Tuesday with his take on what just happened in Paris
No surprise that this one should become a battle between revolutions.
Laurent Blanc came in to clean the French house after the 2010 World Cup, with the federation sending players like Nicolas Anelka to their international doom. The French team now consists of mostly of players untainted by the decadence of the French team in South Africa.
This was Jurgen Klinsmann’s sixth game in charge of a USA side, as he tries to put his mark on the program from the top level all the way down to the youth ranks. His hope is to emphasize possession and attack.
There’s no compelling narrative here. The USA defended well, but had too little possession and threat to keep France honest and had to concede a goal midway through the second half before showing a little more attacking verve. So, here are some things we’ve learned from USA v FRA:
Defending Like It’s World Cup 1990
We often describe Bradley’s tactics as “defend first, then counter.” In the later stages of his tenure it became “defend (poorly) first, concede early goal(s), then counter.” The Americans only seemed ready to perform when their backs were firmly pressed against the wall. For a team with the game plan that depended on keeping it tight and not conceding goals, Bradley’s defense was often badly organized.
While we dreamed of free flowing, attacking football, Jurgen has given us digital scorelines – 1-1, 0-1, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1, 0-1.
Klinsmann is showing himself to be a very good defensive tactician. His team is well-organized and composed in defense and only occasionally shows the tendency towards emergency defending that was a characteristic of Bradley’s team, and only then when they find themselves under sustained pressure, as during a bad 5-minute stretch during the second half against the French where the US relied heavily on Tim Howard to keep things even.
The forward players joined in defensive the act too, hunting in packs to try and win the ball back further up the pitch with some success. This sometimes threatened to put France under pressure, took the air out of the game for the first 45 minutes and made France work. It was good to see.
Jurgen has his players well prepared from the starting whistle. But in solving one problem another has crept up, with the USA struggling to create scoring chances.
It’s Not All Good, Son
The USA is conceding about a goal a game – and for the most part these goals have been a consequence of individual lapses and defensive shortcomings, rather than the team. Michael Bradley against Mexico, Tim Ream against Ecuador and against France, Clarence Goodson.
I’ve never been entirely convinced by Clarence Goodson at this level. Against France, Klinsmann continued to ask his defense to play a higher line than they had under Bradley. As a result, Goodson’s lack of pace was exposed with worrying frequency. On the France goal, he couldn’t cope with simple direct play with a ball right over the top. Loïc Rémy was able to collect the bouncing ball from Marvin Martin, muscle Goodson to the ground and fire past Tim Howard.
Unfortunately for the Americans, this goal showcased all of Goodson’s shortcomings as a defender. His height ensures that he’s good in the air, but he’s far from dominant. He lacks the pace, strength and balance to compensate for his occasional positional lapses – this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Goodson sprawled on the ground in his own box.
It’s unfortunate because Goodson really does seem to be a player that plays to the best of his ability when he puts on a USA shirt. I get a little worried whenever I see his name on the starting line-up against European opposition. Our left back problem seems to have migrated a couple places across the line. A fit and firing Onyewu remains the best solution.
German-Americans Aren’t Super-Americans
On the evidence thus far Jurgen’s German-American contingent aren’t the saviors of US Soccer. The Germanic contingent are serviceable squad players at about the same level as the players they replaced.
Fabian Johnson should be given a pass on his unremarkable debut for the United States but I’ve yet to be impressed by Danny Williams. He put in good defensive work, helping Cherundolo deal with Franck Ribéry, but the pair were out of sync in possession. Sloppy interplay between the two saw the USA giving the ball away all too frequently on the right flank instead of building the attack.
While Klinsmann will look to insert Landon Donovan into the slot occupied by Williams on his return to the team and hopefully to form, I can’t help but think that Alejandro Bedoya’s energy and drive would have helped the team in this match.
One Up Top, Nothing Out Wide
John Harkes’ assessment of Jozy Altidore’s performance was premature, but ultimately proved to be correct. His movement early in the first half was not good enough. When the USA got into promising positions, better running from the center forward was called for and would have led to chances. He improved in the second half, and had an excellent display holding up the ball and giving the US team an attacking foothold as they tried to weather the French attacking storm.
Break Shea didn’t have his best match in the USA jersey, struggling to become involved in the attack but DaMarcus Beasley, his eventual replacement, doesn’t seem to have much left to contribute to the side. He played 1 successful cross from open play and 1 unsuccessful cross from a corner in 20 minutes on the field. No passes, in 20 minutes of play. After a few cameos from the one-time Champions League semifinalist, it’s clearly time to cut him out of the national team picture.
Edson Buddle seems to be in the mold of forward that Klinsmann prefers, but his contributions as a substitute have been underwhelming. As an understudy to Altidore, his presence is justified, but a striker who can play off the target forward when the game calls for it is needed.
Still, in Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore’s second half performance, there’s some reason to be hopeful that the goal drought sweeping the country will soon come to an end.
The Missing Link
The USA struggled to create chances without a player to link up play between the midfield and the attacking players. Beckerman tried to play positive passes from central midfield but the forward players were often too static. When Dempsey dropped deeper to collect the ball and get involved in the play, he too found few options going forward.
Jermaine Jones came on for Beckerman when replacing Edu might have been the better option. He and Edu have similar qualities, with Edu edging it on the legs and Jones a little more refined in possession. Neither was able to provide the link from midfield to the attack. Sacha Klejstan might have helped had he been available as a second-half substitute – at his best he can help bring other players into the match, link defense and attack and increase the tempo with one-touch passing.
The images of Klinsmann on the touchline as the 90 minutes wove to their conclusion suggested he just didn’t have the answer when a player to link defense and attack was what was most needed.