Thursday, June 03, 2004


Columbus and St. George's

Well, now that Arena the Bruce has set the 22 for the two-leg playoff against Grenada, we can critique it and see where his mind is with respect to advancing from this round. The boy is NOT playing around, bringing almost every big dog on the block (there are a couple about which I have questions). The squad he has brought in is capable of going Farina on the Spice Boyz in the aggregate. Is that what we want to have happen, to run out a 15-0 or more two-game total by using the absolute best we have, or should we look at this as two separate games, with personnel and outcomes different for each? If the result is decided after the first leg, should we re-consider our objective for the second match and further deepen our pool of talent, or is it more important to get this top XI on the same page for the later rounds?

From my perspective, BA should have two scenarios in mind for the second match’s roster, based on the result of the first leg. If we do not have a sizable margin after the first match, then we bring the big dogs to St. George's and lay the wood a second time. If we do have such a margin after the home leg (6-0 or 7-0, minimum), then Bruce should use the second match to get some guys who could play significant roles later on in qualifying (because players can and do get injured; because European club managers can be snippy about releasing players for single matches on this side of the Atlantic, even if it IS an international matchdate; and because different opponents require different personnel) some valuable experience in a road qualifier. Therefore, he should have a sizeable list of alternates for the match on the 20th that he can bring to camp and give minutes to in St. George’s if the result is not in question. No, I am NOT calling for Freddy to get his maiden senior cap in the second leg of the Grenada playoff, because that would be an inane suggestion. What I am advocating, however, is that Bruce have a list of goals for the second match that are NOT tied AT ALL to those for the first leg. Because I am pimping this idea, here is a short list of goals and ideas surrounding that match:

1) The match MUST be won! That said, 1-0 is as acceptable a result as 12-0 for the second leg, assuming the first leg theoretically settles the tie. Therefore, call in a team that can get a minimalist result while providing experience to players capable of a Beasley-like jump between now and the Hex.

2) The US style of play must continue to be applied with these new players so that they are able to step in should an opening in the line-up come available in later rounds. We do NOT change formations from match one to match two, nor do we change the mentality of the scheme either. The preferred scheme now seems to be a box midfield with width provided by the wingbacks. We need to get more players acclimated to this in game competition, especially in positions where we do not currently have ample depth.

3) Certain players need to be included in the first XI so that this “education” can take place. Having a solid central defense that has played together in several matches (even if none have been of this magnitude) along with a tested international between the pipes is critical to that.

4) Matches such as this second leg tend to be both good and bad. Good in the sense that you get to see how neophytes do when thrown into the fire of qualifying, but bad because you are bound to a maximum of fourteen players participating (starting XI and three subs).

5) As for lineup, I am unsure exactly who should be in it, but here are some ideas. I see Bocanegra and Gibbs playing the central defense core with Meola backing them up in net. Convey starts on the left with Cherundolo on the right. Reyna plays one defensive midfield position with Mastroeni playing the other. The attacking midfielders should be guys not named Landon and DeMarcus, but I’m lost as to who goes here. Casey starts up top, but I can’t pick out a partner at the moment. In short, tons of guys playing different places and guys playing who are a step or two down the depth chart.

First leg: 8-0 at least. Second leg: depends on BA’s mood and motives.

On to Soccer Mecca in ten days to begin the eighteen-month trek that will hopefully end in Leipzig in early December 2005 when our country’s name is pulled from one of the pots and placed in its fifth consecutive World Cup Finals. Save me a seat at the tailgate!

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