England aren’t the only ones with problems at left back

More than one team is contemplating a World Cup with difficulties in the left back area, according to the first guest blogger on World Cup Bafana Bafana 2010. Let’s find out what’s happening in the US courtesy of Kevin Koczwara from The Soccer Guys.

This week the US took on The Netherlands in possibly its toughest test until the World Cup itself. Kevin Koczwara used the opportunity to set out why the left back position is proving such an issue at the moment for the US team. The player in his sights was Jonathan Bornstein, who made such a mess of the game against the Dutch that Kevin was provoked into writing a second post which openly called for Bornstein to be dropped.

“U.S. Still Has Big Problems at Left-Back” – 3rd March

By Kevin Koczwara

What’s the problem?

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has been shuffling players in and out of their camp in the last few months. Bob Bradley has been trying to fill in the last available spots on the World Cup Roster and address a few of the issues the squad has.

The big gap I can see on the U.S. side is at the left-back position that has been inhabited, inexplicably, by Jonathan Bornstein during the Bradley era. Come June and the World Cup in South Africa, Bornstien will either have to improve by leaps and bounds, or the USMNT will have to find another player to fill the position. Whoever plays on the left-side will have to be in top form if the U.S. hopes to make it out of the group stage and move forward in the tournament.

Jonathan Bornstein was a fourth round pick by Bob Bradley, then the Chivas USA manager, in the 2006 MLS Super Draft. He was a forward during his time at UCLA, not a defender. He was converted to a left-back by Bradley during his one year stint as Chivas manager before becoming the USMNT coach.

Bornstein would start his first MLS season as the team’s first choice left-back and hasn’t looked back since. But is he the best option the USMNT has at the position, or does Bradley have some sort of love affair with the player? Is Bradley hurting the USMNT by consistently playing Bornstein on the left flank?

I think Bradley is hurting the squad, but is left with few other options. But maybe Bornstein can prove me wrong today, if not, let’s look at a few other options.

Bornstein excels in the MLS, but he has struggled to impress on the national level. He gets beat time after time on the left side as he adventures forward and cannot recover – usually after he turns the ball over. And his crosses are poor, lofty attempts with no pace or ambition. But Bradley continues to start him there and pray that Bornstein will show fans what he sees in the player. It just hasn’t happened, and maybe it is time to try out some other players.

What other options are available?

One option the U.S. used during their run at last summer’s Confederations Cup was to move captain and center-back Carlos Bocanegra to the left-back position. It worked well for the U.S. during the tournament because he gave them a steady defender on the left side. The problem with moving Bocanegra to the outside back position is that he doesn’t get up and down the sideline fast enough and he isn’t adventurous enough on the outside for a wide player. He struggled to whip in dangerous crosses from the flank and create chances.

Bocanegra is a viable option on the left-side if Bradley decides Onyewu is healthy enough to start alongside Jay DeMerit. But with all the injury problem both DeMerit and Onyewu have, this is a long-shot.

Heath Pearce has looked promising and like he is getting his form back. He was the first choice at left-back for 2007 and 2008, but he struggled to get into the first team at Bundesliga second division team Hansa Rostock. But after a deal to move to a Turkish club failed to get done on time, he decided to move back to the MLS and play for FC Dallas, which has proved to be a fruitful move back home.

During the El Salvador game Pearce, for most of the game, was the best player on the USMNT. He created chances for attacking players, made great runs and overlaps into space, covered and marked well, and sent in great crosses for attacking players. It was an encouraging effort from the 25 year old. His performance got him the call for today’s [Wednesday’s] match up with the Dutch – a top-class national side.

If he can prove that he can mark the skilled and energetic Dutch wingers, then he should cement his place in the final roster.

The left-back pool is small, and unless some Under-20 player makes huge leaps and bounds in the next month or so, then the USMNT is short at the position and may be left empty handed come South Africa. Bornstein will need to improve his form and become a more reliable defender in the next few months to show that he is worthy of the roster spot Bradley will surely grant him. Pearce needs to keep up his good run of form and prove he deserves a spot on the roster and the starting position. Otherwise, the U.S. might not make it out of their group, because Algeria and Slovenia are underrated squads who will wreak havoc on the U.S. left side.

“Bradley Needs to Drop Bornstein” – 4th March

By Kevin Koczwara

After watching yesterday’s international friendly between the United States and the Netherlands I examined Jonathan Bornstein’s game. I watched him closely as he lined up as the USMNT left-back, once again, and saw nothing new from him. There was little improvement and there were so many major mistakes on his part, one cost the Untied States a goal.

So what happened and why wasn’t Bornstein subbed earlier in the game?

The issue of left-back will haunt the United States until the squad gets to the World Cup if Bornstein continues to get chances out on the left flank. He has shown, time and again, that someone else needs to step up in place of him. And Bradley needs to finally get it through his thick skull that this guy cannot compete on the international level, right now.

Bornstein’s penalty in the first half was horrendous. Wesley Sneijder had every right to fall the way he did, he got in space, beat the American defender, and had his shirt tugged. Bornstein was lucky to get out of the tug without a card, which is usually a yellow for the intention in the action.

Now, the Dutch aren’t an easy team to defend against, especially with the likes of Robben, Sneijder, and Van der Vaart in the attack. The Netherlands qualified for the World Cup and are a top side in the world, like the teams the U.S. will be playing come June. El Salvador and Cuba aren’t at the World Cup for a reason, so the U.S. needs to show they can play with sides like the Netherlands. More importantly, they need to show they can defend against the best teams in the World.

For the most part the United States did a good job. DeMerit and Bocanegra were solid in the middle and Spector was strong on the right side. Bornstein was the weak link in the defense and going forward. He got caught out of position a few times, couldn’t link up with Donovan, and read the game poorly. When he was moved into DeMerit’s spot in the middle after a substitution, the second goal came, right in front of Bornstein. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s shot deflected off of Bornstein right into the net.

The United States would get one goal back but would ultimately lose 2-1 in Amsterdam.

Bradley Needs to Make A Decision

Bradley needs to give up on Bornstein for now. We saw what happens when the Chivas USA player is put up against some of the best players in the world: he gets abused. It is time Bradley gave up for now and made do with some other options that he has.

I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way about Bornstein.

U.S. Defense Can Improve

I would have liked to have seen more time for Heath Pearce in the game as he deserved it after playing so well in the El Salvador qualifier. He has good pace. He can cross the ball and is a good passer. He has experience outside of the MLS and has fought for his place for the left-back position.

Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra worked hard in the middle and had to clean up a lot of the errors the midfield made. They handled all of the creative passes and movement the Dutch could through at them. During their time together on the field, they only allowed the one goal from the penalty spot that their left-back got them in. With DeMerit’s tenacity and Bocanegra’s skill in the middle of the defense, the USMNT can be a stingy squad come the World Cup.

Jonathan Spector had another solid game at right-back. He tracked back well, linked up with Stuart Holden–until he broke his leg in the first half– and DeMarcus Beasley. He had a few errand crosses, but when he whips in so many good ones, you can forgive a missed hit every once and a while.

Spector could move to left-back in the future. When he plays for West Ham United he plays on the left-side of their defense and has shown that he can adapt to either side. He is right-footed, making the transition a little more difficult, but he can do it and has showed that in the English Premier League.

If the United States hopes to make an impact at this year’s World Cup, they need to sure up the left-back position because right now it is the missing link in their defense, and that could cost them dearly.

Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kkoczwar@gmail.com

Here’s the link to Kevin’s excellent site: http://thesoccerguysonline.com/

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