US-Costa Rica – Who should start?

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The last few days were probably the toughest in Bob Bradley’s managing career. With the team’s focus understandably and appropriately away from soccer, Bradley has the tough task of getting the guys focused on the game. Despite the fact we have already qualified, this game matters both for the long long shot of getting a world cup seed, but also in our psychological battle with Mexico. Winning WC qualifying means a lot. While the team is certainly distracted, I don’t think there is any doubt that they will come out and play with intensity and passion after yesterday’s events.

Costa Rica has to go at us in this game, since a win for them clinches a world cup birth. That said, we also need to win to ensure we finish ahead of Mexico – a draw does nothing for us. So I would expect a really open game. One thing that is going to work heavily against Costa Rica is the weather. It is COLD today – it will be in the 40s at game time – and with rain possible in the second half I think they might find it very hard, as Central American teams often seize up in colder weather.

As far as the U.S. lineup, the striker position is obviously pretty up in the air. I would expect Jozy to start. But him and Charlie are really close and he seems pretty shaken up – so I would not be surprised to see him out of the starting 11.

One thing that was lost after the Honduras game was the absence of Brian Ching. He wasn’t even on the bench. I didn’t see any indications that he was hurt and I saw a clip from practice that showed him taking a shot. Maybe I just have my fingers crossed, but could it be that Bradley has seen enough and realized Ching isn’t good enough? Just as Bruce Arena dropped Twellman, perhaps Bradley only saw Ching as a bridge to the World Cup – but not as someone who should actually be playing in one. With an absence of veterans going into this cycle, Bradley needed players like Mastroeni, Ching, and Hejduk to provide some veteran leadership. But over the past year each has gradually fallen off – Pablo has not been called up since the Costa Rica game, Hejduk was injured after the first few games but hasn’t been called up and was only brought in this time due to injuries, and now perhaps Ching. This is all idle speculation, but it would fit a pattern (I know by writing this Ching will start and play 90 minutes).

One player who I hope to see tonight is Kenny Cooper. I have always rated Cooper very highly and think he provides the size and technical skills to cause defenses problems and he is playing well in Germany. I think Bradley may have questioned his commitment after Cooper declined a call-up to ensure he would be fit for an MLS playoff run after receiving a knock. Let’s hope Cooper can assuage any doubts Bradley may have.

In the midfield, I would like to see Benny Feilhaber start in place of Ricardo Clark with Michael Bradley taking over the holding role. Bradley and Clark have not been effective at controlling possession and linking with the forwards. Feilhaber is in great form and should start. On the left and right, I think Donovan will be on one side – but I think Torres may get a go on the left with Donovan on the right instead of Holden. Either way I think both Holden and Torres will see action tonight.

Defensively, I am sticking with my mantra: no Bornstein. Play Spector on the left – where he has played for West Ham – and put Cherundolo on the right. How Bornstein (yes I know he is left footed) starts and Cherundulo a USMNT veteran who starts in the Bundesliga can’t get on the field is beyond me. Gooch and Boca lock it down centrally like usual.

So my lineup:

Altidore — Cooper
Torres — Feilhaber — Donovan
Bradley
Spector —Boca —Gooch — Cherundolo

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