(This is Part IV of IV of our USA vs. Slovenia Preview)
Okay, TSG already gave you a profile on Slovenia, including what to expect out of the match-up.
But what should Bob Bradley and company do tactically to get a much-needed three points in the swing game of the group stage? It’s time for the TSG Official Preview.
In our first piece this week, we used a Bob Bradley quote calling this game a chess match. Expect it.
With two teams lined-up with similar 4-4-2 formations and similar counterattacking styles, it usually comes down to moments of the unexpected, the amazing or buffoonery to declare a winner.
Saturday’s game saw a slugest, especially in the midfield, between two teams trying dictate their style on the game. Notice against England how the US looked to use their fitness to their advantage? Tim Howard constantly yelling at players to get up the field after a save or change of possession in the box. Throw-ins taken immediately. Free kicks put back into play before the defense could set.
That game plan won’t work against Slovenia–the Green Dragons are too well-drilled and cohesive to surprise them.
Unlike England, where Bob Bradley went with a line-up that had as much as experience and reps together as possible, this match-up will be more about moving the pieces around at the right moment. Tactic, counter-tactic.
Bob Bradley’s in-game prowess may be tested like never before during his reign, given the heightened importance of the affair.
Therefore when reading the “11 at the whistle” segment below keep in mind that the line-up and complexion of the squad on the field will likelyevolve from the starters penciled in below for the kickoff.
Both teams want and need to win this one.
Expect the States to start cautiously as always Friday, shooting the ball up-and-over the top if they get pressured and then chasing it down. It is absolutely imperative that Slovenia doesn’t score early and doesn’t score first. If they do, Bus City for Charlie Brown’s crew and a long day of unlocking for the Yanks that may only end in a draw or worse.
Look for the Yanks as well–pending the scoreline–to change up how they’re playing both out of the half and into the 2nd frame. I would expect Bradley, having calibrated the first half, will go a reliever or two either at the 45 minute mark or no later than the 65 minute mark.
And now, our customary preview.
As usual we go:
TSG What We’re Looking For
11 At The Whistle
TSG What We’re Looking For
• Primarily-forward and creative motion from the strikers is vital to creating opportunities
While the tendency may be for a post-up game of Jozy-and-distribute, that’s not the best call here. Altidore may be feeling his oats coming of his Carragher scorching and woodwork job, but with the combination of Suler and Cesar in the middle for the Slovenians, hucking the ball over-the-top to the would-be target man would be a poor call.
Altidore’s strength is not his first touch and too often his distribution is either a moment of creative brilliance, but more likely a “just-miss.” (See “Findley back-heal” (1st half) and “Findley lead pass” from the England match).
Primarily though, simple distribution from Altidore goes back to a waiting Donovan or Dempsey. Laying off the ball backwards and allowing Slovenia to set up shop behind the point of attack is not what you want to do against the tactically-sound Green Dragons. Oh, and should that touch go eschew, Tim Howard may be staring down the barrel of a counterattack.
A better solution would be putting a man, or men, in motion vertically so that reception of the ball occurs with the option for that striker to go forward.
Altidore needs to make these runs, though Edson Buddle is more accomplished at them.
Findley’s role–it goes without saying–plays into this strategy.
I’m not banking on it, but I am asking for it.
One more note, I expect the Yanks to attempt to “work” the Slovenian defense with over-the-top balls early in the game, both if they’re getting pressured but also to tire it out for later poaching forays from the likes of Herculez Gomez.
• Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey need to boss this game, offensively.
Never perhaps was the #10 jersey a more fitting one for Donovan to wear or a bigger announcement of the role that Donovan needs to play, then this Friday.
In a game that will likely go 1-0 to the victor, it will take a moment of unlocking Slovenian defense, likely on-the-fly, to notch a goal. That’s Donovan’s forte. He’s good enough to do it and he’s needed to do it in this one.
Concurrently, Clint Dempsey might be called on like he was against England. The Fulham striker needs to get better shots and should be able to wriggle free more frequently in this one as Slovenians defenders wing defenders are more pedestrian than the Three Lions.
• The US needs to ready out of the lockerroom in this one.
Can you name the last meaningful game that the Yanks didn’t fall behind in?
Do you realize you have to go back to the Azteca in August ’09 for the last game that the Yanks held a vital lead early on against a quality opponent?
England, Turkey, The Netherlands, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador.
What do the aforementioned games have in common?
Bradley’s minions fell behind in all of them.
That playbook is not going to cut it in this one.
Team America cannot use a one-goal adversity to jumpstart the engine as Slovenia would like nothing more than have a peaceful sit-in inside the 18-yard box.
This is where your captain (Bocanegra) or onfield quarterback (Tim Howard) need to step up beforehand and say something independent of the coach.
Coaches can coach in multiple World Cups. Players have 3, 4 maximum to compete.
This is there game, especially for Bocanegra and Howard.
• Countering the Dedic-Novakovic two-steps in the central pitch on the run
Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, the two up top of Zlatko Dedic and Milivoje Novakovic are a difficult if not an awe-inspiring duo for Onyewu and DeMerit to contend with.
Mark my words you’ll see one of the following events occur in the first 10 minutes of Friday’s game–should the actors above be deployed.
Option 1: Zlatko Dedic, the retracted forward, will come forward to receive the ball at the top of the defensive third. Milivoje Novakovic, a talented and in-form striker, will make a diagonal run from in front of DeMerit to behind Gooch where a vertical pass can be made.
If played correctly, Novakovic will have the option of attempting to round DeMerit, layoff to the wing if stymied, or play give-and-go with Dedic now moving into DeMerit vacated space with Onyewu trailing.
This is exactly the type of movement that Onyewu and Team USA was susceptible to against the Three Lions with Onyewu migrating out high.
Option 2: A simple give and go where Dedic looks to get behind Onyewu
Option 3: You get the picture…
The Yanks need to snuff these runs one out with help defense from a central midfielder over the top or a denial of the pass by Onyewu, who can’t overplay and get caught out. Simple in writing, harder in execution.
11 At The Whistle
The skinny: There is no skinny. Rib band-aid or no rib-band aid, Howard’s organizational skill will again be called in to play in this one.
DEF: Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra
The skinny: The Yanks trot out their same starters again. Will Gooch’s level of play continuing trend upward? Can he be consistent for a full 90 minutes? The bigger question might be can Jay DeMerit get by in this one without falling victim to a second yellow and without taking of fistfulls of jersey home with him.
MID: Dempsey, Clark, Bradley, Donovan
The skinny: First, the Clark-Bradley pairing likely takes the pitch in the first half here. Pending the scoreline, I think you’ll see that second half cameo from Jose Torres that fans are looking for.
The reason for Clark-Bradley is simple. Yanks don’t want to fall behind early and they definitely want to wear down there older and less physical counterparts–wear down as in discourage them physically from waltzing down the center of the pitch.
On the outsides, I think you’ll see Donovan start on the left on this one as you saw him see out the 1st half against Turkey. Donovan’s most dangerous run in this one will be cutting in from the right with his speed if a Slovenia inside defender elects to chase a down-the-line run. Donovan’s speed will be vital to getting the opening–early–to create an opportunity.
STR: Buddle, Findley
The skinny: I’m going to say Buddle starts this one (can’t a writer go for the win instead of the draw too?), but Bob Bradley likely answers with the same Altidore-Findley pairing that took the field June 12th. The tactical plan is already outlined above for the strikers.
» Jozy Altidore for Edson Buddle
Like I said above, Altidore-Findley are probably the starters….probably
» Jose Torres for Ricardo Clark
I don’t see this one early on. Torres won’t have space in the early going to work his on the ball magic. If the Yanks need a goal or have worn down the Green Dragons, then you may see Torres in the 2nd. I think Bradley tries to get this one done first with a defensive unit.
» Back to “The Turkey”: Altidore-Dempsey up top, Holden in the midfield
Moving Dempsey up top to play off Altidore accomplishes a similar movement to the Dedic-Novakovic two-step described. I don’t see it happening, but it does make sense. Hell, the Slovenians are going to try it against a similar defense.
Stu Holden though is the type of player that you want on the field in this one because you know he’ll always track back, he’s not going to lose position, and he’s got the ability to go wide and find a good cross without getting caught out.
» Maurice Edu for Ricardo Clark
Will Edu see the light of day for the Yanks in this tournament? The only reason I think Bradley would make that change is if he feels Clark is prone to the type of error he made on the England goal. A similar one may crush the Yanks on the day.
Friday’s pivotal players: Donovan, Bob Bradley