Playing Mourinho: TSG’s USA-Argentina Game Plan

Been meaning to do an addendum post like this for awhile during games.

Let's just say we've confused with this guy before...

We often get the request here at TSG that asks, “What would we do for team set-up and strategy for a US game.” That is, don’t project what Bob Bradley would do–we did that in our official preview–but what we do if we were in Bob’s….sweats.

That didn’t come out right.

Today we introduce “Playing Mourinho.” If you guys like the segment, let me know and we’ll try to get it going more frequently.

Let’s give it a whirl:

Our objective: Put on a qualitative performance against Argentina at the Meadowlands, but not at the risk of developing for the future.

It terms of the Gold Cup, we’ve already got enough talent to beat everyone and be 50-50 with Mexico in that final game at the Rose Bowl. I’m less concerned with Gold Cup preparation than I should be perhaps.

If we saw anything with “last” cycle with Bob Bradley it’s that his positive penchant for bringing in a lot of players (I believe three times more during the cycle than his predecessor Bruce Arena) also had the negative impact of not allowing the team to gel.

No fault of his own mind you–when you’re working with the likes of Robbie Findley and Eddie Johnson, it’s understandable.

Our strategy: Argentina plays a nasty 4-2-4. There front four players in Lavezzi, Pastore, the unparalleled Lionel Messi and Di Maria are all dangerous with the ball and sharp moving off of it.

Whereas Batista’s predecessor, Maradona, made some glaring miscalculations in the midfield and the backline, Batista’s Argentina team is exceedingly more complete.

Whereas Maradona left Javier Mascherano to fend as the lone holder (who himself would watch Maxi Rodriguez and Angel DiMaria be more focused on the attack), Batista has rightfully employed both Mascherano and midfield big stick man Esteban Cambiasso in the middle (and occassionally sacrificed Pastore for Ever Banega to another box-to-boxer).

In the back Batista has balanced a defensive side that saw centerbackers like Otamendi on the outside with the still savvy Zanetti and the emerging Roja–Zanetti is a pleasure to watch defensively whereas Roja plays defense by merely being more athletic and younger than anyone else.

Argentina will try to have Messi as their attack iniator with a trailing Pastore to switch the point of attack and/or play in Lavezzi and DiMaria.

1st half States attack...

Given the forward and off-ball movements of the four it will be very difficult for the US–I mean our–backline to get wide or get out on the attack. Especially on the left flank where Javier Zanetti loves to play Steve Cherundolo and race endline to endline.

So I’m just going to forget about that left flank, completely. I’m going to plop Bocanegra there and tell him I don’t care if there is a free ball up the field and you can make a cross or take a shot. Stay at home because I know you’re 32 in a few months.

I put Tim Ream inside of him. He’s a natural lefty and sadly (or happily enough), he’s got the best distribution skills of the lot of centerbacks.

Jay DeMerit and Eric Lichaj complete the back four. I just haven’t seen Chandler enough and I watched Lichaj at least tie up Bale once.

DeMerit trumps Oguchi Onyewu because of his agility and man-tracking. Crosses out wide (the few there may be) may be played more on the floor than in the air. I’m comfy with DeMerit, Ream and goalie Tim Howard in taking care of them. Lichaj has a cautious license to go forward I might add.

Ahead of the back four, I complete my 4-4-2.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think Jermaine Jones should be the primary creator. From what I’ve seen of him in that role, I think he forces it a bit much. I want to alleviate that responsibility from him.

That said, I need calmness and distribution on the ball. And that’s why I drop Edu. Edu is still challenged in possession from time-to-time and one ill-timed turnover and the US may get caught out. Like it or not about Junior Bradley who likes to spray hospital balls up the pitch from time to time, he rarely makes a mistake in possession in the defensive third. This of course would have been my ideal role for discoing Stu Holden.

I’m going to use the savvy Jermaine Jones as the primary tackler on Messi on the left and I’m going to push Bradley up. As much as TSG is a fan of Pastore, the youngster can get rattled when it’s a physical game. There you go Junior. Have at him.

I do go 4-4-2 but it looks more like an unbalanced 4-2-2-2. I’ve got Donovan countering behind DiMaria with Juan Agudelo ahead stretching the defense. Once that space clears Dempsey can go to work if we can beat Mascherano to an open line to the goal.

I’m going to use Jozy Altidore in multiple ways. We can either sweep almost horizontally across the formation and provide a target option. I choose Jozy instead of Buddle here because I can also have Jozy go out wide with a little Carragher-esque move around Ottamendi or whoever follows him around out there.

Remember Jozy’s playing wing now and frankly he looks his best when steamtraining around the corner somewhere. Additionally, I’ve seen him look best on that left side.

As you guessed I’m playing on the counter, but a key note here is I play quick and not defensive. Let’s let Lichaj especially fend for himself so Donovan isn’t drawn back to help him. I can’t respect *both Messi and DiMaria that sets the wrong tone for the team.

Similarly with Jones keeping tabs on Messi I try to keep Dempsey as high as possible as well.

Should my 4-4-2 fail…meaning I can ping it quickly through Junior and Jones to Donovan and Dempsey, then I’m going to insert Benny Feilhaber and sacrifice Jozy at the 46th minute, not the 60th minute.

I am willing to take a gamble from what I saw of him in the Chile game that Agudelo can play hold up ball if called upon through the air.

And that’s what I got.

Everybody hold on!

31 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 1:16 PM

    I like the look.

    By the way, one note: Bradley’s record isn’t a little better than Arena in bringing in players, it’s dramatically better. I went and counted a couple weeks ago, and Arena averaged ~48 players/year. In Bradley’s lowest year, he called up 49 players. (IIRC the other three included two in the fifties and one with 62.)


  2. Posted by BrosefTito on 2011/03/25 at 1:24 PM

    It’s so sad looking at that USA back line and thinking that Lichaj is gonna be the guy make the runs forward when we could do so much better by playing Bobby Convey back there. He is the best attacking outside back in the USMNT pool aside from Dolo.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 1:38 PM

      Well, Convey is left-sided, naturally a winger, blind in one eye and hasn’t played against better-than-MLS competition for ages now (unlike, say, Lichaj, Chandler and Spector). Other than that, he’s perfect for the right back spot!


      • Posted by BrosefTito on 2011/03/25 at 2:20 PM

        Just… no. You have no idea what you are talking about. You didn’t answer the issue at all.

        TSG’s lineup calls for Lichaj to be the primary attacking wing back and for Boca to stay camped out at home at LB. Lichaj is not good enough devensively yet at the int’l level. His primary strength and the only reason to play him is b/c of his ability to go forward, which he’s not even that good at… he often chooses poor times to go forward and loses the ball too much leading to counters. His distribution ain’t great.

        My point is we would be better starting Convey at LB and have a RB who stays camped at home. Convey is superior to Boca and everyone else on the USMNT back line at going forward except for Dolo.

        If MLS competition is a problem for you then I guess your position is that we should also bench LD, Buddle, and Agudelo.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 2:34 PM

          Well, look. You weren’t exactly clear what your intended substitution was. And you’re still not clear: who’s your stay-at-home right back on this roster? I don’t see any. Spector will stay at home, to be sure–but the house will get burned down. Lichaj, as you say, is an attacking right back. From what I’ve seen of Chandler, he likes to get forward also. There isn’t a stay-at-home right back, so I would suggest that it is you who don’t know what you’re talking about.

          You say Convey is so great going forward, but that’s really not true at all. He’s OK. Good by MLS standards. But he’s really not any better, all-around, than Jonathan Bornstein to be honest. Bornstein plays more than Convey, so his flaws are more present in people’s minds. Convey offers a nice shot and a decent cross, but he’s subpar at keeping the ball on the ground and he’s slow. Also, he’s blind in one eye.

          And while Donovan, Agudelo and Ream haven’t had much competition recently past MLS, two of those players are young and the third has proven himself beyond doubt. The only thing Convey has proven outside of the U.S. is that he’s inadequate, which makes sense because he’s not a good player.

          It’s kind of odd that Convey is such a cause celebre, and I think the reason why is that he suggested Bob Bradley didn’t like him. For many U.S. fans, any enemy of Bob Bradley is a friend of theirs.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 2:36 PM

          I’d also add that there’s a specific reason to favor a stay-at-home left back: there’s this guy named Lionel Messi who hangs out there who needs defending. di Maria–while a wonderful player–does not offer nearly as great a threat for the right back.


        • Posted by BrosefTito on 2011/03/25 at 3:10 PM

          This is a better response and gets more to the heart of the issue, which is that you disagree with my assessment of Convey’s quality.

          Convey isn’t just good by MLS standards, he’s great. He finished 5th in assists in MLS last season despite half his starts being at LB instead of LM. Bornstein? Come on. What a joke. The guy doesn’t even come close to Convey. Bornstein’s highest assist total for a season is 2. While Bornstein was playing for UCLA in 2005, Convey was busy leading Reading to promotion and was rated the top player in the championship by ACTIM, and top ten by Four Four Two magazine. Oh yeah and Convey is still in his prime, he is only 27, younger than 29 year old LD and 1 year older than Bornstein. Go watch the highlights from the 3-1 SJ playoff victory in NY last season and watch Convey completely dominate NYRB. How can you not want that kind of offensive prowess and speed at LB for the USMNT?


        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 3:41 PM

          Because his offensive prowess is overrated. Convey is above average for an MLS player; that you say he’s “great” is highly unrealistic. Many of those assists weren’t from the left back position, they were from when he played winger. And while he had one nice game against Red Bulls and one nice season in England, in general he’s not all that great. If he were, he’d be playing in a better league or at least for a better team.

          Your cite of his playoff performance is also somewhat inapplicable: San Jose played a 3-5-2 at the time and Convey had few defensive responsibilities; he played a pure wingback position. Obviously your case for Convey rests on his offensive capabilities, but I expect my defenders to be good at defending. Particularly when they’re playing for a team that doesn’t hold the ball for 60+% of the match. Convey isn’t a good defender; in fact, he’s a poor one. Fortunately, he either plays winger for San Jose; or, when at defender, is covered by San Jose’s excellent centerbacks. So Convey’s form for San Jose is not really applicable to international play.

          To be honest, I don’t care about Bobby Convey. If Bradley calls him, or doesn’t call him, that’s fine. He’s in the same mediocre class as Bornstein and Bocanegra, though I rate those two above Convey. The difference isn’t too large to be ridiculous, however. Still, I do care about rampant exaggeration which only leads to disappointment and disparagement: eventually I suspect Convey will get called up, and he will perform to his level, and people will get all bent out of shape about him, Bradley, etc. Whereas if people just realized he was an OK, run-of-the-mill player in the first place there wouldn’t be such a big problem.


          • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/03/25 at 4:07 PM

            The problem with Convey isn’t really his ability.

            It’s that he uses “I” in team. Clear as day.

            Bradley is a chemistry and lockerroom guy.

            Convey’s play merits a call-up in that the Yanks were trotting out Robbie Rogers at left half and Heath Pearce at left back.

            Convey is not a good defender. Hard to dispute. He falls asleep much to much on defense. He looks at defense as something you have to “do”…not something that’s important.

            As a left half though he has value. If you’re looking for a comp on the present team you’d have to suggest Benny. On talent, Convey belongs there, but his disposition precedes him unfortunately.

            Hard to deal with a selfish type when you’re coming together for less than a week sometimes.


        • Posted by Brosef Tito on 2011/03/26 at 11:35 AM

          I completely disagree. I watched all of Convey’s starts at LB for the Quakes last season and he played at an elite level. He also covers a ton of ground at LM and plays defense very and well and gets back often to help defend.


  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/03/25 at 1:57 PM

    I understand that you would want to stay narrow and compact, but don’t you think that’s a little too narrow?! I am just a little worried about Messi and how to neutralise his threat as much as possible.

    Does anybody have a chalkboard as to where Messi receives the ball the most / his general starting position on the right wing? Would be interesting to see.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/03/25 at 2:05 PM

      No chalkboard, but he gets moved around a lot by Guardiola. I’m not sure about with Argentina.

      Per my formation above, Donovan can go wide. I just don’t see how the US can stay wide and actually counter.

      Now defensively that looks a little different above.

      I want to keep the ball away from Messi’s side as much as possible, because you’ve got 1) Messi 2) a very savvy Zanetti who I think plays there (saw your last comment on Zanetti flipping ovet, but don’t see it Saturday), 3) Pastore trailing.

      It looks like Coach Sweats will solve it by pushing Edu up to break up the transition and force to a side and using Bradley and Jones behind that–according to a few tweets out there.

      I hate that move.

      The reason? You’re putting Edu in the middle of the action and he’s oh-so-much better coming off-ball into the action.


      • Posted by John on 2011/03/25 at 2:07 PM

        I just looked at two different heat maps (one for Barcelona and one for Argentina) and he gets touches everywhere as you would expect.


      • Posted by Crow on 2011/03/25 at 2:24 PM

        I know we criticize ESPN’s soccer coverage (online) from time to time, and rightfully so… but they had an interesting article on their National team blog (ESPN insider access needed) about Josh Gatt- a player I honestly had never heard of. He plays for Norwegian club Molde who is coached by former Manchester United winger Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He sounds to have enough potential to eventually develop into an “international-quality” winger…. something the US lacks dearly.

        Also, I actually thought Leander’s article about Charlie Davies was pretty good. Even if it was mainly because he did not call The American Outlaws Sam’s Army like our good friend John Harkes.


        • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/03/25 at 4:26 PM

          I’m intrigued by Gatt as well. I remember he had something like two goals and three assists in the U-20’s 5-0 rout of Canada last year. Unfortunate* that we won’t see him next week in the CONCACAF Championship.

          *Or fortunate that his club likes him enough not to release him, depending on your perspective.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 6:04 PM

          Definitely fortunate we won’t see him.

          I saw his debut for Molde–he came in with thirty minutes remaining while his team were getting routed by, no joke, a semipro club. The defending must have left Skolsjaer pining for Vidic and Ferdinand. As to Gatt: tough to say, really. Looked quick, and has a nice size, but he badly mishit a shot. Apparently he was never taught to shoot (


  4. Posted by Crow on 2011/03/25 at 2:29 PM

    By the way, this is a really good post. I find myself frustrated many times by your previews of the National Team, but it finally dawned on me that you are forecasting what Bob will do! LOL. I finally understand. The only player I’d swap out is maybe DeMerit. I like the guy but I still have some faith in Gooch now that he is getting games and I think Gooch/Ream is going to be the pairing through the next World Cup. Other than that, I’d actually like to go 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2) in this game now that Stu is out, instead of a 4-2-3-1.

    I nominate TSG to have a spot on future National Team coaches Mourinho and Ben Olsen’s staff!

    Seriously, Matt, have you ever considered coaching soccer on any level? I think you should. You seem to have a good mind for it and a passion as well. That is a good mix.


  5. Posted by Alex Song on 2011/03/25 at 3:02 PM

    I think the midfield will be some combination of Dempsey, Donovan, Jones, and Bradley. I can’t really argue with that now that Holden is injured.

    We know that Jozy will almost certainly be one of the starting forwards. As much as I like Agudelo, I would be a little bit surprised if Bob let him start this game. He’s still very green. He seems like a confident guy, but throwing him to the wolves against a powerhouse like Argentina might not be such a good idea. For that reason I expect Agudelo to start on the bench and come on in the second half if Altidore/Buddle aren’t effective. I think we could also see someone like Dempsey or Donovan pushed into a forward role if Bob wants to get another midfielder like Feilhaber into the game.

    Defensively, I’ll be surprised if Ream starts. People seem to be lukewarm about Onyewu, but he’s getting regular minutes for a big club and he’s an established commodity for the USMNT. It’s hard for me to envision him on the bench in this one. On the other hand, a big lumbering giant isn’t exactly the best tonic for Argentina’s crew of speedy attackers. We might do better with the more mobile Bocanegra and DeMerit at CB. It’s a tough call.

    The fullback spots are also up for grabs. I favor Chandler at RB because he’s playing at a higher level than Lichaj and seems like a slightly more gifted athlete. I think Lichaj has potential, but many USMNT fans were too quick to anoint him. He’s a bit of an adventure back there due to his inconsistency. On the left, I think we have a clear dilemma: do we go with the speed of Bornstein or the savvy of Bocanegra? After seeing Boca get torched at the WC, I would actually much rather have Bornstein out there. He’s not an ideal option, but at least he’ll be able to run with Argentina’s attackers. I fear that Boca would look like a traffic cone out there.

    Having said all that, here’s what I expect:


    This is not a bad looking team. I think a front four of Altidore, Buddle, Donovan, and Dempsey can legitimately create problems for Argentina’s defense. However, I think our defense will make mistakes and probably allow some goals. Our defenders just aren’t that good. I think Jones and Bradley could be key. If they can break up play, maintain some possession, and provide some service, I think we can give Argentina a tough game.

    I expect a loss though. Maybe something like 3-1 in favor of Messi and co.

    I think Feilhaber and Agudelo are our most likely subs. Maybe Edu if we want more of a defender. I also think there’s a decent chance that DeMerit will start at CB with Boca at LB instead of Bornstein.

    I think we’ll save guys like Ream and Mix for Paraguay. I expect Agudelo to be a starter in that one.


  6. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/03/25 at 4:28 PM

    I did manage to catch just a bit of the Bursapor game on Monday after getting home and before my feed cut out. Looked like Jozy was back to playing forward. He was really causing all manner of havoc for the opponent’s back line.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/03/25 at 6:05 PM

      Yeah, it was something like the archetypal Jozy game: some great stuff, some so-so stuff, and a few frustrations. The kind of game that causes coaches to take him on then get frustrated as it takes longer than they think it will for him to improve.


  7. Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/03/25 at 4:54 PM

    Like the new segment… even better is the amount of thought proviking comments between the segment and the posters. Many things to think about. The whole Altidore on the wing of a 4-2-3-1 discussion made me think.


  8. Posted by Woody on 2011/03/25 at 5:04 PM

    I don’t agree with some of your choices, but I do feel that this needs to become a regular column, NOW.


  9. […] post: Playing Mourinho: TSG's USA-Argentina Game Plan « The Shin Guardian None Found This page has 0 views Post a comment | Trackback […]


  10. […] The Fan In You « Playing Mourinho: TSG’s USA-Argentina Game Plan […]


  11. USA can win!
    There’s no never in Soccer. USA did very well in the last world cup except for a couple of costly mistakes versus Ghana, here the trainer must think about defense. So, here’s a plan: Howard is alright as Keeper, Demerit and Onyewu must be placed in the central back, Bocanegra is a good side back that will also back the left central-back and on the other side a strong and fast side back should play, Spector will just fine and what he versus Egypt by sending balls into the penalty zone. But that’s not enough, Bob Bradley have to use two central mid-fielders up front the central defense which allow no space for Argentine’s offense, Junior Bradley and Edu will be helpful and when US attack the side backs go up to support central and wing forwards with offense a combination of six players will torment Argentine. I think for this one the following players should play: Dempsey and Holden as left and right central forwards, Altedore and Donovan left and right wing forwards backing the central forward Juan. Donovan is dynamic player and can either shoot or send balls in to the penalty zone. On the other side Altedore is strong enough to push against opposition defense and will be just fine once is sided with Dempsey. On the other side Holden can be useful to movie freely.


  12. Posted by Bob Sandly on 2011/03/27 at 5:08 PM

    Great article. Always good to see what other people would do in the situation, really think you guys should keep this going.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 258 other followers

%d bloggers like this: