TSG commenter Tuesday gave us the oustanding preview for the match. Now, he’s back with his well-thought out review.
Bornstein is still out of his depth at this level. Bornstein gets into these matches and looks a shadow of the player he is in CONCACAF. Going forward, he hardly dares advance to support the midfield when we are in possession and panics with the ball when he does receive it.
As the first half progressed, Torres seemed to get increasingly frustrated with Bornstein’s inability to get into supporting positions out wide to help keep possession. This breakdown was the key reason behind Donovan’s lack of service on the left.
Donovan was marked tightly by van der Wiel and closed down quickly by Van Bommel or de Jong whenever he received the ball but never seemed to have support available to play away from pressure.
The poor positioning that Borstein’s athletic ability lets him get away with against lesser opponents was very much exposed here.
His 1v1 defending, his supposed strength, was shown to lack the necessary patience for this level of competition when he was easily beaten by Robben twice in the early stages.
While he settled down somewhat, in my opinion he’s very much at fault for both goals. As Bornstein fouled Sneijder, he was making a good recovery run and had support coming across from Bocanegra. For the second goal, Boca had a typical rush of blood to the head and took himself out of the play by going to ground when he should have simply stepped out to make his presence felt.
Still, a real central defender would have been expected to step out and block the second goal instead of trying to mark a man as was Bornstein’s instinct. Sliding him over to CB was simply poor team management from Bob Bradley.
Stu Holden Has Made a Developmental Leap. I wrote in the preview that Stu Holden should not be guaranteed a starting spot. This morning, I’d be happily be retreating from that position had Nigel de Jong not lunged in with a tackle far more dangerous than those that have seen a number of Yanks get their marching orders in recent times.
Holden was clearly our best player for his short time on the pitch, showing a dynamism we missed after his departure.
His ability to tuck in on the right and narrow the midfield helped limit the influence of Sneijder and Elia in the opening minutes. Holden provided a consistent outlet for our defenders to play out the back as possession continually broke down on the left side. It took a full 30 minutes after his injury before our wide midfielders could once again make a positive impact on the match.
Michael Bradley is not a holding player; Mo Edu is. Bradley is a box-to-box destroyer, not a holding player. He is a good tackler but his defensive positioning is often suspect. His best attacking skill is springing the counterattack but in order to do that he needs outlets and he just didn’t find them in the early stages last night.
This also means he takes risks playing the ball out of the back. In the first half, I thought he could have used Torres far more but he bypassed short option and took it on himself to distribute, not always with success. If your ball-winner won’t deal your organizer into the game, the influence of your organizer will be minimal. Bradley’s early distribution meant there was often too much space between the forwards and midfielders, leaving Altidore and Findley to play a two-man game that wasn’t working.
Because Sneijder so often exerts his influence from the deeper areas of the midfield, I think Bob’s initial tactics were effective with Holden and Torres stepping out to pressure and Bradley stepping back to do his best in the holding role. Unlike Holden, Beasley is not able to exert his influence by narrowing the midfield, meaning Bradley needed to be paired with a true holding player to be his most effective after Stu’s injury. It’s no coincidence that we regained a foothold in midfield after the introduction of Edu. Edu is a true holding player with solid defensive positioning but he is still confident enough with the ball to turn and distribute. I’m afraid what we’ll never learn under Bob Bradley is to the question “What kind of pairing might Edu/Torres, Edu/Holden, etc. be?”
Jay DeMerit is a Fantastic Defender. For once Harkes is right. The only thing holding Jay DeMerit back from being a Premier League central defender is his distribution. His positioning and reading of the game are excellent, his tackling is great, he’s fantastic in the air and he just does not seem to have the kinds of lapses in judgment that regularly afflict some of our other defenders. In an impressive performance, DeMerit frequently snuffed out danger and towered over players in the air.
The first 30 minutes of the match were very tactical with neither team exerting themselves or creating much going forward. We showed good discipline and demonstrated the ability to keep a solid defensive shape. We looked comfortable out of possession and with one major lapse generally avoid panicked defending for the first 70 minutes of the match. All that changed when Bradley brought Pearce on for DeMerit and Bornstein slid into the middle where he could do maximum damage.
Having two strikers is not as important as how they play together. At this point, it’s becoming clear that we have better options among wide players than among potential strike partners for Altidore.
For the first 60 minutes of the match, Robbie Findley was where attacks went to die. He didn’t play badly – he actually showed some good running and deft touches to take down the ball and create opportunities for himself, but he simply failed to do anything productive once the ball was in his possession. His substitution brought about our first threatening spell of the match as we moved from a relatively flat 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, with Landon playing behind Altidore and Beasley finally moving to the left after 30 ineffective minutes on the right where he was replaced by Bedoya.
Beasley and Bedoya both found space to operate between the Dutch fullbacks and wingers drawing the attention of central midfielders to open space in the middle. Altidore suddenly found support coming from midfield. The Dutch wingers were pushed deeper giving our fullbacks room to influence the match for the first time. The experiment lasted only 13 minutes before Eddie Johnson relieved Donovan and we reverted to a more accustomed 4-2-2-2, but were still able to maintain the ascendancy. No doubt it helped that van der Vaart and Afellay replaced de Jong and van Bommel in breaking up the attacks.
I would think at this point, our 23 man roster should include only 3 true forwards with both Beasley and Bedoya should both be included on the 35-man provisional roster in order to secure their seats on the plane to South Africa.
(Editor’s note: We’ll be dropping our March Boarding Passes piece on Monday….er, Mr. Tuesday…it says just that on the 23.)