Aug. 10, 2008
By Michael Lewis
HOLES IN THE MIDDLE
Adu, Bradley to miss Nigeria confrontation
Tianjin, China -- You can call the U.S. Olympic team's midfield a donut because coach Peter Nowak has a huge hole to fill in the middle as the Americans prepare to face Nigeria in a key match in Beijing Wednesday.
The Americans must earn at least a tie with the African side to advance to the quarterfinals and they must do it without their two best midfielders -- attacker Freddy Adu and defensive-minded Michael Bradley.
Both players received their second yellow card of the tournament in the U.S.'s 2-2 Group B draw with the Netherlands Sunday. And both are vital to the Americans' success.
Adu is the midfield leader who is not afraid of taking chances -- take a look at some of the runs he made against the Dutch and his pass to Sacha Kljestan that set up the U.S.'s equalizing goal.
Bradley is Adu's antithesis at midfield. He stays home, tries to break up plays, helps starts attacks and becomes part of it whenever he can.
"We have a good enough team," Bradley said. "We still have enough confidence that we'll go to Beijing and take care of business."
Adu admitted it will be difficult to sit the bench in such a key situation.
"I can't tell you how difficult it's going to be," he said. "I've never been in a situation like this before. This is the first time i've been in a situation like this. i can tell you right now, it's a horrible feeling. It really is."
Nowak has some options. He can use switch from a 4-4-1-1 formation that he has used to start the first two games to a more conventional 4-4-2. That way he can deploy forward Jozy Altidore up front alongside Brian McBride instead of starting the former Red Bull on the bench. He would still have to fill the defensive/holding slot in the middle. He has three options -- Benny Feilhaber, who has played 18 minutes off the bench in both games, Danny Szetela, who probably is more suited for an attacking or all-around role, and former alternate Dax McCarty, who stood out during CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. Szetela played four minutes vs. Japan and McCarty has not seen a minute.
There is a fourth possibility -- returning central defender Maurice Edu to midfield, but Nowak probably would be unwilling to break up one platoon to fix another.
Nowak said will consider his options.
"We will have time to think about that over the next couple of days," he said. "As Iíve said from the beginning itís all about the group. The 18 players weíve chosen have to be up to the challenge."
Adu was optimistic whoever winds up in the lineup will do well.
"I have faith in the guys to get the job done," he said. "Not one person makes the team. It's a team effort and I know the guys will get the job done."