OT: Nats Mailbag!

Submitted by Brian on March 9th, 2010 at 3:17 PM

I have a friend who is as Nats-obssessed as I am, and he sent me an email that I was going to write a long reply to. I have a policy of posting sports stuff, whatever it is, so I thought I'd do it here.

So I've been mulling various solutions to the Bornstein Problem. The most obvious one is just to move Bocanegra left--he's back to spending 90 minutes a game at left back for Rennes, and even scored the game-winner over the weekend--but if Gooch isn't healthy, what then? I was thinking that Edu's got enough experience at CB that I'd much rather see Boca-Edu-Demerit-Spector than Bornstein-Demerit-Boca-Spector. That would mean taking Edu out of midfield--where I think he has to be the de facto starter after his performance Wednesday and Clark's injury--but Clark can at least deputize there if he has to.

Another possible solution would be to switch Spector to left back, where he played for West Ham, and start Cherundolo. It'd be a lot easier of Cherundolo wasn't ALSO injured, but at least he's got a shoulder injury instead of a leg injury and should be back any day now. Anything's got to be better than Bornstein.

Onyewu should be healthy. His injury prognosis never lasted into the World Cup and he is back in training now, in three months he should be ready to go. He will be rusty as hell and probably won't have any games for AC Milan whatsoever, but the US isn't in a position where they can think about not starting him. So the easy solution of sliding Bocanegra over is likely to be what happens.

Cherundolo is in a spot similar to Onyewu. He will be rusty as hell but the USA is going to bring him and since it's just a shoulder he should be ready to go. Given the positional flexibility the US's backline has I assume he's the first guy in the starting lineup no matter where a hypothetical injury or suspension occurs. If it's center back, Spector flips to left and Bocanegra is in the middle. If it's left back, Spector flips to left. If Edu is in at CB at any point, the US is down at least two first-choice players and probably more.

I'm not that concerned about health in the back. I'm more concerned with rust and possession. Jay Demerit is a fantastic defender but the reason he topped out as a very good Championship level CB is what happens when he gets the ball. He looks like me out there. He's a hoofer. Any pressure, or any thing he imagines could be pressure, and he boots it upfield. That makes it even more difficult to get possession against a team like Holland. If there was anything at left back I'd rather see him on the bench. There isn't, so the hoofing is far the lesser of the evils.

Loney brought up a good point in his recap: if there's no Davies, should Donovan just play forward? I think it's obvious either Dempsey or Donovan is going to have to start up top if Davies can't go, probably Dempsey, but Donovan might mesh better with Altidore. That would leave a midfield of Dempsey-Bradley-Clark-???. Seriously, god DAMN Holden's injury; I think Holden after a good couple of months with Bolton could make that midfield good enough to get service to the forwards. Now? Eh. I guess you could also go Dempsey-Bradley-Clark-Beasley, but I think the Beas is probably a sub at best at this point, good as he looked the other night.

Everyone who reads this is going to instantly discount my opinion but here goes: I am tentatively in favor of Brian Ching. I know Ching does not score, and that this is generally believed to be the point of a striker. But if you can point me to any US forward, including Altidore, that can actually score consistently at a World Cup level, I will give you a nickel. None of them can score.

So if they can't score, Ching's dogged work ethic, set piece usefulness, and ability to hold the ball seem attractive options. But most importantly: Ching works spectacularly well with Donovan. He is a passing forward who has time an again picked Donovan out on his frequent killer runs. I think a major reason Donovan was so invisible against Holland was Robbie Findley and, it must be said, Jozy totally failing to get him involved when the ball came to them. Ching is basically equivalent to the rest of the USA forwards when it comes to putting the ball in the net, but probably better in all the other things.

And then, um, is it crazy to think it might be worth giving Brian McBride a callup? He's internationally retired but wouldn't he come back for the WC & runup? He's still producing for Chicago, with 12 goals in 33 games. He just frickin' scored against Chivas (That Chivas) in a Friendly. All of his bones and joints are currently operational. He is probably the best forward in Nats history. He's 37, sure, but beggars can't be choosers.

I do agree that Holden's injury makes it very difficult to put Dempsey at forward unless Beasley goes nuts at Rangers the rest of the year and does not shatter any of his many atom-thick bones.

Edu also has the atom-thick bone issue and is far from proven, but at least he doesn't have a record of insane red cards, deserved or not, like Clark does. Rangers have basically won the Scottish League already so I hope they'll do DMB and Edu a solid and give them a lot of run over the last dozen or so games.

I looked it up--of the 13 field players the U.S. put on the field at the Azteca last summer, 8 of them have suffered some form of major injury since then. The only ones that haven't are Donovan, Bradley, Altidore, Bocanegra, and Spector. I know soccer's got a high injury rate and you can't expect to have your very first-choice 11-and-3-subs, but still--that's ridiculous.


Timmah agrees with you:

But we're hoping that Charlie [Davies] makes it, hoping that Jermaine Jones makes it. Gooch [Onyewu] should make it. So should Clint [Dempsey]. Stu should be OK, barring any setbacks. But it's been really weird. As long as I've been on the team, going back eight years, we haven't had injuries like that. Maybe one guy hurts his knee and comes back around, but not this close to a big major tournament.

So it sounds like everyone should be healthy except possibly Davies, though what kind of shape they're in we'll never know. Jones is the ultimate wild card at this point. It's easy to forget this guy is Schalke's captain and widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Bundesliga.

Hey, at least we're not fretting that Chris Armas isn't available.

OTHER THINGS. After the Holland game, in which the US played the standard 4-4-2 with an actual attacking midfielder in Torres, I have come around on the boring USA game of double defensive midfielders. Torres doesn't fit well with the rest of the team if Demerit is hoofing it from the back and no one has enough bite to get the ball back. His touch and ball retention were useless against Holland. Maybe the US can take a more aggressive tack against an Algeria or a Slovenia, but until such point as they can actually pass it through the midfield, a double destroyer setup is the way to compete with the best in the world. Suck 'em in, bite 'em, and counter. Too bad Findley was such a git.

If you put a gun to my head I'd peg my starting 11 against England like so:

FORWARD: Altidore, Ching
WINGER: Donovan, Dempsey
CENTRAL MID: Bradley, Edu
DEFENSE: Bocanegra, Demerit, Onyewu, Spector
GOALIE: Timmah!



Yinka Double Dare

March 9th, 2010 at 3:51 PM ^

"Edu also has the atom-thick bone issue and is far from proven, but at least he doesn't have a record of insane red cards, deserved or not, like Clark does."

We get enough dubious reds as it is. Sending Redcardo Clark out there is really asking for it.

If Holden is healthy and Davies is not, I like Dempsey as a forward and Holden on a wing. Holden's crosses are good, and Dempsey put in his best work at the Confed Cup when he was moved up top for the last 20-25 minutes of most games. The effects of his tendency to disappear sometimes are lessened and his once-a-game DEAR GOD WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING pass in the defensive half is pretty much eliminated playing him at forward. And he has the killer instinct that everyone else seems to lack (except Chuck D, who really had it going both for the national team and for Sochaux).

I like Ching more than most -- I especially love him as a sub in a game where the US is leading or trying to hold on to a draw. He works his butt off and is a foul magnet, which is great both for keeping possession and for killing time.

Musket Rebellion

March 9th, 2010 at 4:03 PM ^

Holden's injury is a killer. If he's out 2 months on top of Onyewu and Davies, then we are in trouble. Even making it out of the first round with a decimated lineup is a serious question.

Braylon Edwards

March 9th, 2010 at 4:41 PM ^

Although I don't think BB will do this, if Davies isn't recovered in time. Put Jozy up top by himself, with Landon and Dempsey playing just under him floating around making runs. Then a defensive midfield of Bradley, Edu, and Clark, holding down and providing service to the forwards. A counter-attack of Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore could have the potential to be devastating.


March 9th, 2010 at 5:09 PM ^

The problem with this idea is that Jozy hasn't played well in one forward situations. His hold-up game has gotten better in the EPL, but he's much better facing the goal than back to goal, where he has to control and then either turn or distribute. While Davies isn't a post up forward either, they shared 'target' responsibilities and were unpredictable, plus bringing just so much speed to the table that center backs couldn't play them very tight.

I think the case for Ching is that he frees both Jozy and Donovan up to do what they do well, even if he's not going to score (and he's not). Dempsey may be an even better option for that duty but then what to do with the left middie.

I would play Josy and Dempsey up top with Donovan in a free role behind them and then three ball-winners/ distributers in the mid-field (Bradley, Edu and Clark or Torres). The downside is that it requires getting offense from mainly three sources (and if Clark is the choice, will have a hard time possessing the ball) and sacrifices the width of the field if the outside backs don't get forward (don't think you can play this with Boca b/c he's too slow. The upside is that it shields the shaky backline while playing Dempsey high where he's most effective.


Edu MB Clark/Torres

Spector Gooch Boca Cherund.


March 9th, 2010 at 7:55 PM ^

Capello is almost certainly going to play Gerrard and Lampard together, which may require him to add another holding player (since Lampard is a complete donkey) further clogging up the midfield. With Brown and Cole injured, Bridge busy crying about his inability to physically satisfy a woman, and the possibility that Beckham may get into the lineup, there aren't a lot of wide players for England who scare me. Walcott isn't really a natural wing and SWP disappears for seasons at a time.

At least against the best team in the group, playing a defensive clog-the-middle style may be the best bet. Let's just hope Capello doesn't insert Crouchaldinho into the lineup and we might actually have a shot (if that 8 foot skeleton plays he will undoubtedly net a hat-trick within half an hour and spend the rest of the 90 doing the robot around the stadium).

ABE in 2010

Tha Quiet Storm

March 9th, 2010 at 5:46 PM ^

then I think Eddie Johnson would be the next best option. He's barely played on the team the last few years, but he is currently doing pretty well in Greece. I'll be fine with either of those two starting up top next to Jozy, but if BB starts Findley or Connor "Beer Gut" Casey, or if he goes with a 4-5-1 (because it worked so well for us in 06 right?), I might cry.


March 10th, 2010 at 1:11 PM ^

I would say that Dempsey can score goals at a World Cup level, he scored in '06, he scored against Spain and he scores in the EPL. I think putting him at forward is the best move if Davies can't go (although I love the McBride idea.)