Tag team game review here by TSG’s “Tuesday” and Editor-in-moniker only Matthew.
We start with Tuesday and I’ll follow up with bullets and ratings
The kids were allowed to stay up late on Saturday night.
It was a chance for USMNT fans to see what lies beneath their current first 11, what talents might lurk in a group that has just a handful more caps than it has contenders for starting spots. It was our first glimpse of what the future might look like, who might be reaching their peak in Brazil and even Russia. At times last night I found myself thinking I was watching high school soccer, with neither team intent on keeping the ball for very long, instead looking to win it, get it quickly forward and pressure when possession was lost. But upon second viewing, I realized it wasn’t as bad as all that. Both sides had a youthful look, lacking top players from the World Cup, and that was evident in the flow and tempo of the match.
Chile presented an interesting challenge for Bob Bradley’s young group, lining up in a somewhat unusual 3-3-1-3 formation. Bradley sent his players out in the 4-2-3-1 with which he’s started to find some success and, by extension, increased faith. One of the weaknesses of this formation tends to be that it can become narrow in the final third without the threat of fullbacks overlapping. While Loyd got up and down the flank on the left (where the USA enjoyed most of it’s attacking success) on the right Franklin tended to stay home. This meant Bedoya was often found drifting centrally to try to find the game, leaving Chile to defend narrowly with their 2 fluid banks of three. At any time Bielsa’s side can form a back four or five with the wing backs, Meneces and Mena dropping back or the holding player, Silva dropping in when one of the 3 center backs was pulled out wide.
Chile and the USA both took similar approaches into the match, despite differing tactical line-ups. Both sides like to pressure the ball high up the pitch after loosing possession, with the USA tending to rely on the athleticism of its back four while their opponent rely on covering runs among it’s back 6 players. The result was some helter-skelter football as neither side were allowed time to settle in possession. This also mean that the USA was rarely pressed back into a defensive shape – which only rarely resembled a 4-5-1 some fans fear in the defensive third and usually was something more akin to the two banks of four which we’re accustomed to.
In attack, Diskerud frequently found higher up the pitch than Wondoloski. This was something of a problem for the US attack at times, with their central striker drifting deep and wide allowing Chile were able to maintain a high defensive line without the threat of the USA getting in behind. The US started the game intending to play the ball quickly with one and two touches but often seemed instead to lack composure when on the ball. They were defensively shaky in the opening minutes, with Franklin nearly conceded a penalty in the opening moments as he was caught out on the wrong side of Puch as he cut into the box.
Soon the US attack began to find some success – with the second 10 minutes being the brightest spell of the first half. Their problems were evident, however, in that most of their chances came from outside the box – McCarty’s fine strike from 35 yards in the 12th minute that was tipped over the bar by Garces and a minute later with Wondo’s clever turn across his defender when Shea found him after good work up the flank by McCarty. Chile soon adjusted and were able to condense the space on that flank without the US taking advantage of the real estate then available on the right.
After 30 minutes of play, the pace slackened and neither team were able to create many chances. While Chile were still getting the ball quickly forward, they lacked the final ball and the US defense seemed equal to the task. The USA did a good job managing possession of the ball in their own half of the field but struggled to find penetrative passes out of the back to create chances in the final 15 minutes of the first half. The US was admirably fluid in attack throughout the match but too often all four attacking players were found lining up across the Chilean back line in the center of the park, too far from the deeper midfield pair to have the needed support. Perhaps the US were trying to leverage their height advantage in aerial challenges, but they made it easy for Chile to sweep up any second balls instead. Chile’s fluid defensive system dealt well with a 4-2-4 look that might have troubled another side.
All and all, it was a good team showing from Bob Bradley’s young team, with no player performing truly poorly. Though no one player really stood out either. For me Dax McCarty was the best player of the first half, though he was occasionally sloppy with the ball.
At halftime Bradley decided to experiment, bring on Marvell Wynne at center back in place of Gonzalez. It was not a success. Wynne was involved in nearly every chance Chile were to fashion in the second half. The converted fullback was significantly culpable for Chile’s goal. Despite excellent interplay on the right flank between Seymour and Meneces which beat three US players with a quick 1-2, Loyd’s recovering run was good and the cross should have been dealt with easily. Had Wynne been aware of where danger lurked, in the form of Parades, rather than watching the ball, he would not have been pulled so far out towards the flank as to leave space and time for the Chilean number 9 to take down the ball and finish acrobatically to atone for an imperfect first touch.
The US soon began to create chances to equalize, with Bedoya staying wider in the second half before making central runs later in the development of US attacks. Franklin also began to come into the game a little more. With Aguedelo and Bunbury coming on for Shea and Wondolowski after 60 minutes, I expected the USA to revert to their more standard 4-4-2, but that never really happened. Both the substitutes drifted around to receive the ball with both Diskerud and Bedoya running into the spaces beyond them. Bedoya nearly fashioned the equalizer with a slashing diagonal run into the box and a good touch past two Chilean defenders before being spoiled by the goalkeeper, but he was unable to pounce on a tantalizing rebound when Garces spilt the ball.
Bedoya was also involved in the play which led to the penalty and US equalizer from Bunbury. Ream found McCarthy with the sort of penetrative pass along the ground that the US too often lack. Dax laid the ball off to Aguedelo, who played a quick 1-2 off Bedoya and found himself running at players on the edge of the box. With a clever touch, the youngster played the ball by Silva, but the defender–his hands already aloft protesting his innocence–clipped Aguedelo’s foot on his way by and the referee blew for a penalty. Bunbury made no mistake with his finish, or with the dance-steps celebrating his first international goal, joined by the player that had earned the spot-kick.
While the US searched for a possible winner, Chile fashioned a couple more good chances through their best player of the half, Marvell Wynne. The MLS cup-winner’s defending was erratic. That his physique is not quite that of the typical footballer was only highlighted by his lack the mentality and awareness required of defenders well at the international level. He looked comically out of place at times. Hopefully, it’s another case of Bob Bradley giving a player that’s not quite cut out for the international level one last chance to prove himself. If it’s not, we can only ask, Wynne will Bob Bradley learn?
Observations and Ratings
• You’re likely to see, at most, 4 of the Yanks on the field last night make a true dent in their “this game matters” USMNT cap count. In that group, I’d put Tim Ream, Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo and maybe Mix Diskerud. The tier right after them–meaning a Gold Cup call-in is certainly possible: Ale Bedoya, Brek Shea, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and Dax McCarty.
• Decidedly split reviews on Dax McCarty last night. It an enormous task to control the offense and initiate the linking and attack against a game played at that speed. I think Dax acquitted himself well last night. His defense was challenged initially and I think he learned what he needed to do as the game wore on. Rating: 6