The United States heads into Wednesday night’s Gold Cup semifinal game with quite a bit of familiarity of their opponent, still brandishing the bruises of playing them in the group stage and now with the ability to hit the reset button on a FIFA game gone wrong.
The States foil for a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena this weekend to contend for the Gold Cup championship? That would be Panama of course, the lone pothole thus far on a meandering road to CONCACAF supremacy and a date with Confederation’s Cup in 2013.
Last time out, the United States were done in by a midfield that got stretched as Panama sat deep, played possum and waited for the States to get caught up the field on a change of possession and head the other way. Unfamiliar and always challenged on breaking down teams that play on the counter, the US attack got caught out of shape and lost the ball with with little quality opportunities in the early going.
Upon a turnover–with the ball at their feet on the turn and quick movement out of their own defensive end–Panama, near the triple digits in FIFA’s team rankings, consistently threatened the Yanks overstretched midfield and its relatively junior centerback pairing. A night to forget for Tim Ream specifically ensued.
This time out it will be fascinating to see how Bob Bradley changes things up as the euphoria around an excellent team outing–and a well coached victory–against Jamaic subsides.
Will Bradley employ the same or similar 4-2-3-1 that he did against Jamaica? Landon Donovan can’t possibly start on the bench again, can he? (Don’t expect that.)
For their part, Les Marea Roja enter the fray with less than confidence one would think from having beaten their opponent. A lengthy struggle in Sunday’s second game, led to extra time–not what weary legs need at this time of the Gold Cup–and to their dominant striker who challenged the US repeatedly, Blas Perez, receiving a red card. He is, of course, unavailable for this one.
Let’s get to our customary preview. It goes:
About The Opponent: Panama
TSG, What We’re Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Panama
For more on Panama, see here as well.
Expect much the same for Panama in this one as they showed the Yanks in the first group stage meeting.
The starters all remain the same with the exception of Luis Renteria replacing Blas Perez in the starting line-up.
Coach Julio Dely Valdés must expect that Bob Bradley will be more careful with his forward wing deployment in this one and not have the same gaps that were provided to his team last time for the quick outside-inside counter.
Expect Panama to sit deep again again and let the States take it to them, both because it worked last time with their disciplined defense and also because coming off 120 minutes of up-and-down action Sunday,Dely Valdés will not want to see his team get into a foot race with a slightly fresher side.
The small wrinkle–and the States saw some of it in the second half when Panama was looking to do anything to relieve pressure after the Yanks went 4-2-3-1–is that Panama will likely use right winger Armand0 Cooper--a one time target of MLS’s New York Red Bulls–on central runs both to provide an outlet from pressure and to create a numbers mismatch on the counter in the middle of the field.
Whereas Panama looked to go outside to link in the first half of the first match to Cooper and left wing Nelson Baronha–with the States employing a wider look–Dely Valdez will call on this tactic to try to create a mismatch centrally when the Yanks are pressed up.
Panama will also–as they did in Game 1–look to bring Luis Tejada back to hold up the ball and find the onrushing Cooper or Baronha overlapping wide or Luis Renteria splitting down the right flank.
TSG What Are We Looking For:
• With Jozy Altidore ailing, the decision on who starts up top is both critical and complex?
Quite a conundrum for Bob Bradley here. Quite a conundrum.
With the US having but three true strikers on its depth chart and now likely down to two with Altidore ailing, who Bradley calls on out of the ‘pen and for how long they go are critical to the Yanks’ tournament success.
On form and talent, Juan Agudelo is probably the likely choice in a single striker set. That said, the youngster put in some challenging and thankless minutes Sunday by his lonesome at RFK. If Bradley goes Agudelo here in a single striker set, he’s certainly risking the effectiveness of a player that will be counted on against Mexico in the final if Altidore is unavailable.
The US could go with Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo up top–however if the last game against Panama proved anything, it’s that a two striker set–given how deep Panama sits and little space there is to operate–is probably not a strong deployment.
And finally, the US could go with Chris Wondolowski by as its lone man up top. Allowing a fresh Wondolowski to absorb some of the punishment in the early going knowing that breaking down the Panama defense will stand a better chance as players tire may be a better option for Bradley.
•Will Bradley’s formation force Dempsey and Donovan to do countless shuttle runs?
One thing that Bob Bradley preaches is to “run as little as possible within the team concept on defense.”
What is meant by this, for example, is if the to strikers up top criss-cross one another, they remain on their respective sides or take up the nearest defensive position of the group. In this way, a team doesn’t get stretched and a player is cognizant of where he is on the field rather than rushing back to a position he’ll never get back to.
One of the problems with the Yanks in the group stage against Panama was that both Clint Dempsey would make forward runs and upon a turnover they’d be woefully out of position on defense and the Panamanians with threaten with their counterattack.
For this reason alone, I expect one of Sacha Kljestan or Alejandro Bedoya–likely Kljestan–to join Dempsey and Donovan in the midfield and help cover for their defensive positioning.
• The US needs to shut down service this time out.
Want to make Tim Howard angry? It’s really easy. Leave his defense out high and dry by failing to put pressure on the ball. It happened multiple times in the first meeting between these two teams.
Here’s the count by teammate: Jermaine Jones (2), Steve Cherundolo (2), Carlos Bocanegra (1), Michael Bradley (1), Juan Agudelo (1) and probably a few more that escaped camera’s view.
Now the US will catch a break with Perez on the side who was on the backend of that service, but the Yanks will look a whole lot better on defense–and perhaps their young centerback pairing could’ve in the first game–had pressure been put on the distributors up the field.
• Can the US be patient on offense in the early going?
Last time out the States first half offense was a disaster. Poor off-ball movement and slow ball movement. The US pressed a bit in trying to force the issue. It led to players getting too far up the pitch and dangerous Panama counterattacks.
While the US needs to be better in the attack, they also need to play patiently and figure out the Panama defense as they go.
11 At The Whistle
The Yanks had very little success in game one with two strikers deployed up top. Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo did not move well off each other and Altidore did not move nearly enough.
Clint Dempsey, managing possession on the left flank in the early going, was left without options.
Either Altidore did not track outside fast enough or the rest of the plan, including a stagnate Landon Donovan did not move off him.
When Dempsey attempted to create, he was often left shuffling the ball back to Michael Bradley who did not switch field fast enough to a wide Steve Cherundolo.
The Yanks had no flow, no rhythm.
This time: I think the States–given the injury to Altidore and the past challenges in a 4-4-2–would be hard-pressed to deploy in a 4-4-2 again.
There is some merit to that selection in that–as we saw in the Guadeloupe game–Chris Wondolowski was often used as more of a false nine, moving back centrally to pick up a pass and distribute a lead or square pass.
However, with no redundancy up top and Panama’s defense being more organized than Guadeloupe’s, a 4-2-3-1 seems to make sense given the personnel available at Bradley’s disposal.
The only real question is will Clint Dempsey play wide again–expect him on the right to start this one instead of the left if he does–or will he be move centrally to reduce his defensive responsibilities slightly. Either way expect him to interchange frequently with whoever that is centrally, so we’ll suggest it’s Kljestan in this one again.
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Howard should have perhaps a little easier this time with Bocanegra organizing ahead of his and that absence of Perez.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj
The skinny: Bradley’s defensive four seems now set as Carlos Bocanegra has proven to be hidden better–and exert his leadership–in the middle of the pitch.
Key your eye on Clarence Goodson who’s looked a little jittery, especially in possession, the last two times out.
MID: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley
The skinny: Part of me feels that Michael Bradley needs a rest of he risks being completely gassed against Mexico. He’ll start of course as will Jermaine Jones who needs to build on his RFK performance.
MID: Landon Donovan, Sacha Kljestan, Clint Dempsey
The skinny: Landon Donovan starts in this one and he takes up the role of providing some width on the left. Sacha Kljestan remains in the advanced central role, but will likely interchange frequently with Clint Dempsey who comes off the right.
STR: Juan Agudelo
The skinny: As we mentioned, a toss up here. Agudelo gets the start if Bradley favors building continuity and in part because he’s better on the ball in one-v-one situations than Chris Wondolowski.
The first two are near toss-ups.
» Wondolowski for Agudelo
The skinny: Bob Bradley may deploy Wondolowski to take some punishment early and insert Agudelo later when Panama’s backline is tired.
» Bedoya for Kljestan
The skinny: Easily could be Bedoya on the right flank and Dempsey centrally in the early going. The move would spare Dempsey’s defensive responsibilities.
» Jonathan Spector for Cherundolo
The skinny: Kind of would be wild, right? I have to believe that Cherundolo’s still feeling the effects of that shoulder knock on Sunday. US fans will hope that Cherundolo does not need to go a full 90 minutes with the visage of Gio Dos Santos likely waiting to challenge him on Sunday. (And say what you will of Dos Santos, but he’s always very effective of a Mexico kit.)