Okay, finish up your last gulp of paella.
The US has left its Spain debacle in the rearview mirror as it looks to secure a spot in the 2013 Conferederation Cup through a championship win in this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The road for the United States appropriately goes through Detroit with Game 1 Tuesday against Canada.
The US should be able to take care of it’s group stage and finish with all nine points.
However, what US fans should be looking for–and the main sentiment that TSG will echo throughout the month–is Bob Bradley’s squad to dictate the tempo and the game to its opponent.
The US–and Mexico–are the heavies in CONCACAF, just like Spain is reckoned with on the world scene. Teams with advantages gut out wins on their bad days, but more importantly, the mark of an improving team– a team that has taken the proverbial next step–is that imposes its will on a weaker opponent.
The Gold Cup tournament–with few players facing club conflicts and time to train together–is the prefect time for the United States to collaborate as a team and begin to develop a style that the opponent is forced to contend with.
While Game One against Canada will not be without it’s flaws and an ebb and flow, by the time the United States reaches the second round they should have found their 2011 identity at the least and be controlling the run of play for long stretches of time.
Let’s get right to it. Our customary TSG preview. It goes…
About The Opponent
TSG What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent
Thanks Ben, great work!)
The Canadian squad traveling to Detroit to take on the Americans is close to full strength. Every core player of consequence will be in attendance; a rare treat for a team which often struggles to get its hands on its players. A few fringe guys are away; Preston North End forward Iain Hume hit eight goals in the English Championship last year but is missing this tournament due to personal issues, and 31-year-old international veteran Patrice Bernier is out with a broken leg. The team will also be without D.C. United centre back Dejan Jakovic, a standout in Canadian colours who hurt his hamstring in last week’s friendly against Ecuador. For the most part this is the best squad that Canada can assemble.
In every sense, the key for Canada is on the flanks. Canada runs a fairly orthodox 4-3-3 and the best attackers on the team play the wing, but the team is most vulnerable at fullback. It can be an area of both feast and famine for les rouges and not even the most jaded observers of the Canadian national team can be sure which it will be for any given match.
The most talented attacking player on the team is left winger Josh Simpson. There is very little on the offensive side of the ball he doesn’t do well: he can run at players as well as anyone in CONCACAF. Simpson has a constant nose for the goal, a decent shot, and both the willingness and ability to pass and cross. On the right wing, Canada has several options: Real Salt Lake playmaker Will Johnson, MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario, and two-time English promotion hero Simeon Jackson have each played that role in recent friendlies. Jackson is a forward by nature and played up top against Ecuador, but most of his appearances for Canada have been on the wing.
As deep and as strong as the wings look, weakness at fullback makes up for it. The starting right back against the United States will probably be 26-year-old Nik Ledgerwood, a professional journeyman who toils for Wehen in the German third division. Left back Michael Klukowski is a talented veteran but he left his Turkish club due to financial irregularities and is out of shape. Marcel de Jong, who played last season in the 2. Bundesliga, started against Ecuador but looked erratic at best. While Ledgerwood held on pretty well against the Ecuadoran attack, don’t be fooled: he’s a very modestly talented player with not much athleticism and a good head on his shoulders. The Americans will have space to attack down the wings if they want it.
The team is anchored by last year’s national player of the year Atiba Hutchinson. The odd thing about Hutchinson is that, at first glance, it seems hard to see why he dominates games the way he does. He’s not that quick, he won’t play killer passes, he doesn’t go on daring offensive runs or make remarkable tackles. Yet Hutchinson is always in position to receive the ball, and when he has it he always puts the ball where he wants it. He’s not a physical player but he’s big and strong enough to handle whatever Maurice Edu types throw at him. He also has a ferocious shot when he has a mind to unleash it, which isn’t often enough, and Canadian fans will remember how he had a would-have-been-equalizer against the United States in the 2004 Gold Cup chalked off on an incorrect offside call. He doesn’t draw headlines or rave reviews, but when you watch Hutchinson you see the heartbeat of a team.
The lack of friendly practice and wildly different league environments can show when Canada goes on the attack: they’re usually highly individualistic. Jackson or De Rosario or Simpson go on a long run, beat as many defenders as they can, and then pass it off. In the final third Canada shows decent but by no means excellent passing chops: the chemistry isn’t there. The situation is a bit better on the back line, particularly centrally where Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault have been playing off each other since Hainault came into the national team. Their team play has improved through decent games against the like of Greece, Belarus, and Ecuador, but a first game against the United States will still be a trial by fire for them. They may have preferred to open against Panama or Guadeloupe and try to find each others’ stride; that’s life, though. On their day, the Canadians can easily be dangerous enough to spring an upset.
TSG Follow-up: So Ben, you don’t think Canadian manager Jonathan Hart will go with a 4-4-1-1 to try to get all his best midfielders/forwards on the pitch?
Massey: A 4-4-1-1 would be a big changeup from Hart and I don’t expect it. De Guzman is battling with Dunfield for a starting spot but Dunfield started against Ecuador and scored a wonder goal while De Guzman came on as a substitute and was atrocious.
One of Johnson, Gerba, Jackson, or De Rosario is going to sit. I really can only guess which. Johnson played RW against Ecuador but Gerba wasn’t available for that game.
TSG: What Are We Looking For?
• Can the Yanks dictate the tempo and the game to Canada?
We told you we would reiterate this point multiple times during the Gold Cup. Apologies but you’ll see it more often.
• Does Bob Bradley reinforce the midfield with a 4-2-3-1 or stick with a 4-4-2?
Expect Bob Bradley to start this game in a 4-2-2-2 keeping Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey somewhat narrow ahead of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. While Bradley played a 4-2-3-1 against Argentina’s 4-3-3 and a very flat 4-4-2 against Spain, I think we’ll see the Yanks stay narrow through the work of Donovan and Dempsey pinching in.
On a turn, this will force Canada’s CMF to quickly choose between Donovan and Dempsey and should allow the Yanks some of the linking they missed out on in the Spain match.
A quick note here given the first bullet, if Bradley goes 4-2-3-1 he looking for a war of attrition. 4-2-2-2 and he’s looking to own the game.
• Who counters the advanced flank forwards for Canada, Jackson and Simpson?
One mistake on Jackson and he possesses enough class to make the Yanks pay. While the key to containing the Norwich City striker will be cutting off the service lanes to his feet, the Yanks will need solid organization on Jackson’s side as he’ll try to exploit the space between the Yanks left fullback and left central defender.
Though more dangerous, Josh Simpson would be much more troubling if it weren’t for the advancing runs of Steve Cherundolo.
With the Yanks likely looking to get Steven Cherundolo ahead in the attack, the right central midfielder (either Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones) needs to be cognizant of the quick counterattack to the feet of Simpson, that and being sure to be mindful of coming over in support if Cherundolo is out 1-v-1 with the Canadian lefty on the flank.
• Jozy Altidore should have more time on the ball and be facing one of the weaker defenses in the group. Can he captalize?
No explanation needed here. Altidore should be able to exploit a weaker defense than most that he’s faced in a US shirt over the past year. Can Altidore himself impose his will?
11 at the Whistle
The skinny: Keeping a rule of thumb here–goalkeepers excepted. Bob Bradley is a very meticulous and scripted couch. Our hunch? If a player went more than 45 minutes against Spain, they’re not starting against Canada. Thus..
G: Tim Howard
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein
The skinny: The US and Bradley have to be careful about their leftback situation. Whereas on the right Steve Cherundolo is backed by Jonathan Spector and Eric Lichaj–both who appear capable of playing the position against CONCACAF competition if the Hannover captain goes down, proven on the left is only Bocanegra and Bornstein, the former who may be asked to play centrally.
Out on a limb here by suggesting that Bradley exposes both, but with a 4-3-3 and a lot of tracking, the veteran play of two left-sided defenders is warranted.
CDM: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley
The skinny: Let’s add this here. Michael Bradley came against a Spain team that had moved into near post-game cruise control on Saturday. He was clean and efficient with the ball with Clint Dempsey dropping horizontally in to the middle to receive possession.
Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones floundered against Spain’s first half attack.
These are all–break out the TSG axiom–one observation. One observation does not a conclusion make. It’s hard to adjust to Spain’s game speed when you’ve been playing numbers-shortened scrimmages in practice without shinguards.
Jones and Bradley get their first respective 2011 starts centrally for the States in the Gold Cup.
MID: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan
The skinny: Expect nothing less…unless of course Donovan is still ill.
STR: Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowksi
The skinny: Jozy will get the start. We go with Chris Wondolowski–remember, we’re not choosing any player that went more than 45 minutes on Saturday. Wondolowski as well, can be counted on to play smartly on defense and he’ll be used as that offside striker we keep talking about to corral crosses.
• The US goes 4-2-3-1; Edu steps in for Wondowlowski
» The skinny: Bob Bradley used a 4-2-3-1 to stave off Argentina in March at the New Meadowlands. Canada isn’t Argentina though.
• The US backline is Bocanegra, Onyewu, Goodson, Cherundolo instead.
» The skinny: Possible, even probable. The challenge here is neither Goodson or Onyewu are great quarterbacks in central defense. They typically rely on the other to be the signal caller.
• Agudelo for Wondolowski
» The skinny: Bob Bradley likely uses Agudelo–who hasn’t been starting club ball–off the bench here after playing him more than 60 minutes against Spain.