It happens a lot, at least for this country. A striker gets on a hot streak and everybody is calling for him to be included, and calling for the head of the striker who is currently keeping that from happening. For Herculez Gomez, this is the second time in a year that it has happened. Gomez himself is the timeless pedigree of striker that is commonly referred to as a poacher, a player who is a deadly finisher and, perhaps just as, if not more imporant, excellent positional sense. However, despite the fact that we still see these types of players, it’s become harder and harder for them to prosper, or rather, it’ become less and less beneficial for teams to have them around.
That’s not to say that these players have no place in the game any more. With players still missing shockingly easy chances every day, a player who can keep his cool in front of the net is always going to be valuable.
That being said, the problem with the poacher is probably their greatest strength: all they do is score goals. Goals are valuable, but before you can worry about putting away chances, you have to worry about CREATING them. Strikers nowadays have to be able to contribute to opening up the path to goal as well.
Three examples are three players who have drawn a ridiculous amount of criticism for their inclusion: Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, and Jozy Altidore. Brian Ching is a typical target striker who does his job well. He holds the ball up well, using his body to shield defenders and lays off passes or flicks on headers to onrushing midfielders. This is useful against defenses who sit deep because when his lay offs and flick-ons are now close to goal where the support can have shot. Moreover, crosses are immediately more dangerous once the striker is closer to goal. Think of Jozy Altidore’s assist on Michael Bradley’s goal against Slovenia – I doubt Gomez even wins that header, although his movement did draw a defender away.
Robbie Findley is a second striker whose main threat is pretty easy to figure out – speed. If a defense plays high up the field, Findley is able to exploit the space in behind them with his blistering pace. This can scare defenses into playing deeper, which then creates space between the lines of defense and midfield for guys like Donovan and Dempsey to exploit.
Jozy Altidore has such great potential because he is young and is capable of playing both the target striker and second striker roles, making him a great candidate for the lone striker position.
Herculez Gomez doesn’t really do any of the things the aforementioned three strikers do. He doesn’t really have the attributes to contribute to the teams overall game plan. He simply finishes chances. ZonalMarking.net put it the best when they covered the USA-Ghana game from the previous World Cup.
Now, Altidore may have been missing chances, but at least he was getting chances, and clearly worrying the Ghana defence. Gomez may be a better option in front of goal, but the US suddenly had less of a direct route when building attacks, something they naturally looked for as extra-time went on. This problem was compounded by the fact that Donovan was looking tired and miscontrolled a couple of times, and so more intelligent build-up play was tricky.
That sums it up – Gomez may be better at finishing chances, but Altidore is better at creating them, which is key when your midfield isn’t creating chances for you.
That brings me to the next point – the USA’s problem right now isn’t that their strikers aren’t finishing chances. It’s that their midfield isnt creating them to begin with( and there will be an article on that soon enough). So, if Gomez has no chances to finish, and he ‘s not useful in creating them, then what good is he? None.
If the USA starts creating chances and Altidore simply isn’t finishing them, then Gomez should get his shot (Pun most definitely intended) . For now, however, Altidore is the better option.