Remember the span of time in 2009–and towards the end of 2010 World Cup qualifying–when the United States had a home match at Rio Tinto against El Salavador before going on the road against a Trinidad & Tobago side whose quality in that game was going to be a crapshoot?
If you recall that match like I do–a missed clearance by Jonathan Bornstein that led to an El Salvadorian goal, a few moments of attacking pressure at the end of the first half which scantily provided the winning difference–than you are quite comfy with at least the notion of new US manager Jurgen Klinsmann attempting to implement a style of play here for the United States in the friendlies leading up to World Cup qualifying.
You may not enjoy the results, but the notion of “trying something new” for a US team that had gotten stale with the similar game planning of the Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley eras is a positive.
Back to the match.
El Salvador, currently ranked #82 in the world by FIFA, came into a hostile environment in Sandy, Utah and nearly etched out a victory. The United States should’ve handily dealt with the mid-level programs from CONCACAF.
Yet, they did not. Victories, while prevalent in the former regime; were hardly ever “without a shadow of a doubt.”
Tim Howard was relied on to be other-worldy rather than “I’m-there-in-case-you-need-me.”
If the average fair like El Salvador challenged the Yanks, its juxtaposition against quality clubs is stark. The US bunkered against power clubs like Brazil and Spain in hopes of snatching a victory by Howard’s paws from the jaws of defeat. The Confederation Cup up to the Argentine friendly earlier this year in New Jersey.
Klinsmann’s directive from USSF doesn’t allow for these displays, but seems to give him some leash with the results. Bradley was tasked with those “results,” Klinsmann is tasked with creating a program. Remember that.
It takes trying new things. It takes trying new personnel and it takes losses–because how can you expect to win outright with a new style, when the old style was familiar and comfortable…and barely got you those results.
The United States will play France (FIFA: #15) this Friday and they will likely lose despite a weakened Les Bleus side.
If they lose with a bunkered-in approach, then you should throw your iPhone against the wall, take the dog for a walk or pound out detested epithets in 140-character intervals on Twitter, because what you’re getting is more of the same. Or rather less of the same, nothing new and no result to boot.
However, if they lose “differently” or with a “we need to try and dictate play” bent, then it’s a matter of continuing to measure incremental improvements, some of which can be qualified tactically: (1) the discovery that it is possible to cover the US’s relatively weak central defense with a single centerback, (2) that it is possible for those same centerbacks to control the ball and enable possession or (3) that it is possible to defend in the opponent’s half.
…And some of which can be qualified personnel-wise: (1) Yes, Kyle Beckerman is able to pass forward effectively under duress (2) Yes, Timmy Chandler can hold down the leftback spot because (3) no Edgar Castillo could not. Or (3) Yes Clint Dempsey should be moved exlusively inside or (4) yes Michael Orozco may not be the answer, but he has the attributes to allows other defensive and offensive philosophies to manifest.
Klinsmann will not be judged on this camp and he probably won’t be judged by playing the likes of Haiti or Bermuda in the early rounds of qualifying. It’s both a scary feeling, but it’s only through risk–Klinsmann or other–that you gain.
Hey now, slow clap, let’s get on to our customary preview:
About The Opponent: France
France is looking for a revival.
After a Thierry Henry handball against Ireland enabled the former Euro power to claw their way into World Cup 2010, team dissent with coach Raymond Domenech (pronounced dont-know-much) had players revolting during the tournament.
The days of being part of the higher class of UEFA seemed to have slipped away as harshly with the graceless ending to Zinedine Zidane’s international career–a headbutt to Italian defender Marco Materrazi in a World Cup Final loss in 2006.
France has yet to reclaim the stature they were elevated to 15 seconds before Materrazi whispered something in Zinedine’s ear and the superstar went bezerk.
As France readies for Euro qualifiers, their squad under new mind Laurent Blanc is one that is two states of flux.
The first is due to injury. The names crossed off on France’s medic sheet are longer than the list of coaches that have already expressed no interest in the vacant New England Revolution coaching job. And it’s not just this friendly series, it’s somehow been that way for Blanc until he took over. Perhaps retribution for disgracing the global game at World Cup 2010?
Instead of meandering through paragraphs of whose replacing whom, let’s just do a good ol’ injury report for those in doubt or out for Friday’s match:
Patrice Evra (brother’s passing); Samir Nasri (hamstring), Eric Abidal (club duties)
Florent Malouda (knee); Yohan Cabaye (N/A), Loic Remy (N/A)
Now, of course, that list doesn’t include quality players that weren’t fit to be called in:
Yohann Gourcuff (angle surgery recovery, nearly complete); Bacary Sagna (broken leg recovery); Philip Mexes (ACL recovery, nearly complete)
So, let’s just say it will be the US “A” team versus the French “B+” team. Fair value? (BTW, the States are +750 on the betting sheet for Friday’s match. May be worth a plunk down.)
The injuries to key contributors combined with the jettisoning of players that embarrassed the nation at the World Cup has left France–still a quality side–with a major dual challenge of building cohesion under Laurent Blanc as they have to take in a new playbook.
All with Euro 2012 looming.
Dissecting the line-up from the back–let’s just skip past French keeper Hugo Lloris who is the equal of any top notch keeper out there–the loss of Evra is a blow for Les Bleus.
Though the French fullback–at least per our comments here at TSG–has been on the decline for the past two years, he is still a bedrock to the French defense–steady in his role and valued in terms of his leadership on the pitch.
With Ballon d’Or finalist and left centerback Eric Abidal now out for the clash as well, who mans the port side of France’s defense is fuzzy. Expect the starting nod to go to Valencia fullback Jérémy Mathieu–though there is an off-chance that Florent Malouda, if healthy, deputizes.
The left centerback role is not as clear with Blanc’s first choice Philippe Mexes and second choice Abidal both out and it will be up for Blanc to decide how he wants to use the game.
He could either go with PSG 21-year-old Mamadou Sakho and get a look at the future or he could select Arsenal whipping boy Laurent Koscielny. Koscielny likely gets the call if only because of the present disarray at the back.
He’ll be partnered on the interior with steady Valencia centerback Adil Rami who many tab as underrated in La Liga.
Rami is a physically punishing centerback who probably should take advantage of his strengths and play in the Premiership. Let’s see how Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore attack the 6’3” defender.
The Lyon iron horse, 31-year-old Anthony Réveillère will be on Rami’s outside hip.
France’s backline strategy is relatively similar to the States in reverse. When fit, Evra on the left will look aggressively to get up the pitch a la Cherundolo while Réveillère, on the right, will pick and choose his spots a la the off-footed Tim Chandler.
It’s up the pitch that bring us to Blanc’s squad’s second state of flux.
In the lead-up to the World Cup campaign, ex-manager Domenech went typically with a 4-2-3-1. Once defensive midfielder starter Lassana Diarra was ruled, France’s shape often took on a 4-1-4-1 shape, looking to play the ball out to the wings.
With Blanc now in charge, the strategy has changed yet again, with France rolling out in an amoeba-like 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. It doesn’t seem that Blanc is quite settled on the line-up and, with the injuries wreaking havoc, it makes instituting a system that much harder.
With a low confidence, we’ll suggest that Blance dons the 4-3-3–now putting the pieces in place is just as hard.
What’s not hard is Rennes Yann M’Vila in the holding role–perhaps the most underrated player by media outside of France–a la Kyle Beckerman. To put M’Vila’s potential in perspective and understand the reverence with which is he is already viewed, consider that comparisons to the great Claude Makelele are commonplace.
Ahead of M’Vila, France will likely deploy as follows. At CM, it’s a toss-up between Marvin Martin and Newcastle find Yohan Cabaye. Martin replaced Cabaye in the 2nd half of France’s last friendly and provided quite a bit of attacking support. We’ll tab Martin.
At LFW Franck Ribery will likely beat out the inconsistent Malouda, at RFW Blanc favorite Jeremy Menez who will provide another tantalizing match-up to evalute Tim Chandler on, and at STR, Karim Benzema should make his return to the side.
That’s 10 players. With the 11th expect Blanc to chose between two players that will likely dictate the formation. That role is normally reserved for the great Yohan Gourcuff–however the Lyon man as mentioned above is just not quite back to international standards.
If it’s Loic Remy, then France will shuttle Remy from side to side around Benzema to make corner runs and stretch the States defense. It it’s Gameiro then he’ll sit in the hole and play more like Dempsey.
We’ll suggest that Gameiro gets the nod on the day.
Tactically, France will look to press up the pitch and put a lot of pressure on the States in their own defensive end. The States will need to be diligent on the ball and manage possession. Is Klinsmann’s team up for it?
TSG What We’re Looking For:
• Well, what we’re not looking for, but still interesting nonetheless:
Take a look at that chalkboard on the right. At a glance, it’s probably one of Jozy Altidore’s games at Alkmaar, right? Wrong. It’s Clinton Drew at Craven Cottage this past Sunday.
TSG has never been a staunch advocate of Clint Dempsey in the target role for the USMNT for two reasons: 1) He would take an absolute thumping with his back to the basket for a full game and 2) he is so valuable in his creator role for the States.
Yet, here was Dempsey on Sunday being absolutely brilliant in the target role for Fulham as they almost knocked off Tottenham Hotspur. And this wasn’t–pardon–Michael Parkhurst-statured centerbacks that Dempsey was going up against all afternoon. No, this was 6’3” Younès Kaboul and 6’2” 210lbs or so Ledley King.
Dempsey was seamless in his reception and distribution and then was so shifty after distributing that he got loose a few times for some quick give-and-go’s. Bobby Zamora–the comp for him being Jozy Altidore on the USMNT–played behind Dempsey and was on the receiving end of Dempsey’s passes.
Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore has deposited the majority of his eight goals from Alkmaar from a run-on or forward-facing starting point.
There is little chance that Klinsmann swaps these players as we know on Friday despite some obvious observations that the US attack just may improve as a result. However it begs the question and starts to put milestones on whether Klinsmann can–as he is attempting–develop players during their time with the USMNT and have them consistently excel in those roles if they are doing other things with their clubs.
• The #3 and the #4 of the back four
If you are a frequent reader of The Shin Guardian, then you know we’ve been an abject defender of at least the idea of Michael Orozco-Fiscal–that is notion that a centerback with both handles and speed is a necessity in the US system, and frankly most systems.
It’s why you don’t see Klinsmann cluttering the camp with the likes of George John and Omar Gonzalez; both potentially international caliber players. By and large, the hulking centerback role (read: captain of the skies) is owned by Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson right now. That’s almost one too many when you consider that Carlos Bocanegra is a necessity as the captain and only capable left-footed centerback.
It will be exceedingly interesting to see how Klinsmann schemes for France in that over-debated right centerback role.
Here’s the three things the US coxswain needs to consider:
First, France will press up the pitch and the States will need to deal with that pressure. Point to the gentleman Orozco-Fiscal from Mexico.
Second, how will Klinsmann plan for which central pairing for France? If it’s a 4-4-2 and Karim Benzema and Loic Remy up top, know this: (a) Remy loves to run, in fact speed and vertical attacking is his forte–if the New York Red Bulls training staff mashed together two parts of Thierry Henry with one part of Dane Richards, you’d have Remy. Point, Orozco-Fiscal.
If it’s Gameiro, well he’s quick, but will play more as a distributor in the hole, perhaps Klinsmann goes with European experience. Point to the Gooch from Portugal.
Finally, point three. Steve Cherundolo’s had his engine idling at Hannover lately.
To be clear, see-sawing bouts with form have been a mark Cherundolo has worn throughout his entire career–mostly due to his lack of durability.
It seems Cherundolo is in a natural ebb right now–and US fans witnessed a savvy Cherundolo manage the game against Ecuador instead of attack it.
Now, Cherundolo will have to deal with Franck Ribery–who really should spell-check his name by the way.
He’s fast, but not blistering, however if you add in his adroitness on the ball then you essentially have the Dwayne Wade of international football.
If the situation calls for him to explode by you, he’s got the wheels, but more than likely he’s going to careen and slalom through the box and deliver that way.
With the United States looking to contain errant through-runs of Remy–perhaps–and Cherundolo possibly needing a
bouncer watchdog on the defensive side of the ball, precisely who Klinsmann chooses as his centerback will tell you if there is an outright depth chart (and Orozco-Fiscal is on top of it) or if it will centerback by committee for now depending on who the opponent is.
• Get with the program!
US media folks really need to abandon their seemingly nostalgic thinking that the US is best in a 4-2-3-1.
Right now, Klinsmann is boss and on his own accord (see re-used sketchboard on the right) seems very committed to playing an offbalance 4-3-3.
Klinsmann has only regressed–for lack of a better word–to the 4-2-3-1 twice. First, against Belgium in the second half when the States were tired, still battling constant pressure and it was clear that then against Ecuador with Michael Bradley inserted to aid a tiring Kyle Beckerman in the second half and running a double pivot.
Here’s the prime takeaway: The skillsets needed in the USMNT central midfield are vastly different than with the former regime. Bradley taxed the central midfielders with linking to tucked-in forwards (Donovan, Dempsey), then aggressively shutting down attacks and covering over the flanks if necessary. Whew, I got tired just reading that. It’s a lot of work.
Now, with the backline up the pitch, the US is using a single containing central midfielder to retard or divert–not shut down–on a turn of possession.
On the attack, the midfield is charged with advancing and creating chances, not exclusively ball protection.
So, first, it makes sense that Kyle Beckerman (who TSG things has done a tremendous job to date) or someone like him is the holder. The holder must look to advance the ball in the face of pressure. (Even against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday facing pressure, Beckerman almost refused to give in to the back pass when RSL trailed by one and then two. Take a look at the game tape, it’s pretty phenomenal).
Ahead of the holder, the three midfielders must be comfortable moving forward in possession with on-ball skills and create chances at the same time. This discounts the skills of destroyer-types-without-an adventurous-side. I don’t think it’s a surprise that Jeff Larentowicz didn’t make this roster.
11 At the Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Insert “excavated in stone with a diamond drill bit” joke here.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Michael Orozco-Fiscal, Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Chandler
The skinny: Cherundolo and Chandler are the outside starters until either is unseated which likely won’t happen for some time.
It will again be interesting on the interior. With Bocanegra–returning to France, important opponent–nearly guaranteed of sporting armband, that leaves Klinsmann two rooks and a knight to choose from.
Klinsmann chooses the knight.
Now get on your horse and chase down Remy & Ribery–sounds like the French Lilo & Stitch–Michael.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
The skinny: Will the RSL man be able to shield the backline from the likes of Gameiro, Martin and friends. The biggest test and step forward yet for the Floridian yet.
RM: Fabian Johnson
The skinny: We’ll take a shot with Landon Donovan’s withdrawal that the 23-year-old Hoffenheim midfielder gets the spot. Per MLS Soccer’s Greg Seltzer one is to think of Johnson–who is very tidy this year in club ball with four fouls committed while 14 suffered–as a young Dennis Rommendahl, the standout Danish and Bronby winger.
Yup, that’s just about the role that Klinsmann is looking for on the right with an advancing fullback in the rearview mirror.
And one more note, Johnson is known to flip-flop flanks (what great alliteration) during the match and that is precisely what Klinsmann had Brek Shea do against Honduras and Ecuador.
CM: Danny Williams
The skinny: Klinsmann moves Johnson’s Hoffenheim mate, Danny Williams inside here as he is more suited for the role that Maurice Edu valiantly tried to excel in last camp. There is an outside shot that Edu or Bradley starts here, but the reality with Junior is the role that he inhabits at Cheivo is nearly diametrically opposite the one he could be tasked by Klinsmann to inhabit here.
Is there anything scarier than a line of Germans controlling the battlefield in Paris? (Look, you knew we weren’t going to make it through the piece without one of those knee-slappers.)
CAM: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: Deuce is near chameleon-like in his ability to impact the game as cited above. It will be very interesting to see here how he generates offense and moves with potentially all knew midfield buddies on the same line with him. Will he and Johnson get in the way of one another?
And that M’Vila vs. Dempsey match-up…..JUICY! All caps!
FW: Brek Shea
The skinny: Step back for a second. Any remember the young Shea–less filled out–as a tethered target striker for the U-20 team just a few short summers ago.
Now Shea owns the left flank, is training with Arsenal and is on the MLS short list for MVP this season.
And….he’s only 21. It’s ironic because the chorus coming out of World Cup 2010 was “Who is going to replace Donovan and Dempsey?” The chorus this week has been, “I’m so frustrated that we haven’t seen Donovan and Dempsey play together under Klinsmann.”
Meanwhile, the doorway-challenged Shea is lighting it up and has quite a, pardon, arsenal of attack weapons at his disposal.
The US has found the next link in the Donovan and Dempsey lineage–Sports Illustrated cover first or mug on the cover of FIFA 12? 13? 14? first. Now the question is, “Who’s with him?”
The Rooster, the heir apparent to Cleetus on the swag meter as well.
Oh and do note, France’s top two left fullbacks and their top right fullback are all out. Say hey Shea.
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: We’ve dubbed Jozy Altidore, “The Drifter” and really it’s the same old, same old with the now Eredivisie striker. Bands of focus during the game coupled with popcorn-munching. Don’t expect more. Don’t expect less. And don’t more until there is a serious challenger (Conor Doyle?, Omar Salgado–probably not) to the throne.
Disclaimers: Onyewu for Orozco-Fiscal. Edu for Fabian Johnson with Danny Williams moving back outside.