And we kick off our USA vs. Argentina preview.
The United States’ Men’s National “A” Team takes the field for the first time since their friendly against Poland in Chicago in October 2010. They’ll be greeted, coldly, by a nearly full-stacked Argentinian team led by Lionel Messi, John Cryer-look-a-like Javier Mascherano, and the object of TSG’s fawning, Javier Pastore.
The South American team is gearing up for the Copa America later this year. The weather? Frigid and expected to be near freezing at game time. (The line on poor snood comments Saturday evening already stands at 36 in-broadcast, please don’t do your part).
Here are some foundational points for shaping this preview:
» There will be over 60,000 people expected at the Meadowlands to bear witness.
After Brazil went Jimmy Hoffa on the Yanks last August, my premise is that the US will use their best or near-best line-up.
This will be Bradley’s first time seeing the regulars in almost five months and with the game being televised on the ESPN network, a good showing would be appreciated by USSF honcho Sunil Gulati.
» I’m completely flummoxed by what Bob Bradley does in the midfield, now that Stu Holden can only play xBox. It makes it immediately exciting, but also difficult to predict.
What I’m saying is, I’ll name our “11 at the Whistle” as is customary below, but my faith in the formation and how the player selections are deployed, is near an all-time low.
» Timothy Chandler, the highly-lauded, as yet to be seen Bundesliga up-and-comer, has been playing right back in practice this week.
By the way, the hype of the “next big thing” always follows the “shiny new Yank around,” but I’m amazed at some of the media coverage on Chandler defining his game. I’ve got about 15 minutes of his game on a grainy stream a few months ago. You mean to tell me that the media folks can already qualify this player as “this type” or “that type?”
Didn’t media hounds learn about their misplaced positional and style allegiance by declaring Edgar Castillo fit for a World Cup roster spot as an “attacking left back?”
Anywho…we soldier on.
Let’s get on with our customary, not seen in awhile preview.
Per usual, it goes: (I can feel the excitement building)
TSG: What We’re Looking At
11 At the Whistle
TSG: What We’re Looking For:
• Is this Bob Bradley II or Bob Bradley I merely ensconced in new sweats?
A shame that Coach Sweats lost the Egyptian friendly to unfriendly fire.
That game would likely have been an opportunity to test drive some newer faces in advance of Gold Cup selection and this friendly series would be the ability to have some of those in place or begin building chemistry.
Yes, the 2011 Gold Cup is vital. For those that are new to the game, the winner of the Gold Cup gets the ticket to the annual Confederation’s Cup (aka World Cup dress rehearsal) tournament in 2013.
Back in October, coach Bradley mixed it up a little bit on both the personnel side (Maurice Edu at centerback) and on the formation side (a midfield triumvirate of three central midfielders Jones, Bradley and Edu gluing together a 4-3-3).
Little is known about which way Bradley will go formation wise against Argentina.
That said, a glance at the roster shows the lack of any “true winger.” No Ale Bedoya, no DaMarcus Beasley, and if you want to consider it, no Stu Holden who can sling in a cross.
Further, the absence of players like Jose Torres and Dax McCarty suggests that the US will not play ping-pong horizontally, and stick with the direct football that’s been their custom.
Argentina’s deployment and their offensive firepower, further suggests the best way for Bradley to play, will again to be on the counter. (Note: I haven’t even mentioned Germany’s throttling of Argentina in the World Cup by countering them un-mercilessly. Yes Batista toes the touchline instead of Maradona these days, but that lesson will not be lost on Coach Sweats.)
Back to the Yanks. Many clubs and countries are finding it difficult to locate that winger that likes to take it wide and around the fullback, and play in a cross or gain the corner. As mentioned, Bradley’s selection starkly shows that wide play will consist of probably two offensive strategies that should shape his team selection and formation: 1) Drawing a striker (Altidore?) across the field and laying off to a trailing Donovan or in-cutting Dempsey or 2) using the right flank overlap with Cherundolo–absent for this camp–and Donovan. (we’ll get to #2 in a bit)
So with that said, that leaves two offensive formations that the Yanks will play, the vaunted 4-4-2 and the trending 4-2-3-1.
The only way the US goes true 4-4-2 is if Juan Agudelo is deployed from the get-go on Saturday and believe it or not, I do think there is a shot of it. (We’ll diagnose that position in a moment).
But the key point in this bullet is, how does Bradley view the roles in the midfield and how progressive is he with his roster in starting to develop players for 2014? That would be Bob Bradley II.
Bob Bradley I: Go with those that he trusts and the Michael Bradley initiator that was the formula at the World Cup.
• Jozy, we finally found you some friends.
Jozy Altidore is still the best option up top for the Yanks.
Now consider this.
Jozy Altidore is playing good minutes, but part-time, in the SuperLiga in Turkey in the midfield.
Not a recipe for striker development however.
Jozy maybe we found you some competition?
The best part about new options at striker for the Yanks is that Altidore will finally need to claim his role as oppose to be the lone candidate for it.
In Juan Agudelo, Bob Bradley has a player that has speed and the ability to attack and run at defenders. However his best complementary asset may prove all his worth.
If Chile was a prelude, the best thing I saw Agudelo do–the range of his game if you will–was hold up the ball and seal off defenders with his back to the basket. (Frankly that was Findley’s main asset beyond speed–the Nottingham Forest player was more than decent at it.)
Saturday–pending how and when he is deployed–really is the first chance to start investigating this question on the New York Red Bulls youngster: Is Juan Agudelo 2011: a) a difference-maker in the International game, b) merely a complement or c) a word in progress for 2014 at best.
• Whose got the best ‘Dolo impression? Will they be allowed to mug for it?
Yes, yes, the centerback situation for the Yanks bares watching, especially when you consider that all the goals given up by the Americans at the World Cup, were down the center of the field, not by rounding the flankers.
So yes, TSG will be looking at that.
That said, a window into Bob Bradley’s going forward game strategy will be unveiled in this set of friendlies.
Just how much will Bob Bradley rely on the overlapping fullbacks to create width on the pitch? Beyond one Steve Cherundolo, the rest of the outside backs (Boca, Bornstein, Spector) all play like they’re being tethered to a place–a defensive place–on the field. (And rightly so I might add.)
Will Bradley entrust players like Spector, Lichaj and Chandler to get forward? And can those players impact the game or does them going forward just play into Argentina’s hands.
• I’m the rapper; he’s the DJ
Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. Please stand up. All three of these players have some capability to play the Yanks maestro in the middle of the field.
Will Feilhaber be advanced or be used tucking in from the left? Will Michael Bradley be pushed up with Jermaine Jones as the destroyer behind him? Or will it be vice versa?
Same thing here. The first 15 minutes on Saturday will be very telling as to who Bradley values and why. It is of course, the first chance to potentially see Bradley junior and Jones pair together, since they were running into one another outside of Philadelphia in the Colombia game.
11 At The Whistle
STR: Edson Buddle
The skinny: Jozy Altidore just got to camp on Wednesday. Maybe ready to go by Sunday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Bradley goes up top with Buddle here.
FW: Clint Dempsey
MID: Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan
CDM: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley
The skinny: Aforementioned. Three players all capable of playing the conduit. Two players capable of being the destroyer. How does it shake out?
DEF: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit,
Tim Chandler Jonathan Spector
The skinny: A veteran backline is employed with the exception of Tim Chandler. Since Lichaj was a late invite, I doubt he’s a starter. I would have suggested Jonathan Spector as the starter, but I’ll go out on a limb with Chandler. Omar Gonzalez got his first cap against Brazil. The best way to find out what a player is made of, is to throw him into the fire–with veterans around him. (Update: Changed to Spector, 03/25)
* Hard to bring in Jay DeMerit to a camp and take him away from a club game if you’re not going to play him. DeMerit’s tracking ability on the Argentine forwards will be needed.
* Similarly with Gooch, he’s playing leftback these days at Twente. If I would have dropped any veteran from the starting team, it would have been him, but Bradley has a soft spot for the big guy and gives him a chance here to show his agility.
* Bocanegra. While I think Bornstein is a better option here. You don’t sit the captain. That said, it’s Lionel Messi out there on that left wing, not Aaron Lennon.
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: There is no skinny here. He’s bald, he’s a bad man and he’s been marshaling the defense for four years.
» Jonathan Spector for Tim Chandler at RB: Seems even more probable than plausible. A big challenge to Chandler starting? Little command of the English language.
» Jonathan Bornstein for Bocanegra at LB, Boca to CB, Guch to the Bench: Don’t see it. Would say a lot about Bradley’s continued infatuation with JB.
» Altidore for Buddle: Coin flip.
» States goes 4-4-2: This is all about what Coach Bradley thinks of Juan Agudelo
» The Yanks go with a narrow 4-2-3-1 with Feilhaber as the hub: If you remember, the US beat a similar team to Argentina in Spain back in 2009. In the 2nd half of that match, the States looked great with Feilhaber pushed up the field and linked up with Donovan and Dempsey. An option.
As I wrote earlier this week (though I had some players out of place), Argentina plays a 4-3-3. However it really functions more like a 4-2-4. The front four is a diamond typically with Messi cutting in from the right and DiMaria going wide on the left.
Javier Pastore, as opposed to Valencia’s Ever Banega, expects to get the start in the Tevez role, which is the withdrawn striker capable of carnage role. As I wrote back here, many in Argentina think the key to 2014 success, is the interplay of Pastore and Messi. I’m not sure I like an internal role for Pastore, but Saturday should tell at least part of the tale for one of TSG’s favorite non-American players. (If you don’t know about the man-crushing that’s moved from Feilhaber to Pastore…well you’re probably better off for it.)
The challenge that Argentina will have will be integrating Lavezzi (not a huge challenge mind you). He’s played the point before and with Higuain and Aguero not in for this friendly series, Lavezzi will have continue to play a true #9 role. (For Napoli he plays wide.)
Captain Javier Mascherano and Esteban “I should have been in South Africa” Cambiasso play the holders. Occasionally, Banega will be deployed here as well.
Javier Zanetti is the only fullback that usually joins the attack. The rest of the backline will be Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Burdisso and one of either Pablo Zabaleta or the youngster Marcos Rojo at leftback. I think you may see Rojo here, as I believe he is the lone lefty. (What no Heinze!)
Goalie Sergio Romero is a constant for Batista’s men.