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Bradley still has many decisions to make for USA
By Pat Martin, Soccer Editor

Princeton, NJ (Sports Network) - Even with the announcement of his final 23- man roster for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa on Wednesday afternoon, United States coach Bob Bradley has a lot of important decisions to make.

The versatility of a number of players on the roster gives Bradley several options in both formation and starting 11 leading up to the USA's first Group C match vs. England on June 12.

Will he use just one striker and five midfielders in front of his four-man back line? Who will start in the back line, and in what positions? Will Bradley go with a more traditional 4-4-2 formation? Who will start in the middle of the field, where there are a number of solid choices? Will the team's best attacking options - Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey - be playing out wide, in the midfield, or up top?

"There is a lot of versatility with a lot of the players here," Dempsey said. "You can put Landon up top, you can play him at withdrawn forward, you can put him on the right, on the left, you can do the same with me. [Coach Bradley] definitely has a lot of options. The most important thing is about getting the strongest 11 out there, whatever he thinks. Where ever he tells you to play you have to step up and do your best job in your position."

The back line makeup hinges on whether Bradley decides to use team captain Carlos Bocanegra in central defense or out wide in front of starting goalkeeper Tim Howard.

"In the center I feel like I can help organize a lot more, but I'm comfortable playing either position," Bocanegra said. "I think it will be tactically a situation where Bob kind of chooses whether he wants me to play on the inside or outside and maybe against our opponents, and how we go about our game plan."

If Bocanegra plays in the middle, it would force Bradley to break up the Jay DeMerit/Oguchi Onyewu tandem that was instrumental in helping the USA shock the soccer world by knocking off 2008 European Champions Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup last year.

"Carlos, with his club [Rennes of the French Ligue 1] the last few years has played more as a left back," Bradley said. "For us, probably you would say that we have used him more as a center back. I think he feels that in terms of being a leader on the field he is able to do more from the center.

"The fact of the matter last year is that he came out of the qualifier against Honduras with a little bit of an injury and we got to the Confederations Cup and the first few games he wasn't ready. And then by the time he was ready we felt that Gooch [Onyewu] and Jay [DeMerit] were playing really well. So now you've got the flexibility at that point. That's a good thing there."

If Bocanegra plays out wide, it would force him to bench either presumed starting right back Steve Cherundolo, or Jonathan Spector, who may fit better as a substitute.

"One of Jonathan's qualities is his versatility," Bradley said. "That works well for him with our national team and it clearly works well for him with [his club team] West Ham. He can play anywhere across the back line.

"You always look around and see other players that have those qualities. John O'Shea from Manchester United is a player who gives them some versatility. He's a player who can play different spots, so I think that's a real plus and helps us when we put our rosters together."

As many options as Bradley has in the back, the midfield is still the most murky.

"I think over this cycle we have shown that there are a number of guys who, on any day, can step in and do a real job for the team," presumed starting central midfielder Michael Bradley said. "Whether it's myself, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Jose Torres ... I think we have good options in there. In a World Cup you know you are going to need every guy, from the first guy to the 23rd guy. The fact that we have good options is only going to help our team."

If the team goes with a traditional four-man midfield, Michael Bradley will probably start next to Maurice Edu, with Clark and Feilhaber as the top defensive replacements, and Torres or Stuart Holden as offensive replacements. That would leave either Donovan or Dempsey out wide, with the other playing either next to or behind Jozy Altidore up top.

Torres and Holden also have the ability to play out wide in a wing pool that includes DaMarcus Beasley, Donovan and Dempsey.

If Donovan had his pick, he would be playing out wide.

"On this team I have developed a comfort playing wide in the midfield on either side," he said. "So that would be my preference. But I also understand that in certain games and even within games that those things change and tactically those things need to change. I've always been very open to that, as long as I'm on the field I know I can make an impact and it doesn't matter too much where I'm at."

If Bradley goes with a five-man midfield, the options are plentiful, with the Dempsey/Donovan combinations endless.

"I think for both of us the difference lies in the defending aspect," Donovan said of the variables concerning him and Dempsey. "When we are on the field we are relied on to do certain things offensively that we're good at. The change comes defensively. When you are in the midfield you end up naturally doing a lot more running and at times you defend more. It is just knowing tactically where to be and how to play. But offensively we're pretty much the same in that we play a certain way no matter where we are playing."

As is usually the case with a U.S. roster, Bradley is most limited with his forward options. All four true strikers at his disposal - Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez - will be playing in their first World Cup. Altidore is the favorite to have the most impact in a weak group, but look for Donovan or Dempsey to bolster the options.

While Bradley has his work cut out for him trying to figure out the best combination of players to put on the field for the USA, it is better than the alternative.

"A lot of competition brings out the best in players," Edu said. "I think that's what we all want, we all want to be playing at our best and putting ourselves in the best position possible to do well in this tournament. I think we are all trying to make the decisions as hard as possible for coach Bradley. That comes with us all working hard, training hard and pushing each other to be the best that we can be."


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