USMNT Roundtable: Do You Start Bradley, Dempsey and Donovan in Brazil?

Is this still USMNT's top trio? (Photo:

Is this still USMNT’s top trio? (Photo:

June 16th, 2014: USMNT kicks off its 2014 World Cup against Ghana. Are Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in the starting lineup? The roundtable considers…

There have been injuries, there have been club shuffles, there have been impromptu backpacking tours of Southeast Asia: there have been many reasons why Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan haven’t started together for USMNT since June 2012.

Still, against Mexico in the last friendly before the preliminary World Cup squad is named, Jurgen Klinsmann finally had his three stars fit and available for selection for a match. And he started just two of them. 

Force of habit, perhaps? It’s been a while since they have all been able to start together. Klinsi said it was simply because Donovan hadn’t looked right in training – which sounds entirely plausible. 

But the way the match unfolded – with Michael Bradley leading the American midfield from the front – opened eyes to a possible new future for USMNT: a future in which the team is built around Bradley, and either Dempsey or Donovan (or both) get cast as nice-to-have.

Was the lineup just a bit of “what-if” experimentation from Klinsi? Or has the team quietly transitioned away from the assumption that Bradley, Dempsey and Donovan (B-D-D? No? Ok.) are the first names on the team sheet?

We won’t know what Klinsi thinks until June 16th (assuming they’re all still fit), but the roundtable is here to gives its view on the question: Would you start B-D-D against Ghana?

Don't be like that, Deuce. It's just a question. (Photo:

Don’t be like that, Deuce. It’s just a question. (Photo:

Nick Fox

This isn’t a question of starting Bradley and Dempsey so much as it is a question of starting Donovan.  Bradley is the emerging captain and probably the best player on the men’s team right now.  Dempsey remains extremely dangerous in the box and a goal-scoring threat who, even when he isn’t scoring, opens up play at the front.  

So, if the Ghana match is make-or-break for the team’s chances at the second round (and I think it is), do you slot Donovan in alongside them?

I think so.

This is Landon Donovan’s last chance to shine on the world stage, and he has an enormous amount to prove.  Seen as too old, out of shape and egocentric to carry his team in 2010, he produced the best run of form in his career and carried his team to the second round.  

Now, he is being threatened with a substitute role in his final World Cup, and has to consider the possibility that he won’t get to play against Ghana, the team that has ended both of his World Cup runs.  This is a huge shot at redemption for him, and for his entire team.

The opening match of the World Cup is not just about ability; it’s about experience.  The sporting world’s biggest stage can humble even the greatest players.  I believe the USMNT’s best chance against Ghana rests on putting out a lineup of experienced players who can handle the pressure of this stage, who have proven their ability to rise to it, and who will be out for blood against a very talented opponent in the opening match.  

That means starting Donovan along with Bradley and Dempsey for the opener.  They are going to be ready, and they are going to be hungry.

LD pioneered the idea that USMNT players are  susceptible to an in-game fondling. (Photo:

LD started the in-game fondling trend that USMNT players just will not stop. (Photo:

Joe Maskivish

Any conversation about Bradley, Donovan, and Dempsey starting together must begin with formation. For me, the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield Klinsi trotted out against Mexico was what I have wanted to see for some time. Should this be the formation facing Ghana in game one, there is a legitimate conversation about whether the Big 3 fit in the Starting XI.

One thing is for certain with regard to this trio: Michael Bradley is starting and playing 90 minutes. Regardless of formation. Regardless of opponent. Regardless.

But, for me, Donovan and Dempsey are on the bench to start this World Cup.

Dempsey’s U.S. form has been a shell of its former self. Unless he shows signs of Clint in the send-off matches, I think Klinsi needs to look at Altidore and Johannsson up top. A two-forward system would allow both strikers to thrive, leaving the Captain as an observer. What about Dempsey playing in the midfield – after all he needs to be on the field, right?

The same reasons why Dempsey shouldn’t be starting in the midfield is why Donovan shouldn’t be either. Landon is a legend and the greatest U.S. player of all time, but it’s time to step aside for the next generation. That generation will include Zusi and Bedoya playing out wide and, hopefully, Bradley in an attacking/distributor role, one in which he thrives.

While not the sexiest line up the U.S. can utilize, leaving players out of form on the bench for players playing at their peak is a must. You only get a shot at this every four years and playing a guy because he’s a legend or because he was the best player on the team two years ago is not reason enough to start in Brazil.

From brothers-in-arms to bench buddies? (Photo:

From brothers-in-arms to bench buddies? (Photo:

James Vlahakis

I would start Bradley and Donovan. Especially after Clint’s laissez-faire free kick against El Tri. His reaction (or lack thereof) summed up everything for me. Bench the curmudgeon before he blows a gasket and winds up with a red card.

Does he need a hug? I used to be a big fan, but I’m at a loss to explain what’s going on in his head. Sub him in as needed. And if he’s not any better, bench him.

Although Landon sat on the bench against Mexico, he should start in Brazil. I have all the confidence in the world that Landon will produce at the right time, just like he did in the last World Cup, in the oft-celebrated YouTube montage.

Landon also has a controlled sense of self-worth. He’s not as in-your-face as Clint, but he’s one tough guy, given his stints in Europe (both good and bad) and all that he’s done for the USA. He’s scored more World Cup goals than Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney combined.

He’s got “vim”. Against the Fire, in 2010 or so, he either scored or directly assisted on a corner kick. Sector Latino supporters were teasing him before he took the kick – after the goal, he strutted up to them and gave a forearm salute. [Editor’s note: might have been this game in 2010.]

Bradley, “Il Generale” is a no-brainer. His Italian fans gave him the name after he earned the respect of a true soccer nation. He’s grown into a well-rounded player. There is no way any General is riding the bench in our Group of Death. 

#justsayin (Image:

#justsayin (Image:


Follow the roundtablers: @OlympicMule, @JoeMaskivish, and @jvlaha.  

To join the next roundtable, contact Austin Fido @canetop.

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