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Reserves step up as starters for USMNT


 Photo by Jose L. Argueta/


WASHINGTON – Fair or not, U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley has been much-maligned for his reluctance to deviate from a traditional 4-4-2 formation and the core player contingent that fills it.

During Sunday's 2-0 triumph over Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals at RFK Stadium, however, the 53-year-old coach threw a curveball — in the biggest match the U.S. has played since last summer's World Cup in South Africa, no less.

Bradley deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, giving midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya, two of the last seven players cut from the World Cup squad, their first starts of the tournament. And he used the grand stage to reward defender Eric Lichaj, 21, and forward Juan Agudelo, 18, with just their sixth and eighth caps, respectively.

"Everybody is needed in this kind of tournament," Bradley said. "This tournament is tough in terms of the games, how fast they come, the travel, so certainly we keep talking to the players that aren't getting minutes and still training these guys the days after games and pushing them hard, because they'll all need to be ready." 

The new midfield alignment allowed the U.S. to dictate possession with authority and keep Jamaica back on its heels throughout the match. Kljestan thrived playing in an advanced central role, successfully distributing out of tight pockets while also switching the point of attack when necessary.

The Anderlecht midfielder looked far more comfortable in the position than the more defense-oriented Maurice Edu, who Bradley had auditioned there during previous U.S. friendlies.

"We wanted to be a team that passed the ball well, that moved the ball around a lot so I could find those gaps," Kljestan said. "We just did a really good job of moving and interchange of position. We're a good passing team when we want to be. Especially in a game like that, we needed to be to tire them out."

Added Clint Dempsey, who spent much of the game drifting inside and swapping positions with Kljestan: "We just played good football. … We were able to find players in between their lines, and we were able to create chances for ourselves."

Filling the sizable shoes of U.S. all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan, who arrived from his sister's wedding in California the morning of the game and did not start, Bedoya harassed Jamaica with his speed and hustle on the right flank from the opening minute.

It's a performance that would have seemed impossible a month ago, when Bedoya was left off the initial Gold Cup roster. But an injury to midfielder Benny Feilhaber opened up a spot for him, and the Boston College product has made the most of his opportunity.

"Everything we've asked of him, he's done and he's been fantastic," said Donovan, who replaced Bedoya in the 65th minute. "Tonight, I think he kind of hit the wall at about 60 minutes, but he was energetic and he was effective."

Also enhancing the U.S. effort were the performances of Lichaj and Agudelo, two players who both received their first caps this past fall. Lichaj, making his second start of the tournament at left back, used his pace to close down and snuff numerous Jamaica forays forward.

"We threw him out there in a tough situation and he's done well," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "In terms of individual battles on that end of the field, we feel confident in him." 

As midfielder Michael Bradley put it, "He's strong, athletic, fast, and he really gets up and down that side."

Agudelo, meanwhile, came on as a 12th-minute substitute for the injured Jozy Altidore and brought energy and attacking ambition to the lone striker role, notching an assist on Dempsey's late clincher.

"Jozy goes down 10 minutes in, and Juan comes in with confidence, in terms of holding the ball, in terms of confidence when he has the chance to try to beat people or make plays," Bob Bradley said. "So those are good signs."

Playing 78 minutes off the bench, as Agudelo did, is less than ideal. Preparation before the match is less rigorous for substitutes, and having to nearly go the distance after entering a game cold can be a daunting proposition.

The New York Red Bulls striker, though, said he was unfazed.

"I always want to be on the field, and I always want to be prepared — in the first half and the second half," Agudelo said.

As the U.S. prepares to play Panama in Wednesday's semifinals for its sixth game in 19 days, Bradley emphasized that he feels confident about the depth of his roster and the ability of his players to adapt to different situations.

"I say it all the time — when you go into these tournaments, you have to grow as you move through it," Bradley said. "You can see the team getting sharper."


  1. Wouldn’t you say Mexico is playing pretty convincingly right now? So I guess that would work as a definition.

  2. MB is very good at distributing the ball when he receives it from a teammate or has a bit of time, but like nearly all players when he wins the ball by tackling or cutting off a pass, he has trouble finding an open teammate. That is partly the fault of his teammates who did not anticipate his winning the ball and so are not moving into good spots to receive a pass and partly because he is not necessarily the guy with the quickest feet on the field.
    If you watch most (of course, not all) of the passes people claim MB does poorly with are those that come in the fraction of a second time after he has just won the ball. The art of winning the ball and in the same action making a pass to spring a teammate is something very few players do well consistently.

  3. I keep asking the same question. Bob works for peanuts, relative to those guys. Rumor has it that Bielsa (whom I’d love to have) makes nearly $2M per year. Bradley, on the other hand, makes about $0.5M per year.

    Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink apparently hauled in more than $7M per year.

    According to one magazine, Bob was paid better than only 9 coaches at the last World Cup.

  4. My question for the “fire Bradley” gang is this:

    Who would you replace him with?!?

    And before you come back with “Big Names” from Europe, ask yourself this: why would they want to? And then the most important question: Do you really think the USSF would shell out the $$ for a big time manager?

  5. You also have to consider that this is a new team in t he gestational stages of developing chemistry and communication.

    Agudelo is 19, and has only 8 caps.
    Jones has 8-9 caps and is struggling with basic English – the positive development of better communication and intuitive positional understanding, a true partnership between he and M Bradley is in the nascent stages – not to mention his comfort and intuitive groove with all the rest of the USMNT also being in the toddling stages.

    One of our best young attacking/ distributing mid-fielders (Holden) out with an injury.
    Meanwhile – Bedoya and Kljestan have blossomed in supporting roles, and have been singing their hearts out – Boyz-to-Men!

    In the back line Lichaj – looks like he might become USMNT Maldini at the left-back spot – yet has only played left-back for us, 3 time, and has barely 7-8 caps. And, the central defense has solidified with Goodson and Boca.
    And on the right the mayor of Hannover has been dependable to simply outstanding. (Hope he convinces Tim Chandler to become his understudy, lock in his USMNT allegiance, and inherit the position.)

    What coach Bradley and his staff have done to get this young team to gel, so far over the course of the tournament, has been remarkable. Outstanding. Strong work.
    This team is brimming with talent and good options at every position in the depth chart.

    I predict we will steamroll Panama, and then the final with Mexico will be a Gold Cup classic – tooth and nail, to the death, down to the wire – anybody’s game – but the US will win, and all of Chicharrito’s goals in the group stage will not mean a thing.

  6. You kind of got close to home when you said Greece. I understand your point “mW”, I dont want to sound cocky, I believed you didn’t see it the way I did, and your reasoning behind it didn’t make sense to me. Believe me I know Brazilians, and they don’t like sloppy ball. Some countries I say have different standards that they want their country to play up to.

  7. And I quote: “You must first “learn” to “analyze” before you try to “rationalize”.” Your words. Do you see how that can be cocky? Basically your saying that you know more than me, especially when you use quotes, which is kind of a d**k move. I would have understood you just fine without the quotes, thank you very much.
    Here’s another example: “Americans like “you” need to “learn” to effectively get their points across without claiming misinformation just to make yourself sound intelligible…” How does this not read as arrogant? Your saying I’m an idiot and my arguments are misinformed according to your standards, implying that you know more about this than me. How is that not cocky? It’s fine to be cocky, just own it. And again, what’s with the quotes? Especially putting them around “you.” Does it punctuate Americans like me?

    And I quote: “…they have struggled in tournaments that are what you claim as meaningful particularly the Confed cup and the World cup, where they were nearly eliminated if not for the grace of God.”
    Nearly eliminated is not elimination, and stating it like this comes off to me as a form of “what if.” It doesn’t matter that they were nearly eliminated. All that matters is their results, which state that they finished second in the Confed Cup and last 16 in the WC (even topping their group). It doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you do. Do you really think Greece and their fans would give up their Euro Championship because they didn’t play beautiful soccer? And your really going to argue that Brazil’s fans would rather win the WC by playing attractive football than win at all? And that going home having not one is inconsequential to looking good? Look, I would love to play beautiful football, but I’d rather win. I’d venture to say most people would agree. If it takes winning ugly, then so be it.

  8. good game, but that aside

    Bedoya Agudelo Altidore Lichaj all look great.
    Holden and Spector had respectable years in the EPL.
    Adu is slowly working his way back from oblivion.
    Ream is showing promise.

    Chandler and Diskerrud showed well in a recent friendly and while Omar Gonzalez got beat up a bit, it was against avery angry Brazilian side.

    All we need is for Howard Dempsey and Donovanto stay healthy, for Paco Torres to come in from the cold and for Charlie Davies to mend up and I’d say we have a lot to look forward to for the next four years

  9. wait, I thought the word on the street was that he was all washed up…

    that of course was sarcasm.

    fingers crossed it’s minor and that he can find himself fit for deeper in the tourney. fingers AND toes crossed he finds himself in a good club situation come the fall.

    Personally I’d love to see him at Olympique Marseille. He’d tear it up in Ligue 1.

  10. I agree with most of your post, esp. w/Agudelo’s current level of play. That said, I think his off-the-ball movement is better than Jozy’s, and he usually only tries to take two defenders on when he’s close to goal; Jozy has a bad habit of doing it when he SHOULD be holding it up while reinforcements arrive.

    A healthy strike corps. of Altidore, Davies, and Agudelo would probably be the deepest one we’ve ever had. This of course is predicated on Davies returning to what he was before the crash. But even though they all have to develop a bit (especially Agudelo, who’s probably got the highest ceiling of the trio), the three have the raw talent that the US has often lacked up front.

  11. I never once resorted to the “what if’s”. I had already confirmed that you were ranting by the way you came straight at me with the argument over the team’s performances. I am not trying to make myself look better than anyone because that’s an utter waste, I just said some of their games have lacked some substance and they need to find ways to achieve consistency, I dont know how you got all of that out of what i said but that’s fine. More over I’m not a cocky individual, it seems people get all tight in the a.s.s. when someone makes a comment on this site.

  12. First off, I was ranting, so maybe you should learn to “read” instead of just “reacting.” See I can use quotes too.

    I wouldn’t call finishing 2nd to Brazil in the Confederations Cup struggling, nor would I term a last 16 finish at the World Cup struggling either. And for all of your infinite wisdom that you would like bestow upon us mere mortals, the “what if” game that you confer as an argument is the exact thing that you deride as misinformation. But don’t listen to me, clearly I can’t touch your massive intellect.

  13. Bradley is in bad shape obviously if we lose to Panama for a second time or lose by 3+ goals to Mexico in the final. Another 5-0 Gold Cup Final defeat would definitely seal his fate. Although we looked “better” in the last game compared to the previous two games, we honestly should have given up a goal a minute into the game, again. Bradley has no one to blame but himself if he does get fired; starting games poorly, always playing his favorites regardless of their form, timid tactics, poor lineup decisions, etc., etc., etc..

  14. My statement wasn’t one of rant, but of personal opinion. You must first “learn” to “analyze” before you try to “rationalize”. When you look at any succesful program they have the ambition to win. It does a disservice to the fans when a federation ask them for support only to let them down by watching their team get embarrased at home by another nat. team, just for the fans money. When you say “meaningful” tournament, I have nothing against Bob, but…. they have struggled in tournaments that are what you claim as meaningful particularly the Confed cup and the World cup, where they were nearly eliminated if not for the grace of God. Americans like “you” need to “learn” to effectively get their points across without claiming misinformation just to make yourself sound intelligible. I did not laud teams such as the Spain’s and Brazil’s, because even they demand their teams play an effective style of football because as a business fans wants to see football that is entertaining, and those fans care about how they win games, they do not adore ugly football, and generally aren’t always giddy with joy over 1-0 wins against lesser teams.

  15. I agree with this definitely. If there is major area that Bradley needs to own up to, it’s having his players laser focused in first 10-15 minutes. That really has been his major glaring weakness.

  16. It’s been literally a year since then. That’s not nearly enough time to start talking about whether the team is improved over the last WC team. Come back in 2013 after qualification has begun, and then we’ll talk about improvement. Come on people, you can’t put club team growth expectations on national teams. National teams have been always geared for four year cycles. It’s just too soon in the player pool turnover to start talking about whether there has been significant improvement over the last cycle. And really, what matters more, improvement in 2011, or improvement in 2014?

  17. While BB has made some mistakes in tactics and team selection that would plague any coach, the real problem is our team’s poor tendencies that have been on offer over the last year or so. The propensity for this team to come out flat and give up early goals is a HUGE problem that has to be corrected. If the coach you have can’t get his team fired up and focused from the first whistle to impose themselves on the game on a consistent basis, a change is needed.

    It also seems to me that we’re stuck in a bit of a transition between the team we were and the team we want to be. We used our fitness and athletic ability to become a solid, disciplined team that would strike on the counter. At this point, USMNT fans want to see a progression that sees our team controlling a game and attacking with a grit that some feel hasn’t been shown enough against lesser opposition. It’s a difficult transition to make but one that could have enormous rewards in terms of the culture of soccer in this country.

  18. I don’t understand how any national team coach anywhere could be considered to be on the “hot seat” for results in friendlies. That’s just ridiculous. And that seems to be what he is judged on right now, the friendlies leading up to this tournament. He should be judged by performances in meaningful tournaments and qualifiers. Period. So what if we lost a group game. When have group games ever won a tournament? I’m sure Mexico loves all of there big victories, but it sure didn’t help them when they had to squeak by Guatemala. And it sure won’t be any solace if they don’t get to or win the GC final. Spain lost a group game in the WC, as did Italy 4 years before, and still both teams managed to shake it off and grind out victories, probably because both realized that losing a group game doesn’t automatically mean they sucked, the coach needed fired, or the entire player roster replaced.

    And those same top teams you laud and lavish praise on continually, like Spain, Argentina, and Brazil, have problems with the supposed weaker teams in their own confederations because that’s what happens when teams play each other over and over again. You learn their players and weaknesses in ways that others outside of your confederation don’t.

    Winning is what’s important, it doesn’t matter if its 1-0 or 100-0 because no one remembers how you won, just that you won. Style doesn’t count for extra goals the last time I checked. For all of Spain’s free-flowing style, they sure do win a lot of their games 1-0. I ask you, is that what you call “convincing.”

    Rant over.

  19. What would you define as “convincing fashion”? What was the last team that won an international tournament in “convincing fashion”? Otherwise, you make fair points; however, we are nowhere near reaching a point where we can expect to blow out every CONCACAF team (save Mexico).

  20. Everyone saying Bradley “has the team improving”, you are looking at a very small time window. This team is not any better than the WC2010 edition as far as I can tell, and the only “improvements” that can be seen are from when the tournament began. So you’re saying that we are improving from horrible underachieving. Great.

    When we start seeing problems like slow starts (Howard bailed us out against Jamaica) not be a problem anymore, then you can say we are improving. Just going up and down in performance is a sign of instability, not improvement.

  21. First, I personally believe the answer is Jozy AND Agudelo up top….

    Altidore is still a work progress, but to discount his physical presence and level of play is not fair — he brings something to the top of the line.

    Agudelo also brings something. And he does really well in spurts. But to say Agudelo is light years ahead of the game isn’t accurate. Too often, Agudelo dribbles to nowhere, into traffic. Agudelo is learning, and that’s great, but Altidore was really giving Concacaf defenders trouble in way Auedulo isn’t capable of yet. (Yes, Jozy needs to be better, but he can beat Concacaf oppostion…)

    Realistically, Agudelo SHOULD be a super-sub for the USA right now. Problem is, Dovies got hurt, Wondo isn’t there, nor is Gomez, and thus Agudelo is put in a position he isn’t ready for.

    Yes, he’s done okay. Yes, he’s a talent. However I’d really like for him to dribble with his head up more often, and realize he doesn’t have to do it all 1v1. The kid is still learning…. As is Jozy.

    Altidore is 21; Agudelo is 19. That’s not a terrible skill set to have up top.

  22. Strikers generally depend on service from the midfield, so if you want to blame someone for lack of creativity you should start with the midfield rather than strikers such as Altidore or Agudelo.

  23. I’m a Michael Bradley fan, but that early chance for Jamaica started with his turnover in midfield and continued by him getting out of the back too slowly, keeping the Jamaican on side.

  24. This was a good game, but could have gone the other way early on when the team lapsed in concentration and Timmy Howard made a great save. 1-0 down against the run of play could have been a different story entirely.

    Look, I don’t hate BB, but I think that, unless the USA can sustain the form they showed overall in this last game and win the Gold Cup, then he should be replaced. One game cannot either acquit or convict a manager. However, the he needs to prove that he can…

    1. Get the team to play 90 minutes of sustained, solid, focused football as they did for most of last match (defensive lapse nonwithstanding).

    2. Avoid lackluster and lifeless displays against foes we should beat

    3. Control possession in the midfield (even against mexico this is possible with Jones and Michael, and especially Holden when he returns).


    Here is what I would like to see from USA against Panama





    You can withdraw Agudelo late and move Dempsey up to forward in favor of Sasha, or Bedoya if Sasha starts, in the midfield. Both Sasha and Alejandro ran hard, played smart football, kept possession, and defended intelligently. They have impressed me, and should definitely factor into the plans going forward. Tha being said, with Holden’s return, here is what I would want…





  25. I feel good about the team at this moment. However one that thing that drives me insane is how often we seem to give up or nearly give up early goals. I feel this something the players need to take more pride in. I want to see us locked in mentally from the first whistle. I can’t say it’s BB’s fault for this mishaps.

  26. This has nothing to do with one result, but a series of results. More often than not, the team is inconsistent, with the way they play. One instance there on fire, another their cold and playing poorly(one too many times). They usually play harder when their on the verge of being eliminated, which shouldn’t be the case. Of course the expectation of being a national team coach is to win, and as the United States is opposed to be a “top” team, in this region, they are expected to be able to “win” the title in convincing fashion , coming up short in such a weak confederation as CONCACAF isn’t accepted. I’m sure with the talent on Mexico’s team if they were to lose, the manager would be in a very unfavorable situation. Nevertheless, I do wish the USMNT all the success they can achieve.

    “I’m on one”

  27. Isn’t Mexico playing soooo much better than us right now, according to all the chicken littles, Bradley haters, etc?
    So then they should be expected to win the Gold Cup, right? And their coach should be fired if he fails to win?

    So then if the US and Mexico face each other in an elimination game, the losing coach should also lose his job? Over one game? People realize how ridiculous that sounds, right?

  28. Whose hot seat do you think Bob is on ? US Soccer’s ? or yours ?

    Losing to Panama in the group stage isn’t something to be happy about, but it’s also not a reason to be readying the pink slip for BB.

  29. Our team is improving, I’m still concerned with the speed of the passes from our mids, specially MB, he does the best he can but he is no Holden as far as distributing goes, if he thinks Mexico is not going to put pressure when he gets the ball he is going to get a rude awakening.

  30. If there is an MRI scheduled for tomorrow, then it means he didn’t just wake up today and feel like everything was back to normal. That means he is unlikely to be able to play Wednesday. You would schedule an MRI on Tuesday to see if it was practical to expect him back by Saturday, not by the next day.

  31. Juan just has that vibe about him, you know? Whenever he comes on the field he has something to offer, most of the time.

  32. Bradley deserves credit.

    The team is improving before our eyes.

    Panama beat us against the run of play, just went to two overtimes, and doesn’t have Perez, who gave us fits.

    Mexico is the true test looming ahead.

  33. I certainly hope Jozy is ok. He has put in two goals for us, one of which was spectacular. However im wondering if he causes there to be a level of stagnation in the creativity up front. Correct me if im wrong. I’ll be happy if he’s back in the starting lineup for Panama. I have to admit though, when he went off I was excited to see Juan come in. Thoughts?

  34. Bob better hope this team gets sharper, he’s still not off the hot seat. Unless we win the Gold Cup, he’s still got to keep this team intact we have yet to play the better teams of the region: Honduras Mexico(especially them), Costa Rica(lucky to have avoided). They have to be able to play with more accuracy and focus. Yes, stick with the 4-5-1 they seem to do better in that formation, they have better midfielders than strikers anyways.


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