Another Take: TSG’s Tuesday Comes Full Circle On USA-France

Tuesday with his take on what just happened in Paris

No surprise that this one should become a battle between revolutions.

Blanc's squad: Thumbs up effort...

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.

Goodson getting "Menezed"

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

Credit where due...

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.

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20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scweeb on 2011/11/14 at 7:44 PM

    SO with the missing link. its crazy that at one point and we still have the issue is we have tons of cmids but none that seem to fit the spot that we need. With that said is there in your opinion any one in the u-23 squad that can show promise there in the next year? Or is it a thing of we need to wait tell all of are cmids are healthy before we see this missing link?

    Reply

    • Posted by Eric on 2011/11/14 at 8:01 PM

      There are players in the U-23 squad who I think could eventually help fill that lack of a possession oriented (and possibly very creative) midfielder. For example, Lletget, Mixx, Renken, and Gil could eventually fill that gap but it’s hard to to see any of them able to step in anytime soon at the senior level. The closet one is probably Mixx but Klinsmann seems intent on having Mixx captain the Olympic team first.

      Reply

      • Posted by Scweeb on 2011/11/14 at 8:32 PM

        With torres hopefully being healthy soon we shouldn’t need soon. But hopefully when 2013 rolls around we have more attacking options with them that we can have a better cm pairing then what we are currently working with.

        Reply

  2. I’ve been following the blog because (i) it was linked from the Guardian and (ii) because I follow France and was curious to read the posts on the friendly. I love the writing, and I can see why Seani linked to you guys. I’m also an American (dual citizen) curious about the national team, but the level of detail is probably more than I can handle, which is what makes a blog great, really – writers and readers who are really into the subject matter. I’m fairly obsessive about the French team – it’s a hobby – and post on the world cup blog, if you’re curious to read more about the match from a France supporters’ side. I don’t know if a link would work but it’s easy enough to find: France World Cup Blog.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/11/14 at 9:04 PM

      Send us the link. Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply

    • Posted by kaya on 2011/11/14 at 9:22 PM

      Is that blog really still the main game in town en anglais? I remember it from 2006 and the flame matches between the italian and french factions. good times.
      I think Matt here was also employed by the Guardian during the ’10 WC edition.
      Did you read TSG’s preview on FR v US? I’d be interested to know what you thought of their assessment of FR.

      Reply

      • For Les Bleus en anglais, I think that’s still the main option. I know of only one other right off hand, and it covers a broader range. The WCB is easy enough/big enough to find, and it has a bit of a following. We don’t do abuse in the comments any more. Commenting in general, like support for France, is way down.

        About the preview – it was surprisingly detailed. Malouda was never going to get a game at left back, but there was a lot of good information in there, and the writing is great. M’Vila’s my favorite player right now, and his characterization in the piece was fair, so no complaints.

        Reply

  3. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/11/14 at 8:42 PM

    Nice work Mr Tuesday, although I disagree with your opinion of Buddle. I actually prefer to use him over Altidore age nonwithstanding. Now will I await the barage of chargers of heresey that are forthcoming. I ask how many games not halves or 20 -30 minutes here of there has Buddle been given? Insert Buddle in Jozy’s opportunites, do you think they would have similar outcomes? I think Buddle is doing a credible job on a crappy team, he is sometimes bereft of service (sound familar?) yet he has scored a decent number of goals in limited games. His strike rate is pretty decent. (I wager he might be on the move come January to an upper table team or to a Bundesliga regulation battler).
    Yes he will be around 32 come 2014 but he can help through the qualifers.
    Jozy is doing better but one time (game) doess not mean a pattern unless you’re an addict. Anyway thats my meanderings for the night.
    Good Article though!

    Reply

  4. Excellent work as always Mr. Tuesday. My biggest problem was two-fold, and it echoes some of the “missing link” sentiment:

    1) Kyle Beckerman has international usefulness- he really does– it’s just not the way Klinsmann wants it to be. If he can simply lie deep- he becomes an extremely viable option. That’s the guy you want in qualifying that does what Ricardo Clark does on a good day every day– helps you protect a lead, makes safe but non-threatening distributions, is smart in his tackling. But he has to be limited (instructed as a substitute to do just that). Once he gets stretched– most his positive qualities go out the window– he becomes a liability because he simply cannot track back extensively enough and then go forward or vice versa– it is too much ground for him to cover and he makes mistakes trying to compensate for what his body and talent do not allow him to do.

    2) Jose Torres is hurt. Stu Holden is hurt. There is no central funnel, no “missing link” to unlock a defense or create even a limited number of opportunities where Dempsey and/or Altidore don’t find themselves hanging on in quiet desperation (the American attacking way)– Beckerman and Edu don’t provide that. Results might not matter in friendlies- but building depth and options do. On form alone, Sacha Kljestan’s exclusion makes little sense. Given the missing link up Friday– Sacha’s Kljestan’s exclusion becomes a case of poor managerial decision-making. And saying “there are players ahead of him at his spot” is not a good enough excuse.

    Reply

    • Posted by Gregorio on 2011/11/14 at 9:24 PM

      You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.

      And after a while, you can work on points for style!

      Reply

    • I thought Kyle Beckerman had a fairly good game and you’re absolutely right. It was only when the US started to be stretched that he had problems. His range of passing is good but the movement and interplay with his Central midfield partner Edu needed to be better.

      In the absence of Torres and Holden, Beckerman is tasked with filling the role of that player that can distribute from deep and bring the attacking players into the game.

      I don’t think Kljestan is a viable starting option, but a good option to have off the bench in that he gives you a different look when the game is a little stretched.

      Reply

  5. Great as usual, I just have one issue. Almost every recap of the game that I’ve read has blamed Goodson for the goal. I don’t necessarily see that as an individual mistake on his part. Both he and Bocanegra were caught up the pitch and Bocanegra slipped. This resulted in Goodson trying to get back on his own without his central partner in support. I know that he’s the one with the glamour shot of being the last defender, but Bocanegra was not even involved in trying to defend the play. I realize that he is the captain, but why doesn’t JK try something like Fiscal-Goodson etc. as the CBs?

    My logic is probably completely faulty, so please correct me.

    Reply

    • Didn’t see much fault on Captain’s part on the goal, Caleb. What I would say in Goodson’s defense is he played a pretty darn good match other than that moment. Very Jay DeMerit vs. Ghana like…

      Reply

    • Posted by Russell on 2011/11/15 at 12:45 AM

      I agree with Caleb here. If you watch the goal again you’ll see Bocanegra push too far up to win a 50/50 ball that he loses. The ball is immediately played into the space he should have been in. Goodson coulda done better as he did in a similar situation in the first half. But in reality he was coveting Carlos’ spot.

      Also, I think Dempsey should be called out a little more for how easily he gives the ball away. I unferstand he’s the creative type but his decisions in the final 3rd need to be better. Ironically when he drops into the mid he makes smarter safer passes and I think the over all play benefits.

      Reply

    • I don’t blame Goodson for the goal – it was good attacking play that exposed his limitations as a defender. That’s what good teams do to make their class tell. Bocanegra really does need a player with the quickness and reading of the game to sweep up behind him when he’s overly aggressive. I guess my main point, after writing the MOF piece, was that all our CB options have their limitations.

      Reply

  6. The US did really well playing team defense, which helped make up for the limited individual talent of each of the defenders. Cherundulo was having trouble coping with Ribery’s pace, but there was frequently another defender there to help out. Goodson and Boca did well covering for each other in the center. There were a number of occasions where Boca came over from his position to make a key tackle on the left flank. But they are simply not good enough to keep a talented team like France (or Ecuador) off the board for the whole game, and the goal seemed inevitable once the game started to open up a bit and the US defense increasingly found itself in one-on-one situations. Still, the defense was organized for most of the game, and given the importance of keeping the other team off the board, this can be viewed as a real strength of the Klinsmann regime.

    Other observations:

    - Agree completely about Williams. He didn’t seem to have any idea how to move the ball forward. Looking forward to LD coming back; at the same time, we need to be using these friendlies to create some more depth. I hope we’ve seen the end of Williams on the right flank for a while. Let’s have a look at Fabian for 70+ minutes.

    - Agree also that linkup play is completely missing. Would really like to see Bradley in there for the full 90. He always seems to be the one guy who gets stronger as the game goes on, so bringing him on as a sub wastes the strongest aspect of his game. Not that he is a savior, but Edu has shown pretty clearly he is not well suited to that role.

    - Looking over the roster, besides Morales and Johnson there’s not really anybody else I care to see get minutes at Slovenia. Between selections like Buddle, Beasley Beckerman and Rogers, it’s a pretty weak roster that is filled with 29-year olds with little hope of contributing to WC 2014. I just don’t understand the point of that.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Jim from NC on 2011/11/15 at 4:33 AM

    I don’t really know about present form, but in my opinion we have a very good linking player in the states that has not gotten a recent call up. Why not Benny Feilhaber??? Has TSG dropped him as a favorite.

    Reply

  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/11/15 at 9:03 AM

    I think you’re spot on about the GerMericans. They aren’t good enough to be the saviour of US Football, but they do provide you with good depth in the medium term. Obviously, they’re young and might improve dramatically, who really knows, right? But they do provide the numbers until the u16s, u17s etc become viable options for the senior team. The other thing I would add is this: does anybody really honestly think that if they were real top quality, the DFB would ‘let’ this happen? You’re basically getting the scraps from their impressive youth development programmes.
    Regarding the goal, it actually comes indirectly from Howard’s goalkick. Dempsey loses the first header, which basically forces Bocanegra to challenge for the second ball, which he does actually win. It’s just that because he’s off balance, he doesn’t get much purchase on the ball and it goes straight to a French player, who plays a first time ball over the top. If you pause the play at the point Bocanegra challenges for the ball and look at the position of the two advanced French midfielders vs. the three US midfielders, you will see that none of the US are goal side, and that they are between your lines – and when the ball drops, he has all the time in the world to make that pass over the top, unchallenged. Also, IMO, Goodson’s original position was correct. It’s just when the pass was made, he was too slow, and allowed Remy to get slightly in front of him – that was his error- not putting his body inbetween the ball and the player.
    The other thing I have to ask is this: if Klinsmann is stressing a more possession oriented style, then why is Howard not playing a short goalkick, and the US playing out from the back? We all know these goalkicks are low percentage, right…

    Reply

  9. Posted by fellaini's_fro on 2011/11/15 at 9:18 AM

    GeorgeCross excellent analysis on the goal. When my daughter and I are watching a game, the coach in me will rewind back a goal and look for clues as to why the goal happened. It is usually two or three passes back and the off ball positioning and movement where you will see the mistake made that led to a goal.

    Unless of course it is a 65 yard header into goal in a Japan 2nd League game.

    Reply

  10. [...] Guardian fondly remembers the USA’s 2010 World Cup victory over Slovenia. Then they look at USA against France and… worried. A bit [...]

    Reply

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