This review by Darius Tahir, frequent TSG contributor and now noted photogenic nosebleed level master
It’s appropriate the scorelines of the past two games were just nearly opposite—if Scotland is the high for Jurgen Klinsmann, then we certainly hope Brazil is the low for Klinsmann.
Obviously nothing is guaranteed either way, but this feels like reasonable bookends for defining the performance of the team and setting expectations for the future. As such I think we have a pretty good handle on the future direction of the team, at least in the near-term future.
The revealed preference of Klinsmann appears to center around three box-to-box type midfielders who can bully opposing midfields and defenders into submission, win the ball up the field, and distribute or create as necessary.
That may be why Klinsmann wished for more “nasty” from his team—the team that scythed down a player (Jones), got in fights and generally sent Brazilian players to the deck at a fairly regular occurrence.
It was not obvious–from a bird’s eye view–that the team lacked nasty. It lacked the same voracious pressing as against Scotland, though. This ferocious pressing might resemble, say, Sporting KC at their best or Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea teams—proactivity through bullying. The problem with bullying is that eventually you meet someone your own size or bigger; Brazil is that. Then you need some ability. This is where the midfield comes into play.
Michael Bradley is the perfect avatar for Klinsmann’s direction—he can do so much: he has energy and bite, but can pass the ball around and create a little bit too. He’s an all-arounder. Jermaine Jones is a step down, but probably acceptable at this point in time. At his age—30—it might not necessarily be a surprise if his performance rapidly erodes, but he’s good enough for Klinsmann to pencil into the first eleven–aside from the temper issues.
This leaves Edu.
Most will focus on the central defense as the area of weakness for the team, but I felt the central midfield was the more pressing issue. Jones had a weak game by his standards; Edu, unfortunately, played exactly as perhaps expected him to.
His game was revealed from the top corner of FedEx Field—sadly, in too many quick moments to capture by camera, but there nevertheless. He has a poor first touch, but his speed of play is the more bothersome issue. There were several instances in which he executed a turn too slowly, or dawdled on the ball too long, or selected the second-best option when the best option was available; or, worse, selected a bad option when a decent option was available.
Such decisions are hard to pick up on, especially statistically, but they are there.
The question about Edu’s speed of play resembles in some ways Bradley’s; Bradley, however, being perhaps the hungriest and hard-workingest player in U.S. colors, challenged himself to get better at it and did.
That’s the narrative of his career—of Bradley biting off more than it seemed he could, but finding that he had the appetite to force it all down anyway. Edu, on the other hand, went to a “big club” in a league that is probably worse than MLS at this point.
As a consequence Edu gets generous time and space and is therefore rarely challenged in league games; in European games he bunkers, which is also not particularly challenging. So he needs to move to a tougher league, for a team in which he will need to try, fail, and then learn to play faster and better. It’s not impossible, but it does seem unlikely.
This is unfortunate, because there was a perfect midfielder for what we’ll call the “Edu” role today—the advanced destroyer with good touch, good passing, and quick thinking. His name is Stuart Holden.
While we can’t write off the possibility completely, it would be the height of wishful thinking to believe that he can return to his old level. At a certain point, there are too many injuries. The lack of Stuart Holden might define this Klinsmann cycle as the lack of Charlie Davies defined the Bob Bradley cycle.
As with Davies, production will be fine for the purposes of most teams—Bradley teams, despite wayward forwards, scored plenty of goals; Klinsmann central midfields under the current team will boss the Scotlands of the world—but be exposed clearly against the top-tier teams.
This is mostly speculation, but it’s a possibility to think about.
After the top three guys, who is there? Kljestan is a good player but not quite the perfect fit; at any rate, Klinsmann seems disinclined to try to fit him in. Danny Williams seems like a good bet; Graham Zusi, possibly.
Beckerman, like Jones, is edging towards an uncomfortable age.
On the young players front—Perry Kitchen probably isn’t a good enough passer; Amobi Okugo is a victim of Peter Nowak’s Not Playing Young Players Youth Experiment; Luis Gil is too young (but could hypothetically mature very quickly) and at any rate not a perfect fit (though it seems very possible he’ll be a ball-playing #8 rather than the #10 he’s been hyped to be…not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
So, keep your eye on that.
The big risk with the Klinsmann system as a tactical matter is width. Note in this picture from the second half how well outside the Brazil players are from their American markers. That’s a change from the first half; the U.S. defended narrow and Brazil was perhaps not the best at exploiting the width at that time, at least from my eye-in-the-sky vantage point.
The U.S. fullbacks seemed to be operating on a pulley system—they rarely had both of them forward at the same time.
Here’s Fabian forward:
The system kept three in the back at all times; sometimes Bradley, generally the deepest midfielder, dropped between the two centerbacks.
It really could’ve gotten worse, by the way. At many points when the U.S. were chasing the game, Oguchi Onyewu would drop deep, all alone, presumably as the last option. With Onyewu’s speed these days, this is not terribly reassuring. Then again, being down more than two goals against Brazil is also not terribly reassuring, so this is not exactly the most cutting criticism ever.
The crowd got boisterous at times, and wasn’t terribly tilted towards one team or another. If the U.S. had really been able to get anything together for a sustained period, I suspect the atmosphere would’ve been great.
That said, this is the type of sports town where, walking from the Metro to FedEx Field, hemmed between a bunch of rowhouses trying desperately to look old, dignified, and stately, one can hear earnest conversations about minute changes in the space program’s leadership.
A wag of the finger to whomever’s in charge of the place, though: the exit I left through featured an extremely narrow chute that, for whatever reason, was partially blocked by a concrete barrier of the type you see guarding the edges of freeways. So people did a tight shuffle forward, able to see nothing in particular ahead of you and owning no more than a tight square of personal space. Supposing there was a panic in the crowd—something very bad could’ve happened. And the directions out of the place, for the pedestrian, are quite awful—you don’t know where you’re going at all, and no signs attempt to inform you. As a consequence a large number of people in the line filing out of the place had no idea where they were heading to and relying only on the intelligence of the crowds to get back to the metro.
I am now convinced, by the way, that the best way to take in a game of soccer is at the heights of the stadium, looking down on all 22 players. You will see how the whole puzzle fits together.