Assessing the US striker dilemma – Is there even a dilemma?

The constant search for US strikers was seemingly resolved last summer with Altidore, Charlie Davies, and even Kenny Cooper making promising summer moves. Alas, apart from Jozy – who, in my view, has more than solidified his place – no one else is a sure thing at all. One could easily say – in horror – we only have one striker!

But in fact we have three top quality striker options. Dempsey and Donovan can and do both play in this role. A major decision confronting Bradley is whether to count these players as strikers as midfielders.

If Bradley chooses to count them as frontmen that likely leaves only one striker slot available. This would also mean relying extensively on Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden (who is recovering from a broken leg and hasn’t yet played), and Jose Francisco Torres. This would also leave open the door for the inclusion of both Damarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bodoya.

This is really quite doable. The US would play with either Donovan and Dempsey up top with the other in the midfield. If Bradley wanted to change the game he could do so with the one striker he had in reserve, or by reshuffling players on the field. For instance, if he wanted more wide play and more attack, he could take off the holding midfielder (Clark/Edu) for a Torres/Bedoya/Beasley, pushing Donovan into a more central attacking role. This would also give Bradley the ability to change formations and tactics during the game without making substitutions. The downside of this approach is that this could limit Bradley’s options off the bench, it could also leave the US exposed if a striker went down or was suspended. However, I think this is a plausible option since both Dempsey and Altidore have shown an ability to play as target men with their back to the goal.

But I expect Bradley to hedge here and count either Dempsey or Donovan as a striker, but not both. This means, in my view, Bradley will likely look to take two other strikers.

What are the options:

Edson Buddle: Dude is in great form and is scoring goals. He has 9 goals in 6 games! Importantly, his goals have not just been goal scoring tap ins but have come from a variety of ways. He is showing center forward skills. While he has been off the radar for a long time, and at 28 is definitely not a young up and comer, the fact is that is not as much a flash in the pan as is being portrayed. Buddle has improved each of the last three years with LA. Last year he scored 15 goals in 26 games and the year and the year before had 5 goals in 10 games. Now much of this is due to the fact that he was playing with two of the best attacking threats in MLS those last two years – Donovan and Beckham – but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been consistently hitting the back of the net. At 28 Buddle has hit his prime and is confidently finishing chances. I don’t know what else you are looking for.

Herculez Gomez: Like Buddle he has similarly been on fire. He tied for the lead in golden boot in the Mexican league (which is really only half a season) with 10 goals in 14 games. His goals were impressive. But I can’t help but worry here that even though he was on fire, he still wasn’t an automatic starter. His past form in MLS is also worrying. However, he does have an awesome name.

Charlie Davies: We all want him to be there. But would it be malpractice to take a guy who hasn’t played in a game since September? To me, the onus is on Davies to not just show that he still has the pace, but that his touch and shot have returned. The thing in Davies’ favor is that with the fourth striker slot, we are not looking for someone to play 90 minutes. We are looking for someone who can change a game, who can make us more dangerous and if his pace is there than he can be that guy. He is the only option with blistering pace.

Eddie Johnson: EJ the man we were hoping would be the savior in 2006 has reentered the conversations. EJ since leaving Fulham has put together a decent few months in Greece. He has four goals in 19 performances and looks to be considered a more trusted option. The thing about EJ is that he has been there before. He is a known quantity. He can inject some pace and size into a game in the push to get a late goal – but we all know he is no savior.

Brian Ching: My view on Ching is clear. The guy isn’t dangerous, he is slow as dirt, and his vaunted hold up play in my eyes is vastly over rated. He is also hurt, he had surgery in the offseason, and has barely played since November. Ching, to me, was a bridging player. A guy not good enough to make the World Cup squad in his prime, but good enough to hold down the fort as McBride departed and we waited for better options. Ching has been a good MLS striker, he has a solid goal scoring rate for Houston. But his added little to nothing to the US attack. He could be a player to bring on late to hold on to a lead, but in my eyes I am not wasting a roster spot on a player that only helps me hold on if I am winning. First and foremost, we need strikers that can help us in case we are losing.

Conor Casey: I rate Casey above Ching in the pecking order, since I think Casey has a bit more touch and size than Ching. Casey, like Ching, has no pace. His defensive work rate is something to be desired. In my view, we don’t need another “target” striker – as Altidore and Dempsey can serve that role. Additionally, Buddle, as well as EJ both have size and strength on the ball to play this role.

Robbie Findley/Jeff Cunningham: Frankly both these guys have fallen out of the hunt. Findley is the most like Davies and has a ton of pace, but had frankly bad performances in the US friendlies earlier this year. He has also not consistently started this year in MLS and has yet to score. Cunningham was called in last fall because he was on goal-scoring-fire. Not so much now. He has three goals – all from the spot. Frankly others offer more.

My biggest fear? Frankly, I think between Buddle, Gomez, Charlie Davies, and Eddie Johnson, Bradley should pick two of those four. My fear is that Brian Ching and Conor Casey, players who frankly, cannot change a game in the positive direction get the nod. Slow and steady may win a race, but it doesn’t score very many goals.

Who would I take: I would go with Edson Buddle and Charlie Davies. But this is contingent on Davies demonstrating that he’s still got it.


One Response

  1. I’d go for the form guys, Buddle and Gomez. Hell, I might even start Buddle – he’s on fire in all phases of the game right now.

    Gomez hasn’t started, but he has consistently shown (both this season and throughout his MLS career) an ability to enter a game and make an impact. Which is awesome, because that’s exactly what he’d be on the bench to do.

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