Are you prepared for a world where Edson Buddle is the Savior? No, me neither, but the U.S. striker’s two well-taken goals were the highlight of the Americans’ 3-1 win over Australia on Saturday.
More troubling were the continued defensive lapses–Jay DeMerit was particularly culpable–and the lingering mystery of Oguchi Onyewu’s health. Gooch only played the last half-hour, so questions must remain whether he will be able to withstand a full 90 minutes, let alone a full game in the heat of a World Cup. John Harkes and Martin Tyler, announcing the game for ESPN, repeatedly said the coaching staff decided to ease off on Gooch after riding him hard at training recently. If that is indeed the reason. Poppycock. I’m sure that’s the info the U.S. team is providing, but you don’t exhaust a guy in training when what he needs is match fitness. Unless you unintentionally exhaust him because he’s out of shape. Or because he still seems to walk/run with a discouraging limp.
I’d say the odds are high of a Clarence Goodson-DeMerit central pairing in the first game v. England, and judging by the gaps the two have left the past couple games, it’s a work in progress. Aussie striker Josh Kennedy missed two sitters, chances that Wayne Rooney will not fail to convert (though Emilie Heskey will).
As for Buddle, he and strike partner Robbie Findley were dangerous, though occasionally seemed confused about how to work together. Findley caused the turnover for the Nats’ first, Buddle lashing a shot past Mark Schwartzer after first trying to play Findley in (fortunately, that option wasn’t available, since Findley missed two open nets). Buddle’s second was also well-taken, thanks to an inch-perfect cross from Steve Cherundolo, who started and played all 90, further fueling the sense that ‘Dolo has won the right-back slot over a struggling Jonathan Spector.
As expected, Jozy Altidore was held out of the game with his injured ankle (though he participated in training today), so whether Buddle has seized a starting spot as Jozy’s partner, or remains a late-game sub, remains to be seen. Coach Bob Bradley can go a number of ways in the opener on Saturday. He’s long resisted a lone-striker set-up, but it’s my opinion a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 (with Dempsey or Jose Torres in the withdrawn striker role) is the Americans’ best option.
The team got out of the game without any new injury worries (though Dempsey was man-handled on a few occasions and Ricardo Clark limped out late, thanks to what was later called cramps) and what should be a decent amount of confidence offensively. On the defensive side, however, we’ve six days left to worry.