COLUMBUS, Ohio – While weaving my way out of the Columbus fairground area, home to the Spartan and very yellow Crew Stadium, I wondered about this:
Untimely injuries and the residue of yellow card build-up (some of those bookings legit, others not so much) has left some areas of the U.S. lineup a bit threadbare. So where is the bigger hole in the United States lineup Tuesday against Mexico? Is it right back? Or is it what I like to call the “Bradley role?”
I can say with some certainty that it’s not center back, where I would expect Clarence Goodson to play alongside Omar Gonzalez. Goodson has been on the spot in big U.S. matches before, and he’ll be fine in this one.
Nor will it be at striker, where I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eddie Johnson play in the most advanced role, in front of Clint Dempsey, with Landon Donovan deployed out wide. (Donovan didn’t exactly shine as a target striker Friday, did he? Then again, that’s not his best spot – and it was surprising to see U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann try to pound that square peg into the round hole thusly.)
But right back? Who knows? Klinsmann defended Michael Orozco’s performance there, reminding everyone that Orozco’s finger prints weren’t on any of Costa Rica’s goals. Perhaps that’s technically true – but Klinsmann understands where that position stands at the moment, in a highly unstable place, even if he’s not saying so publicly.
Heck, we are months away from the World Cup now, and way too many of the recent choices at right back represent a “reach.” There is a bigger picture to be considered there, but for now we’ll just talk about Tuesday.
We may well see Orozco once again, although a Michael Parkhurst appearance cannot be ruled out. Truly, there just aren’t many choices there.
Then there is what I call the “Bradley role.” It’s just a linking midfield position, a two-way man to fall back into a dual defensive midfield role when opposition is in possession, but tasked with getting further forward in the middle third than the true holding man.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is no other Bradley on this team. Yes, Jermaine Jones (pictured) can play the position, but not with the wits, awareness and positional precision to which the United States has become accustomed under Bradley. Certainly not with the technical craft and tidiness with the ball.
Best guess here is that it will be Jones, with Kyle Beckerman standing in as the “No. 6,” the strict holding presence.
Of course, the late roster addition of Jose Torres is intriguing. That role fits his skill set better than most of the roles he has been asked to perform under Klinsmann – although none with smashing success, it must be said. Or it could be a straight Bradley-for-Mix Diskerud swap. If so, this would easily be the most high-profile international assignment for young Diskerud to date.
However Klinsmann’s aligns the side, Bradley’s tremendous influence, his keen sense of the game, that something-extra that tells him when the attacks needs to press forward with authority and when it just needs to be content in possession, will be sorely missed.
For me, that’s the bigger hole – the one where Mexico can make a little hay and sew a little mayhem on an intense and important Tuesday night in Columbus.