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U.S. has three holes to fill in lineup

June 24, 2010
Carlisle By Jeff Carlisle
ESPN.com
(Archive)

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Bob Bradley's lineup has been relatively stable in the U.S.'s first two games at the World Cup, with just one change made between those matches. But as the Americans await their group finale against Algeria, the U.S. manager has some tinkering to do with his starting XI.

There are puzzles to be solved in every area of the field save goalkeeper. On Saturday, Bradley indicated he already has an idea of what shape his lineup will take.

"We always take into account the different variables," Bradley said. "Everything from how the last game went to what we expect the next game to look like. … You know as you get ready for Algeria, you look hard for what that game will be like -- and you assess where we are as a team with regard to injuries and fitness and fatigue -- and make decisions."

Here is a breakdown of the dilemmas facing Bradley.

Defense

The key question centers on what to do about Oguchi Onyewu. The hulking center back has been inconsistent in his two World Cup matches, which is not surprising for a player who has been playing competitive games for only a month since returning from surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee.

For that reason, Bradley could decide to go in a different direction, but none of his options are clear cut. Clarence Goodson performed decently in warm-up games, but he lacks experience in high-profile matches.

Jonathan Spector has played center back on a couple of occasions for the U.S., but he hasn't done so since a 3-1 friendly loss to Denmark in November. He also looked out of gas in the run-up to the World Cup after a long season in Europe.

Maurice Edu has deputized in the middle at times and played there for a few minutes late in Friday's 2-2 draw against Slovenia.

The most likely scenario if Bradley were to make a change is to move Carlos Bocanegra to center back, where he played extensively during qualifying. But that means relying on either Spector or the untested Jonathan Bornstein to fill in at left back, and their current form would appear to rule out such a move.

The choice: Look for Bradley to stick with Onyewu and hope that the player who performed decently in the second half against both England and Slovenia is the one who shows up against Algeria.

Midfield

The issue here is the ongoing saga of who will partner with Michael Bradley in the center of midfield.

Jose Torres, skilled as he is, would appear to have played himself out of contention with an indifferent first-half display against Slovenia. It's been ages since Benny Feilhaber, another slick passer, has played in the middle, and when used recently, he's played in wider positions.

That would leave it down to a battle between Edu and Ricardo Clark. Both players have struggled with their distribution. Clark failed to track Steven Gerrard for England's goal but recovered decently from his early lapse to help solidify the U.S. midfield on that night. Edu brought his own brand of physicality in the second half against Slovenia.

Both players can pop up for goals, albeit in different ways: Clark with his long-range shooting and Edu with his ability on set pieces.

The choice: Look for Bradley to go with Clark. Edu's introduction against Slovenia was partly due to his ability to play as an emergency center back, not to mention that Clark was already on a yellow card from the England match. But with the Desert Foxes likely to employ a five-man midfield Wednesday, Clark's slightly greater range should carry the day in a bid to subdue Algeria's dangerous Karim Ziani.

Forward

With Robbie Findley suspended, Bradley will be looking for the right player to partner with Jozy Altidore.

One option is to go with a Twin Towers approach and play Edson Buddle. Buddle is excellent with his back to goal and scored twice in a 3-1 warm-up win over Australia. He could provide some additional physicality against Algeria's central defensive pairing of Antar Yahia and Rafik Halliche.

Another scenario could see Bradley opt for a big man/small man combination by going with Herculez Gomez. Gomez got on the field for just a few minutes against Slovenia, but his impact was considerable. His clever run created the space for Michael Bradley to latch on to Altidore's knockdown.

The final possibility is to play Clint Dempsey at forward from the start, instead of his usual wide midfield spot. Bob Bradley has often moved Dempsey up front late in matches when the Americans have needed a goal, and his unpredictability on the ball would bring a different dimension to the U.S. attack.

The choice: While Gomez lacks Findley's speed, he's the quickest option that Bradley has left in his arsenal of forwards. His poacher's instinct could be precisely what is needed to breach Algeria's stingy defense.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.