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The U.S. men's national team's crucial World Cup qualifier vs. El Salvador is just four days away and it is time to start thinking about the starting lineup head coach Bob Bradley will turn to in what is shaping up to be a must-win game in the tight CONCACAF qualifying race.
Defensive standout Oguchi Onyewu is out due to yellow cards, meaning the defense will need some adjusting, but Bradley will also have to consider the options in midfield and at forward, where a disappointing performance against Mexico last month might have him considering a few different possibilities.
At forward, Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching vie for two slots, though Clint Dempsey could also be considered. In midfield, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Dempsey are safe bets, leaving Ricardo Clark's central midfield spot a position we could see Benny Feilhaber or even Kyle Beckerman occupy on Saturday.
So what lineups could we see Bob Bradley go with? Here is one possibility:
—————–Charlie Davies———-Brian Ching——————
Landon Donovan—————————————Clint Dempsey
——————Michael Bradley——Benny Feilhaber————–
Jonathan Spector———————————–Steve Cherundolo
——————Carlos Bocanegra——Jay DeMerit——————
So why this group?
I know Ching's inclusion will garner the most questions, but I'll make this one disclaimer: If Jozy Altidore is fit to start, he should start. There are still some concerns over Altidore's match fitness, and with the match being played at altitude, having him start might not be the best decision. You'll recall how effective he was coming off the bench against El Salvador in San Salvador. That sort of role may work best for him here if he's still not fit enough to start, though his form in England certainly makes him starting a possibility, even if he's someone who can only give you 60 minutes at altitude.
If Altidore's still not 90-minute fit, then Ching gets the nod, and while he didn't have a good game against Mexico, he's still a veteran holding forward who helps create chances for others and draws fouls.
One player who will definitely start is Charlie Davies, who is on fire in France and is coming off his one-goal effort vs. Mexico. With the way he's playing, it's tough not to see him scoring at least once against El Salvador.
In a game where the Americans will look to put the pressure on the visitors' defense early, Feilhaber is the better bet instead of Clark, in central midfield. Feilhaber has been on fine form with AGF Aarhus and his creativity should open things up for the quartet of Davies-Ching-Donovan-Dempsey.
One other midfield possibility would be to have Stuart Holden get the nod on the right flank, with Dempsey moving up top. Holden's probably still a more likely option off the bench, but if Bradley liked the energy he saw from Holden on the wing (something Dempsey hasn't always delivered), and if he wants to see what Dempsey can do with a full game at forward, we just might see this variation (which is actually the one I would go with if Altidore couldn't start).
In the back you have Spector at left back, which might seem like a bit of an experiment but Spector has been playing left back for West Ham in recent weeks, which could give Bradley enough confidence in him to use him there. If not, Jonathan Bornstein will get the nod, with Bradley needing to decide between Cherundolo and Spector at right back.
Central defense is set, with Bocanegra and DeMerit getting the nod.
What lineup would you like to see the USA use vs. El Salvador? Hoping for a Davies-Altidore tandem up top? Want to see Stuart Holden get a start? Like the idea of Feilhaber getting the nod?
Share your thoughts below.