US Attacks Softly; Brazil Wields Big Stick

It turned out that the TSG corporate card is no good in New Jersey. Your correspondent had a long drive after finishing his work at New Meadowlands Stadium. An inglorious end to such a promising occassion, and many sleepless hours pondering where it could have all gone wrong. Not at all unlike our United States Men’s National Team who were flattered by being on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.

Junior decided to show up...often

Had Brazil been a bit more precise in their finishing, we could have been looking at a Mexican Gold Cup sized 5-0 home-field smackdown. That was of course Mexico’s bright young things against a varied MLS selection of veterans and youngsters. Brazil fielded a similar side, but the USA was nearly at full strength.

New Faces

There were new faces in the starting line-up with big LA Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez making his first appearance and Orebro attacking midfielder Alejandro Bedoya making his first start. Eight of eleven US starters featured in South Africa. Spector returned to the fold in place of Cherundolo after seeing no pitch time in South Africa in 2010, though featuring in the 2009 Confederation’s Cup Final against Brazil. In Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Ramires and Robinho, Brazil featured only four players who had made the trip to South Africa.

With an electric atmosphere created by the crowd of 77,223 fans, initial energy was high. The Yanks made a bright start and initially even seemed to have the upper hand early. Donovan had a glorious chance to open affairs in the second minute, receiving a nice reverse-pass from Buddle and touching it into space between Thiago Silva and David Luiz. If he’d hit it before the challenge came in and put it on frame, Landon would very likely scored. Had he gone down when his heals were clipped by Thiago Silva, there was a straightforward case for a penalty. But, setting the theme of indecision early in the evening, he did neither. A heavy touch while Donovan was unbalanced and the chance was gone.

No New Tactics

Bob Bradley’s line-up had initially promised to be something new, perhaps even a 4-2-3-1, but it became apparent that it was the same 4-4-2 we’ve used since Charlie Davies’s emergence at the Confederation’s Cup. Landon pushed on into the advanced position sometimes occupied by the absent Clint Dempsey. Alejandro Bedoya slotted into Landon’s accustomed spot on the right. On his starting debut he initially caused trouble with slashing runs into the box, as in the 11th minute when Bradley’s ball was just too long. He also did a solid defensive shift helping Spector to help deal with the threat on the left.

TImmy's defense didn't do him any favors in the 1st half.

The defensive challenges for the USA were apparent in the 8th minute when Pato caused Gonzalez problems, spinning the big center back. Brazil’s movement and constant interchanging among their front four players caused the US back four serious problems. The 3 attacking midfield player’s are excellent at interchanging behind Pato and moving between defenders zones, overloading one, then another. Rather than keeping shape, the back four chased shadows. The fullbacks in particular were pulled in and out between defending central and wide areas. Johny-Yo-Yo in particular was getting pulled in and out.

Quality Start

For the first 25 minutes of the match the Americans did well to play out of Brazilian pressure in their own half and build attacks. Bradley in particular did well, combining in the 16th minute with Buddle under pressure to maintain possession and build from the back before trying to spring Bedoya again. Defensively, Bradley and Edu were strong in the center of the park, despite being outnumbered 3v2, and made it difficult for Brazil to pass through central midfield, shuffling their opponents attacks out to the wings.

As the US early verve began to fade, Brazil found more consistent joy coming down the left flank. This loosened the grip of Bradley and Edu on central midfield. Early in the match they had prevented the quick switch of flanks, that is until Dani Alves popped up to provide width in the final third, whipping in a low cross from the right flank. With both central defenders beaten, a better ball would have opened the scoring.

Trouble on the Flanks, Trouble in the Center

It was fitting that the first goal came soon after Robinho switched to the left in an effort to find more influence. He came deep and wide to get the ball from Lucas dragging Spector with him and creating space for Andre Santos on the overlap. Bedoya made a good covering run but Santos picked a perfect cross. Bornstein allowed Neymar to get the crucial yard of separation needed to get across him and head the ball into the corner. Brazil soon had the ball in the net again as Pato troubled Gonzalez again before clattering into Howard. The ball trickled over the line and the celebration began, only for it to be disallowed as a foul was called.

Coming in first half stoppage time, Brazil’s second demonstrated how their success on the left flank had loosened the grip of Bradley and Edu on the center. They dropped off Ganso giving him too much time and space to find a penetrative pass. Playing straight up the middle, Pato was slipped through by Ramirez, narrowly staying onside and rounding Howard. The play illustrated how much repetitions matter between center backs, with both players partially at fault.

While Bradley freshened things with Guzan, Kljestan and Altidore at the half for Howard, Feilhaber and Buddle, conceeding a late second took the sting out of the US. Many of the non-domestic players who made the trip to South Africa were still at preseason levels of fitness after extended breaks. Brazil, young and hungry, was pinging shots on goal, forcing a combined 9 saves from Howard and Guzan in addition to getting frisky with the woodwork on more than one occasion.

Everything So Slow

The USA’s attack in the second half was stodgy. Whereas Buddle had roamed from flank to flank, winning physical battles and chasing down lost causes on a slow pitch, Altidore took up a position on the inside right and was far less dynamic. Feilhaber had less freedom to roam than he’s normally given, but Kljestan seemed frozen to a spot on a tactical diagram (and too many of his give-aways came on simple passes, though the lack of movement was also a problem).

It appeared that Bradley asked Kljestan and Bedoya to push on and Donovan to play deeper, forming something more like a 4-2-3-1 but it was too late. There was simply not the same movement in possession as there had been to start the match. The move only left the US more exposed to the Brazilian counter. Bradley was in an offside position when Kljestan found him with a nice cross on a short corner.  It wouldn’t be a USA match without a disallowed goal, but this decision was the correct one.

Square Pegs

Despite some half-chances, problems worsened as Bob stuck square pegs into round holes with his next round of substitutions. Findley came on for Donovan and Herc Gomez was shuffled off to a right midfield position for Bedoya. Even with three ostensible strikers, there was no change of system. Nor was there evidence of anything but speed from Robbie Findley. Donovan was the one remaining moving part, and the USA looked a different side with his movement lacking. When Herc did manage to get into a position in the box, he had one of the USA’s best chances, and was only denied by Victor.

Goodson was a brighter spot and  showed well in his 30 minute appearance coming on for Bocanegra, showing good composure to simply turn out of pressure with the ball instead of playing the anticipated back pass. He seemed to help settle an increasingly shambolic defense that relied on a series of great stops from Guzan and a number of near-misses from Brazil. But for all intents and purposes, the match had long been over as a competitive affair, with the visitors content with cruise control even with their fans baying for blood.

The Difference Told

The gulf between these two teams is not simply technical. The key difference is that every Brazilian player knows what he’s going to do with the ball when he receives it. The players around him know where they are going to move to find space to receive the ball. They are always thinking a few passes ahead. In contrast, too often a US player would receive the ball, control it, then try to look up to find a passing option, find themselves under pressure and make a poor choice. When your teammates are simply standing in their defender’s zone, there is no player in space to receive the ball. This speed of thought must improve before the US can compete in this rarefied air, rather than hoping to catch a top team on an off day.

While the result of the match wasn’t important, it was still a litmus test. Brazil could probably send multiple contending teams to the World Cup. In modern football it’s moving between the zones of defenders that is key to creating space. If you lack Brazil’s individual skill, the speed of the ball has to do the work instead (like Germany at the World Cup).

The US managed to give them a game for 30 minutes. In the end it was Brazil’s superior team play and decisiveness, not their individual qualities, that could have told a far more damning story while hanging the third loss on the US in two years to close out the 2010 cycle.

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27 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Paul on 2010/08/11 at 12:37 PM

    “As the US early verve began to fade…” The US came out pressing Brazil, but after the 25th min. the press was all but abondoned. Was this a result of:

    1. Game plan–Bradley told the boys to come out pressing, hoping to create chaos and scoring chances, then buckle down to defend and save energy.

    2. A lack of fitness from certain European-based players after the cup?

    3. A tendency, habit, or general defensive stradegy of US players (for whatever reason) to retreat into the defensive third to bunker against top sides?

    4. Another factor?

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2010/08/11 at 1:26 PM

      I’m going to go with two. It’s also difficult for any team, even a fit one, to sustain the kind of pressing that the U.S. came out with in those first 15-20 minutes. That’s why a good team makes the ball do the work.

      Reply

      • I think it was more the territorial advantage that Brazil gained through their play up the flanks that started to push Bradley and Edu further back in the center after it had been fairly even territorially at the opening. Lucas and Ramires were increasingly able to dictate play without anyone getting near enough to pressure. Those fullbacks providing very advanced width make a difference.

        Fitness definitely became an issue but not until later..

        Reply

    • Posted by Sir Loin on 2010/08/11 at 9:12 PM

      I think we were just outclassed and simply solved after about 25 minutes. As soon as they figured out they should go wide, and got their calm and poise in space, the Brazilians loosened right up and played like they were on a playground. Everyone looked dangerous, and our guys looked slow with some exceptions (Donovan, Bradley). After that 25 minute mark, we turtled up into our own half (#3) and that was pretty much it. They could smell it from a mile away. Bedoya looked like there was cement in his legs. I like that his brain was making the right calls, but that doesn’t mean crapola. What does Spector do well besides cross the ball? Having Deuce and Donovan in the midfield would have been incredibly helpful. Maybe even Torres or Stu. Cherundolo was missed. Bornstein. Ugh. Step behind, heavy touches, panicky clearances. I don’t want to harp on our guys too much. The young Brazilians, once they smelled the blood, were not going to be stopped. Ganso, Pato (AC Milan fan here), Neymar, Santos…good god. Thiago Silva is awesome and he barely had to lift a finger. Moving forward.

      Reply

  2. I Like Tuesday,
    Thanks for the analysis. I agree with all of it except on Bedoya. While he did cause some trouble with “slashing runs into the box”, he did not cause trouble once he had the ball and was trying to take some on 1 v 1. I think he brings great energy and work but he is more of a threat running onto a cross or moving off of the ball.
    As far as his defense, he did track back well but that “good covering run” was him trying to catch up to a man he let run past him. He is minorally to blame there. Not saying he did bad in this game but Holden is a much better (more multidimensional) option. Hopefully Bedoya continues to improve.

    Reply

    • Also Spector was just as culpable (if not more so) for our defensive woes as JB. I think they both tended to drift in (JB especially so), but Spector almost never pressured his man. He was like 3-5 ft off of his mark at all times. His mark would bring the ball down the side and Spector waited and let the entire Brazilian team pack into our final third. Even worse was the non-pressure that let Brazil pass it around at the top of our box until they found an opening.

      Reply

      • Posted by dth on 2010/08/11 at 1:29 PM

        I’ve been surprised by the lack of negativity towards Spector around the internet today. For me, Spector was the very worst player for the U.S.: offered nothing on offense, consistently beaten for pace. Unlike Bornstein, who might become better with seasoning, it’s difficult to tell how additional experience would make Spector faster. The number one job for whomever is coaching the next cycle is figuring out who is going to take over that right back spot, as there are a number of decent-to-good options. (Unlike left back, where there is a vast sucking sound.)

        Reply

        • I asked Spector to comment on his performance in the mixed zone. He declined to answer. Erstwhile TSG trackee Eric Lichaj at Villa will be an emerging option here.

          Reply

      • Both outside defenders struggled as Brazil would suddenly overload their zone.

        Yes, except on the goal where he came way way out to pressure Robinho and prevent the turn. Thing was Robinho didn’t need to turn to put Santos in behind. Bedoya was caught in two minds here, definitely, coming out to pressure Lucas as Santos streaked by. He got near enough to pressure but didn’t get a foot in. It was actually quite a good cross.

        Reply

  3. Just had a thought: Jermaine Jones made the right decision.
    There was some talk that BB looked foolish when he invited Jermain Jones who first accepted and then rejected the offer. I don’t think BB was to blame.
    I think Jones was itching to play but then someone got into his ear and explained to him why it would be better to wait.
    He then declined the invitation after accepting for 2 reasons.
    1) He (or someone else) realized it was not wise to come out in his debut at less than full functioning ability. It is best to debut when he is ready to fight for a starting job then to look average and miss his chance to make a great first impression (i.e. the group think then embedding in people’s minds “maybe he’s not better than Edu”)
    2) He knows BB is on his way out, MB pairing with Jones would be awkward (as is the Edu pairing) if MB is continue to be allowed unrestricted free-reign and not told to play more the CAM. I think he should still be able to move somewhat freely but it seems like Edu (and other CM) get frustrated because they never know quite where to be as MB is a bit unpredictable.

    Reply

  4. Since that game was never much of a “contest”. It really doesn’t have me too depressed with the result, the way a closer loss would have, but I wonder how this match will affect our team in a few ways:

    1) Will this loss effect who the next coach will be? Seems that Jurgen Klinsmann is the “popular” choice. Are there any potential coaches out there that watched this match and now would not want the job? Probably not but its possible.

    2) For the next coach, how will watching individual performances from this game affect which players get called up in Oct? Will young players get a chance in greater numbers than they would have otherwise? Will the next coach try retooling players for LB?

    Everyone realizes the sooner we can bring in and test new blood in the defense and at striker the better off the team will be at the Gold Cup and beyond. I foresee a backline being tested quite soon with Lichaj getting a chance at LB, allowing for Sean Franklin or Kevin Alston to get tried at RB. In the center why not try a young pairing of Gonzalez and Ike Opara soon? Or bring in Demerit/Boca and pair one of them with Gonzalez to help him learn. Agbossoumonde, Ream, Goodson need to get some serious time soon as well. Yes I realize Agbossoumonde is young but if he is the real deal then I could see him overtaking Gonzalez and Gooch for the starting big CB spot by 2014. Before Matt replies with the scribbled on the wall article, I’ve read it but I think in 4 years Gooch might be a step too slow and even in the past he never was such a superstar that he didn’t make some mental mistakes. Get the young blood some significant time right now and we’ll see who’s best in a year or two. Can always revert to a Boca, Gonzalez/Gooch & Demerit, Dolo backline for the Gold Cup, but we need to start weaving the young talent in, en masse.

    Reply

  5. This pathetic game would be a bad way to go out. For a few players this may be the last time they don the jersey and step onto the field for the USMNT, ever. That is sad

    I am thinking of Findley, Kjestjan, and possibly Spector (unless he is used centrally by the next coach). Not to mention Clark may have already had his last game.

    Also there is an outside shot that a few of Bornstein, Boca, Gomez, Marshall won’t get minutes again.
    Obviously I’m not saying that these players wouldn’t be called into camp and more than likely there will be some relief minutes or time when they are needed, but you never know what will happen with a new manager and when the youth will take over on the depth chart. As far as Bornstein I really do hope he continues to improve or we find a better LB. I don’t want him off of the team if there is no one better, only time will tell.

    There is an outside, outside shot that Onyewu, Demerit, may not play again.

    If this game was to be a farewell to the 2010 cycle, then it certainly left a sour taste. I am greatful that Sunil and Co. didn’t tarnish a new coach by starting him/her off with this game. I included her because I would like to see any out-of-the box thinking when selecting our next manager. Get the best person for the job period, I don’t know enough about Klinnsmann to know if he is the right fit but hey if Julie Fowdy or some woman with managerial experience is better than give them a chance. Just don’t screw this one up USSF. This could be a turning point for US soccer if we have the right person at the helm.

    Reply

  6. Posted by kaya on 2010/08/11 at 4:08 PM

    I’m still stuck with espn3.com for teevee and it was t e r r i b l e yesterday. Which went well with the game itself.
    I could barely make out who the back 4 were… they were all poor, but couldn’t believe Boca looked like he’d never play CB before (whereas I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Bornstein and Spector engage in near constant tomfoolery.) Anyhoo, the problems worked there way up from there. By the 2nd half, most of the US players were just sitting around when the sniff of an offensive play came.
    Was this game sweatpants metaphorical telling USSF “F- you” on the PA system and exiting the plane on the emergency slide, 2 beers in hand?

    Reply

  7. Posted by dth on 2010/08/11 at 6:45 PM

    So how quickly can we get Danny Mwanga a citizenship? The only appropriate timing, in my opinion, is two seconds from right now. Anything else is dawdling.

    Reply

  8. Here’s the clip of post-game comments from Ive’s website:

    Two things that impressed me in this clip were the confidence and professionalism conveyed through all the players responses (though Bedoya seems to say things as soon as they come to his mind). Also listen to what Howard has to say about Gonzalez being “our biggest CB prospect”

    http://www.soccerbyives.net/soccer_by_ives/2010/08/sbi-video-corner-usabrazil-postgame-reactions.html

    Reply

  9. Posted by JonGibbs on 2010/08/11 at 8:45 PM

    My favorite part of the match was when the teams were walking off the pitch at halftime and Michael Bradley screamed at Jonathan Bornstein. I wanted to do it myself, but obviously I was not close enough, so I am happy that Junior stepped up to the plate. I am sure it was therapeutic for him. I know it was for me.

    Reply

    • Posted by Freegle on 2010/08/11 at 9:00 PM

      It happened right in front of me. I don’t know if the TV feed caught it. As soon as the whistle blew, MB90 turned and went right at JB yeling “Johnny!” at the top of is lungs and then walked shoulder to shoulder with him. berating him, all the way into the tunnel. Classic!

      Reply

  10. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/08/12 at 6:32 AM

    maybe junior is getting to big for his britches with his daddy as the coach. anyone who thinks kljestan has played his last game for the us mens team is off their rocker though. kljestan has to much skill not to be on the team and if he had moved to europe last year he would have made this past summers world cup team.

    Reply

  11. Posted by moosecat on 2010/08/12 at 7:46 AM

    great stuff here.

    i’m hoping this was sweatpant’s last game. some fresh ideas would be nice. but i’m not sure sunil & co. would allow it with their replacement selection.

    Reply

  12. Posted by KickinNames... on 2010/08/12 at 7:57 AM

    Agree that Mikey needs a different hand guiding him. Can’t scream at Poppa Sweats for playing him so I guess JB is the next best option. (If I met JB on the street that would probably be my first instinct)))…

    But really the JB situation is like the annoying kid whose parent is letting them run around the restaurant/airplane etc. You almost just want to smack Bob for putting him in a situation that he is not going to succeed in.

    Cannot disagree more with the Kljestan statement (Respectfully of course…this IS TSG)He had a full runout under Bob’s regime and then this game as well and he still looks like he’s a level or more below intl soccer standards. Unforced errors are always a great indicator of someone’s ability at this level and he brings a ton of them that nullify his free kick and other skills. If you can’t do the easy stuff…

    Reply

    • Posted by dikranovich on 2010/08/12 at 1:41 PM

      are we talking about the same sacha kljestan. if he has any baggage it is really his attitude. he gets that corrected and he will be one of the top players in the usa arsenal. didnt this guy lead the scoring at the olympics for usa. i know he had a couple of nice goals, a real nice one against holland. then he was crushing it for chivas and had the proposed celtic move turned down. of course right before the move is when he nettted the hattrick against sweden b. then when the move did not materialize, thats when sacha fell off. he did start the usa 2 nil win against mexico in qualifing.

      sacha is a skilled player and he is more of a winger or a central attacking player. he was asked to play alongside junior and in some situations those two looked good, but when they went up against faster mids who applied pressure, it was not so easy for sacha, who is not a central box to box type of player. and of course as we are painfully finding out, you put two central mids up against three central mids and it becomes a distinct disadvntage for the two central mids.

      bottom line is sacha has a bright future if he can keep a good attitude and he has moved to the top club in belgiam and already is contributing. when he finds his groove and right spot for the us mens team he will be one top baller.

      Reply

      • When I referred to Kljestan above, I was not saying for sure that this is his last game (or any of the other players for that matter). I was just saying that there is a chance that he wouldn’t play again due to a new managers perspective and the depth chart. I mean at CAM I see Feilhaber, Donovan, Holden, Torres and potentially Diskerud all ahead of Kljestjan. That’s more than a few players ahead of him on the depth chart, plus there might be other young players who could emerge. I hope that all of the USMNT players improve and I wouldn’t mind seeing anyone out there if they earn it. I’m just not sure Kljestan is there yet. I do feel that his attitude has improved since the transfer and not making the WC. He seems more humble and hungry on the field and in interviews.

        Reply

  13. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/08/12 at 8:16 AM

    “The Difference Told” – telling you man, this is grassroots stuff. Small sided, quick games at an early age is the way the USSF needs to go.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/08/12 at 8:38 AM

      And how rude of me: nice article Tuesday!

      The other thing I noticed was how Guzan didn’t go postal at his defence when they let Brazil shoot on goal like Howard does…

      Reply

    • Posted by scweeb on 2010/08/12 at 9:53 AM

      I totally agree with you on this one. I have checked out the ussoccer site and other sites and people keep asking why can’t we compete. And you hit it its are youth program. All are youth program consists of is parents trying to do the best job they can.
      Who ever steps up to be the next coach or if bob stays they really need to take a look at the youth system and make changes so at least the next 4 years after him there is more depth to the squad.

      Reply

  14. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/08/12 at 5:59 PM

    Tuesday:

    What did you think of Gonzelez’s performance despite the jitters.

    Having watched in person a few times now, I think the only thing he is missing a top notch mentor (no sleight to Gregg Berhalter) to show him how to be a dominant central defender not just manage the position.

    Thoughts?
    Matthew

    Reply

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