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Monday, September 21, 2009
Tough week for Americans in the big leagues

Not much to speak of on the U.S. national team front as the focus switches from World Cup qualifiers back to club soccer. Here's what I'm thinking about this Monday morning from this past week's action:

1. Michael Bradley in limbo. It hasn't been the best patch in the Bundesliga for midfielder Michael Bradley. Bradley remains firmly rooted to the Borussia M'Gladbach bench, having fallen out of coach Michael Frontzeck's good graces. The team suffered a complete meltdown against Hoffenheim on Saturday (leading 2-1 late in the game only to give up three goals in the last four minutes and lose 4-2). Gladbach's next league game will be a key indicator of just how deep in Frontzeck's doghouse Bradley is. You'd have to think that after being a key performer last season, Bradley should find himself back in the starting lineup after the Hoffenheim debacle. If that's indeed the case, then this temporary benching is probably the reality check and attitude adjustment that Bradley needed. However, if he's not back in the lineup, then you have to wonder if this is the beginning of the end of his stint with Gladbach, in much the same manner that Clint Mathis' career with Hannover ended when he had the temerity to question his then-coach (who can forget the image of a feisty Mathis scoring as a sub and then running to the sideline to tap his watch at Ewald Lienen?).

2. Oguchi Onyewu rides the pine. Equally disturbing has to be the fact that Onyewu hasn't even officially seen the field for Milan yet since preseason ended. Obviously, I hadn't expected Onyewu to start over Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva (Thiago is considered to be one of the most gifted Brazilian center backs in years). However, when even comedy defender Kakha Kaladze is preferred over Onyewu in the starting lineup, as was the case in Sunday's 1-0 win over Bologna, U.S. fans have to be concerned about how much game time Onyewu will see if Nesta and Silva stay fit (in Nesta's case, that's a big if).

3. Jozy Altidore has a rough outing. On the flip side, Altidore is garnering minutes for Hull and started on Saturday against Birmingham. However, he was replaced in the 64th minute by Kamel Ghilas, and postgame reviews of Altidore's performance weren't the most flattering. In all honesty, Altidore did look fairly sluggish for most of the game and struggled at times (although he did have his moments), but to be fair to him, Hull didn't exactly provide the type of service that suits him. Right now, Altidore's weak spot continues to be his inability to effectively hold up play. However, Altidore certainly has the size and physical power to become an effective target man, and it's definitely something that can be worked on and improved (one only has to look at the massive strides in this respect that West Ham's Carlton Cole has made the last season and a half under Gianfranco Zola).

4. Are you serious? Speaking of West Ham, new Italian import Alessandro Diamanti made a lively start against Liverpool on Saturday and looked like he has the potential to add the flair the West Ham attack has been missing ever since Joe Cole and Paolo Di Canio departed Upton Park (does anyone seriously refer to it as Boleyn Ground?). He'll have to do some intensive work on his fitness levels, though -- if anyone doubted the difference in intensity and game speed between Serie A and the EPL, one only had to see Diamanti gasping for air by the 60th minute and begging to be taken out through sheer fatigue as opposed to injury. Diamanti also made the headlines when it was revealed that during the Hammers' trip to Wigan the week before, he'd been so dismayed by the hair dryers available to him in his hotel, he persuaded the club to courier a suitable hair dryer from London as a replacement.

5. Tottenham fails to earn its spurs. After beating Liverpool in its opening game, and racing to four straight wins out of the gate, it seemed that Harry Redknapp's men were finally ready to make their long-awaited push and challenge for the top four. However, after back-to-back thrashings by Man United and Chelsea, all that early-season optimism has faded and the club is probably looking at a struggle to finish in the top seven. Playmaker Luka Modric's injury has severely unbalanced the side (with Redknapp strangely opting to deploy a three-forward line and then Jermaine Jenas in his stead for the past two games) and his absence was notable in both losses. Compounding the problem for Redknapp is the loss of both center backs (Ledley King and Sebastien Bassong) in the game against Chelsea. An extended absence for either will see a return to Tottenham's famed defensive frailty and a continued tumble down the table.