US boss Bob Bradley may well already have decided which central midfielder will take up the key position next to his son Michael. But, of course, he won't let on.
Ricardo Clark started game one and, after losing England scorer Steven Gerrard four minutes in, did his part to help negate the Liverpool midfield threat as well as partner Frank Lampard.
In game two against Slovenia, a troubled José Francisco Torres shift led to the halftime introductions of Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber. The duo had a few early yips, but also helped the in the Americans’ comeback effort.
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Now, the US head into the third game with their destiny in their hands: a victory in the biggest game of Bradley's tenure at the helm puts them through. What's the coach to do?
The decision is compounded by the fact that Algeria's central midfield set-up is to be in question, as well. For starters, rumblings from camp suggest manager Rabah Saadane may alter his formation.
Benfica's Hassan Yebda has been a real midfield pest through two games of this World Cup, and he has all the ability to trouble the US middle. Yebda’s running mate so far has been Racing Santander's Mehdi Lacen, who picked up his game against England.
But there is a possibility Saadane could recall team captain Yazid Mansouri, who was dropped from the line-up just before Algeria’s opener. Should Saadane bring back the Lorient veteran in place of Lacen, some things will change and some will not. Lacen has provided good steel, but Mansouri brings exhaustive running, intensity in the tackle and experience, something the Algerians might want in order to impose themselves on the US' young central pairing.
There is also talk that Saadane could shift to a 3-5-2 to flood the middle, meaning Yebda, Lacen and Mansouri would all be in.
Bradley's choice at midfield will tell a lot about the gameplan he wants to implement against Algeria.
If he goes with Clark, it indicates that the US want to replicate their England display against a lesser foe, with Michael Bradley the more apt of the two to surge forward.
If he goes with Edu, that means that the coach wants more two-way balance in his central tandem, implying more patience than usual looking for a goal.
And if he goes with Feilhaber, the clue says Michael Bradley will be more relied upon to bar the gate, while the Aarhus GF man looks to spring the attack—the mode looking for the knockout punch.
With Robbie Findley suspended, a Clint Dempsey slide to forward is possible. This move could open up places for both Edu and Feilhaber, giving the team a Slovenia-second-half vibe.
Torres is likely out of the reckoning after his latest showing, but he's not really for this game anyway—at least not in the middle. The team needs a battler who can win possession and get the ball to his more skilled teammates.
In the end, the 'Nats could take Algeria to clinch a place in the knockouts with any of the prime candidates next to Bradley. That being said, Clark may win the starting role for one simple reason: it allows the barnstorming 'Gladbach midfielder to be the one pushing forward centrally.
As in the second half against Slovenia and in the 3-0 Confederations Cup win over Egypt last summer, the US are often at their best when Bradley is crashing the area. That is the team's most common big game set-up and thus, theoretically, the most comfy one.
Of course, now that I've tried to explain it all, Bradley will start Stuart Holden. And frankly, I'd be okay with that, too.
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