Photo by ISIphotos.com
by GIANFRANCO PANIZO
With a chance to further distance the U.S. national team from the rest of the pack in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and facing the prospect of playing in one of the more hostile environments in the region, U.S. head coach Bob Bradley has several tough decisions to make. Among those decisions is which of his many central midfield options should he start next to Michael Bradley on Saturday vs. El Salvador.
Michael Bradley is riding a wave of good form for both club and country and is an easy choice to start, but choosing who to partner him with is a bit more difficult. With the surplus amount of central midfielders that Bob Bradley has summoned for the next two World Cup qualifiers, there is plenty to choose from.
Here is a look at each of the central midfielders who could start next to Bradley on Saturday:
Edu, while still only 22-years-old, is no stranger to hostile road World Cup qualifiers. It was Edu who started next to Bradley in the 1-0 victories at Guatemala and at Cuba in 2008. Granted, he did not enjoy his best performances on those nights, but Edu's experience and familiarity with Bradley in the center of the field gives the former Toronto FC player an argument.
What hurts Edu's chances is his lack of playing time at the club level. Although he has found more of it in recent weeks, Edu is still not a weekly fixture in Rangers' starting line-up. That surely cannot be benficial to Edu, who is competing with players who are constants for their respective club teams.
While many American fans feel that Kljestan is to be the starter on Saturday, is a road World Cup qualifier in hostile conditions really ideal for the Chivas USA maestro? Sure, the opponent is El Salvador, the weakest team in the group, but Kljestan has not started in these types of conditions before.
Bob Bradley may feel that Kljestan should start the game on the bench, to not only provide depth in the center but on the anemic flanks as well.
Where Kljestan does make a case for himself to start though is with his chemistry with Michael Bradley. Kljestan started next to the Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder in last summer's Olympics and the pairing worked out so well in Beijing that Bob Bradley decided to try it on the senior national team, and the duo has stuck ever since.
Kljestan flourished in 2008 and showed that he is capable of being a central midfielder that can get forward and help jump-start an attack as well as do the nitty gritty on the defensive end.
Mastroeni brings a lengthy resume of experience in road World Cup qualifiers and his defensive bite may be needed to halt a Salvadorean side that appears ready to rely on counter-attacks for its offense. His defensive game would also allow Michael Bradley more freedom to get forward and contribute to the attack, which is something American fans have been clamoring for.
The Colorado Rapids midfielder is not offensively inept either. Although he has never scored for the United States, Mastroeni has been known to unleash shots from distance when given the time and space. If you consider that El Salvador may bunker in for the majority of the game then a long-range shot or two would not hurt.
However, Mastroeni has been known to give up his fair share of fouls and given the physical nature of World Cup qualifiers in Central America, that could present a problem.
Jose Francisco Torres
Of all the central midfielders available to pair with Bradley, Torres remains the one with the most unique situation. While Kljestan and Mastroeni have just begun their seasons in MLS, and while Edu continues to battle for playing time in Scotland, Torres has been a constant figure in Pachuca's clausura campaign.
If recent reports are any indication of how El Salvador is gearing up to play against the Americans, then Torres' skill on the ball and ability to control the tempo of a game might be exactly what the United States needs in order to break down a defensive foe.
The only question mark surrounding Torres is his relative inexperience at the international level. Torres has played in the FIFA Club World Cup, but playing in the friendly confines of Japan is not the same as the hostility that will greet the Americans in Estadio Cuscatlán on Saturday.
Here is your chance to choose. Who would you start in central midfield alongside Michael Bradley?
Who do you see Bob Bradley starting on Saturday? Will Edu's past experiences with Michael Bradley in road qualifiers give him the edge? Does Kljestan remain the incumbent? Do you see Mastroeni getting the nod? Is it Torres' turn to start?
Share your thoughts below.