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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Some Golden tactics: Where McInerney could play for Team USA

So, Jack McInerney is on the Gold Cup roster, a development that has been hinted and speculated at for months.

That’s part one of the equation. Now the inevitable follow-up: How much will he play?

It will take a while to fully answer that question. It stands to reason that for a young player like McInerney, Jurgen Klinsmann wouldn’t deprive him of games in the league not to have him see at least some time. With all due respect to the national team, games in MLS are far more valuable than sitting on the bench and watching the Stars and Stripes beat up on Cuba, and you’d hope that is implicit in that selection.

Positionally, McInerney will face a battle for time. Luckily, he provides a little something different than the other forwards in camp. Much of it will depend on what type of formation Klinsmann chooses to use, and that starts well behind where McInerney figures to play.
For an “A” team which boasts a glut of central midfield options, the Gold Cup roster is surprisingly thin. Kyle Beckerman is certainly the holding midfielder, a la Jermaine Jones. But who pairs with him centrally is an open question. On paper, that could be Jose Torres if Klinsmann goes with a 4-4-2 employing two central midfielders and two wingers. He certainly has the wingers to do that but not as much the central talent.

What’s possible is that he reverts to the type of 4-5-1 he used to adopt, with Beckerman anchoring a three-man central midfield group, two wingers and a central striker. That opens the way for someone like Stuart Holden, Joe Corona or maybe even Mikkel Diskerud to occupy one of those three places. Or he could go for broke and pair Diskerud with Beckerman, though that may place too great a defensive burden on the youngster.

In terms of wingers, the U.S. is pretty well stocked. Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona and Josh Gatt can all do the job, not to mention that Landon Donovan guy likely being deployed in that capacity. Plus there’s the chance that DaMarcus Beasely’s flirtation as a fullback could be shelved to get him some midfield time. (It should be noted that Klinsmann has made his mark of late by using Eddie Johnson, traditionally a center forward, as a winger. While McInerney is capable of such a switch, I think the depth precludes it.)

Then there’s the forwards, a group of five – which includes Donovan, a dubious distinction based on where he’s likely to play. They all provide a little something different. San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski is a traditional, No. 9 center forward, and in a 4-4-2, he and McInerney could form a tantalizing pairing (think of him as a more athletic and active Conor Casey, and we’ve see how fruitful that pairing has been this MLS season).

Herculez Gomez does a little of everything and has been more of a support striker for the U.S., though he’s certainly capable of leading the line solo. He’s also recovering from an injury that resulted from him being left off the team for World Cup qualifiers, and while Klinsmann is confident in his health, it’s something to monitor. Houston’s Will Bruin is a little more akin to Wondolowski at 6-2, though he has surprising speed.

So where does that leave McInerney? It’s tough to see him as the lone striker in a 4-5-1; while he’d be good in that role, all other things being equal, it’s hard to see him preferred to Wondolowski or Gomez for that spot.

Where McInerney could make his mark, and what I could see as his future trajectory, is a role similar to what Clint Dempsey plays. The utilization of Dempsey as a support striker for Jozy Altidore has been a deadly combination lately. I could see McInerney, with his ability to not just run the forward line but also his work rate and desire to track back into the midfield and create that way, in such a role off the shoulder of say Gomez or Wondolowski. That would work should Klinsmann opt for a 4-4-2 with Beckerman holding a flat group of three in the midfield (say Holden-Diskerud-Corona).

At this early stage, the possibilities are numerous, and Klinsmann has shown some flexibility in his system. A lot will depend on not just McInerney, but the players around him. My inclination is that to start with, McInerney will play a substitute’s role – especially if Gomez is not yet ready to go the full 90 and with McInerney providing such a change of pace from Wondolowski.

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