Look: the World Cup comes once every four years and, unlike that other quadrennial mega sporting event, never takes time out to talk to you about polar bears. When someone cries it's not because that's just what you do after you dismount but rather because they are experiencing a life-rending moment. I'm going to blog about the USMNT on the front page. If this annoys you, I cannot help it.
Extremely Tentative Starters
JOZY ALTIDORE, PEACE BE UPON HIM
The mantle of First Great American Field Player* was passed from Freddy Adu to Altidore sometime a couple years ago when he fetched an MLS-record transfer fee and Adu was unable to get playing time at a second-division Portuguese club. Altidore is now the It Kid. It's too bad his first season in a top-flight league was marked with the usual pitfalls whenever a hyped American hops the pond—erratic playing time and lack of production. Altidore threw in a headbutt that drew a three-game suspension for good measure, though he was very apologetic about it on Twitter afterwards.
Enjoy your starting position, especially in the absence of Brian Ching, the only semi-plausible player in the US pool who could have displaced him in a single-striker formation. Despite an ankle sprain that momentarily scared everyone pantsless when he was "hospitalized" and forced him out of the Australia game, Bradley says Altidore will start against England.
Alitdore's strength, speed, and ability to run at players is world-class but his first touch, passing, and activity are lacking. He's not a hold-up forward, and if the US is forced to go over the top with regularity they'll be giving the ball away most of the time. Of late he's been a nonfactor save for the one or two spectacular moves a game that promise a hellacious 2014 World Cup. A couple of examples from the Netherlands game:
He also provided the one bright spot in the USA's ugly first half against Turkey when he WOOPed his way through three defenders and crossed mere inches in front of Clint Dempsey's foot. He did score later in that game, but he had the simple task of not putting the ball over the net from two feet after Robbie Findley and Landon Donovan unlocked the Turkey defense.
*(Giuseppe Rossi is Italian. This will brook no discussion.)
Apparently. Buddle put in a productive 45 minutes against the Czechs, sat out the Turkey game, and put in ' target=_blank>two against the Aussies. He's fit, scoring loads of goals, and starting regularly at striker—something literally no one else on the 30-man roster, let alone the 23 who are in South Africa, can say. Welcome to the US forward pool.
Buddle is active and athletic, somewhere between Findley and Altidore in terms of speed and strength. He's been a teammate of Landon Donovan for years and should work well with the most important US player, and when given opportunities he's put them in the net. The goals he's been scoring are of a higher quality than those Herculez Gomez is putting in—more on that later—since they often involve shots from outside the box, volleys, excellent headers, and the occasional deft touch or two:
Also, a number of Buddle's goals involve runs from one Landon Donovan that Buddle calmly finishes. He's much more of an aerial threat than Findley—he can plausibly act as a target forward for Altidore to play off of—and is actually, you know, scoring. He's the man, man.
Potentially Useful Men, Perhaps Possibly (Probably Not)
HERCULEZ GOMEZ THE STRIKEZ
Form over career part II. Herculez Gomez was an MLS afterthought for years, a consistent starter in Los Angeles and Colorado but never a guy you'd single out as one of the better strikers in a pedestrian league. A move to Kansas City was a total disaster that saw Gomez score once, one time (once), in 34 appearances. After 2009 he became a free agent, signing with Mexican side Puebla in January of this year.
So of course he moves to a much tougher league and pours in ten goals to tie for the Golden Boot, the first time an American has ever done that in a foreign league*. Wha? Double wha: Puebla was not very good, finishing with a goal differential of –3. They were last in their six-team division and 13th in the league overall. Gomez was not the recipient of a ton of service he mostly flubbed. In fact, he's not the recipient of a ton of anything:
Used mainly as a second-half substitute in his 13 appearances this campaign, he is averaging a goal for every 75 minutes played. That's the kind of contribution that could be valuable if carried over to the international level.
You can judge the quality of his rampage for yourself. Here's with every goal Gomez put in for Puebla this year:
Honestly… eh. A lot of defensive mistakes and simple finishes. Some nice runs off the ball, a couple of shots from somewhat tight angles. The free kick should have been saved, though he gets points for making Mexico's goalie look like a fool. There's not a whole lot to overrule the rest of his career. Against teams that will actually mark him the smart bet is a return to the average MLS striker he's been for most of his career. At least he's finishing his chances, though, which makes him a step up from most of Eddie Johnson's career. If the two guys are indistinguishable, at least go with the guy who seems on form.
Gomez put in a goal against Australia on a finish that was tougher than it looked (but not that tough) and figures to be a guy the US calls on if they're looking for a late spark. He might have a tough time getting off the bench since Bradley has the option of moving Dempsey up top and bringing one of the USA's many plausible midfielders (Beasley, Holden, Feilhaber, Torres) in. His best bet might be a game in which Dempsey starts up top.
*(Mexico's Premiere division is the most confusing sporting setup I've ever tried to comprehend, and I once played with a Ukranian team in Football Manager. They actually play two seasons per year, the "Apertura" and "Clausura," following those with an eight-team playoff.)
Robbie Findley is very fast. He made a great pass to Landon Donovan to create Altidore's goal against Turkey, and pressured an Aussie defender into the turnover that Buddle converted into the USA's first goal on Saturday. Given Altidore's mandatory place in the 11 and the hot form of Buddle and Gomez for both club and country, he would be the obvious fourth forward and a late substitution at best except for the Charlie Davies theory. That theory, which is being pushed by several people with more soccer knowledge than I have, suggests that Findley's blistering speed is required for the US to play an effective game, that he opens up space for Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and others.
My counterpoint to that is Buddle isn't exactly Ching and has performed much better over the past eight months. Once England defenders tire, bringing Findley in as a shock to the system is a move with a potential payoff. But he's just Josh Wolff 2.0.