladder. Judging solely by club stats, midfielder Ruslan Abishov, who plays for midtable Russian Premiere League outfit Rubin Kazan, is the best player available. He's a CB/DM hybrid like Cameron.
If you would like to know more about the Azeris I guarantee you that The Shin Guardian's preview is the only informative commentary on them on the entire internet.
So why is the US playing a game against a team far below the caliber of opposition they'll face at the World Cup? Their head coach, Berti Vogts. Klinsmann knows him and is about to steal him for two months:
Berti Vogts is literally working both sides.
As soon as he's done coaching Azerbaijan against the Americans in an international friendly Tuesday night, Vogts will start his temporary job as a special adviser to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Vogts of course played Portugal twice in European qualifiers; he is also a former Germany coach. After this friendly Vogts is going to flit around the world taking in the USA's opponents in their WC friendlies, and thus deliver the US a Decided Schematic Advantage™.
Projecting a lineup, which is mostly a guess but there is this tweet:
If training is an indication #USMNT starting XI : Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Bradley, Jones, Zusi, Dempsey, Bedoya; Altidore
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) May 27, 2014
Zusi plus Bedoya is bizarre; Bedoya did play well for Nantes in the French top division this year, but mostly as the right winger he's always been (at least when he's scored).
And this shot of the locker room featuring something that looks like a 4-4-2 diamond on one chalkboard; the other one is not distinguishable but is probably the 4-2-3-1 Klinsmann has used most frequently.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson.
I've seen many people knocking Beasley off the team sheet, but I just don't see how it happens. Johnson's been playing right back for "all of the scrimmages," and if he's not there the Donovan-shaped hole at left mid veritably looms. Johnson is very capable with both feet, FWIW, which is one of the reasons he's so attractive on the left—gentlemen who have the option of crossing or cutting in are rare. But the hole at right back is just too big to not look at him there.
Besler's no surprise; Cameron has played very well for the US when deployed at CB and has more ball skills than any other defender in the pool. With Gonzalez shaky of late it won't take much of an excuse to yoink him for a guy who facilitates keeping the ball.
#1 thing you want from these three friendlies: Tim Chandler looking great.
Substitutes are likely to include Chandler and Brooks as Klinsmann tries to get a handle on two guys who reputedly played very well over the last couple months of the Bundesliga season but have not played much for the US in the past six months—and not well. For reasons the next section will make clear, you really want Chandler to impress over these three games.
MIDFIELD: Jones, Bradley, Zusi, Donovan-shaped-hole-at-left-mid.
Bradley and Zusi are obvious.
Assuming 4-4-2 diamond is the preferred formation, the question is: what happens when Jermaine Jones is tasked with being a single midfield destroyer? He certainly has more range and bite than Beckerman, but his penchant for silly, card-drawing tackles will only be exacerbated when he is put under more pressure to shut things down himself.
Discipline may be an issue; I say "may" because Jones has never been explicitly cast in a holding role for the US. It's hard to imagine he'd just abandon it. Guy may be a bit of a loose cannon but he is a professional and the DM in a diamond is a know-your-role kind of player. This is the kind of game to give it a shot.
And then left mid, which Galarcep implies is Bedoya's spot. The Shin Guardian agrees. I guess I have to as well, because your other options are a cardboard cutout of Landon Donovan Klinsy is trolling everyone with, Brad Davis, the starting right back, the starting left back, Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, or I guess maybe Johannson. (I know I posited Johannson as a left mid but that was in a different formation where he is pretty striker-y.)
Subs should include Beckerman and then one of a parade of guys they throw out at the Landon-Donovan-shaped-hole to see what happens: Green, Diskerud, Davis.
FORWARD: Altidore, Dempsey
Questionable form brothers, unite! Dempsey's recent form is anything but… in MLS. I mean you guys:
He's been less impactful for the Nats after a torrid two-year run that saw him named captain and end up in this picture.
Altidore is much the same except he was in the EPL this year, and when Altidore is in the EPL he suffers through a miserable season where he barely gets a chance, is asked to be the hold-up guy he looks like but isn't and never will be, and gets disinterested, whereupon his place at the club is threatened. If he was still pounding them in for the Nats you could blame Sunderland and be done with it, but his impact streak stopped a while back as well.
Putting two guys at the top takes some of the pressure of Altidore to hold and gets Dempsey at the front, where he can do the evil things he does. For both, it's "please please please look good, please."
Substitutes should include Aron Johansson, who replaced Altidore at AZ down to the pile of goals, and Chris Wondolowski. Wondo's role is pretty obvious at this World Cup: come on at 70' and find the pockets of space tiring defenders will leave him. Johansson could be the previously-mentioned Winger In Name Only in a single-striker formation or he could push Altidore to the bench at some point.
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, OTHER THAN EVERYTHING
Is the diamond the new thing? I assumed as much above; the 4-2-3-1 is available and will be deployed based on matchups. With the US looking to win the opener they will likely go with the aggressive diamond, but it'll depend on whether it performs. I'm expecting they switch between the two, either on the fly or based on substitutions. Bradley's versatility allows them to change on the go.
Will Klinsmann see the same thing eveyone else sees in re: Bradley? I'm far from the only US soccer commentator pleading for Bradley to be released upfield, but it's been seemingly obvious that is the best version of the USA for a long time without Klinsmann seeing it. We are all assuming this is the goal, but we all thought Donovan was going to the World Cup.
Left mid: who? I guess Bedoya is getting the first shot. Color me unimpressed. Bedoya's USA career has been minimally impactful. He's like Kljestan for the outside.
Right back: who? Fabian Johnson is a fine choice, but he's pretty obviously the best choice at left mid, so if someone can free him up to play there I'm in favor. Timmy Chandler, come on down.
How does the chemistry between Besler and Cameron look? Individually, Besler and Cameron have been the best central defenders of this cycle. They have not played together much, though, and communication issues are a possibility. If they look good together Klinsmann will be doing a secret jig, as that hypothetical pairing is about 1000x better able to keep possession than the 2010 cycle's hoofers. (No offense to said hoofers, but yeah man.)
Are we secretly hoping for a mild but disqualifying injury amongst the attacking players? Maybe.
SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES