Snap Judgements: USA Outlasts Panama, 1-0

Prodigal son Freddy Adu finally made his first 2011 Gold Cup appearance. He didn't disappoint.

And this one was about the coaches.

Arriving on the pitch Wednesday night at Reliant Stadium, both Bob Bradley and Jorge Dely Valdes accompanied two teams determined to get to the Gold Cup Final in Pasadena on Saturday evening.

However both their squads had just sauntered through four exhausting matches–three in the group stage and their first knockout game–in summer heat and with very little respite in between.

What transpired in Houston Saturday was a supreme tactical battle as neither sides fatigued legs wanted to lose defensive shape and neither side wanted to get caught out on the counter–the easiest, relative, ticket to score.

For the US, Landon Donovan incredulously started on the bench again but his teammates still mustered an attack against Panama in the first stanza.

The United States midfield stoutly manned up on Panama’s attackers high in offensive half and were able to convert some of the created into opportunities.

Were in not for some poor touches by Sacha Kljestan and some last minute defending by the opponent’s back four, the United States may have found pay dirt. In fact, a sequence of Alejandro Bedoya to Steve Cherundolo to Juan Agudelo’s head found the woodwork early on.

The second half started with a decidedly different flavor as the United States moved up the field, but were largely boxed in when attempting to move beyond Panama’s amoeba-like band of five mifielders.

As the half wore on the war of fatigue and attrition saw now Panama make a push upfield and threaten the States.

Donovan's through-the-wickets assist? Ridiculous...

When it looked like the siege might bear fruit, the Yanks turned the tables, skipped a pass to Freddy Adu–yes, you read the right, who curled a left-footed lead pass to a streaking Landon Donovan. The Yanks’s #10 measured his approached to the box and slotted a ball through a stationary defender’s legs to Clint Dempsey at the back post.

A score, the only score, and it would hold up. Oh what the hell, for one solitary moment the Yanks front three were nearly, say, Barca-like. Quite a compliment given much of the Yanks stagnation during the second half.

Let’s get to our snap judgements.

• This was a fascinating tactical battle between US Coach Bob Bradley and Panama coach Jorge Dely Valdes.

Can’t make this point enough.

Going back to game one, in hindsight, you might suggest that Bradley’s tactics played right into Valdes hand. With the USA holding the skill advantage, the thinking behind the States group stage deployment was that they could own possession, pick their spots, push up the field and find joy against a sagging Panama defense.

Didn’t work. The United States wide midfielders of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey got way too deep and often left the Yanks midfield defending 4-v-2 and 3-v-2 in the center of the pitch. Again, in hindsight, I imagine Bob Bradley would have preferred to sit a little deeper and play “My counter is better than yours” instead.

The United States would come out with the same 4-2-3-1 that punished a disorganized Jamaican side thinking that an extra central midfielder would stem counter attacks and provide more possession against a bunkered in Panama.

However, Dely Valdes countered this effectively by showing a 4-5-1 line-up that actually played more like a 3-4-3.

Instead of sitting very deep, Panama elected to challenge the United States at the top of their defensive third. For good measure they threw their best defender Felipe Baloy on the inexperienced Juan Agudelo to give the US little vertical depth to create space ahead of their delineated battleground.

This tactic worked well as the US would work its way up the field, but then find itself cut off from service and passing space; the attack, DOA.

Halftime came and while the States had the better of the run of play, one couldn’t argue definitely that they were exceedingly better in creating true chances.

The second half saw a handful of moves by both coaches. Bob Bradley inserted Landon Donovan for the ineffective Kljestan and give Panama more of a almost a true 4-4-2 look. Panama countered by playing deeper up the flanks and starting to move the possession fight up field.

As the 60th decade progressed, Panama began finding more and more chances in the US’s defensive kitchen, both because the States’ central midfielders began to fatigue and through wide possession.

However as the Red Tide their forays up the field, their defense also got stretched.

Enter the Bob Bradley’s unlikely, but crucial, substitution of Freddy Adu.

With the US needing possession and hold-up ability in the midfield. Adu made himself available for the quick outlets that the US defense increasingly needed under duress.

Working without a true striker, the US stretched Panama’s back-three wide and started to create a few opportunities through space. The key moment saw Michael Bradley find Freddy Adu in the middle of the field, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey filled on either side and suddenly Panama was experiencing the nightmare they wanted to inflict in reverse: caught up the field and under a counter attack.

Adu bent a ball to Donovan in stride. Donovan guided a ball to Dempsey at the back post and the US beat Panama and their game plan, a counter attack goal that would be the only difference needed.

• For the bulk of the game, the US defense kept their defensive integrity.

Howard & Company: Up to the task...

For the second straight game–and save some frantic 11th hour defending–Bob Bradley’s side was prescient with its positioning and man-on defense. In fact, the difference between the group stage US team defense and their knockout stage defense is eye-popping.

Led by the industrious Alejandro Bedoya, who put in Herculean efforts of shutting down would-be attackers behind the half line while sprinting ahead to gain field possession when the ball was hucked up the field, the midfield solved their early Gold Cup challenge against Panama of shutting down Panamas passers in the defensive half. Gone were the free looks and passing channels that led to the States lone group stage loss.

In the back, Eric Lichaj had a phenomenal game. The early moments saw Lichaj challenged in possession as Panama closed much faster than Sunday’s Jamaica. However, once the early jitters were out of the way, Lichaj was a force on defense and played so confidently that we was often winning balls much further up the field than he probably should of.

The result of Lichaj’s, Bedoya’s and Howard’s, et all’s efforts? The first trifecta of US clean sheets since the Summer of 2008. (Credit as well to Carlos Bocanegra’s backline marshaling).

• Speaking of clean sheets, the Yanks attack needs to improve or hope for another one from Team Timmy.

The Yanks offense? Still a work in progress.

Here’s a laundry list of probably what’s on Bob Bradley’s clipboard over the next few days and months.

__  Find another midfielder who can maintain possession and run at defenders besides Clint. Note: What Freddy Adu did was promising here, but that’s a single observation (and we know what TSG says about single observations.)

__  Move off the ball! Especially in the second half, the US looked like its attackers were fitted with cement cleats. While Michael Bradley will never be confused with Luka Modric or even Raul Meireles, many of the giveaways Bradley had this game where when Panama directed him to a flank and then no teammate made himself available to the coach’s son.

__  Move the ball faster. It just needs to happen.

__ Get Juan Agudelo some reps. Hard to argue that US movement up top wasn’t better with Agudelo on the field instead of Altidore. Where Agudelo needs to improve is taking it to his defender before the defender sets–sort of like when Tim Duncan gets it in the post and is beginning his move before the ball even arrives. Agudelo, very promising though and good game in building on his Jamaican performance.

Now with Mexico in the final, the US will need to improve some of these items in order to counter a Mexican attack that boasts Dos Santos, Barrera, Guardado and Hernandez.

Miscellaneous:

The most coveted US Soccer award goes to...Lichaj

» Golden Shinguard: Eric Lichaj

It was a main point lat match, but should be emphasized again. Lichaj’s impact on the overall team game has been astounding. The US now needs to cover less on the left flank and they’re also a viable threat through Lichaj’s speed and physical play going forward. Some mistakes due to lack of reps and inexperience, but his impact far outweighed those.

Honorable mentions: Tim Howard, Alejandro Bedoya and Clint Dempsey

» Whiter Landon?

Better from Landon Donovan, but not dynamic. Is something ailing him? The question persists.

» Sidenote: The Ghost of Guatemala 2008 is abolished

Had to put this side note in. During an August 2008 road qualifier in Guatemala, Tim Howard came out to cover up on a through ball to Carlos Ruiz. Howard won the battle, but got a Ruiz boot to the head.

No US defender came to his defense. Encouraging to see Bocanegra and Bradley quickly intercede when Howard was involved in some hand bags in the first half.

» And…can the States muster one more crucial effort?

Saturday, it’s El Tri at the Rose Bowl in the Pasadena, can Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley recover in time to dominate their respective positions?

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71 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carlos on 2011/06/23 at 1:27 AM

    Great write up. I thought today win was a true team effort. Love the props Dempsey was sending Donavon way, he also acknowledged Adu for the great pass. Are any Mexican starters slated to miss Saturday’s game due to yellow accumulation or injury?

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  2. Posted by berniebernier on 2011/06/23 at 2:48 AM

    It was a good win for the US. My quick takes:
    1) Not sure if I read this here or somewhere else but the US team has me harking back to the article about defense winning world cups. It was an interesting article about fewest goals as the key to success despite the fact that most fans think goals are the key. Howard has had a couple of easy games (made big saves when needed) in which he hasn’t spent a lot of time yelling at his defense. And yes I am considering the first Panama game an anomoly.
    2) The fact that you included a bullet about needing to find someone other than Dempsey to hold possession and challenge players says tons about Donovan’s game.
    3) That said Donovan needs to start against Mexico.
    4) Really impressed by Bedoya. Finally get the whole Ambassador to Brazil hype.
    5) Hopefully the 4-2-3-1 is here to stay.
    6) I am not sure what is up with Bradley Jr but I am curious about the decision to have Bradley being the more defensive of the two holding midfield.
    7) I feel that the US can beat Mexico without Donovan at his best but we need a great game from Jones. Jones has been below average in some games better than average for others. When he is going well the offense looks great. When he goes poorly the offense struggles.

    Let the hype begin.

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  3. I thought Bedoya looked lost in the post WC friendlies but his form right now against CONCACAF opponents has me on the Ale Bedoyawagon. He looks like he knows every minute he’s on the pitch and Landon’s not he’s got a short leash, and the effort pays off. During the second half when nothing was working I knew a sub was coming, and I thought it should be Sacha, but worried Bob might just yank Ale for Lando. When the numbers came up on the board I actually cheered. Finally Bob is managing like a coach in charge of his team.

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  4. Posted by Colin on 2011/06/23 at 5:47 AM

    Could we get a “judgement of the tournament” type thing? Some of my observations so far:

    1) before the tournament, I wasnt totally sold on Bedoya yet, but he has definitely shown that he is a solid option in midfield. After a few games making an impact as a sub and 2 games as a starter…its a run of 5 impressive outings for him.

    2) Lichaj has been much better than I had hoped for and he is still a very young defender. The future is indeed bright for him.

    3) It looks like CONCACAF as a whole has gotten a bit more competitive..Mexico group stage madness not included. It now looks like Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Guatemala have all pulled themselves a bit closer to the level of USA and Mexico….or maybe have just figured out a better way to play against them. This is not a bad thing.

    4) Have we seriously finished 2 of 5 matches with 6 midfielders on as time expired??? Whats up with that?

    5) The team no longer relies on Donovan to win. For most of this tournament, he hasn’t been at his finest and we are in the final. Granted…the goal to get us there came from a Donovan assist. Again, this isnt a bad thing, just shows that more players can carry their weight.

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    • Posted by Jared on 2011/06/23 at 6:19 AM

      To your point 4: We’ve finished with 5 and a half midfielders. Deuce is a hybrid. All that is really saying is that we don’t have any strikers worth much when you only bring 3, one is out and another in Wondo has no business at this level.

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    • Posted by Jim S on 2011/06/23 at 6:21 AM

      yep we finished with 6 middies in name only. When dempsey moves up top of the formation as the striker, he’s no longer technicaly a middie. A players position is not determined by what their stat sheet says, but is determined by their positioning and responsibility on the field. In the end adu was brought in as a middie and dempsey and lando were pushed up to forward roles changing our formation to the above-mentioned 4-4-2. So in this past match, we started with five and ended with four. To me that is actually a sign of a maturing team when the players of capable of changing formations and positions both mentally and physically and getting results from that change. Form the standpoint you have to give the manager credit for seeing the need to change the formation, but the large credit goes to the players for being able to do it late ina game while fatigued. This is what separated the average team from the good teams.

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    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/06/23 at 6:44 AM

      I think you just provided it. Great writeup TSP btw.

      1) Lichaj’s impact on the overall play cannot be understated. Still some clumsy moments out left in new role but his soccer sense and abilities allow his mates to focus on their own responsibilities. And can we retire the term “Bornstein hater” now that we’ve seen what a true intl level back provides to the side? That’s all we’ve been asking for is to try someone with soccer skills out there.

      2)Although the camp selections have left some heads scratching, Bob has pulled the right strings at this tournament. HIs starting lineup last night was what most wanted but Klestjan didn’t deliver under pressure. Bedoya (last ccamp selection?!!) belongs out wide and gives the squad incredible energy in
      pressuring and covering.
      My thoughts last night were, if this lineup could get through Panama you’ve seen the shape of things to come.
      Good stuff.

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  5. Posted by SamT on 2011/06/23 at 5:50 AM

    Eager to see a fresh and eager Donovan start against Mexico. I’m sure his flu-dampened second half at Azteca is still fresh in his mind as well.

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  6. Posted by Jake C on 2011/06/23 at 6:07 AM

    I’m interested to see what the lineup looks like vs. Mexico–I think in all likelihood, we may have seen the last of Kjlestan in this tourney (if Donovan starts); his touches were heavy last night, but his speed helped cut down a couple of panama attacks I saw. I think bedoya has earned the start over him if he still has the legs (big disclaimer since he’s been running so much).

    It’s great that the defensive issue has been solved prior to the Mexico game; a solid backline is a must against el tri’s attack. Agree with you about lichaj. He’s quick and strong in addition to his technical acumen, and I haven’t seen that from a left back since…well…

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    • Kljestan or Adu need to be in the starting XI. We need a creative attacking mid. Cannot go back to long balls. Mexico will pick us apart. Need to give them something to think about. If we have Bedoya on the wing and Adu and/or Kljestan capable in the middle they’ll have to be more cautious.

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    • Posted by Jared on 2011/06/23 at 6:21 AM

      We’ll see how far Bob has come with selecting his favorites if he drops Klejstan and keeps Bedoya in the lineup. He’s been good so far at putting his guys on the bench when it’s been obvious they don’t belong.

      I’m not sold that the defensive issues are fixed. I think the cracks have been covered up with some putty but they are still there especially against a guy like Chicharito. No way Boca and Goodson can track Chicharito’s runs if he gets the ball played into a good area. It’s on JJ and MB90 to not let the midfield have the space to make those passes.

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      • Posted by Jake C on 2011/06/23 at 6:48 AM

        I meant “fixed” relative to how the defense looked earlier in the tournament. Of course Mexico is fully capable of exploiting any of our lingering weaknesses. I’m hoping MB and JJ can win the midfield battle (which I fully believe they can given mexico’s weaknesses at CM) and keep the attackers on a short leash. Will be interesting to see.

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    • Posted by Jim S on 2011/06/23 at 6:26 AM

      actually bedoya is exactly what we need against mexico, his quickness and movement on and off the ball will help keep up with mexico speed of play. the us is going to really have to move off the ball much better come saturday. I’m hoping a lot of the lazy movement last night came from the fact that we had posession we didn’t feel the need to push so hard (which pisses me off) and were trying to save our legs for mexico. MB better get his head straightened out for sat, because he’s going to have half the time to distribute that he did this game. You would think he would have some motivation to show well knowing that his team is looking to deal him before the season and this could really help his cause.

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      • What needs to happen that did not last night until Adu came on is whenever Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones get the ball the attacking mid needs to be in a position to check in and get it. Michael Bradley is not a playmaker. He’s a ball winner that needs a better, more creative player to arrive and pass the ball to immediately. Otherwise he dallies on it and either passes back or turns it over trying to slot a pass that is above his quality. This is why he did not get games with Villa.

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        • (the way the Wilson Palacios-Luka Modric partnership worked at Spurs a couple seasons ago.) Wilson gets it and then looks up to immediately find Luka. Two touches max.

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        • “he dallies on it”

          This. The time Junior took on the ball last night drove me crazy. Still winning balls, but then not knowing what to do with them, giving Panama the chance to close in.

          And then not taking that shot in the box?!

          Sometimes I really like the way MB90 plays, sometimes I yell at the television.

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          • Posted by Kevin O' on 2011/06/23 at 7:10 AM

            Couldn’t agree more. I don’t think he had a good game at all and was the major cog in our offense, (besides Sacha’s fumbling and bumbling around.) I’m beginning to think he graduated from the Ritchie Williams school of backpass. When we were getting desperate for a goal he still decided to go backwards, many times with absolutely no pressure on the ball. Contrast with the near desperate play of Ale, Lichaj, Agudelo and he seemed to be in a completely different game.

            I did notice when Adu came in, MB started linking better as he had that key midfielder to play off. Seems they might be a nice complement to one another since Freddy is never really going to be much of a defensive stalwart. They did play together quite a bit at the youth level, Olympics, etc. Let’s hope Freddy can stick. We are desperate for another creative midfielder with a calming effect on the ball.

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        • Posted by Jake C on 2011/06/23 at 6:52 AM

          Several of his balls were poor, and I think JJ was the better of the two on the night. I’m with you in hoping that BB has a creative mid in there to spice up the attack, but with the final looming I can see him putting Landon in and reverting to the same ole style.

          Regarding your comment about Kjlestan, I think last night’s gaffes were a combination of fatigue and nerves. We’ll see whether he recovers from the former before Saturday, but not sure if he’s the

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          • Posted by Jake C on 2011/06/23 at 6:55 AM

            Whoops. Anyway, not sure Kjlestan’s the man to start tonight, though it wouldn’t kill me if he did. One thing many underrate is Kjlestan’s speed; it killed a couple of panama attacks last night despite his poor offensive performance.

            With adu, I can’t tell at this point whether he’s good to start a game yet (insert TSG maxim here), but could see him performing in the super sub role again.

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  7. Andres Guardado and Carlos Salcido could miss Saturday due to injuery, That’s a big loss for Mexico.

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    • Posted by Jared on 2011/06/23 at 7:01 AM

      If Guardado wasn’t made of glass he would be a very good player. Seems to have a good run of form and then gets injured again.

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      • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/06/23 at 7:30 AM

        Guardado is a very good player. No idea why Aguirre didn’t start him in South Africa. And to be fair, he took a couple of very nasty challenges from the Hondurans.

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  8. Posted by Sean on 2011/06/23 at 6:41 AM

    Mexico’s midfield is not as stout as panama’s. They will lose the physical battle in the middle of the field. Our fullbacks and outside midfielders need to careful of the quickness in Mexico’s flank play. Looking forward to what should be an entertaining game. If the US can move well off the ball, it definitely has a strong chance of winning.

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  9. Posted by kimo on 2011/06/23 at 6:55 AM

    Michael Bradley digresses when fatigued. There is no reason why he’s logged the minutes that he has when a Maurice Edu is sitting on the bench. If there is one place where BB has screwed up its resting MB and playing Edu. Around the 70th minute, you can see MB starting to stagger. What’s interesting is how Jones vs Bradley approach the game. Jones is clearly a vet and knows when to turn on / off his motor. However, Bradley seems to exert unnecessary energy with some aimless defensive chasing at times.

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    • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/06/23 at 7:57 AM

      MB 90 definately needs to be MB65. Seriously, last night he was just gassed and constantly taking too long on the ball. I believe his physical fatigue really slows down his speed of thought.

      Also was it just me or did anyone else scream at the TV “CHERUNDOLO IS WIDE OPEN!!!!! SWITCH!!!”

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      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/06/23 at 8:33 AM

        Still screaming it. Woke up in middle of night screaming it! Of course, the Mikey hater label will get thrown out but we are once again looking at the overall team quality suffering when he doesn’t play to his strengths AND his dad/coach doesn’t recognize it and DEAL WITH IT!
        His defensive work was really lacking throughout (count the number of times he was within 25 yds of goal either trailing his mark or camped in front of his mark without challenging possession or passing lanes.
        To be fair, he made a great turn out of pressure late in the game to switch the ball and wasn’t awful but we are seeing the limitations when he/Dad decides that he should boss the ball.
        Jones is a worlds better on ball defender. If a CMF pairing switch is discussed for Mex it should be Jones and….X vs Mikey and X IMO.

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      • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/06/23 at 9:06 AM

        On the other hand, if you take MB out in the 65th, I don’t know if Edu makes that one touch connection from Adu to Bedoya that springs the counter leading to the goal. In fact, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.

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        • Something I’m noticing more and more as this tournament goes on is Mikey’s speed of thought. When the US has the ball he knows where he wants to go with it before receiving it, which is one of the reasons he had some good performances in the 2007 Gold Cup as well. When the US doesn’t have the ball and MB90 wins it, his speed of thought appears to be much slower, which leads to the dallying.

          Our movement off the ball is not the greatest, and it’s possible that our transition from defense to offense is way, way too slow, thus Baby Sweats has nowhere to go with the ball when he wins it. Of course, the counter argument is that Jones seems to be winning the ball and not dallying on it, even if it is just a hoofed clearance to no one in particular.

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      • Posted by Jen on 2011/06/23 at 3:40 PM

        @chazcar2 Also was it just me or did anyone else scream at the TV “CHERUNDOLO IS WIDE OPEN!!!!! SWITCH!!!”

        I did.

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  10. Posted by Bob on 2011/06/23 at 8:29 AM

    Great write-up as usual! I think you nailed it as far as what we need to do against Mexico.
    BTW, can LD be anymore “whiter” lol? I think it should read “whither.”

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  11. I think folks are being hard on Kljestan’s performance last night. The reason that we were so much more threatening in half one compared to half two was primarily his willingness to play one-touch football, increasing the speed of play.

    That said, Kljestan had a couple moments where he took too many touches or he played a one-touch pass into too little space. He had a much harder time finding space between the lines than he did against Jamaica. Hopefully he’ll develop more consistency, because i’ve gone from his worst critic to being officially pleased to have him in the side during this cup.

    But Donovan made things worse rather than better. It slowed way down in the second half. Donovan always wants lots of touches, slowing it down. Dempsey is more varied but often slows it down. Bradley plays pretty slowly sometimes. Jones and Bedoya are most willing to play one and two-touch outside of Kljestan.

    Outside of his cross to Dempsey, his first constructive touch of the ball, Donovan’s performance was truly dire, worst we’ve seen of him. Worrying trend. If it were Dempsey playing this poorly everyone would be clamoring for him to start on the bench. I seriously don’t know if he starts against Mexico.

    Freddy Adu: kid can still play apparently. Quite the ball to release Donovan into space. However, once he was included we lost some defensive shape and were under more pressure than we were before. A lot of this is because Dempsey is really not a striker. He doesn’t play like one at all so when he’s up top on his own, he isn’t fast enough to get in behind and doesn’t try. So the vertical space in midfield sometimes collapses. (Fulham have the same problem when he’s up there.) However, it was Dempsey not playing like a striker that made Adu’s pass to Donovan possible because suddenly there’s space in behind.

    Splitting hairs, but the shape was more asymetric 4-3-3 than 4-4-2 with Bedoya doing a lot of defending wide right, Dempsey up top with Adu just behind him in while Donovan was trying to stay high up the pitch on the left but tracking back to defend on that flank when neccessary. A fair amount of fluidity among the top three players too – hence Donovan’s initial position on the goal.

    The back 6 is looking pretty solid and coped well even when Panama were taking a lot of risks. Over the last 3 matches, the defensive half of the side is better than what was on show in South Africa last summer. As for Mexico, they’ll come out flying, doing a lot of pressing. They play a high tempo for about 30 minutes and then slow down quite a bit. After a better group stage, I don’t think they’re playing at a higher level than the USA right now.

    If I were Bob, I’d go with the same starting line-up again. Sorry Donovan.

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    • On Klestjan – I think it’s a fair statement to say that fans’ expectations of him were elevated after his solid performance against Jamaica, so that might be contributing to the disappointment in his performance yesterday. Overall, though, I’m with you that he’s really come a long way in this tournament.

      Not sure I agree that we were worse with Donovan on the field – but none of his performances, including yesterday’s, have been above average (so below what we would expect from him). If he gets the start against Mexico, which I’d imagine he will, he will really need to step up his game if we’re going to win…

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      • Posted by dth on 2011/06/23 at 1:32 PM

        I think the thing with Kljestan–who definitely disappointed–was that Kljestan was such a scapegoat for people that when they started to hear the “Kljestan, really good!” hype, their expectations went really high–they corrected too much in the other direction.

        Still, Kljestan has improved quite a bit and if he continues to improve he’ll be in contention to man that CAM spot in a 4-2-3-1…or at least be a super-sub. Honestly, I’d rather have Kljestan than Feilhaber.

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        • Agreed – I’d definitely rather see Klestjan than Feilhaber as our CAM, or even as a super-sub CAM to replace whoever starts there (Holden?).

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  12. Posted by corky on 2011/06/23 at 9:03 AM

    So, my thoughts.

    1. On Donovan, I think TSG is dead on. Something’s off. If you remember from last year’s World Cup, there was a lot of talk about how he was “centered” and had gone through a lot of therapy — see Posnanski’s article in SI. I’m wondering with his divorce, etc., if all is not right in Landon’s world. He has always seemed like a player who needs to be comfortable to succeed.

    2. On Bradley, I just don’t think he was getting much help from his teammates. People weren’t making themselves available, which is why he wasn’t quick in releasing the ball. When he was able to release it (see the goal and his quick pass to Bedoya, who then released Adu), things went well.

    3. Bedoya is great. Runs all day long, makes himself available. I dare say he’s earned himself some cash this tournament.

    4. Glad it was Dempsey and not Wondo at the back post for Landon’s pass.

    5. On Kljestan, he really has improved at Anderlecht. I wonder if he was too nervous and jacked up last night. He’s a good player — with Holden’s injury prone-ness, Kljestan can be a nice backup in the midfield.

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    • Posted by mbw on 2011/06/23 at 2:43 PM

      I think the end of last night’s game illustrated a part of Donovan’s greatness that’s often overlooked. Physically, he looks not quite right, and he’s drifting in and out of games even more than he usually does. But his soccer mind remains the sharpest in the history of the USMNT. Great pass by Adu, but it’s a moot point if Donovan hadn’t made the right run at the right time. After he collected it, he had a chance to play it across first time, loop it in the air, cut it back to Jones, or take it himself; he picked out the right pass and played it at the right time. Watch a reel of important goals the USMNT has scored in the last five years and you’ll see Donovan choosing the best option at the right moment time after time.

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      • Posted by jb on 2011/06/24 at 8:03 AM

        That’s a great point. Donovan is the conduit for nearly every major goal (minus set pieces – though he also takes most of those) the USMNT has scored over the last few years. Early in his career he was more of a goal scorer, now he is the set-up man. I was going to say the Magic Johnson of the USMNT but really its more like the John Stockton, because his passes arent flashy or eyecatching, they are just played simply to the right player at the right time in the most efficient manner possible.

        I think we get frustrated because he set his own standard so high, particularly last year during the world cup and when with Everton. We know he can run by defenders, initiate and finish lightning fast counters, and has a great shot on the rare occasions he chooses to do so. His defense is still ok, but he just hasn’t been aggressive since the world cup. This is especially frustrating because the team is so poor at finishing. He seems the perfect fit for the middle of the 3 line in our new 4-2-3-1, but he just disappears every time he’s in the middle of the field. For whatever reason, he just is more effective on the outside.

        I’m on the bandwagon that he is still ill or fatigued or something, but I think he needs to start against Mexico. And I think for us to win we will need him to put one in the back of the net during run of play.

        Reply

  13. The comments from Matt and others about the need for an attacking CAM, who is willing to go at defenders AND come back to collect the ball from the CDM’s is really ringing true to me.

    The way I see it, we’ve taken huge strides in this tournament to improve our attack. Previously, we relied on the over-the-top strategy we all dislike, with the backs aimlessly booting the ball up to our forwards, and with our midfield largely bypassed (overgeneralizing here, but you get the point). Now, our offensive distribution looks much better, like this:

    Howard –> Goodson/Ream –> Bradley/Jones –> ?

    The question mark is where we seem to be getting stuck. Jones will occasionally pick out good forward runs and send a long pass towards Agudelo or one of the wingers, but these balls are still pretty low-probability completions. Bradley tends to stagnate and pass back to the backs, unwilling to attack. Agudelo does a good job of tracking back to receive the ball from Bradley/Jones in the center, but we need him a little higher to threaten the goal. I’m not sure what/who the solution is – Holden? Diskerud? Shit, Adu? – but we need to figure this one out.

    I’ve been watching Gold Cup games with a few buddies who are “general” soccer fans (they watch a little EPL, Champions League, etc) and converting them to American soccer fans (thanks, Free Beer Movement!). One of them said to me yesterday, “Imagine how good we’d be if we had a Xavi in the midfield – someone who could dribble through the middle.” Even new fans of the American beautiful game can see we’re lacking here…

    Reply

  14. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/06/23 at 9:46 AM

    Agudelo has one move: knock and run. When that doesnt work grab and foul. He could learn a lot the fine are of bodying without fouling from Leeeeeee Hi. Agudelo get low low low low… When you loose the ball way up the field press no foul.

    Would love to see him diversify his take off the dribble.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/06/23 at 9:51 AM

    My key match-up is Lichaj vs. Dos Santos, and then later in that match. De Nigris vs Goodson.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/06/23 at 10:27 AM

      Agree — I think it’s the corners. I see Dos Santos moving around and challenging both Dolo and Lichaj. Perhaps Lichaj more.

      Reply

    • Did anyone else watch the Mexico v Honduras match and think that Dos Santos looked pretty awful? I might be mistaken, but I think he was playing on the left against Honduras – when I’ve seen him playing on the right in previous GC games. I’m not familiar enough with Mexico’s lineup to know if this is true or not…

      Regardless, it was encouraging to see Dos Santos struggle – because when he’s on, he will be very difficult to stop, even for Lichaj.

      Reply

      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/06/24 at 11:01 AM

        No I think he was attacking the Honduras left flank for most of the match. He, like Lichaj, has a tendency of over-dribbling as well

        Reply

  16. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/06/23 at 10:25 AM

    Regardless of the final outcome, (and I’m feeling pretty good about it) I think this tournament has been excellent for the maturation and transition of the core this cycle. Finding ways to win, (re)introducing players with decent to good results, recovering from disappointing loss, winning without the old guard etc.

    IMO that is exactly the point of this gold cup. A credit to Bob. He is a good coach people. Looks like Voldemort in a tracksuit, but still a good coach.

    Reply

  17. Posted by Alex Song on 2011/06/23 at 12:36 PM

    Tim Ream seems like a nice guy and I hope he achieves great things in the future, but the hype on him was out of control given his modest achievements and physical abilities. In hindsight, he was obviously the weak link in the team. We are much better with him on the bench, Boca central, and Lichaj on the left.

    I’m looking forward to the final on Saturday. I think we’ll need to put more than one goal in the net to win. Here’s hoping for some lucky bounces and/or individual heroics.

    Reply

  18. Posted by Russell on 2011/06/23 at 1:03 PM

    Shin Guardian – I gotta hand it to you. I read a few other write ups before yours.. and as always your take is less rah rah and more from a coach/player perspective. If we could only get more of this on the telecasts.. but that’s a different story.

    Some points I see that you may be touched on.. but certainly the other sites didn’t.

    Bedoya – I actually saw write ups that gave him no credit/lower scores. What I like about him are his runs and energy. Anytime a midfielder possesses the ball and he sees an opening he goes for it. That effort directly pays off 1/5. But it definitely opens up the field 4/5. Obviously he was gassed after 60 mins and a direct reason why the field closed in until Adu came on.

    Lichaj – A revelation to Bradley. But I think many of us saw this coming. What he has is strength and quickness. He wins 50/50 balls and wins matchups. Has there been a USMNT outside back that does that in the last xx years? Steve C. is a true pro and has guile.. and I can’t say enough.. but he doesn’t have that. Plus Lichaj’s long throws are a nice bonus.

    Klestjan – I’m no lover, but I didn’t feel he had the train wreck others are saying. He’s a limited player, weak in the tackle, no real speed, doesn’t play the killer pass.. but when left with no defensive responsibilities he’s ok. The truth is that Landon is simply a much better option. That said, imagine a healthy Holden in that role.. btw – Is anyone worried like me that Holden might have a gooch type injury hangover?

    Bradley – Is best when the opposition is better than the US. He gets stuck in. In a game like this he keeps it simple enough.. and except the first 4 mins v Jamaica when he pulled the trifecta of carelessness, lack of hussle and a mental lapse, you generally never get that from him. I like to say he’ll help you not lose a game.. but he isn’t the player that will help you win the game.

    Landon – Most websites are giving him big props. Sure. But like you said. Something is up. He had no energy no gumption (see bedoya and lichaj). He’s at his best (see everton) when he’s running rampant. Is the kid heartsick? At his best last year there were rumors of a makeup with Bianca.. I’m being serious. I think.

    Adu – Hand it to Bob. Sort of. Like Bedoya.. Like Davies.. like Holden.. and like a host of others on the flip side.. Why didn’t Bob see it sooner?? But give credit that he put him in. Sure it is one outing.. but aside from a couple of instances of trying to do too much (just like Dempsey who could have about 4 assists this tourney and Aguedelo), there was no negative. His skill will create 4/5 “chances” a game. There’s simply value in that. He has to play 30 mins on Saturday. Since U20 v Brazil I always felt the kid had it in him. Glad that just maybe it really is. Now I’m reminded why he and Altidore work well. At least 2/3 times a game Adu would dance around and create something crazy.. and Altidore would always be sitting in the box waiting for it. Then unlike Bradley last night, he’d fire it home.

    Reply

  19. Posted by dth on 2011/06/23 at 1:35 PM

    I’m interested in seeing how Eric Lichaj’s career evolves after this Gold Cup experience–along with Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Alejandro Bedoya, he’s at a spot where he has to decide where he’s going, and what kind of role he envisions for himself. In Lichaj’s case, it’s a question of: a) how much does my club rate me? b) how much does the new manager? c) is McLeish really the guy to develop me, an attacking fullback? d) would I be better off dropping down a level to Leeds, where I know they like me quite a bit?

    In some ways, d) is best for the national team as they’d stick him at LB and he’d be able to get some reps in at that position. I think it’ll be difficult for him to try the wrong-footed left back thing just for the national team–he needs club and country reps to get familiar.

    Reply

  20. Posted by Martin on 2011/06/23 at 1:50 PM

    “Adu – Hand it to Bob. Sort of. Like Bedoya.. Like Davies.. like Holden.. and like a host of others on the flip side.. Why didn’t Bob see it sooner??”

    Hindsight on your part.

    BB had Davies come through just in time for the Confed Cup.

    Holden? How can you blame BB for the fact that Holden can’t stay healthy?

    Bedoya? Most you didn’t want him anywhere near the USMNT. Ives Galarcep is the only pundit I know who thought well of Bedoya before this Gold Cup.

    Adu? Most of you thought BB was crazy to bring him back.

    carought Daives on just

    Reply

  21. Posted by aek on 2011/06/23 at 2:03 PM

    Am I crazy to get an Adu jersey? Anyone know why is he #20 during the GC? Isn’t he normally #19? Does anyone know??? Please don’t tell me Robbie Rogers took the number from him… LOL

    Reply

    • Yes, you’re crazy. He saw 25 minutes yesterday. Let’s not go getting ourselves carried away just yet.

      Reply

    • Adu probably took #20 as he’s aspiring to be the next Brian McBride – in terms of class and impact, not talent or position. I believe he’s always worn the #11 or 10 with the youth setup, and 19 with the senior side – likely nothing to the number choice except everything else was taken.

      And it all depends on what you’re going for with the jersey…if you want to have it for when he makes his long awaited ascension into the pantheon of American greats, then you might want to wait. If you want to have so you can wave it in people’s faces and I say “I knew it on this specific day” that he’d come back OR to be somewhat ironic if he doesn’t, then go for it.

      Reply

  22. Posted by gary on 2011/06/23 at 2:05 PM

    I as one who has wanted to see BB let go, i must agree with props to BB. The roster is not great but he has done well.

    Reply

  23. Posted by berniebernier on 2011/06/23 at 4:07 PM

    Win or lose I am very happy with where the USMNT is at (although I would still axe Bradley before WC qualifying).

    Take the 23 roster for the Gold Cup and add Chandler, Holden, Bunbury, CD9 take off Rimando, Rodgers, Spector and all the sudden you have a roster with some depth.

    Like the fact that we are finally heading toward a level of depth and people fighting for positions in on the squad and the starting 11.

    On a side note I know Donovan got the assist but I expected much more from him given that he should have been fresh against a very tired defense.

    Reply

  24. Posted by Jake Claro on 2011/06/23 at 11:50 PM

    I’m a little distressed by all this “expected more from Donovan stuff”–and Bernie, I’m not intentionally being a contrarian to your posts, I’ve appreciated your knowledge of the game and couldn’t agree more about the issue of depth : ).

    The guy makes a laser pass to a spot that frankly no one else on this team would make that seals the victory and yet there’s the continued call for more. Backflips, building leaping, what is it going to take?

    Granted, I don’t think he has been as aggressive or had the same pace as he often displays, but I really do think it comes down to his pre-tourney illness. As he described in one of the videos, he was pretty ill, and even after recovery something like the flu can residually knock your timing awry. Also, he goes to a wedding, missing practice time, and comes back on the red eye–again, things that don’t generally contribute to your preparedness for international level play. And honestly, a guy like Donovan who has been playing constantly for a long time now, something like that doesn’t bother me, because when he gets the call, he shoots laser passes to D-Nasty : ).

    On a less ranting note, I though the second half looked more like a typical US counter-attacking style of play than we have scene prior in the tourney. It was turning into a run and gun, which makes me nervous and often due to the irresponsible home run passes very frustrated, but when it works it can be an exciting and beautiful thing to watch. The US right now seems a little too much like the Miami Heat offense, very good on the break in open play, but stagnant and unimaginative in the half-court. However, I think we are getting closer to having that balance between the two, a difficult one to maintain for sure with small room for error, but one that we have looked closer to achieving than games I’ve watched early in the year.

    As some have suggested, perhaps it requires a creative attacking midfielder to ultimately unlock. Is Adu that guy–not for the full 90, but as a tactical change for 30 minutes, perhaps. I’m really interested to see Stu Holden in that role, though his club play suggests he’s got so much range that he’s better suited in a more traditional mid-field position. If you’re looking longterm at the team, where Cherundolo and Jones are both getting up there in age by 2014, a Holden-Bradley mid-field tandem with Chandler and Lichaj at the fullback positions and Adu as a CAM is intriguing. Either way, I like the future of the youth on this team and in the player pool, as it seams we have some of the pieces in place to become very dynamic positionally. Now we just need some youngsters to step up at CB and hope that someone emerges as a top end striker…maybe Agudelo, but only time will tell. I do like his play to this point as an 18 year old, I just think he needs to be a little quicker in his decisions around the box, either individually or finding the final unlocking pass.

    Reply

    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/06/24 at 9:13 AM

      On the expected more I understand what you are saying. I try not to measure preformance by goals or assists (they are obviously very important but its not a great metric of contribution to the victory as I wouldn’t say Donovan had a better game than Bedoya).

      In the second half yes Donovan made that pass and it was a great pass and an above average run (although the right MF running wide on a break isn’t that creative)… but how many other times was he threatening, how many other times did you say to yourself – Donovan will score one of those, that was a great pass by Donovan – too bad XYZ didn’t do better with it, that was a great run – wish XYZ saw him, etc. The only other time I remember was Donovan on a semi-break that got snuffed out fast.

      Adu had two great plays in 30 minutes (the pass to Donovan and the cutback pass to Bradley). Donovan had one that I remember in 45. For large parts of the second half Donovan was invisible. If he is our best (which I don’t agree with – I vehemently think the only two that can be in the debate are either Dempsey or Howard) player then he can’t have one good play in 45 minutes. You also have to remember that he was fresh against a clearly tiring defense.

      I do believe that he is sick or hurt and that is the reason for his performance.

      Reply

    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/06/24 at 9:28 AM

      I enjoy the debate. Feel free to be contrarian.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/24 at 2:43 PM

        You guys can debate all you want but the truth is this USMNT has been for some time been constructed in such as way as to maximise the threat posed by our only legitimately dangerous players Donovan or Dempsey.

        Others may score but the majority of the time it starts or ends with one of those two.

        That will be true on Saturday and should be true for a while. Going forward, and I’m assuming BB stays unless they are completely awful on Saturday, the biggest priorites are sorting out the defense and finding more alternatives to the dynamic duo.

        Reply

  25. Posted by Jake Claro on 2011/06/24 at 10:29 AM

    Indeed, I enjoy it as well. I understand your point about Donovan. My concern is that fans start calling for experimentation that isn’t warranted at this point e.g. Kljestan should be starting over Donovan–precisely because Donovan can disappear in a game and yet come up with that one big play that the US needs. And it’s that simple for me, he shows up in the moments that he needs to show up in. Also, the US second half wasn’t impressive for anyone playmaking wise aside from as you mentioned, Adu’s brief 30 minutes. I agree Donovan’s run was not anything extraordinary, but as someone mentioned earlier, his decision making on the play was excellent, displaying patience and timing that were as they needed to be. I just feel that in times sub-par performances it’s important to remind people of the intangibles that Donovan brings to the field even if he is not at the level we expect from him. Sure, Kljestan has improved, but remember the level that he is improving from.

    As for being our best, I’m not sure I ascribe to that either. Dempsey has obviously developed substantially as a player since his time at Fulham, and he is equally doing what he needs to do when the time calls for it. However, this is why I would like to see Donovan take another loan spell in England. I feel like he needs to rechallange himself as a professional, and that his confidence was very high when he returned from his Everton experience. They are ultimately different players, however, so its difficult for me to make the comparison.

    Reply

  26. One thing I would offer. And its may seem strange, since I am no where near as educated about the game as most of you guys, but …. Soccer/futbol is such an ebb and flow of fine plays offensively, that most times amount to nothing on the score sheet. it is extremely difficult to beat a good defense, and difficult to score against a bad one, that often times a good offensive team will be some pourous defense 3 -0. Thats a shellacking in soccer. So there are many good plays but sometimes only a few moments of brilliance. My point being, that just like Dempsey in the Confed. cup last year was not dominant, but had some moments of brilliance, I think we should give Donovan the same opportunity. Great players, in every sport, rise up at great moments! Thats why Lebron struggled, although I think he will eventually become a great moment type of player.

    I believe that winners win. Its their DNA. Thats why I believe in playing Donovan. I think he is a winner!! Raised his game in 2002 WC, had some struggles early in Europe, but then continued to grow as player and leader of USMNT. He played well in Confed cup, very well against Brazil in final. 2010 WC leader for US. I believe in him as a player. I do think he is struggling personally (agree with earlier post about Bianca getting married).

    Hope I’m not way off base. Thanks

    Reply

  27. […] in the elimination match in 2011. (Two excellent tactical reviews of that match can be found here and here). Bradley employed that strategy of course because his team had capitulated in the group […]

    Reply

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