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USA vs. El Salvador: A look ahead

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The U.S. men's national team is a day away from its crucial World Cup qualifier vs. El Salvador in Sandy, Utah, and a game that seemed so simple a few months ago is growing increasingly complicated.

Why? The Americans head into the match without the starting centerback tandem it established at the Confederations Cup. Oguchi Onyewu is suspended while Jay DeMerit is out with a groin injury. Those absences will likely result in U.S. coach Bob Bradley turning to Columbus Crew defender Chad Marshall and U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra.

So what will the Americans be facing on Saturday? It will meet a very different Salvadoran squad that won't quite have the all-out attacking approach it employs at its home stadium, Estadio Cuzcatlan.

El Salvador needs at least one point to climb closer to a challenge for a qualifying spot, and as much as a win would be a dream scenario, El Salvador has shown a penchant for being able to neutralize opposing' attacks on the road by virtue of a defense-first philosophy, or Central American version of parking the bus. In El Salvador's three previous qualifying road games, it has lost by identical 1-0 scorelines, which is evidence of the team's desire to keep the scoreline down rather than opening things up as it has done at home.

With that in mind, and with the visitors unlikely to send too many numbers forward, it probably makes sense for U.S. coach Bob Bradley to employ a more attack-minded approach to his lineup selection. With that in mind, here is a lineup we could see on Saturday.

USA projected lineup vs. El Salvador






This lineup would leave Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching on the bench in favor of Stuart Holden's energy on the wing, while Feilhaber would get the nod in a more attack-minded role than we're used to seeing in central midfield.

With Jozy Altidore's fitness still an issue, Bradley will need to choose between either Brian Ching or Clint Dempsey up top alongside Charlie Davies. Look for Dempsey to get the nod, partly because of his own struggles with handling defensive duties on the flank, and Holden's ability to provide valuable energy and service from the flank.

This lineup would also leave Steve Cherundolo on the sidelines. The veteran struggled against Mexico and Spector merits a chance after playing so well in the Confederations Cup. Seeing Spector line up on the left flank wouldn't shock me, but I see Bradley going with a natural left back in Bornstein.

Benny Feilhaber gives the midfield an added attacking edge, one we haven't seen much of since Sacha Kljestan's stock began to fade. It was clear all summer when Feilhaber got chances that he can make things happen. Even in the Mexico loss, while Feilhaber didn't make any standout plays, his presence (along with Stuart Holden's) did spark the offense and led to improved play from Bradley. Look for Feilhaber to do more attacking and Bradley to provide midfield support in front of the defense much the same way he did when paired with Sacha Kljestan vs. Trinidad & Tobago in last year's qualifying round.

Chad Marshall getting the nod shouldn't come as a surprise. He was a rock in the back for the U.S. Gold Cup team and should be able to dominate El Salvador in the air much the way Oguchi Onyewu would have been expected to (though El Salvador isn't likely to want the ball in the air too much).

Something else to think about when considering lineups for Saturday (and Wednesday) is the fact that nine Americans are a yellow card away from a suspension. Here is the list of those players: Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Jay DeMerit, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Benny Feilhaber.

What do you think of Saturday's match-up? Like the idea of some new blood in the starting lineup? Think Dempsey could be effective as a starting forward after doing so well there as a striker late in games during the Confederations Cup? Do you see Chad Marshall having a good game, or are you still worried about what you saw from him in CONCACAF Champions League play last week?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Look, all this talk about Jozy not being fit is idiotic. He’s 19! He’s been playing, pretty much, all summer long. Even when he was waiting for his transfer to work itself out I’m sure he wasn’t just sitting around on the couch eating bon-bons. He’s fine. If he doesn’t start it’s yet another sign that BB is a moron. Double that if Ching starts in his place (why not just start a mannequin?).

    (SBI-All summer long except for about five weeks from late June to late August. Hull’s manager also mentioned his fitness as not being where it needed to be, so this isn’t a Bob Bradley thing, it’s an Altidore fitness thing. That said, I’d bet good money he starts one of these two upcoming qualifiers.)

  2. If Torres doesn’t play in this game (a soft opponent at home that will apply little offensive pressure) then when does he get the next chance for some WCQ experience? In San Pedro Sula? I don’t think so. Get him in there and give him the opportunity to show his worth. He’ll be more valuable in T&T with some minutes under his belt. And then we have one more asset for the tough closeout games. And with any luck, the CR game will be dress rehearsal for South Africa as the Ticos fight for the chance to avoid going to South America.

  3. Yes, let’s not drop points this week. I like the lineup by Ives. I don’t want Cherundolo on the field. No Clark either and no Ching. I stick with the Jozy-Davies tandem up top with a shift in the second half to bring Dempsey forward. The reverse could also happen. Holden should play. He’s smart and hungry for glory right now.

  4. I like Ives lineup minus JB at LB and Jozy on the bench. However, I have to agree with ‘Milkshalke of Despair’, BB will play it conservative again and we’ll see Ching up top with Davies and Clark in the middle instead of Benny.

  5. Bornstein will be our undoing.

    Posted by: John V. | September 04, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Agreed. I do not view him as someone’s who game has grown since his fire by baptism in Copa Am 07. Feilhaber, Rico Clark, DeMerit – all have gotten better, even with Benny having to fail and then get back up. His Chivas mate, Sasha K has fallen, let’ see if he can regain form. JOnny B has had a free pass for 3 years…and for what. A no-D, ball & man watcher as it flows past him, speedster on the left. And he’s your FB. As I said above, even classic DMB gave you D. As with ENG and the Neville Bros, just b/c you play on a successful team (well, perceived as successful, esp. if you’re the former boss), does not mean you get the Nat shirt. If Bob truly believes that Jonny B is his starting LB (see Boca age, perceived inadequacy of Heath Pearce, etc.) and will change his attitude toward D, then we’re cooked next summer b/c that is a sign of blinders. Of course, if Ives and the rest of us concur with Bob that Jonny B is the starting LB no matter the permutations of the backline via suspensions and injuries (kinda like this game), then we will definitely not be “hard to beat” in SA.

  6. Bradley is hoping that Davies/Dempsey can hold and score. But it’ll be a tough match. Altidore on in the 2nd half for a 4-3-3 ain’t so bad but i’d rather him start.

  7. Jozy has 60 minutes in him (at least). He must start. We could (and theoretically should) win this one by 3 or 4 goals, and we need Jozy to help us accomplish that. This game could help us in the goal differential column as well as in the points column.

  8. Isn’t scoring the first goal is ridiculously important in soccer? And, wouldn’t this be particularly true if you were playing a team that was going to bunker the entire game to try for a point?

    If so, I think you’d want your best scorers in at the beginning of the game (even if they can’t last the whole 90 or even more than 45). Jozy is definitely one of our best scorers.

  9. Altidore and Davies need to start together. They’re our dream duo for the World Cup and for 2014 World Cup.

    Marshall should start with Boca but Marshall is backup to DeMerit come World Cup

  10. man why is Jozy’s fitness always in question.

    sup with that. its been in question for what seems like a year or more now.

    whats the deal. big guy needs to get fit, hate seeing such a weapon sitting on the bench.

    (SBI-He didn’t sign with Hull until just before the season so he didn’t have a full training camp with them, then he missed training time to deal with the transfer/swine flu situation. He should be fully fit for October’s qualifiers, assuming he’s not fully fit now.)

  11. @ Nick – I like your lineup, for one major reason: mobility at the back. Marshall is impressive, but Spector is better equipped to deal with small, quick forwards IMO, and Boca just isn’t that quick, as we saw vs. Mexico. I’d also rather use Holden as a sub and start Altidore.

    @ Adam R: I think you’re dead-on in saying that a direct, no-frills approach is the way to go. We have a size, speed (not quickness, but raw speed) and fitness advantage… would be crazy not to use it. Trying to play pretty 1-2s all day is nice, but we need a result and that would be playing right into the Sallies’ hands. Run ’em off the field – bring on Rico if MB tires, bring on Holden if Altidore tires (and slide Dempsey up top), and use Findley as a wild-card speed burner if we’re chasing the game toward the end. I would only use Ching if we’re up a couple goals and need a big body to hold the ball up.

    I really shouldn’t be as nervous about this game as I am…..wish Demerit was healthy. Any news on whether he’l make it to T&T, which actually has some respectable attacking options?

  12. This lineup reinforces my belief that the USMNT just doesn’t have the depth to be a real contenter in the WC2010. Bornstein?

    Let’s just take care of business in CONCACAF and see how the group stage pairings fall for the WC.

  13. It’d be great to see Boca and Marshall in the back together. Gooch and Demerit are fantastic defenders in their own right but I get the feeling that Boca adds a more organizational content to the line when he’s at CB. And Marshall seemed to organize quite well with Goodson during the GC, so I get the feeling these two at CB could be a quite solid pairing for a home game, which might allow Bornstein more freedom to help in the attack.

    The Dempsey-Davies pairing could be nasty, provided Dempsey steps his Nats form up. And with LD, Feilhaber and Holden backing them up… good gravy.

  14. We all know Bob by now. He will play it safe. His hand is forced at central D and he will have to select a back four we haven’t seen together. As for the rest, it will be business as usual. Ching and Davies up top. And a midfield of Mandon, Bradley, Clark and Dempsey.

    Mark my words. Bob does not like going out on a limb anymore than he has to.

    Doesn’t mean I agree. I prefer Ives line-up, but we’re not going to see it.

  15. Ives, please explain what you, not Bob, sees in Jonny Bornstein b/c I see very little. IMHO, he’s not even good enuff offensively to think about making him a wide mid. And his D, especially his attitude to D, is poor to non-existent. Classic DMBeasly covered & tracked back, tackled & harassed. Frank H, attitude to hustle & (over)commit. Of all the squad, Jonny B is the mystery man; evidence that ‘atleticism’ and the fetish of worshipping it do not make you a serviceable player, let alone a good one.

  16. I actually like this lineup a lot. Holden could provide the energy Dempsey has been known to lack at times on the wing, I hadn’t thought of that.

  17. My ticket says 6pm local time. 🙂 Leaving the rain of Seattle for a Nat game and decent weather.

    Who is sitting on yellow cards?

    The line up shouldn’t matter this team should beat El Salvador at home. With the exception of the last 20 minutes the US played like crap and still got a tie on the road.

  18. Well done with the desired line-up Ives.

    Not only is this a game we must win, a more attacking and possession oriented look is the only way forward.

    A world in which Michael Bradley is paired with Ricardo Clark is not likely to bring either pretty soccer or success against teams better than El Salvador. (Observe “likely” — we all saw the wins at the Confederations Cup, so good results are always possible.)

    I agree with other critics: The concerns of Jozy’s fitness are overblown.

    Holden brings a particular excitement. But where is Torres in your thoughts Ives?

    Do you really think the Danish league is as good as the Mexican league? Isn’t what Torres has shown for Pachuca *easily* on a par with what Benny Feilhaber has shown for club?

    I understand Bob Bradley will chose Feilhaber. I understand Benny has had a good run of form while Torres missed preseason at Pachuca and is only now back in the first XI.

    But don’t you think we are sleeping on a quality player?

    Do you really think a player with Torres’ gifts cannot improve the side? Do you really think that he is somehow too tidy and too possession oriented — and not big and fast enough?

    (SBI-When did I say I thought all these things about Torres? I like Torres, but Feilhaber has more experience with the national team and has been playing more over the past four months. Do I think Torres could do well? I do, I definitely do, but you can only play 11 players and we happen to be at a point when the United States can and will have to sit some good players. I would have no problem with Bradley going with Torres in the lineup, I just don’t think it’ll happen.)

  19. El Salvador’s only chance at getting points is by attacking the way they did in San Salvador. If they play defensively, the US is flying out to Port of Spain with 3 points.

    (SBI-I’ll set the over/under on shots on goal at 2.5 for El Salvador.)

  20. Ives,
    You’re spot on, as usual. This is the lineup we’ll probably see, and I happen to think it’s the right one as well. The only thing I might do is maybe put Spector at left back and Cherundolo on the right, but Spector is better on the right, especially with those beautiful crosses.

  21. The Steve Davis article is awful. ESPN Soccernet’s recent USMNT articles have been lacking insight and new information. This one doesn’t even get some facts straight.

  22. That’s an interesting lineup Ives. Bornstein on the left provides attacking impetus from the full back, and Spector is a center/full back hybrid so Bornstein pushing up won’t cause a problem for the other three. As for Dempsey up top, I just don’t see Bradley starting out that way since he clings to consistency like it’s a lifeboat from the Titanic.

    If it were me I’d do the following:

    Why the differences? Currently I think Spector is better equipped to deal with the magnitude of this match better than Marshall (here’s where European experience trumps MLS every time), and I think Altidore is proving his worth as a striker compared to Ching regardless of how fit he is. My first subsitution would most likely be Stuart Holden in the 60th minute, pulling Altidore and pushing Dempsey up top. If the game is tied or we’re behind by the 70th minute, Spector gets pulled and Ching is thrown in up top to create a 3-4-3. If we need someone to slow the game down, pull Bradley so that we don’t lose him for T&T and put in Torres.

    But I don’t get paid to manage the Nats so what do I know

  23. I think that Ives is spot on with the lineup that we will see. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Findley late in this game along with Jozy. We obviously have to worry about cards, but having our weakest opponent next week, I would rather get a card suspension Saturday instead of later when we have HON or CRC. All that being said, I think we win 2-0 going away.

  24. Like the line-up and reasoning, Ives. As opposed to Steve Davis’ similar article for…

    …where he uses bizarre logic to reach his line-up projection. He says Marshall over Goodson because Goodson has just 1 WCQ game under him so Bradley wouldn’t trust him. I agree it’ll probably be Marshall, but due to WCQ experience?! He says Cherundolo and Bornstein over Spector b/c of their superior comfort on the ball and reliability in service. For the author and anyone else who missed the Confed Cup this summer: that’s poppycock! He pens Dempsey on the flank without discussing moving him up top. Mentions Torres, Holden and Rogers but says Bradley is not one for experimentation, hunches or improv, so these three are out. Gimme a break…what about when he started the very same Torres in an away qualifier this year? What about when he moved Donovan to left wing? Beasley to left back? What about when he started Davies and Demerit at the confed cup? Finally, he says Ching is sure to start, with Altidore likely paired, which would leave Davies on the bench. I should’ve read this last paragraph first, so I’d know that Steve Davis’ was high on meth when he wrote this.

    I’m prob overreacting, oh well, it just seemed way off to me, to the point where I had to tell you about it.

  25. I disagree with you that Steve Cherundolo struggled against Mexico — the guys at Soccer America gave him one of their top ratings for the game. That said, I’d love to get Jonathan Spector into the lineup.

    I think having Cherundolo on the right with Spector on the left is more likely, although I think even more likely is Cherundolo on the right and Bornstein on the left.

    Bradley hasn’t started Dempsey up top in years, although he’s put him in that position later in the game. I don’t think Bradley’s going to switch up now, but we might see that alignment later in the game. I think you’re more likely to see Holden come on as a sub. That being said, Holden did have one of the more impressive performances for our team at the Azteca.

    I think the most likely aberration from the norm lately that we might see is Bradley and Feilhaber. It seems we were stronger in the middle after Feilhaber came in than when Ricardo was manning in the middle. Although Ricardo might be the better defender of the two, Feilhaber executes better passing in tight situations, which is probably better than coughing the ball up and having to make up for it with your defensive capabilities, which, let’s face it, led to Ricardo’s dismissal in the Confederations Cup.

    (SBI-We’ll agree to disagree on Cherundolo vs. Mexico. I know I was harsh in the grade I gave him initially, but how anyone can say he had a good game is beyond me, particuarly in the first half.)

  26. @This guy you should be called that guy. There is ZERO chance Davies doesn’t start. He is the best finishing forward in the USMNT pool period and can make magic happen at any point. See the blocked kick in the Confed Cup that almost went in (I think that’s where it was) and the well taken goal at Azteca.

  27. Pretty good lineup, but I’d rather see Cherundolo on the right and Spector on the left, plus Altidore in place of Holden (with Dempsey moving to the wing). We need to stop treating Altidore with kid gloves; the kid is a beast, make El Salvadore worry about him. Remember how he changed the game when he entered in San Salvadore?

    Also, before it even starts, I really hope we don’t see any “Alvarez is a traitor” stuff on this board. The guy wasn’t getting any looks with the US, so he went to a team that wanted him. Can’t blame him for that.

    (SBI-“Remember how he changed the game when he entered in San Salvador.” Right, and why would it be unwise to have him come off the bench against El Salvador again, particularly if there are concerns about his fitness (and given that the match is being played at altitude)? Just because he doesn’t start on Saturday, doesn’t mean Altidore can’t start vs. Trinidad & Tobago. I think that’s what winds up happening. I don’t see Altidore starting both matches. He’s not fit enough for two internationals in five days.

    This is something else people should think about, the fact that there’s another game looming on Wednesday. This is another reason I can see Holden getting his first qualifying start at home, while a veteran like Ricardo Clark gets the nod in Trinidad. You also have tons of yellow card peril situations to think about as well.)

  28. I don’t care about what line-up goes out there but they had better win both games this week. Its most important that the players know how much is at stake and respond as they should. This is the week that shows whether we are the big boy in CONCACAF or not.

    At Hondurus / versus Costa Rica is the toughest close of all the big 4. Drop points this week and you could be booking a trip to Quito, and if we think Azteca is tough………………..

  29. anything short of the US winning 2 or 3-0 would be a dissapointment. let’s be honest ES are nowhwere near the USA’s level. specially on the road.

  30. Ives,

    I really like that lineup. Possibly even Jozy with the start up top and Davies used as a super-sub.

    (SBI-Davies is the arguably the most in-form attacking player in the pool. Can’t see him not starting.)

  31. Bob Bradley doesn’t have the fortitude to do it, but the sneaky play with DeMerit and Onyewu out would be to have Bradley and Feilhaber in front of Clark and only go with a 3 man backline.

  32. Ives, does this idea of a tactical change (the wide mids have to play a bit more defensively due to the lack of two defensive mids) come from a source or is this just an educated guess? Just curious (no sarcasm).

    (SBI-there really isn’t that much of a tactical change. It isn’t as if Feilhaber would sit behind the strikers as an out-and-out playmaker. He’ll still track back to cover and play in front of the back four when El Sal gets extended possession, but I think he’ll get forward more than Bradley so I moved up him a bit in the formation to show that. The problem with writing out a formation is that it’s not easy to really show subtle adjustments in responsibility without some taking it to mean drastic changes. I could have just as easily listed Feilhaber side-by-side with Bradley, which will happen at times, but I want to illustrate that, if he starts, Feilhaber will spend more time in an advanced role than Bradley will, not that Bradley won’t get forward.)

  33. Jozy must start. This bumps Holden. Bornstein doesn’t impress me. Bump him, replace him with Spector and start Cherundolo on the right. I am a Marshall fan. He is a must-start with Jay and Gooch out.

  34. Ives, I don’t know if it’s going to happen (especially starting Dempsey up top and Holden out wide) but if it does, I love it.

  35. Why is Jozy’s fitness continually questioned? He played in the Confed Cup as a starter and is surely in better shape now. Start he and Charlie and then sub into midfield when he starts to fade and move Clint or Landon up or straight swap for Ching to kill off time. I just don’t get why, if you are touting an attacking mindset, that you wouldn’t put our best attacking tandem in from the start. Am I all wet here?

  36. Ives, if your memory of El Salvador from the last game tells you that they went all out on the attack, you are mistaken. El Salvador was very compact and tactical, and de los Cobos had a brilliant gameplan based around stifling the wide midfield areas where Beasley and Dempsey tried to operate.

    The US tried and tried to play pretty, short connecting passes or a “possession” game, and played right in to ES hands, who sat and waited for mistakes. They had very few chances, and all were off US errors.

    When the US finally went back to a direct style, they overwhelmed ES, and if the game was 5 minutes longer the US would have come away with all 3 points.

    The moral of the story is to stop worrying about being stlyish and attractive and do what is effective: quick decisive passing off of turnovers and accurate, varied service to the forwards.

  37. this is actually an awesome lineup ives… i mean with the starting CB’s and jozy pushing dempsey to the wing once he is at full fitness…

    now that this lineup crisis is solved, why don’t you go fix the economy?

  38. Three points, Ives:

    A. I disagree with your lineup choice. (I like it, but I disagree.) This back four has never played together. That leads me to believe that we’ll see TWO holding midfielders to provide cover. (Junior Bradley, plus Clark or Beckerman, only because it’s in SLC.)

    B. I also believe we’ll see the Altidore-Davies starting tandem, with Dempsey moving up and Feilhaber coming in, as we’ve seen ALL summer.

    C. What time is the game? I’ve seen three different starting times between here,, and Help!

  39. I’d really like to see Jose Francisco Torres get the opportunity to play. He could provide a much needed offensive spark that the U.S. lacked against Mexico.


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