Photos by Howard C. Smith/ISIPhotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones will be returning to starting roles with their respective club teams this weekend, but as far as the U.S. men's national team goes, neither has locked down a starting spot.
In the United States' friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay this past week, Edu and Jones both had mixed performances, leaving head coach Bob Bradley to further contemplate on whom he should pair with incumbent central midfielder Michael Bradley.
Two strong performances could have swayed Bob Bradley's opinion, but neither Jones nor Edu was consistent enough. Against Argentina, Edu looked promising once the U.S. team woke up from its slumber party while versus Paraguay he struggled in his first-half cameo. Jones was the opposite, having a subpar showing against the Argentines before putting in a better 45 minutes worth of work when matched up against Paraguay's defensive-minded approach.
The three midfielders did play together in the first half of the 1-1 draw against Argentina, but as was the case versus Colombia last fall, they struggled, especially on the offensive end. That doesn't mean Bob Bradley won't use that approach again (he hinted at such following the game in New Meadowlands Stadium), but a rotation between Michael Bradley, Jones and Edu might be better-suited for the team.
"I think that we three are good players," Jones said. "Now we was switching (from) Mo and Michael and Me and Michael. I think that maybe in the next game, maybe we try how we can play with me and Mo to see what's best for the tournament."
While there's a chance that Bob Bradley opts for that tandem against Spain in June, it doesn't appear likely. Michael Bradley was clearly the most impressive of the three central midfielders in the recent friendlies and he has also played 90 minutes in each game he's been available for dating back to a 3-1 loss to Denmark in November 2009 in which he was subbed off for Edgar Castillo.
That means Edu and Jones are likely to continue to battle for the starting spot next to Bradley over the course of the next two months.
"We look at it just as good competition for the team and it's going to bring out the best in us, and at the end of the day, we all want to win," Edu told SBI following the 1-0 loss to Paraguay. "That's what the ultimate goal is and we're just going to be fine in competing for a spot."
If Michael Bradley struggles for playing time at Aston Villa and falls out of form, both Jones and Edu could gain ground over the next two months, but the one thing that seems clear is that Bob Bradley will have three quality players to choose from.
"The three of us are going to compete," said Edu. "At the end of the day, I think whatever combination is thrown out there will be quality and solid enough."