On Saturday, the US senior side kicks off its longest run of matches since the 2010 Gold Cup tournament with a set of three friendlies followed by the first triple of World Cup qualifying games.
The US will begin tuning a squad that, through a myriad of friendlies, has been defensively stout, but offensively suspect since the introduction of Jurgen Klinsmann as front man.
The friendly set: Scotland this Saturday, followed by Brazil in the midweek and closing with Canada is ideal for grading the players in advance of qualifying and was probably set up as such.
The US gets a gritty, defensive-postured, mid-tier UEFA side in Scotland as a warm-up for the theatrics of Brazil.
Per recent Klinsmann commentary, he’s calling the run of matches a “Five Game Tournament.”
Some challenges here for that disposition on Saturday.
First, US attackers Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are not expected to play in this one. Altidore by club agreement; Dempsey for injury recovery. Add in the Oguchi Onyewu is not in camp yet and the Portugese leaguer will likely not get the starting nod either. It’s not Klinsmann’s first choice squad fans will likely see.
Second, the USMNT coaching staff needs to pair down the 27 in camp to 23 names for qualifying. That cut occurs this week as well. Combine that task with evaluating where players are physically and Scotland is not ultimate top of mind this week. Seemingly by admission as well.
Let’s get to our customary TSG preview. As usual it goes:
TSG What We’re Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent
A special treat for our TSG audience this time around. Grant Russell, a journalist with Scottish Television, has offered to write the “About The Opponent” section. He did such a good job, that we made it it’s own column. Below here is the forecasted 4-1-4-1 deployment, but for much more on Scotland click right here.
For a profile on Scotland national and Aston Villa midfielder, Barry Bannan, click here.
TSG What We’re Looking For:
• Forgetting Timmy Chandler
Where the US leftback situation looked somewhat settled up until Chandler’s invite snub a little more than two weeks ago, now it presents an interesting conundrum and will actually be looked at in tandem with the left advanced midfielder-wing role.
And all the chatter will revolve, correctly, around one key figure: TSG hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson.
Arguably the best display thus far by a left fullback not named Timothy Chandler over the past two years has been by Fabian Johnson, against Italy just a few months ago in Genoa.
Arguably the best display thus far by an attacking, advanced, left-midfielder has been…Fabian Johnson at the end of 2011 on the road in Slovenia.
So whither Jurgen on Johnson?
Given Johnson’s proclivity in the attack and Brek Shea’s recent swoons and given some of the call-ups, the US would appear to need Johnson’s skillset further up the pitch taking on defenders.
That said, when you look at the depth charts, the forward role sees Joe Corona as a viable option as well as an inverted Landon Donovan if Edgar Castillo is available to overlap to create left-side width.
(And a grander USMNT defensive point here….)
Defensive lines in soccer are like offensive lines in football. The goal is to build continuity through communal repetitions and common experiences. It’s why the Italy teams of the 2000’s were so good. It’s why Bob Bradley attempted to race Oguchi Onyewu back to fitness and central defense in advance of and in time for World Cup 2010.
When you look at the US, despite the improvements in defensive cohensiveness, the personnel still is quite challenging from what Klinsmann wants to do (play out of the back, overlap a lot more.)
With the beginning of qualifying and–if you step back–just two years and maybe 30 games until the 2014 World Cup, the US needs to begin making some “planning” decisions in the back.
Do they continue to run with Bocanegra since the Californian can handle CONCACAF competition or do they start grooming Cameron or Ream for that role? With Cameron’s selection–more on that specific ability in a minute–and Tim Ream’s absence, it appears the Dynamo man is 2nd on the LCB depth chart.
About how much time is Steve Cherundolo given to go ironman at rightback–or is this set of six games a test of his abilities in a continuous stream of games? It would be wise given Cherundolo’s age to groom the quality back-up.
• Cracking the attacking nut in the final third
A big part of Klinsmann’s mantra with the States has been for the team to “move as one.” It’s not of course an exclusive or original idea. From Arrigo Sacchi mandating specific yard-lengths between players on his late 1980’s Milan teams to Ferguson’s Manchester United of the late 1990’s where each midfielder had such a clear and specific task for the middle four as a unit to Guardiola’s “5-second rule” at Barcelona, tactical operations as a squad over individual players are the hallmark of champion teams.
For the States, Klinsmann’s move to create a highline, play a single holder and cap the midfield with an unbalanced formation has proven to dramatically improve the defense (the US’s advanced efforts against France was a particularly solid effort), but in parallel has completely decapitated the US’s counter attacking strength and much of its offense.
Scotland–with it’s defensive disposition–should provide a good opportunity for the States to challenge itself ahead of CONCACAF qualifying foes and see if it can maintain possession in the attacking third and create chances against an organized and hard-nosed defense.
…and can Jose Torres possess and circulate the ball against a UEFA side? The last such challenge (Belgium) didn’t turn out to so hot.
» Interested in seeing Geoff Cameron turn up field. Cameron adjusted nicely to the speed of the game in his brief time on the pitch for the USMNT in January. Will he be able to shake off a ho-hum start to his MLS campaign? (Oh, and note Dynamo fans. Cameron needs to move on. He needs to be challenged. He seems to be trying to make an opportunity happen all the time from the backline. Put Cameron in the EPL against Grant Holt or Emmanuel Adebayor and he’ll be focused on one thing–defending.)
» The back-up RB is Alfredo Morales? Seems plausible. Parkhurt is good cover, but is not known to get up and down the flank. Should get a cue to Morales’s senior position on Saturday.
» Just how much has Altidore progressed? Can be focused for a full 90 minutes. has his commitment to defense improved? Are these the same questions we’ve asked for three years? Yes. Did I just cut-and-paste them? No, but I could have.
11 At The Whistle
The skinny: The Tartan Army is analogous to recent US opponents like Slovenia and Italy in terms of their formation. Thus you would expect similar deployments to those two aforementioned opponents from Klinsmann.
Some notes on these games:
» The US went 4-4-2 against Slovenia, but 4-3-3 against Italy
» The US arguably played much better defensively against Italy.
If Scotland is featuring inverted wingers–as it says here–and Klinsmann wants to deploy Bradley in his more customary box-to-box role and deploy some offensive oopmth in Landon Donovan than expect a 4-3-3 (that will play often like a 4-2-3-1) that shakes out as follows with Johnson coming in a bit on right foot, Edgar Castillo overlapping and Michael Bradley drifting out wide to the right:
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: What a surprise. Worth mentioning again how docile that Tim is in goal for the national team now. Clearly on a directive from the coaching staff. I like it.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo
The skinny: Cherundolo keeps trucking along at RB. With Chandler now in national team purgatory, the US will need Cherundolo to perform and remain healthy. It will be a camp battle between Onyewu and Goodson for the RCB slot; Klinsmann appears to prefer Onyewu’s ability, but the former Rossoneri is arriving late to camp. Expect Goodson for this one.
(TSG, by the way, prefers that both improve their discipline in the offsides trap….but that’s another matter in and of itself.)
Edgar Castillo appears to be the starting LB right now. Castillo might’ve had a good season, but defensive deficiencies don’t evaporate overnight. Questionable–in a league where defense is not at a premium–just how much Castillo can raise his defensive game at the international level. Seems like a big leap.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
The skinny: Media pundits love to call out Beckerman for some reason. Meanwhile all the RSL captain has done is: a) man a position that was typically manned by two players in the previous regime b) earn the praise of Klinsmann for following directions on the field to a tee and c) been one of the few US holders continually able to advance the ball despite enormous pressure.
Beckerman may not be the long term solution but out of a plethora of “other central defensive midfielders” in camp (Morales, Edu, Williams), only Beckerman has shown the ability to create opportunities via the pass.
That said, maybe Jermaine Jones jumps in here? It’s possible.
CM: Michael Bradley
The skinny: Back to a box-to-box Slovenia-esque role for Bradley? Does Bradley push up or drift wide? If Donovan pushes a little further occupying the space that Dempsey did against Slovenia in the 2nd half then look for Bradley to be used as a trailing attacker a little more.
RM: Landon Donovan
The skinny: Klinsmann uses his #7 role to do two primary things: (1) Provide cover for an advancing Cherundolo and (2) Drive and dish.
That’s Donovan…if he’s healthy and motivated. Maybe taking a break from the wheel-less Galaxy will benefit Donovan’s conviction.
LCM: Jose Torres
The skinny: Paco is welcomed back and he seems like a good fit in this one as the States will need to circulate the ball quickly to breakdown the stingy Tartan Army.
Also, cue the set piece battle between Bradley and Torres with Donovan now third in the pecking order.
LW: Fabian Johnson
The skinny: Perplexing how Johnson wasn’t on the German team radar. While he may not be the best prospect at any position for Dien Mannshaft, Johnson’s versatility is an asset and his patience on the ball in the attack is innate. TSG loves players that keeping moving on and off-ball regardless of the situation–knowing that movement is the first step towards opportunity–Johnson does this…..well
STR: Terrence Boyd
The skinny: CONCACAF is your oyster, youngster. Rumored looking to take his talents to Stuttgart or somewhere, Boyd could use a strong friendly series and CONCACAF tourney to showcase his wares. It will be very interesting to see Boyd go up against players he should be able to compete with physically while having service from the likes of Johnson, Donovan and Dempsey.
Morales or Parkhurst at RB giving Cherundolo a break. Beckerman dropped for a forward or for Jermaine Jones.