Raise, Call, Fold: Strikers for the USA Edition

Rumors in and out of the executive suites of professional and international soccer are a perpetual game of partial information.  There is usually some truth, some falsehoods, and some bluffs being run through the press. 

It’s a lot like Texas Hold’em poker  in that executives, agents and managers have to make player acquisition decisions based on some information, but not quite all of the information at hand.   This column will rate some of the rumors going around the world of soccer as either Raise (strong likelihood this is true… bet on it), Call (probably true… but don’t wager any more than you have to), and Fold (false…  don’t make the mistake of telling your friends this is going to happen because it’s not).

In the United States many of the rumors right now circulate around the uncertainty of finishing at the striker position.

Jozy Altidore is foolish to stay at Villareal.  FOLD.

Finally, Jozy scored in an United States uniform when he put one past the Polish goalkeeper in a recent friendly.  Despite a lack of playing time for his club team, and a lack of goals for the National Team, Bob Bradley’s faith in young Altidore was rewarded.  Detractors will point out that Jozy’s strike didn’t come in the World Cup, it came in a friendly, and while his goals were crucial to qualifying for the World Cup, his finishing in big tournaments is still a question mark.

Staying at Villareal where there is a lack of match-time could prove to be a step back for Altidore.  He’s forced to watch prodigal American Striker Giuseppe Rossi getting the minutes and the goals.  Playing in La Liga will be a great experience for Altidore, but as his match time is limited the hope is he’s reaping the rewards of practicing with the skilled Spaniards.   He’ll likely move after the year is over, but it may be good for him to face a setback in his young career and learn the value of hard-work.   True, it’s a lesson he should have already learned but there is still time for the youngster.

As another U.S. striker has discovered, and I’ll get to him soon, injuries sometimes have a way of opening up opportunities.  If hard work in practice and/or an injury or two to the players in front of him doesn’t lead to match time for Altidore he’d be foolish to stay next year, as it stands right now, sticking with Villareal isn’t a total waste. 

Eddie Johnson will play his way back into the National Team.  CALL.

Remember the guy, I said I’d get to.  Well, Fulham has been decimated up top and have no choice but to play Johnson.  The experience of playing in the Premier League will be a positive one for Johnson who will lean on and learn from his friend Clint Dempsey.   Johnson recently got his first start and will have every opportunity to prove himself on the toughest stage.   Once the wunderkind of the U.S. National Team, Johnson’s flaws have become more pronounced as he’s matured, but time at Fulham could either be a godsend to him, or worse case scenario trouble for Clint Dempsey if the influence goes the wrong way.

Have to be optimistic for Johnson, after moderate success in Greece last year.  He, also, fared well recently against Columbia for the U.S. Team.  That being said Johnson will probably just be a substitute on future national squads but that’s better than being left at home as was during the World Cup.  As he proved in the MLS, and in Greece, he can still score, now he just needs to do that in bigger matches (that’s quite the theme for U.S. strikers).

Charlie Davies needs to grow up fast.  RAISE.

With his recovery taking longer than everybody hoped for but likely what everybody feared, Davies started the process the right way but has now gotten himself in a little too much hot water.  First he called out his club team for impeding his way back to the National team, now it’s become clear he was nowhere near recovered.  Next, he lies to French police and says he was driving a speeding car when he wasn’t, unless that was the lie. 

This is a kid that nearly died in a high speed car crash, who said he learned his lesson, clearly he hasn’t.  Questions were asked about why he was out after curfew and in that situation in the first place after the accident.  Everybody hoped it would be a learning experience but everybody feared it could be a bad sign.  To be fair those types of accidents require mental as well as physical rehab but Davies is clearly behind in both.

Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will continue to be counted upon for goals:  RAISE.

Bob Bradley’s tactical shift in first half of the Columbia friendly foreshadows these two attacking midfielders playing more forward.  With Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Maurice Edu all competent withdrawn midfielders probably too talented not to play, and a dearth of finishers up top, Coach Bradley is almost forced to consider Dononvan and Dempsey more as attackers and less as midfielders.  Both scored in the recent World Cup and have shown more of a finisher’s mentality than any of the strikers that didn’t score. 

There is still a lot of time for Altidore, Davies, and maybe even Johnson to progress but as it stands the four-three-three formation may be seen again.  Only this time it will be Donovan and Dempsey on the wings, which is kind of tantalizing considering the service Jones has shown he’s capable of, and a definite need for the United States team to play their best players at all times.  There were stagnation in the midfield with Brek and Holden out wide, and at times the three centerbacks seemed unable to get away from one another, but this is not an option that should be entirely ruled out.

Imagine Altidore at center forward with Dempsey and Donovan on the wings.  Jones, Bradley, and maybe Holden playing in the middle puts some significant talent on the field for the United States.  Donovan’s effectiveness at the World Cup was at its height as a wide outlet, so it’s almost a case of the talent determining the formation.

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