Slapped on the schedule right after the Gold Cup, the US-Mexico clash looked like nothing more than a money grab by US Soccer.
With the outstanding ratings of the Gold Cup final, Sunil Gulati and chums eyes surely widened at the vats of creamcheesy cash that they figured could be made in Philadelphia.
With the sudden termination of stoic Bob Bradley and the insertion of media darling and tabbed savior Jurgen Klinsmann the match’s importance changes for USSF.
Wednesday, the USMNT takes on Mexico’s El Tri at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
It’s new beginnings for the US under the guise of a dig-the-trench rivalry. In fact none other than Freddy Adu coined it best when he tweeted this week, “Should I rent Avatar or Dark Knight.”…oops wrong tweet, when he tweeted “Did you guys see Mexico’s roster? Like I said there is no such thing as a friendly against Mexico.”
But at the end of the day Wednesday–and leading into the game–it’s all about perceptions and messaging as one game does not a coronation define, for the good or the bad.
Consider some of the following:
» With a roster so laden with Mexican leaguers, USSF appears to be firing a shot across the border at Mexico with the pronouncement, “Miguel Ponce and Joe Corona may go your way, but we’re taking this ‘game’ seriously now.”
Will we see a radical infusion of “Latinos” in the starting line-up? Probably not.
» One “Primerican” that isn’t there? Jonathan Bornstein. Add in the absence of Sacha Kljestan–admittedly in action already this campaign–…or even Benny Feilhaber and Jurgen Klinsmann’s first camp clears out some of Bob Bradley’s entrenched regime or pet projects. Note: Robbie Rogers was brought in to replace Maurice Edu on the roster however Klinsmann actually played with Rogers on a semi-pro team in California upon a time.
» Yes, Michael Bradley is there, but so are now five other central midfielders who will seemingly vie for two or three spots max. That means that Junior Bradley–considered a “core” member of his father’s regime (beyond the genetic ties) is likely no longer core and in a fight for his position for the first time since he manicured a bushel of hair on his dome back in 2006.
With little time to install too much new, expect to see a somewhat similar game plan to that used by the States in the Gold Cup final with two exceptions.
First, by both by design and because the Gold Cup performance was so sub-standard, expect the States backline to both perform better and for the fullbacks to get ahead in the attack much more than that demoralizing day in July.
And second, the US got overrun in the central midfield by their elder El Tri counterparts that day. The US will certainly maintain better shape and the new manager may install a third central midfielder to control the critical part of the field.
On to our customary TSG preview, it goes:
TSG What Are We Looking For/At
11 At The Whistle
(Note, we’ll eschew the bulk of our “The Opponent” section and refer primarily to the write-up from July.)
TSG What Are We Looking For/At
• Fighting fire with fire.
It took nearly all of Bob Bradley’s tenure to finally push an off-footed Eric Lichaj to rightback. Bradley had only three players at leftback during his tenure who played consecutive games there.
There was of course Carlos Bocaengra, a Bradley “ol’ reliable” so to speak. Heath Pearce, who rentedthe spot in 2007-2008. Jonathan Bornstein, who sublet in 2009.
With all three of, the tendency to get up the flank was muted. For Bocanegra it was ability, for Bornstein it was no-how and being unassure of his ability and with Pearce, it was a tendency to let little miscues ruin entire sections of games. (Looking for a reason Pearce didn’t go to South Africa? That’s it.)
You can guarantee one thing in the Klinsmann era. The German maestro will do everything in his power to push the fullbacks up the flanks. No more tethering which was so pronounced on the US’s left side with Bocanegra patrolling.
What will be interesting on Wednesday is if Heath Pearce gets a runout there or Edgar Castillo–who has bounced around a home for the most part in the Primera.
If Castillo is printed on the starting team sheet and performs–his past two club seasons hardly point to this as a given–you can imagine fans will express frustation that he didn’t get more of a chance during the 2010 cycle.
• Dual quarterbacks, new quarterbacks, no quarterbacks?
Under Bob Bradley, trust, specifically in his son’s abilities, dictated that Michael Bradley would come back and be the bearer of the ball out of the backfield when the other team sat back or the US built after a dead ball. His play was uneven at best. Bradley had the highest pass completion percentage at the Gold Cup–his number hovering around 90%, but that stat doesn’t tell the story.
Though somewhat shackled by a lack of movement ahead of him, Bradley typically did not threaten with the ball and struggled to initiate the offense. A careful look at both the penultimate game against Panama and the final shows two well-schooled teams that actually invited Bradley’s attempt to incise then shut him off when he dribbled into traffic. (Go ahead, watch the tape.)
Under Klinsmann it is expected that he will not use two defensive midfielders. However, it was Klinsmann when he was in his German national team stewardship who moved star Michael Ballack back in pairing with Torsten Frings to support the backline and provide more linking from the back.
I expect Klinsmann to use two central midfielders in this one to cover the rear of fullback advances. I also expect that Michael Bradley won’t be the lone quarterback any longer.
A note on the opponent
With the United States certainly more organized than a month ago when a Cherundolo injury through the final 80-odd minutes of the Gold Cup final into defensive chaos, it will be a welcome sight–friendly or not–to not see the name “Chicharito” on the team sheet.
Expect much of the same–The Dos Santos Swivel–as we described here from El Tri though.
11 At The Whistle
The skinny: Um, hard to predict, no? This mini-camp is about competition as Klinsmann stated, I would expect some line-up changes, but not massive ones.
It’s as good a bet as any that Klinsmann will go with some hybrid of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 as he looks to press the opposition up the pitch perhaps a little more in this game than his predecessor did in the last one.
Upon even a cursory inspection of the roster, it shows almost a spot-on manu-et-manu “competition” (I’m using that word lightly) at nearly every spot, especially if it’s 4-3-3ish.
Howard and Hamid. Cherundolo and now Loyd. Orozco and Goodson. Bocanegra and Ream. Pearce and Castillo.
And in the midfield….let’s assume a narrow 4-3-3. Jones and Beckerman. Clark and Bradley. Edu and Torres.
At forward. Adu and Donovan versus Shea and Beasley.
And striker. Agudelo and Buddle.
That said, Maurice Edu has been dropped and with the late notice Robbie Rogers has been dropped in. Probably doesn’t impact anything, but worth noting.
We move on to a shot at the starters.
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: This one isn’t….though I’d like to see Hamid run out later in the game if there is a lead to see how he copes with the fastest game he’s seen yet.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Heath Pearce
The skinny: I just can’t see Castillo starting outright on the left. I think the backline is status quo with Pearce getting the nod on the left, because of both his offensive chops that cater to the flank, and he’ll likely be the main foil for Gio Dos Santos.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones
The skinny: You could just as easily put Jose Torres in the Beckerman role. I think Klinsmann goes with Beckerman here if only because….well can you see Jose Torres covering over a flank if Pearce or Dolo is up the pitch and Gio Dos Santos is bearing down?
Nope, neither can I.
CM: Michael Bradley
The skinny: If this is the case and Bradley’s pushed higher up the pitch and relieved of ball distribution, color me a happy fellow.
Bradley’s still needed–with little time to prepare–to direct and funnel traffic on defense. On offense he gets to pressure higher and perhaps run on to a shot or too.
Oh and with three central midfielders the US won’t get overrun in the center of the pitch like they did a month ago.
FW: Freddy Adu, Landon Donovan.
The skinny: Much like Clint Dempsey and Donovan do in many a US game, expect Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan to switch if the situation dictates.
However, if Klinsmann and company push the wings up, having Adu and Donovan inverted–that is cutting in from a wide position on their stronger foot–makes a lot of sense.
STR: Edson Buddle
The skinny: Neither forward is an automatic starter for their club team; Agudelo less so. Buddle’s more seasoned, a better target forward at this juncture and better in the air against what will be an aerially-deficient Mexican central defense.
Jose Torres mans the pivot and pushes Bradley to a defensive role. Beckerman to the pine.
» This will be your popular deployment in the media this week if only because of Bob Bradley’s seemingly freeze-out of Torres from time to time. It’s possible; however I think Klinsmann wants to see more of Torres and is probably less inclined to start him here with little time with the team–actually zero time–since the World Cup.
Column contributor Jay Bell adds, “Klinsmann could be looking at how Torres does in the advanced position as a gauge to see how Holden could do in that role.”
Klinsmann gets offensive and goes 4-2-3-1 putting out a forward line of Adu, Donovan and either Beasley or Shea.
» Seems a little too much change here.
Castillo for Pearce.
» Nearly a toss-up
Agudelo for Buddle.
» Same, slightly better odds
Housekeeping note: Our “Bradley’s Clipboard” series will now become either Klinsmann’s Klipboard or Klinsman’s Kindle. Your call.