Photo by Rick Osentoski/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – One of the most intriguing subplots surrounding the U.S. national team's rocky Gold Cup road has been how coach Bob Bradley has balanced putting his team in position to win the regional crown while also catering to long-term goals.
With less than 24 hours remaining before the U.S.'s Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica, Bradley discussed the matter prior to a training session at RFK Stadium.
"There's no doubt that after a World Cup there is transition," Bradley said. "We are fortunate there are a lot of parts that are the same. But nonetheless, you're starting to move forward, you're starting to think about how to improve and who are the new players who need to start to be introduced.
"And you do that with an eye on qualifying and an eye on the World Cup in 2014, but certainly the Gold Cup all along has been a goal."
Here are some more notes from Bradley and captain Carlos Bocanegra's press conference:
FACING THE REGGAE BOYZ
Although Bradley hasn't faced Jamaica as a coach, he noted that he has watched the Caribbean side play numerous times and pointed to their speed and organization as a daunting combination to face, specifically citing the danger players such as Dane Richards and Luton Shelton can present.
To Bocanegra, the U.S. back line operating as a unit and focusing on group defending will be key.
"If we put ourselves isolated a lot in one-on-one positions, it's going to make it more difficult because they're very athletic," Bocanegra said. "So I think organization and good team effort, team defending, is probably the first component."
With key attacking midfielders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey set to arrive in Washington late Saturday after each player attends his sister's wedding, Bradley said the coaching staff plans to go over film of Jamaica with the duo Sunday morning before the game, as per the team's usual routine.
"For all of our players, we start to show them different pieces of action, matchups, we start to show them a little bit how our opponent plays," the 53-year-old coach said. "That all is sort of finalized the day of the game as we go through some details, and we'll talk about everything with Clint and Landon tomorrow."
COMBINING UP TOP
Finding the right combination of forwards has been one of Bradley's most prominent challenges since striker Charlie Davies suffered major injuries in an October 2009 car accident. The constant up top has been Jozy Altidore, who has retained his spot in the starting 11 despite sporadic playing time on the club level and rewarded Bradley with two goals in the Gold Cup group stage.
"Since the last World Cup, Jozy has been frustrated with his club situation," Bradley said. "He hasn't had the game time and success that he wants, and we all want. But we always feel good that when we get him into the national team, there's a solid foundation for what we expect and how we do things, and we always try to build on those past experiences."
Altidore's partner at forward, however, has been another matter. After playing with Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez at the World Cup, Altidore has shared the front line with Juan Agudelo and Chris Wondolowski thus far in the Gold Cup.
As Bradley noted, the veteran Wondolowski's timing and awareness to involve teammates "is a little further along than Juan," but Agudelo has "the ability to make a play out of nothing."
LEAD FROM THE BACK
The only change Bradley made in the U.S. back line throughout the group stage was the insertion of left back Eric Lichaj against Guadeloupe, a move that shifted Bocanegra from his post on the outside to the middle. The 32-year-old defender explained that playing centrally makes embracing his leadership role all the easier.
"I think if you're in the center of the field in pretty much any sport, you're right in the heart of the action," Bocanegra said. "So you have a bit more to do, a bit more responsibility. … Wherever I end up, I still try to speak and try to be a leader out there."
As Bocanegra put it, "We feel in the last four-year cycle, we raised the level of the national team. We raised the expectations of people in this country, we raised our own expectations."
Therefore, few would argue that anything short of advancing to the Gold Cup final would be seen as a tremendous failure for Bradley and the national team. After the Americans dropped a 2-1 loss to Panama in the group stage, the pressure and scrutiny is even more prevalent.
Bradley's hopes now hinge on the U.S. using that setback as a lesson that will help it succeed as the tournament goes on.
"That ability to come together as a group and during the tournament improve game by game, deal with different situations that arise, [like] a loss to Panama where we weren't satisfied with how we played — those are the things that need to happen when you get into a tournament, and you try to continue to grow and move on," Bradley said.