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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. MOTM: Davies (2 goals)
    Sleeper (surprise star): Holden (1 assist)
    Asleep: Bornstein

    i really want Deuce to have a solid game, but our forwards need to shine like no other!

  2. For this game, we need a quick start, no waiting around for the other team to get going. Remember how we started against Spain and Brazil. We didn’t wait around to see what they wanted to do to us. We went after them. We need the same tact against El Salvador. Put in Jozy and Davies, hopefully we can go up 3-0 by half time. After that we can save the legs of guys we need for T&T. And yes Boca is always a defensive liability. How many goals are scored because he failed to close down the shooter? Just look at the replays.

  3. I personally would go with a back line of:


    I personally am tired of bocanegra and think this would be a good game to see how we do without him. I think it would show we really dont need the tom cruise look a like (at least starting).

  4. The back line has to be Spector–Boca–Marshall–Cherundolo. Bradley always chooses Dolo over Spector (a mistke IMO), and Spector is a better left back than Bornstein. I hope Benny is putin the middle, but Bradley does seem to prefer Clark even though the team always plays better when Benny comes in. Ching and Dives will be up top, and that’s fine by me, Ching’s ability to hold is underrated on this Board. That said I would be happy seeing Altidore. Personally I wold drop Dempsey until he decides to consistently offer defensive support.

  5. CT – thanks for reading. Tho’ you are right in hi-liting the risks in altering style at this point, what would Plan B be for US if we’re pinned back a la 2nd half Brazil. We have to begin to learn sometime and IMHO it is not too much to ask now. That is what coaching and player intelligence for the game is all about…It begins with 1st demanding that folks stay compact and track back. I think part of our problem is that we do not keep shape consistently well. Clint D can be absent at times. Times this summer when others like Mike B (see Azteca) were out of position in for “easy” defensive phases. Keeping shape D-wise allows you to come forward 2gether, yes? Just an observation of US v. other sides like BRA, SP….MEX even

  6. Sorry. Posting in pieces. Like your lineup but it probably won’t happen. If Bob goes with Clark and Bradley as double mids with Ching up top will be frustrated as usual.OK with some combination (2of 3) of Michael/Edu/Jones (hearsay, still need to see him play with this team) for teams like Brazil, Spain etc. but for lesser talented teams let’s attack especially when defense has not played that much together. I know we’ve been poor in possession but part of that is not playing the players who can possess. Would prefer alternative to B
    ornstein. You know Bocanegra wil play ,probably centrally.

  7. Had long discussion but disappeared into Cyberspace very frustrating. Agree Dempsey up top for whole game. Like Holden on wing, also Feilhaber in center. OK with either
    Davies or Altidore with Dempsey. Dempsey can be a target (see Fullham 2 years ago after McBride injury). Dempsey good in small spaces, most opportunistic box player we have. Holden more pace,good defensive bite and strikes a good dead ball (Feilhaber also good on dead balls; Donovan not that good at dead balls but by pecking order probably wouldn’t give that up)

  8. Spector on the Left and Cherundolo on the right. End of story. How are you gonna have a kid who is 23 and starting at LB for an EPL team and a 11-year veteran at RB for a Bundesliga not in the line-up for a player like Bornstein who only gets mass amounts of call-ups becuase he is in MLS, and its USSF agenda to make bob the muppet and continue to call in MLS players who dont perform so we can show the world how MLS is getting better every Year!

    (SBI-Harry, from logic to lunacy in 2.3 words.)

  9. Ives,

    I’d prefer to see a Spector in the middle rather than Marshall. I think he’s more mobile, better on the ball and should have a better understanding with Boca than Marshall does. He also poses just as much of an offensive threat. In fact, I prefer Goodson over Marshall, though Marshall is very good.

    I don’t have much issue withthterestof the lineup though it will be interesting to see how the subs play out.

  10. Ives, why do I get the feeling Spector is gonna be left on the bench again? I don’t agree with it, but if keeping Kaka and Robinho in check for 90 minutes isn’t enough to earn a start against Mexico, what’s to keep Bradley from leaving him on the bench again.

  11. Never been a fan of Dempsey playing up
    top, he’s most effective when he cuts inside from the wing and on set pieces. Altidore and Davies up top is the remedy for our current wcq blues!

  12. Jeff in Houston: I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it this way, but passing the ball around just for the sake of passing is fairly pointless. The passing needs to be done with a purpose like Mexico did in Azteca. With its passes Mexico moves the defensive players around for several passes until one of the defenders is just a little bit slow to his spot or little bit out of position with the intent of striking suddenly to exploit the mistake. There are probably only a handful of occasions when the circumstances are right and Mexico can strike but each player in the entire Mexican attack has the Soccer IQ to make the creative movements that create scoring opportunities. (I know, that last sentence sounded a little too much like Christopher Sullivan. Sorry)

    I don’t think the USMNT is there yet, hence my comment to a previous blog post that there are not enough complimentary US players to permit Torres to play his game and make a difference. Like it or not the US is still a physical (e.g. Jozy’s first goal against Spain), opportunistic (Davies goal against Mexico; Donovan’s goal against Brazil) team and the team should play to those strengths for the time being.

    If you want the US to develop a more Latin style of play, that development should come between WC cycles, not in the middle of qualifying.

  13. I think it’s an incredible coincidence that Scott from Houston mentioned Jonathan Wilson and his recent book “Inverting the Pyramid”. I too live in Houston and am in the middle of reading “Inverting the Pyramid” myself. I’ve learned more about soccer tactics in this one book than any other book I’ve read (and as a conscientious soccer parent/coach for 10+ years, I’ve read a bunch). Soccer lovers everywhere, do yourself a favor and read this book.

  14. The CB Goodson did very well in the Gold Cup as a replacement for Conrad, he was especially strong in the Panama and Honduras games and even in the 5 goal loss to Mexico he was not at fault and kept working despite the absolute disappearance of the outside backs. I do not know how good his speed is, but he can’t be slower than Bocanegra. If Bocanegra can handle LB, a case can be made that pairing Marshal and Goodson in the middle with Spector on the right is as good as we’ve got right now. We still need a strong LB with some speed. That argues Spector on the left and Cherundulo on the right. Missing the two who did so well in the Confed Cup does throw a wrench in things. Goodson is there for T&T if the CBs falter.
    I am guessing Bradley will start Cherundalo, Spector, Bocanegra and Marshall in the back.
    Forwards, Altidore and Davies.
    Midfield: Bradley, Feilhaber, Donavon and Dempsey with Holden as a late sub. If we get a 2 goal lead, expect sacrificing a forward for another defensive mid. either Clark or Beckerman.

  15. those of you talking about Marshall not having experience should realize that he played in several WCQs last round, including one on the road. His experience is not just the last few months. He’s been capped in qualifying before.

  16. Ives,
    Have you read Steve Davis’ lineup choices on soccernet? After reading that, I wondered how someone could get paid to right an article on something they have no knowledge of?

  17. Ives,
    How long do players carry the yellows? …the entire round?

    If Spector can play LB in the EPL, he can do it in CONCACAF. Marshall AND Bornstein in the same lineup is a too little experience for me.

    Posted by: PAQuaker | September 04, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    Amen. and I’m wondering on the yellows myself.

    Scott, I read that article last week, absolutely fantastic read.

  18. Ives:

    “‘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?”

    My thinking is because 60 minutes of Jozy is better than 30 minutes of Jozy.

    It seems that sometimes we have a lack-of-fitness-self-fulfilling-prophecy with some players: “He can’t play 90 ’cause he’s not fit, so he’ll come in as a sub, which means he hasn’t been playing 90, which means he’s not fit to play 90, etc…” He’s one of our best players: put him on the field. That goes for you, too, Phil Brown.

    (SBI-Jeff, this game isn’t happening in a vacuum. There’s another match on Wednesday. If, and they is if, there is an issue with Altidore being 90-minute fit, wouldn’t it probably be a better bet to start him vs. Trinidad rather than at altitude?)

  19. I *love* the projected choices of Dempsey up front, with Holden and Feilhaber in the midfield. I worry about Bornstein, though, and would put Spector at LB with Cherundolo at RB.

  20. Ives,

    How long do players carry the yellows? …the entire round?

    If Spector can play LB in the EPL, he can do it in CONCACAF. Marshall AND Bornstein in the same lineup is a too little experience for me.

  21. doesn’t Spector play LB at West Ham.. and he has been playing full 90’s with them too, right? i like bornstien but i would rather have Spector play at the position he is most comfortable at right now and dolo is not a bad trade for bornstien. not too torn up over this.

    i also like the idea of Jozy as a sub. in this case..look for starts for the last few WCQ

    i hope the US avoids yellow card and takes a quick lead giving BB the chance to try out some young blood like Torres or even Findley.

  22. I’m literally DYING for Jonathan Wilson to write about the USMNT. How much would it cost, Ives?

    You might be asking, Who the F. is Jonathan Wilson? He’s a columnist for the Guardian, is a correspondent on eastern European soccer, and recently published the seminal history of soccer tactics, called Inverting the Pyramid.

    Here’s his latest, about the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Given Ives’s projected formation, and the debate about BB’s midfield (bucket? diamond?) it’s worth reading, in my humble opinion.

  23. Ives what are you smoking? Bradley will go conservative (Ching & Clark), he only makes lineup changes when he is forced to by injuries.

  24. the front six (ching, davies, donovan, bradley, clark, and dempsey) and howard arent going to change because bob bradley doesnt change. the only reason spector, demerit, and davies finally got time is because of injuries- period. it wasnt brilliant coaching, it was coaching decisions taken out of bradleys hands.

    with gooch out and demerit injured at least theres intrigue at the back…

  25. I don’t think Bradley has shown that given the option, he would pick Spector over Dolo. My bet is Dolo on the right – he didn’t do that badly in the Mexico game. I could see putting Spector on the left however given that Bradley would rather have someone playing in the EPL in the line-up than MLS when given a choice. Just as long as Spector gets a starting slot, I’m good….but I never trust Bradley to play him with other options.

  26. I wish people would quit focusing on this line-up as representative of what we’ll have for SA next year. Castillo and Jones are not in the mix yet, we have Gooch out, and injury issues. There is still time for the MNT to grow beyond what it is right now. Try to focus on more positive things than if Bornstein is the future at left back, he isn’t unless he grows.

  27. If we could work the ball up the midfield, Dempsey would be ideal as a striker but Bradley has proved time and time again that he is unable to get the team to play this way.

    Posted by: Tim | September 04, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    I agree with your point. Hopefully, Benny can command that ball, that tempo-dictating role, b/c I dunno if Bob insists on it. Regardless of the competition, we need to work on this, or its opoosite not simply hoofing he ball out of the back when there is little pressure. I would love to hear a US crowd give us Ole has we work a ball around…start small… a dozen or more passes before we reach the box or corners would be great.

  28. NOt sure why everyone loves this lineup. Sometimes I think you could say that Beckerman should start and people would ‘love’ that too.

    Dempsey and Davies is not a good paring, we need a target forward up top since El Salvador defense and midfield will most certainly reduce our game to direct route boot ball. If we don’t have someone who can muscle a position and trap the ball we’ll see zero quality chances on goal.

    If we could work the ball up the midfield, Dempsey would be ideal as a striker but Bradley has proved time and time again that he is unable to get the team to play this way.

  29. It’s not the lineup I WANT to see, because I would like to see the team from the Confed Cup on the pitch, but I do think it’s a solid one. I can’t begin to explain how happy I am to see no Ching or Casey in the lineup. And where is Kenny Cooper?

  30. The nine players currently carrying yellows are Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jay DeMerit, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Jozy Altidore.

  31. Ives – Thoughts on the difference Alvarexz might make? Clearly he’ll be motivated. But I think for all of his talent, he is avery limited player who relies on his left foot the point that he actual kills the Quakes attack. He can make things happen, but other than a lucky opportutniy, I don’t see him having an impact.

    Agree? Disagree?



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