You don’t have me fooled Bob Bradley. Got you pegged now.
It was the tale of two halves for the States Saturday night–again–as the Yanks weathered a blitzkrieg of an attack from Argentina for the first forty-five minutes before revving up their own offensive engine to sneak in a goal on some free kick spillage.
The final tally? A 1-1 draw and insights galore. Oh where to start.
With the coach.
From the line-up selection through his tell-tale 2nd half “energy-insertion”, the playbook on Bob Bradley should not need a revision on your Kindle.
Against arguably more talented teams, Bradley prefers to deploy trusted veterans, bunker down, ride out a wave of attacks, and then make a halftime adjustment that accounts for the US’s liabilities, addresses the other team’s strengths and leaves the other team to morph on the fly in the 2nd half.
It’s a good old-fashioned rope-a-dope. It’s a heckuva a way to play. It gets results–rather, may get results–but I’m not sure it motivates the troops or hastens US program development.
Those last two (motivation and development) are obviously not in Bob Bradley’s job description and a debate for another time.
Should Bradley be commended for getting results that seem at best by poor design and at worst lucky? Start philosophizing.
Does it fatigue players to continually be instructed to be robotic and flawless on defense to the detriment of their offense? It’s not like this is Inter Milan 2010 with Mourinho at the helm, and the strategy only applies against one opponent for one or two games.
Let’s move on to the match.
The first half saw Bob Bradley trot out his tested veterans. The strategy was a sound one, nay a strong one, from the 2nd-term coach. Bradley compressed his front six and tried to make the transition space between his defensive third and the halfline, the battlefield.
It was a true 4-5-1. With Jozy pushing one way or the other, Bradley packed in three central midfielders–again–and kept Donovan and Dempsey even with this band of defenders.
The goal: Clog.
Clog and force Argentina’s less-creative players (that’s all relative of course) in Javier Mascherano, Esteban Cambiasso, and Ever Banega to navigate their way to a scoring opportunity.
A smart strategy, however Argentina seemed to adjust well. The visitors went to work on the the Yanks’ right side of the body with Messi shading out to that flank and playing in DiMaria or vice versa.
The persistent rib cage battering finally found joy for the visitors as an unmarked Esteban Cambiasso latched on to a rebound from yet another Messi-DiMaria combination, and hit paydirt. 1-0 Batista’s men.
The Yanks barely saw the ball in the 1st half, and the expression and play from their offensive players began to the show the effects before halftime.
Clint Dempsey, in particular, fatigued from the Yanks inability to create any attack and in a move that hearkened back to a certain Chicago Honduran qualifier; tried to backheel and split two Argentinian defenders in a risky spot in midfield.
Perhaps by design or by acknowledging the folly of his initial player selections, Bob Bradley returned Maurice Edu to his customary center midfield role while Jermaine Jones, who looked positively mundane during his minutes, was sacrificed for Juan Agudelo. Jonathan Spector, detrimental to the cohesion of the back four, gave way to Bundesliga product Timmy Chandler.
With the migration to a 4-2-2-2, Agudelo making smart and efficient runs, and Chandler calming the right flank siege, the States turned the tables on Argentina and began to show an offensive heartbeat in the second stanza.
Donovan and Dempsey were able to leak out on attack and Agudelo’s speed provided a lead-pass outlet. The midfield was balanced, and Edu and Bradley were able to exert some tackling on the Argentinian mids.
The Yanks controlled much of the run of play though the early part of the second stanza and the equalizer came on a set play. Landon service, to Bocanegra playing on, with Agudelo picking up the table scraps and toepoking home.
That would be the end of the scoring as the run-of-play see-sawed for the final twenty minutes. After two minutes of stoppage, Landon Donovan’s beckoning to the ref to blow the whistle was all the imagery needed to know the Yanks were happy to depart the Garden State with a draw.
• A reprieve for the defense.
First, hard to fault the defense for the most part in the 1st half, though Tim Howard was forced in multiple saves.
Remember, while it may look like the backline is porous, there are not many international backlines that sit there and take as much pressure or abuse as they do. Yes distribution should have been better, but it’s not like the midfielders and forwards were holding up signs saying “Kick it here” either.
• This veteran trust/defensive discipline thing is killing you Bob.
And this is the biggest takeaway and point of this review. So go grab a beer (or coffee) and contemplate the next few sentences.
Was forcing Oguchi Onyewu back on to the pitch before we was ready, as a World Cup nonetheless, not enough of a lesson?
Bradley is so maniacal about playing a flawless defensive game and being risk-averse that he becomes the team’s own worst enemy sometimes.
Exhibit A from Saturday: Jonathan Spector
The years at West Ham, and on the national team, proved that Jonathan Spector is a liability against speedy wingers. That’s an indisputable fact.
Yet there he was Saturday out against dynamo Angel DiMaria. C’mon!
A few early observations showed the player selection was a disaster waiting to happen. Sure Bradley lacked Steve Cherundolo there, but just about any other “quick” option–Lichaj, Chandler–would have been better.
Bradley was so fixated on employing someone he could trust to make the right defensive plays, that he ignored the player’s fatal physical flaw in being able to actually successfully carry out the plan.
Spector never really made a mistake; it’s just his abilities never really gave him a shot. Ding the coach.
Exhibit B from Saturday: The multiplicity of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley & Maurice Edu
Again, Coach Bradley, slavish to defensive discipline employs three defensive mids with a similar game in the middle. All three still got beat by Messi at different junctures and none of the three provide the oh-so-vitally-needed hold-and-link to Donovan and Dempsey.
Yes Coach Sweats might have went with Holden is he wasn’t torn up, but still…..
A debatable move by Bradley, however a 1-0 halftime deficit and early subs suggest it wasn’t the right move. (Benefit of doubt coming below.)
• Agudelo: It’s not luck Harkes, it’s know-how.
Juan Agudelo answered the questions about where he stands on being able to contribute to the States A team.
I’ll save two of his heady plays for our “Unheralded Play” award, but Agudelo was revelatory again in a US kit.
Hysterical to hear Harkes and Darke banter about “the ball just seems to be finding Agudelo tonight.” Uh guys, that’s skilled runs to and from the ball, something Jozy Altidore did not provide for the Yanks in the first stanza.
Agudelo was creative, protective of the marble in possession, seemed to make the right play in terms of tempo nearly every time, circling on a play where the counter wasn’t prudent, and distributing when pressure was coming.
Agudelo, appropriately wearing the #9 shirt, he should be first on the striker depth chart now.
Best Play Of The Game: A toughie here. Sure the Yanks only had one score, but I’m giving this one to Tim Howard.
About the 12th minute, Howard sniffed out a Messi off-ball run that left both DeMerit and Spector flat-footed. He came charging out of his net to clean up by maybe a second, a sure goal by the Barca man which would have been the Argentine’s first against the US.
Most Unheralded Play of the Game: (2) Let’s just say Agudelo’s “complete” game impressed me tonight.
Two plays, on in the 69th minute one in the 85th, had me wide-eyed at the youngster’s maturity and they both earned him the “Unheralded Award”.
In the 69th minute, Agudelo had forced a throw-in for the Yanks with Jozy taking it I believe. Agudelo realized that the Argentina players, as well as many US players, were deep in the box. Agudelo stayed near the endline and demanded the throw-in, preventing Argentina from making about four Yanks offsides.
Next in the 85th minute a similar situation. I believe it was a cross slung in from the right flank. With the ball overshot and Lavezzi, I believe about to clear, Agudelo took the foul, a trip, and immediately acknowledged to the ref it was intentional.
Had Argentina cleared it, many Yanks were still stranded in the box and Argentina might’ve been countering.
The Golden Shinguard: Outstanding games for Carlos Bocanegra, Juan Agudelo and Timmy Chandler in relief. A boring, but correct selection here in Tim Howard.
And not really because of his saves, but more his marshaling of the defense. Well done for the native New Jersey man.
C: Bob Bradley: 6
You would concur that the Yanks have less depth than Argentina? Correct?
Bradley was without his best defender and starting rightback in Steve Cherundolo. He was without his nearly full-timer in Stu Holden. No Benny Feilhaber and no Clarence Goodson.
Sure Argentina were missing Higuain and Aguero, but they’ve got the depth.
Bradley’s defensive game plan to defend with his middies was spot on. However, Bradley continues to sacrifice dictating tempo and offensive game to insure defense first. That create’s player frustrations and, just like in American football, never gives the defense a chance to rest.
Hard to bet on that strategy as an ethos.
Additionally, Bradley got his rightback all wrong in the beginning. Whether you feel Lichaj and-or Chandler are inexperienced, Jonathan Spector is overmatched. The West Ham man could have played the smartest game in the world and he still would have been beaten.
It’s that trust thing again and Bradley needs to overcome it.
G: Tim Howard: 8
Great job by Howard. Made the saves he needed to. Came out when he had to and marshaled the defense well. Another small observation here, and I’m not a Messi expert, but I noticed that Howard continually drifted from the near post when Messi was shooting from outside the hashmarks.
And you know what? He was always in position. Looks like some serious scouting and execution there.
RB: Jonathan Spector: 3
Sorry Specs, but you were fed to the lions today.
Overmatched and behind the play all day long. Argentina targeted Spector and it was rough.
About the only positive from Spector today was his barber made him lose the shaggy Kirk Cameron look.
CB: Jay DeMerit: 6
Welcome back Jay. A typical DeMerit game. Solid for the most part in on-ball defending, a couple of Johnny-on-the-spot help tackles and one or two bonehead plays that nearly cost the home side.
CB: Oguchi Onyewu: 4.5
An uneven game for Onyewu. Extremely challenged in distribution. On defense, got caught out of position numerous times, however had to trail out to either flank and defend Messi on an island and executed well.
LB: Carlos Bocanegra: 7
Yes, many will take umbrage with the high rating for Boca. His distribution–as it always is–was questionable.
That said the captain’s positioning on Messi was flawless with the exception of a highlight reel nutmeg.
In fact, in an odd-man break in the 2nd half, Boca played such a precise angle when left in a pseudo 2-on-1 that it forced a poor cross grounded to no one from the #10 when a goal seemed certain. Well played in TSG’s eyes.
MID: Landon Donovan/Clint Dempsey: 6
Combining their ratings here. Asked to do oh-so-much on the day, from defend deep and then get out on the counter and drive the offense.
Both played more than adequate help defense and their offensive game suffered–but perhaps more poor service.
MID: Jermaine Jones: 4.5
My concerns about Jones as initiator of the offense remain founded. Was late on a few tackles. Looking forward to what Jones does on Tuesday.
MID: Michael Bradley: 5
Hard to rate Bradley who was clearly rusty. Props for always providing help defense and truly sticking his tackles on the evening, but a moment in the 83rd minute illuminates Bradley’s psyche.
Clint Dempsey lays off a pass. It’s not perfect and Bradley has about a 70-30 advantage to Javier Mascherano to winning the pass and keeping possession.
Bradley gets there first, but instead of just keeping the possession, he tries to make a play figuring his physical dominance will allow him to beat the diminutive Mascherano.
Doesn’t happen, Argentina ball.
Bradley all to often relies on his physical dominance instead of just making the smart play. He needs to improve that.
Something & MID: Maurice Edu: 5.5
I’m not sure Edu even knew his role. Did a good job of tackling on defense, on offense had some nice runs that led to opportunities, but he was needed for distribution and provided none.
Jozy Altidore: 4.5
Just because you get zero service doesn’t mean you can sulk or try to take on three guys with the ball. Continuing to make the same mistakes, it’s time to stop being apologetic for the former Red Bull star until he brings it and focuses every game.
Ironic that he only played well once Agudelo, the heir apparent as Red Bull striker buzz, entered. Shouldn’t that be the other way around?
Juan Agudelo: 8
Not too high. Shows a maturity and understanding of the game well beyond his years. The youngster has “Europe” written all over him, yet his goal was lunchpail. Impressive.
Tim Chandler: 7.5
You think it’s easy to come in against a top international side, with Lionel Messi on it, with your team down one and integrating into a veteran defense when you barely speak the same language as your teammates?
Good, neither do I.