The Beasley experiment

October, 14, 2008
10/14/08
9:54
AM ET
With the U.S. safely through to the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after the 6-1 shellacking of Cuba, the next couple of games are about to actually become interesting. Unlike the previous matches in this round -- which consisted of either low-suspense games (did anyone seriously think there was a chance the U.S. wouldn't make it through?) or dreary soccer or both -- the next couple of matchups will afford fans a look at the U.S.' new generation of attacking talent. Here's what I'm thinking about:

1. DaMarcus Beasley at left back. The most interesting part of the game against Cuba for me was Beasley's temporary stint in the second half at left back, something that I've advocated for years now. Unlike the right-back spot for the U.S., which appears deep (incumbent Steve Cherundolo, the rapidly rising Marvell Wynne and the back-from-injury Frankie Simek are all quality starters/prospects), the left-back position is still a trouble spot. Heath Pearce is steady for the most part, but nothing more than average and I still think he'll be found out by top wingers at the World Cup. I'm also not a big fan of Jonathan Spector (if anything, he should be a center back) and Jonathan Bornstein has never convinced me, either. Which leads to Beasley, who has all the qualities one looks for in a world-class left back (pace, defensive tenacity and the ability to get forward), while continuing to look more and more limited offensively as an attacking player against top-class opposition.

Although Beasley did score two goals against Cuba, I don't really think it's an indication of anything other than that Cuba was an amateur team in every sense of the word and that the Cuban defense was particularly shambolic. Beasley was left wide open on both of his goals due to comical marking and neither were particularly clinical finishes (if anything, the keeper even moved out of the way on the first).

What Beasley failed to do, and what he hasn't done in a very long time, is show the ability to take on and beat a defender to create an offensive opening. This contrast can be shown in the way Freddy Adu, in limited time, did take on a defender and deliver a gorgeous cross for Oguchi Onyewu to head home. In fact, since the 2002 World Cup, Beasley actually hasn't shown a lot of growth in his offensive game. His repertoire still consists predominantly of the primitive kick-and-run approach to beat defenders, and against world-class teams, relying solely on pace just won't do. For all his time in Europe, he has yet to develop the ball trickery and moves that top wingers and outside midfielders need. Having said that, in contrast, if he were deployed as a left back, his attacking prowess would, for that position, be world-class.

Questions about his lack of size for defense are non-issues in my mind. Most top full backs around the world are small and lack height. Granted, Beasley might not have the body mass of some, but he also has a lot more pace than most. He'd have obviously have to get used to the defensive positioning and improve on his ability to head the ball clear, but those are coachable traits. At the very least, it's something that should be experimented with so the U.S. team can indeed decide if it's an option. There's no shame in such a move either. Most of the world's top full backs (Patrice Evra, Miguel, et al.) are former wingers who made the same conversion. Of course, if none of the youngsters emerge as expected, then Beasley remains the best option for left mid/winger -- but the point here is if he can play left back, it enables the U.S. to solve the riddle of how to get, say, Beasley and Adu on the field at the same time.

2. The lineup against Trinidad & Tobago. Let me start by saying that with certain veterans like Clint Dempsey leaving the team and injury withdrawals (Robbie Rogers), the U.S. roster lacks balance for this game. There's no natural right midfielder, and aside from Beasley, there's no ideal left-sided midfielder unless one uses Jose Torres there (and I'd rather see him in central mid).

I will say also that I personally prefer the 4-2-3-1 formation. Tactically, I believe it's the most well-rounded system and I think it fits the U.S. personnel in general. It's also the formation that best serves Freddy Adu at the international level. Adu is ill-suited to a standard 4-4-2, since his game doesn't translate well as one of the two central mids, and he's not ideal as a winger in the 4-4-2. However, as one of the three attacking players supporting the striker in the 4-2-3-1, he can play in the hole directly behind the forward or in the wide left spot, which suits him perfectly. For the game against T&T, though, I'd like to see the following given the roster limitations:

Guzan

Wynne, Califf, Orozco, Beasley

Edu, Torres

Kljestan, Adu, Altidore

Davies

Obviously, Altidore at the wide attacking left spot isn't ideal, but it's a spot he's played before and will likely play at times for Villarreal in some capacity. And, let's face it, we already know what we need to know about Altidore as a forward at this point.

However, I suspect that the U.S. will line up in a standard 4-5-1 along the following lines:

Guzan

Hejduk, Califf, Orozco, Pearce

Kljestan, Edu, Torres, Beasley

Adu

Altidore

3. Canales has left the building. Fans of Andrea Canales will be disappointed to know that she has written her last article for ESPN (at least for now). Andrea handed in her resignation yesterday -- she's accepted an offer to become an editor/writer for another web site -- bringing to a close her three-year run with us, during which time she wrote many quality articles.

She'll be missed, but this does mean that I am potentially on the lookout for a new L.A.-based writer. If you live in L.A. and are either an aspiring writer or have a journalism background, feel free to send your résumé and writing samples to my attention. I'll apologize in advance if it takes a while to get back to you, but the search process might be lengthy and will also entail interviews in L.A. in November during MLS Cup week.

4. Shameless plug of the day. I'll be at the launch party for Electronic Arts' new FIFA 09 game Tuesday night in Manhattan. The game features Maurice Edu on the cover this year and is supposed to be in stores now.
Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to ESPN.com in 2005.

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