USA v. Panama – The Back 4

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It’s been well-documented this week that the United States is entering their quarterfinal matchup against Panama tonight with a depleted squad. Charlie Davies, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Parkhurst, Benny Feilhaber, and Freddy Adu have all left the team to return to their European clubs for preseason training.

With only two mainstay internationals – striker Brian Ching and defender Heath Pearce – left on the roster, Bob Bradley will be calling on his untested players yet again.

While we know what to expect from Brian Ching and Heath Pearce, what should we expect from the rest of the US squad?

  1. Who Starts at Right Back? Probably the most crucial decision Bradley makes for tonight is what to do about Cherundolo’s absence. Brad Evans has been underwhelming, to put it nicely, in his minutes and there are no other traditional right-sided defenders on the roster. Evans will most likely get the call, and his ability to defend will be sorely tested (or picked on, if you will) by the Panamanian wingers and strikers. Don’t be surprised, however, if Jimmy Conrad ends up as the right back at the start. While not the most glamorous choice, he could ably fill in for one game there be fine defensively. Whether or not Bradley wishes to sacrifice the offensive abilities that Evans brings for the defensive ones that Conrad has is yet to be seen. For now, expect Evans to start.
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  2. Lone striker or Two strikers? With Brian Ching in the mix, it’s hard to tell what Bradley will elect to do. In a knockout setting, Bradley is often pretty conservative, and he thinks (even if few others do) that Ching is effective as a single target up front. With Kenny Cooper, Davy Arnaud, and Santino Quaranta all available to play up top, Bradley isn’t short of option. However, this is the first tournament where he won’t have the blazing speed of Charlie Davies at his disposal, meaning who he starts up top will be very important. Right now, it seems likely that Arnaud will get the nod, as Bradley just isn’t fond of Cooper. Arnaud is more of an attacking midfielder anyway, meaning Bradley will likely use him as a 5th midfielder rather than a true striker.
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  3. The central midfield has to be strong. If Logan Pause starts the game alongside Kyle Beckerman, the US could be in for a long outing. Pause’s lack of speed and quickness will hurt the defensive presence of Bradley’s bucket midfield, especially if he continues play so tentatively. Beckerman will most likely play as the destroyer, but his partner – either Sam Cronin or Pause – will be the decisive factor in who owns the center of the park. For now, I’m betting on Cronin to get the nod, and I believe he’ll play well in that role.
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  4. Stuart. Holden. All eyes will be on the blonde playmaker, but where will he be on the field? Bradley seems to prefer his abilities on the wing, but it’s not hard to see that Holden’s natural inclinations bring him into the middle. It’s pretty doubtful that Holden will get the nod in the middle, with Bradley likely to send him to the right wing. However, if Bradley opts for a single-striker formation, Holden could be moved in behind Ching while Arnaud or Quaranta get moved outside.

For right now, I’m expect 1 of 2 lineups, both of which seem equally likely:

4-4-2

Ching   Arnaud

Rogers                                     Holden

Beckerman    Cronin

Pearce                                                 Evans

Conrad   Marshall

Perkins

4-5-1

Ching

Rogers         Holden      Arnaud

Beckerman    Cronin

Pearce                                               Evans

Conrad   Marshall

Perkins

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