PRINCETON, N.J. | Bob Bradley has so many choices, so many decisions.
The U.S. coach has some versatile players going to the World Cup. He can change his team’s look from game to game, from half to half or even within each period.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey can play forward or midfield, and each can roam either wing.
Carlos Bocanegra usually is a central defender for the national team. For his club in France, though, he’s a left back.
And Jonathan Spector defends the right flank for the national team, only to switch over the left side for his club in England.
A slew of choices. And endless debate for fans.
“That’s like eight tactical decisions,” Bradley said Wednesday when asked about the quartet’s pluses and minuses in different positions.
England coach Fabio Capello can’t know whom to expect where when his team opens the World Cup against the United States on June 12. Not even American players are locked in as to where they will be.
“There’s a lot of versatility with a lot of these players here,” Dempsey said. “You can put Landon up top. You can play him withdrawn forward. You can put him on the right, put him of the left. You can do the same with me. I mean, (Bradley) definitely has a lot of options.”
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson used Dempsey at midfield but shifted him increasingly to forward in the latter part of the season as Bobby Zamora’s hamstring started hurting.
Donovan plays on the left side for the Los Angeles Galaxy, but during his loan to Everton he was used on the right by manager David Moyes because Steven Pienaar plays on the left for the Toffees.
“It’s a whole different element, believe it or not, playing on the right side of the field vs. the left or in the middle,” Donovan said. “It makes a big difference. It’s just the way you see the field. The angles that you see on the field are a lot different. It’s more natural for me to be on the left and face the field inside. It’s a little different to get the ball and then be facing a sideline. It’s hard to explain.”
But after making 13 appearances for Everton from Jan. 9 to March 13, and scoring two goals, he feels a lot more flexible.
“It’s not like I played one game there,” he said. “I played many games there, and so now I’m comfortable there.”
Spector, too, says he feels at ease on either flank. Naturally right-footed, he was shifted to left back by then-West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola last season because of Herita Ilunga’s calf injury — Spector also played on the left while on loan to Charlton during the 2005-06 season.
There were some struggles.
Spector headed a corner kick into his net for an own-goal against Wigan on April 24. A week later, he was dispossessed on the edge of his own penalty area at Fulham, leading to Stefano Okaka’s goal.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too much different, to be honest. I do have the ability to cross with both feet, which is obviously an advantage,” he said. “It’s just knowing what side you’re on and what foot the opposing player is, which way they might like to go.”
Donovan says the marking is the biggest difference between playing midfield and forward. When the U.S. trails, it’s more likely Donovan and/or Dempsey could be moved higher in the attack.
“When you’re in the midfield, you end up naturally doing a lot of running and at times you defend more,” he said. “It’s just knowing tactically where to be and how to play. But offensively we’re pretty much the same.”
Dempsey’s favored moves change depending on what part of the field he’s on.
“Left midfield, I like to truck into the holes and come inside and get shots off the right,” he said. “If I’m a target forward then, obviously, I’m not going to check back to the ball. I’m going to stay up and try to post up defenders, try to run into the channels.
“Defensively it’s a lot different. Left mid, you’re going against their right back, trying to keep them from going line, push him inside. Where if up top, you’re trying to put pressure on their center backs, and if they push it over to the other one, you’re dropping in the hole, making sure their defensive midfielder is not picking up the ball and moving the ball around easily.”
Sometimes health plays a part. Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit both have been limited in training this week because of abdominal strains.
Last year, Bocanegra injured a hamstring in a World Cup qualifier against Honduras. Jay DeMerit took over in central defense in his absence and played well when paired with Oguchi Onyewu. So Bocanegra was shifted to left back in place of Jonathan Bornstein against Spain, which helped result in a 2-0 upset victory over the European champion. Bocanegra plays on the left for Rennes.
“In the center, I just feel like I can organize, help organize a lot more,” Bocanegra said. “But I’m comfortable playing either position. I think it will be tactically a decision where, you know, Bob kind of chooses whether he wants me to play.”
Bradley could move players around. He isn’t sure just yet.
“As you get closer there are sometimes considerations in terms of the opponent,” he said. “But that’s sort of at the end of it all.”