Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the U.S. National Team

Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the United States Men’s National Team

Bruce Arena has five good forwards for arguably only four forward roster spots. Some of these forwards are clearly better than the others.

For starters, Clint Dempsey is the best forward in the pool, and the best American soccer player ever.

Next, Bobby Wood is the best center forward in the pool, even better than Jozy Altidore. Wood is more technical, faster, more aggressive, and more clinical, and all of these reasons make him better than Altidore.

After Altidore, comes Juan Agudelo, who is more creative and more skilled than Altidore. Like Wood, Agudelo is a more aggressive and direct player than Altidore, who himself has undergone something of a Renaissance. Altidore has vastly improved his playmaking and passing, plus he has been attacking defenders more directly and beating them off the dribble.

Finally, we have Jordan Morris, who plays like Bobby Wood, but Morris still heavily favors his right foot; Morris has also not shown the type of clinical finishing that Wood has shown, but Morris can definitely put the ball in the back of the net. Morris offers speed like Wood, but Morris has to be faster than Wood, who himself is devastatingly fast.

So, we see that Arena has a good problem, and the way the Dempsey plays makes him something of a playmaker, which allows Arena to put all five of these players on the roster. Maybe it’s too many forwards since all are center forwards, but Agudelo, Wood, and Altidore all also play like second strikers or withdrawn forwards.

Because the United States historically has had problems scoring enough goals against elite competition, there is something to be said of just making a habit of calling up four to five forwards who have no problems scoring. Using two forwards at once is common enough and often wise, and a substitute for two forwards would give the roster four forwards, plus Dempsey who of course is also an attacking midfielder.

The major story line for the United States’ next game will be whether or not Arena will be wise enough to start Dempsey and Wood together without getting distracted by all the attention and buzz around Altidore’s much improved play. There is also the storyline of Agudelo’s more consistent club play where he’s starting and scoring as a Number 9 for the New England Revolution, and leaving him off the roster would be a big mistake. If one forward has to be left off, then it might have to be Morris, but not calling up a forward with world-class speed combined with aggressive and skillful play might be a big mistake too.

Is Altidore’s improved play more impressive than Agudelo or Morris’ abilities?

We’ll see.

 

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood Can Form the United States’ Best Forward Partnership

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood Can Form the United States’ Best Forward Partnership

Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood can form the United States’ most creative and deadly strike duo, which means a spot on the bench for Jozy Altidore. Bruce Arena will likely start Altidore against Honduras no matter what, but Wood is the more talented striker, who has been scoring impressive goals in the Bundesliga.

For a while now, many have viewed Wood as just a nice foil or complement to Altidore as the Number 9, but Wood is a more skilled, more active, and more aggressive striker, which makes for a better partner for Dempsey. When Wood first started playing for the United States, he surprised a lot of people by scoring impressive goals in consecutive games, but after a while, it became clear that these goals weren’t just lucky goals in international friendlies.

Dempsey has long been in a class of his own for the United States, and he hasn’t had a smooth and creative center forward to combine with. When Obafemi Martins was playing with Dempsey for the Seattle Sounders, you could see how Dempsey thrived when he had a strike partner who played his same brand of one-to-two-touch street soccer. With Wood as the center forward, Dempsey will once again have a strike partner who plays quicker and smarter than Altidore, who still slows up the pace of play too much without enough movement off the ball or direct attacking play.

The upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama are must-win games for the United States, and the U.S. must go straight for the jugular with Dempsey and Wood in the attack. Dempsey is fully fit to play, and if Wood is also healthy, then these two have a greater capacity to score on Honduras and Panama than a Altidore-Wood partnership.

When Altidore plays, the American attack is slower and less deadly, and Wood is a true Number 9, even though his style of play is facing the goal and looking for balls played to his feet or into space. Nothing says that a center forward has to play with his back to goal and hold up play, and Wood’s style of play is more effective and more impressive.

When Arena makes his starting lineup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, he would be wise to partner Dempsey with Wood because Dempsey doesn’t need any time to get used to playing with Wood. Dempsey just knows how to play, and anyone that aggressively attacks the goal will be welcomed by Dempsey.

Starting Dempsey with Wood should bring out the most in both players, and it will cause opposing defenders to have a hard time deciding who to focus on, which will leave one attacker in a dangerous scoring position.

Bobby Wood Represents a Milestone for American Center Forwards

Bobby Wood Represents a Milestone for American Center Forwards

Bobby Wood represents a milestone for American strikers because he is a technical, fast, and direct striker who breaks the chain of American strikers who were primarily just a target for headers. In the past, the United States has essentially looked to bomb long balls and hit cross to their center forwards, but now Wood is an aggressive, skilled striker who looks to stretch the defense and go straight to goal.

While Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride were skilled strikers who played in the Bundesliga and the English Premier League respectively, Wood’s skill set and playing style is still something of a new phenomenon for American strikers.

In contrast to his contemporary Jozy Altidore, who is several years older,  Wood provides constant movement on and off the ball. He makes runs behind the defense, he checks back to receive a pass and turn, and he also dribbles straight at the defense.

The United States has been looking for a Number 9 who will attack the defense directly, and Wood has the ability and speed to beat defenders off the defense and create scoring opportunities.

Another excellent quality of Wood’s play is how he doesn’t need an invitation to shoot. So many American soccer players will not hit shots on target when they only have half a chance, and so many American soccer players will not take risks.

Wood is undoubtedly the best American center forward right now, and the evidence of this is both the fact that he starts and scores in the Bundesliga and the fact that his game is based on skill and creativity as opposed to physicality. He is tough and physical, but his game isn’t based on pushing people around or looking to head in crosses and corning kicks.

When the United States has its all-important World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama at the end of March, Wood’s name should be the first name on the sheet. The United States may have Clint Dempsey to combine with and create chances for Wood, but even if they don’t, Christian Pulisic, Benny Feilhaber, and Sebastian Lletget are all players who will look to constantly involve Wood and play final balls to him.

Rather than using Wood as a striker partner for Altidore, Wood should be used as the focal point of the attack, and he should be given plenty of space to operate at the front and center of the attack.

 

Bobby Wood: The Best American Striker

Bobby Wood: The Best American Striker

Contrary to popular belief in the American soccer media, Jozy Altidore is not the best American striker. Bobby Wood is. Wood starts in the Bundesliga, a much better league than the league that Altidore plays in: MLS. Wood is also a more technically-skilled and smoother player who is more clinical than Altidore while also stretching the defense and moving with and without the ball better than Altidore.

In Wood’s first games with the United States Men’s National Team, he was scoring impressive goals against top national teams in friendlies, but the fact that he kept scoring for the United States in any type of game signaled that his first goals weren’t just a fluke. Wood’s current play is the result of steady and gradual improvement since his days as a youth player. Last year, Wood’s great form was in the second division of German club soccer, but now that it’s in the Bundesliga and on the international level, Wood’s play is the most impressive of any American forward. Wood is the type of electric and elegant striker that the United States has been looking for since the 1980’s and earlier.

The Hawaiian is also a more aggressive striker than Altidore, and this was showcased in Wood’s recent solo goal against Schalke with his weaker left foot.

On that occasion, Wood received a ball along the right side of the field some 40 meters from goal where he proceeded to dribble straight at the defense until cutting the ball on to his weaker left foot while creating a small amount of space for him to blast a left-footed shot over the goalkeeper’s head and arms and into the back of the net. It was the type of impressive solo goal that you don’t really see Americans scoring very often, and it was just one example of why Wood is the most talented, the most effective, and the most dangerous American striker.

There’s an argument to made that Altidore and Wood should start together, but if the United States is going to start just one forward, in order to be able to have more creative midfielders to keep possession and break down the opposition, then Wood is the forward who should start. Wood’s skill-set suits a lone forward. He stretches the defense, so you can play him through balls or balls played over the top of the defense. He makes runs for his teammates to play him passes in dangerous spots in front of the goal, and he combines well and quickly with attacking midfielders and wings.

From all appearances, it would seem that Wood is quicker and faster than Altidore because Wood certainly looks like he’s moving faster, more gracefully, and easier than Altidore.

Just because the Hawaiian has been compared to Altidore frequently here doesn’t mean that Altidore is a forward without great qualities and assets, but there should be no debate about whether Wood or Altidore should start.

Wood has been praised by the American media and fan base, but not many have gone as far to outright declare Wood superior to Altidore, but that is the claim here. Wood is the more talented striker who is more of a scoring threat against better teams. You can see how much more skillful, active, and effective Wood is compared to Altidore when you watch them, and Wood should be Bruce Arena’s default starting center forward.

 

The United States Should Start Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore

The United States Should Start Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore

It’s not about Jozy Altidore. It’s about making the United States’ attack more dangerous.

Bobby Wood is a lock as a starting forward for the United States, but starting Rubio Rubin over Jozy Altidore as the other forward would be a bold and inspired choice for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Rubin like Wood is a dynamic forward who plays with more energy and creativity than Altidore, and letting Rubin and Wood start together would be a valiant attempt to make up for the absence of Clint Dempsey.

While Altidore is a technical, athletic, and powerful forward, there is no denying that both Wood and Rubin display much more on and off the ball movement. These two American strikers stretch the defense more than Altidore, and they also attack the goal with more reckless abandon.

Wood won over American fans by scoring important goals in meaningless friendlies for the United States, but in the Copa America Centenario, he proved to be a striker that could get behind the defense, beat defenders in 1v1 situations, and score with both feet. For American fans used to seeing Altidore not involved in games due to lack of service, seeing Wood rampaging toward the goal definitely stood out. The forward wasn’t just active, but he was technically-skilled as well.

When Rubin has played for the United States, there has been a similar style of attacking play. Starting two forwards like Rubin and Wood isn’t too much firepower, but rather it is the type of change the United States needs to continue becoming a more dangerous opponent.

Altidore is a quality goal-scorer and center forward, but Rubin and Wood are bigger scoring threats. Altidore has proven to be a striker that plays more actively off the ball when other technical and creative players start with him, but going with Rubin over Altidore is something worth trying.

The United States has never been known for its technical skill or scoring ability, but playing Wood with Rubin would help the U.S. to improve in these areas.

With Jordan Morris, the United States would have four quality center forwards on the roster, and now is the perfect time to start making the attacking play of the national team more electric.

 

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

The Emergence of Bobby Wood

It’s no secret that the United States needs more skill and more goals, and now there is another dangerous attacking player other than Clint Dempsey: his name is Bobby Wood.

A dangerous center forward that combines skill with athleticism is what the United States really needed, and Wood has shown well for the United States on too many occasions to not consider him legit.

Wood’s play in competitive matches in the Copa America Centenario reaffirmed the skill he showed in international friendlies against Germany and The Netherlands. He has proven that he is a dangerous striker that the United States can count on for goals and assists.

Compared to all of the other strikers the United States has used since 1990, Wood displays much more movement and fluidity than the United States normally uses at center forward. It would be fair to say that the United States used to mostly just hit crosses or long balls to center forwards who were good in the air, but now the national team has a striker whose movement demands service and balls played to feet.

Jozy Altidore is a technical striker in his own right that wants the ball played to him on the ground, but Wood has displayed much better movement with and without the ball than Altidore has shown in the past. Maybe that’s unfair to Altidore who suffered from a lack of service due to multiple national team coaches who placed essentially zero value on playmakers or Number 10 players.

Expect to see Wood starting for the United States for the foreseeable future, and this should make the American attack more of a scoring threat. With Wood starting, the USA can look to start playing more final balls through and behind the defense because the Hawaiian makes excellent runs and runs the entire game.

Wood would benefit from a playmaker, but his style of play is one where he involves himself in the match and demands service.

Wood’s Playing Style

Wood is a technical center forward and a smooth athlete who plays with a high work rate on and off the ball.

Wood displays a huge increase in movement and activity compared to Altidore, the United States’ regular starting center forward when healthy.

It must be said that Wood is simply better and more aggressive than Altidore.

The Hawaiian center forward who will play in the Bundesliga beginning later this summer is a complete striker who can score with either foot or his head. Wood likes the ball played to his feet, but he is a strong striker who can shield the ball and outmuscle defenders.

Much of what has been lacking from the United States’ attack is technical skill, creativity, and quick combination play, and Wood can take defenders off the dribble, link up with his teammates, and score.

After the Copa America Centenario, Wood must be considered the USA’s best option at center forward in the Number 9 role. The use of Wood marks an evolution of sorts for the United States because previously the Stars and Stripes had normally preferred big, powerful strikers over skillful and fast ones, but Wood is powerful and tall while being skillful and quick.

The Hawaiian can stretch defenses and make them work, and these are not only fantastic in and of themselves, but they also suck defenders away from Clint Dempsey or whomever else the United States is using in the attack.

Wood is the type of technical, dynamic, and quick center forward that the United States has been waiting for.