The worse thing you can lose as a team is belief. We’ve seen US players lose it before. Clint Dempsey being chiefly culapable of the regulars over the past few years.
As the first half was ending today in what would become a clinical 4-0 dissection of the United States by Spain, you saw a befuddled US team get frustrated with their first 45-minute performance and the game plan.
A fault of the coach and to a man being outclassed by La Furia Roja.
In the waning moments of the half….
Sasha Kljestan broke defensive responsibility and chased into the center of the pitch. Though a poor analogy, his chase almost reminscent of the Ronaldo ping-pong job when Real Madrid were getting belittled by Barcelona a few weeks ago.
Robbie Rogers had his head down, literally and figuratively.
Eric Lichaj, frustrated with the lack of movement in front of him, decided to try and start beating players with the ball.
When discipline with a unit breaks down, it’s because the belief in the plan has waned.
A player thinks, “What I’m doing ain’t working. I need to do something different whether it’s in the game plan or not.”
A tough day for the USMNT.
It’s probably irrational to be upset as US fan by a beatdown by Spain. They are the World Cup champions; they break the will of teams all the time. However, fans do have some reason to be upset by more than the scoreline:
• Like the scheduling of the match three days before a Gold Cup game.
Every signal from Bob Bradley–including the fact that the notoriously press-averting coach allowed cameras in the lockerroom–screamed that the US was going to treat this game as an exhibition. (Where were the Cosmos when you needed them?)
An exhibition is acceptable but it begs the question of whether US Soccer should have discounted ticket prices and why Spain still played quite a few of their normal starters.
• Like the United States not deploying any of their proven midfielders against La Furia Roja who fielded three regulars or semi regulars in the middle of the pitch in Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and David Silva–latter who flat-out carved up the States right midsection.
• Like the lack of even a minor in-first half adjustment by Bob Bradley when his team’s strategy to move the ball wasn’t working even a smidge–we’ll get to that in a moment.
• Like the same errors by the same players in the same positions.
Had the US won or drew Spain, the message from US Soccer and in the media would have unabashedly been positive.
With such a chasmic loss, it brings other questions to mine–that may or may not be fair but now will inevitably get some press.
Did Bob Bradley want this friendly? Was this just a money-making exercise by USSF? Will quality teams want to travel to the States now if the US opposition doesn’t take them seriously and trots out their “B” team?
And here’s a thought: All the talk of focusing on the Gold Cup and resting players seems a bit hollow…when you consider that Tim Howard stood ninety minutes in goal and that the US should be able to trump Canada and Panama missing one or two of their key parts if they had to.
Just plain awkward.
Let’s get to our TSG review. It goes:
* Awards We’ll skip this one this time
* Player Ratings
• Bob Bradley’s team selection and deployment was puzzling and left no advanced option in midfield to carry the attack.
By now in his second term, it is known that Bob Bradley plays not to concede in the 1st half. However he gave his team absolutely zero chance to attack in the first half today–not that they could have mustered possession mind you.
Spain played David Villa, one of the top strikers in the world up top. David Silva, a starter on Champion’s League-bound Manchester City, played an effective withdrawn forward on the left. Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla moved well off the ball. The attackers were backed by Spain’s first team holders in Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets.
Bob Bradley ran out fringe US players in Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan on the wings.
Tactically, the US coach countered with an extremely static 4-4-2 with the defense playing extremely deep for most of the first half. It was an understandable tactic by Bradley who must have counted on the short Foxborough pitch and staying compact as a way to defend the spine.
The result–however–was a lack of on ball pressure up the pitch that gave Spain ample time to pick out short and long passes that led to opportunities. Those passes killed a Yanks central midfield that was flatfooted and centerback pair that was either inept or lacking experience.
On the other side of the ball, the deep bands of four for the States left virtually no outlet upon a turnover as strikers Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo were stranded far up the pitch with two Spain defenders preventing a quick getaway.
Even if Agudelo and Altidore were hit with a pass over the top, a surplus Spain defender typically closed down faster than one of the States middies could make it up for support.
Bradley’s deployment and team selections–even taking the match as an exhibition–were puzzling.
Without Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey at the starting whistle, the States had to know that they would be challenged in transition and linking.
Yet Bradley went with Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan bookending Edu and Jones–neither player a seasoned linker and one player who is an outright winger. Neither player, as well, drifted inward.
Further, after witnessing the enormous gap between the midfield and strikers, Bradley could have merely instructed Altidore or Agudelo to play as a false nine (think Wayne Rooney’s role at Manchester United this year) and meander back much deeper just to provide an outlet. This change never came either.
Come the second half, the US coach seemed to accept the error of his first half plan.
He inserted Clint Dempsey as a wide midfielder and had Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo up top. Dempsey was tasked with cutting in from the his wide defensive position and holding up the ball–he did beautifully and the Yanks got some of the run of play in the second half.
• Michael Bradley states his case in the midfield today for the Yanks*
*Actually that’s only partly true.
See when Michael Bradley plays, he has either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey as an outlet in front of him. Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu? Not so much in front of them today or out wide today.
That said—defensively–Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu–Edu more so–were outmatched against Spain. Edu was continually off in positioning, but the main fault for both is there error in not trailing the play and staying with their marks–or finding a mark as a play broke down.
While the first and second goals may not have been able to prevented, at least both could have challenged by the pair tracking back.
Got an idea that this is what Tim Howard–among other things–was furious at in the first half.
The US has a real conundrum in midfield as Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley haven’t looked great when coupled together.
Do the Ricardo Clark jokes stop today? Moving on…
• The definition of insanity is expecting different results out of Jonathan Spector and Oguchi Onyewu
Maybe Bob Bradley was testing these players…again?
Maybe Jonathan Spector was merely in to rest Steve Cherundolo and with Timmy Chanlder out of the picture the only viable rightback back-up option?
Either way, I’m not sure what Bob Bradley is expecting here.
Jonathan Spector continues to have challenges in man-marking quick forwards. Heck, he doesn’t even play fullback for his club West Ham anymore. Just a few weeks ago, Spector was roasted multiple times by the forwards of Argentina. Today, it was just a different opponent. The script? Identical.
Did Bradley expect a different performance here?
More troubling is the play of the Yanks’ former stalwart on the interior.
Oguchi Onyewu was culpable in at least two of the goals, indecision on whether to help close down or stay with his attacker (Goal #1) and finding himself in no man’s land (Goal #3).
As we wrote previously, these are the same errors that continually torment Onyewu and the Yanks’ defense. Would Clarence Goodson have done better? Who knows, but it’s probably worth finding out. For all of Gooch’s might and experience, if you still make two mental mistakes per game that lead to goals, is the tradeoff worth it?
• Eric Lichaj held his own & Tim Ream stuck with it.
Tasked with the leftback role on the afternoon, Eric Lichaj, despite some gaffes, played an admirable flank defender. He was useful and got forward in the attack when possible and after an early missed assignment played bend-don’t-break the rest of the afternoon.
A positive for the States.
As for Tim Ream, he had a rough first half and got schooled by Sevilla’s number one striker. That said, it was impressive to see Ream keep his goal and continually battle in the second half–at one point he found himself on the left flank on an island with Iniesta and he did well to force a back pass.
• Clint Dempsey’s brief stint showed an extremely confident player
The game just seems to have slowed for Dempsey this year–that and he’s increased his focus. Dempsey was extremely calm on the ball for the States and showed some great handles on the day.
G: Tim Howard: 6
Fed to the wolves by Bob Bradley–for some odd reason–and his defense. (Don’t goalkeepers need rest?)
Probably should have held his line on Spain’s “almost” first goal, but Howard has made a living on coming out to snuff those.
RB: Jonathan Spector: 3
Smart player. Doesn’t have the foot speed. Gets caught out.
As we wrote above, West Ham moved him central midfield for a reason. Bob Bradley should, you know, consider it.
CB: Oguchi Onyewu: 2
It’s painful to see Onyewu out there these days. I made it a point to focus on “the big fella” this game. It wasn’t just the scoring plays, Onyewu just didn’t come up and mark players at all today. Frankly, it’s odd.
CB: Tim Ream: 5.5 (on a curve)
Abused in the first half with the over-the-top ball. It’s a weakness of Ream’s and it’s something that he needs to work on.
But he kept battling and improved in the second half against the number one team in the world. Credit to that.
RB: Eric Lichaj: 6
Sure he’s played some leftback, but he’s a natural rightback and a lot was asked of him today. Though the run of play didn’t often come his way, Lichaj was stout for the most part in defense, hustled when he was beat and did his best to get ahead in the attack, which actually happened a few times in the first half.
RM: Sacha Kljestan: 5
First, give the Huntington Beach man a little props. His defense has improved drastically with his time at Anderlecht.
That said, you could see Kljestan wrestling with the challenge of expressing his play and still remaining in Bob Bradley’s system.
There’s some glimmer of a solid two-way midfielder there. Saw some of it in the second, but he needed to actually be more aggressive today even after he made a few mistakes.
Had the opportunity to go for it in the second half, but tentatively–and incorrectly–deferred to Dempsey who’s effort rolled weakly wide.
CM: Maurice Edu: 4
Read the play wrong all day and seemed a step slow throughout his time in the first half. It’s the first time facing real action in over three weeks for Edu but he didn’t improve as the half went on. He looks to be Bradley’s defensive jack of all trades in the middle at this point and not a locked-in starter.
CM: Jermaine Jones: 5
The States needed more, much more, of Jones key offensive skill set today. That is the ability to switch field with the ball. Didn’t do it enough and Jones, defensively, was probably culpable on the third Spain goal.
Jones needs to bring it for 90 minutes. Beyond his first game in a US shirt (US vs. Poland, October 2010), he hasn’t done that. If he does that, Michael Bradley could go back to being off ball.
CM: Robbie Rogers: 4
Out of his depth today.
STR: Jozy Altidore: N/A
Didn’t get many opportunities, needed better offball movement. Tracked back a few times into the box on defense when necessary. Hard to judge his game today, but it didn’t shine either.
STR: Juan Agudelo: 5
Admire his gumption today. His creativity didn’t work on his Spanish brethren today–they’ve seen many a player with what he has or much better.
RB: Steve Cherundolo: 6.5
Right into the rightback frying pan went the US elder statesman at the start of the second 45. Cherundolo was tasked with quieting his flank and providing offense. Did admirably as expected.
CM: Michael Bradley: 7
I can only imagine that Michael Bradley was chomping at the bit on the sideline waiting for his chance. Solid defensively and kept his head up offensively. Only backtracked three times in possession. That may or may not be a record.
Clint Dempsey: 8
Let it be said, that Clint Dempsey alone was all the Yanks offense today. Looked extremely comfortable and confident under pressure. Watch out Gold Cup opponents, Dempsey’s on and he’s got his focus.
Clarence Goodson: 6
Active and vocal. The Gold Cup should be his opportunity. And to those awaiting, it was Panama as the opponent in the Gold Cup 2009 that saw Goodson flash a little bit of what we’re seeing now.
Chris Wondolowski: 5.5
I’m expected a surprise or two from Wondo in the coming weeks. I think he’ll do well as a weak side trailing striker, a la Herculez Gomez’s role. The San Jose Earthquake man was earning less than $50,000 last year at this time. Today he was going up against Pique. Um, he’ll need a few more reps in an American shirt to acclimatize.
Ale Bedoya: 5
Poor first touch on what should have been a true scoring opportunity. Not much time or opportunity otherwise.