Not the way Bob Bradley and company planned it arriving at the third group stage game in Gold Cup 2011.
With now three games in eight days, this was to be a chance for the key US regulars to get a respite before the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Instead the Yanks need to show up to Livestrong Park for Tuesday’s final group stage Gold Cup match against Guadeloupe with a win on their mind. The customary starters, with the expectation, that they’ll take the pitch at the whistle.
The dissection of the States by Panama has created quite a bit of uncertainty.
As we acknowledged Saturday, probably every future opponent this June took notice to the game plan used by Panama manager Julio Dely Valdés to punish the Yanks lack of width, central midfield challenges and inexperience in central defense.
Guadeloupe here in the final game presents a challenge not unlike Algeria did in the final group stage game for the World Cup. They’ve got nothing to lose now having dropped their two first matches and they’ve got just enough panache–coming back both a man down and three goals for the worse against Panama to nearly even things and then playing Canada tight thoughout–to make things more than interesting.
A brief reprieve for the States in at least Guadeloupe does not outright subscribe to a pack-it-in strategy and with the Yanks challenged to score in anything but the counter and set pieces that’s a good thing…we think.
Let’s get to our customary preview. It goes
About The Opponent: Guadeloupe
TSG What Are We Looking For/At
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe plays a very free flowing brand of soccer that can sometimes leave their backline exposed. Twice in two games this season, they’ve dropped to ten men–in just the 3rd minute against Canada on Saturday–as someone on their backline has committed a foul in defense and been sent off.
Guadeloupe doesn’t have a typical formation, over the past year they’ve used a 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2. Most recently against Canada they matched up in a 4-4-2 while against Panama they went 4-2-3-1 looking for width–the latter perhaps particularly disturbing in that Bob Bradley surely watched how Guadeloupe attacked the 4-4-2 of Panama with a 4-2-3-1 and didn’t follow suit. Both times as well as in their lead-up games to the tourney, Guadeloupe has not matched its opponents formation.
More here shortly….
TSG: What Are We Looking For?
• Will Bob Bradley change the formation?
The crux of Bob Bradley changing his formation will be predicated more on his defensive posture rather than on “freeing Landon Donovan” or “springing Jozy Altidore.”
I think US fans will get a formation change from Bradley in this one for a singular reason: his central midfield on the counter was completely stretched in the first half Saturday evening.
Whether it was Donovan making a run then having to rush to catch-up or Jozy Altidore dropping for Clint Dempsey after the latter cut inside, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones seemed confused as to how far up to come and hold their midfield line.
Bradley and Jones continually faced the riddle of: “Should I drop deep and support the backline or should I come up and close on the opponent?”
The John Harkesian point of “a team needs to move as one” was never more resounding than with the States on Saturday.
Expect Bradley to morph both the actors and the pieces on the field on Tuesday with Clint Dempsey as the fulcrom.
I imagine you’ll see Dempsey used as a withdrawn striker. The US will defend in a 4-4-2, but on offense look for Donovan and one of Sacha Kljestan, Alejandro Bedoya or Robbie Rogers out wide with Dempsey choosing his spot to float behind Jozy Altidore ahead of him.
The US should be careful though as Guadeloupe has proven they can react well to different game plans and still compete a man down. Too much unfamiliarity or confusion from the Yanks and Les Gwada Boys could capitalize.
• Might Clint Dempsey be hanging on by just a thread right now?
Oh about the 30th minute against Panama, an exasperated Clint Dempsey threw his hands up in the air, beckoning to his teammates to move, as he was staving off a tackle attempt and looking to find a man. Only Michael Bradley consistently came to Dempsey’s rescue Saturday.
Right now, the States is certainly looking like a one-trick Deuce pony when it’s not playing on the counter.
Bradley can’t continue to rely on Dempsey and conversely Dempsey needs–as he has to date–to continue to attack.
Dempsey might be deployed differently, but too much ball watching occurs when he has it. That has to stop.
• Looking for culpability around slow starts? How about continuing to make mistakes put continuing to start–no threat of a benching equals no sense of urgency equals complacency and mistkaes.
Is Jermaine Jones a candidate be dropped for his poor performance while Jozy Altidore is not?
Looks very likely on the Jones-Altidore front.
It’s easy to see Bradley’s continued usage of Altidore up top; whether one agrees with it or not.
Where does he go? Altidore has a US hat trick, a World Cup, a tour in Europe under his belt. Does he have poor body language, poor decision-making, inconsistent play and a penchant to give up on defense from time to time? Yes and you get the picture. However Agudelo has not shown he has the mettle yet and it’s clear that Wondolowski is still adjusting to the speed of play.
There are little, nay zero, non-risky options.
Jones? If Bradley hates anything it’s poor defense and not pursuing play and the German-American was guilty of both on Saturday evening. Jones’ passes are not “on” lately and inserting Edu would create more definition around his (destroyer) and Michael Bradley’s role (distributor).
That said, while Bradley risks losing Altidore’s focus if he’s benched, should that matter? When punishment for a lag in on field focus and complacency doesn’t happen, how does that set a precedent. Bob Bradley is revered as a player’s coach–though selective player’s coach Jose Torres would argue. A coach whose “got your back.”
But there is a flip side to that–as US fans witnessed with Oguchi Onyewu at the World Cup. There is a point when that faith is taken advantage of or doesn’t send the right message. I’m not going so far as to say it’s happening now, but….
11 at the Whistle (Who Bob Bradley will likely select)
G: Tim Howard
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Carlos Bocanegra
The skinny: In looking over the tape, Bob Bradley probably saw was an ill-advised isolated defensive manuveur by Ream and a few minor errors–including not stepping enough centrally.
CDM: Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley
The skinny: I think Jones pays for his Panama efforts with his spot. He’s a little fatigued and drew the ire of Tim Howard. Maurice Edu, you’re up. Can you impress?
Just play defense and complete passes and you’ll do your job.
MID: Sacha Kljestan, Landon Donovan
The skinny: Bradley would love to insert Stu Holden or Benny Feilhaber here, but neither is coming to the rescue. Bradley tried Kljestan out on the wing against Spain and he uses Kljestan here as a tucked in midfielder to held out Bradley or Edu’s cover over the left central flank.
FWD: Clint Dempsey
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: Agudelo gets a breather early on and frees up space up top for Altidore and Dempsey to play more vertically.
• The backline turns over (no pun intended). Bornstein enters for Ream, Boca slides to the interior
» The skinny: Thought the central back pairing would be this one for Canada above.
Bocanegra is a liability outside and Tim Ream has played three games in eight days and this would have been his fourth in eleven days, probably needs a break. Less so for his error on Saturday. Bet on Bradley keeping his captain on the field.
Is Bornstein injured? We’ll find out. Perplexing that in a game that Bradley knew he needed width, neither lefty of Robbie Rogers or Jonathan Bornstein made the bench.
• Bedoya over Kljestan on the wing.
» The skinny: Bradley goes with the hot hand instead of his more time-honored selection.