And now Canada and Brazil don’t matter. Nor Scotland for that matter. Actually none of it matters. Wipe out the past two years–aside from that “missing the Olympics” thing because now it’s just going to be Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps–it’s World Cup qualifying season. Game on!
(It’s also Euros season too, but any who….)
It’s less than 735 days until World Cup 2014 and Jurgen Klinsmann’s true evaluation as skipper begins now. The friendly season is mere prologue to embarking on the travel-arduous job of qualifying in the CONCACAF region.
The US has looked defensively sound and offensively suspect under Jurgen Klinsmann–those global notions didn’t change through the first three friendlies this camp.
Luckily or thankfully for the States, it starts out its Brazil 2014 run under somewhat favorable circumstances. CONCACAF cling-on Antigua & Barbuda plays the opponent at home for the Yanks in Tampa on Friday. Coverage begins at 7pm EST on ESPN with friend-of-TSG Taylor Twellman on the call.
The US should be well-rested for this one and have a little spring in their step at erasing the ho-hum performance against Canada.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview. It goes:
About The Opponent: Antigua & Barbuda
TSG What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About the Opponent: Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda come into Tampa playing their first international match in more than two months. The islands CONCACAF side sits at an even #100 in FIFA rankings and #13 within the CONCACAF zone, but those digits don’t really tell the story.
The small nation is on a Cal FC-esque CONCACAF run having beaten favored Haiti in November 2011 to progress for the first time into the semifinal stage of World Cup qualifying.
More than half of the team (16 travel players) is made up of members of the Antigua Barracudas, the lone professional club out of Antigua & Barbuda team that plays in the USL; the Barracudas were started for the expressed reason to improve the level of play of the national team.
However, to say the US players greatly dwarfs the experience and level of competition history of it’s counterparts would still be accurate.
What is key for the island side–as much as its game play–is its identity. A&B is attempting to carefully introduce talented “English” players into the side.
Unlike perhaps England or the States, Antigua and Barbuda is sensitive to the notion that its national team should have a proper and weighted complexion of primarily domestic players with a domestic upbringing. The FA acknowledges a difference in an Antiguan from the homeland and one who merely sports the jersey.Important European-based players–like Reading’s Mikele Leigterwood and Nottingham Forest’s Dexter Blackstock–have been gingerly introduced to the pitch for the Benna Boys in 2011, but largely missed out on training friendlies in 2012 due to travel constraints. “Their” integration will be as much a key to competing with the States as what A&B’s tactics are.
(Note: An interesting quip here from Blackstock on Twitter talking about “our England squad.”)
When the Benna Boys do come out, it will likely be in a standard 4-4-2.
A&B will look to push the tempo on a change of possession, out-letting quickly to try and get on the break. The strategy is similar to one many CONCACAF lower table dwellers choose and often what can happen is a loss of team integrity and positioning and quick counterattack coming back the other way.
It’s not a surprise that many of the less illustrious matches in CONCACAF are high-scoring affairs because of the up-down relay race nature of the games.
The US defenders should be up to the task and the US midfielders should balance their movement accordingly.
The Benna Boys will see former Charleston Battery keeper and currently Barracuda #1 Molvin James in goal. The 23-year-old is the youngest of A&B’s keepers, but also has the most caps….with 11.
James should be tested early and often by the States; he may sits near the bottom of the USL goalkeeper ratings and has yet to record a shutout in the 2012 season.
♦This insert from Charleston Battery expert Mike Buytas of No Quarter Soccer. The Charleston Battery frequently play the Antigua Barracudas in the USL. Buytas on Molvin and the Barracudas♦
The Battery put four past Molvin James in the match the Battery played against Antigua Barracudas. I thought the score line was a little unfair to James as their defense didn’t do much to help him.
The match link is here; the goals are at the 1:05, 1:54, 1:59 and 2:11 marks.
Most of the goals came from defensive errors although I thought James could have done better on the first goal. He did a pretty good job as far as positioning and made quick decisions at the USL level of play.
The counter is where the US will need to watch out and is/was the best chance to score. Not sure how many of the back line will play against the US but the the US should get plenty of chances and with time should put a couple away.
In front of James sits a likely back four of: Wycombe Wanderer’s youngster Marvin McCoy, George “Sour” Dublin, Marc Joseph, and Luke Blakely. (Note: It may not be the 35-year-old Joseph partnering Dublin, but could be another mid-30-year-old in Justine Cochrane or less likely Ranja Christian who has been used primarily as a late defensive replacement.)
Dublin, though, is the undisputed spokesperson for the team; he is the squad’s caps leader at 42 and will captain the side.
How he got the nickname Sowa (“Sour”) remains a web researcher’s nightmare and a matter of TSG intrigue. (Houston Dynamo broadcaster Glenn Davis interviewed Dublin on his show this week and learned nickname originated from his high school friends for his “donkey” attitude. Thanks to “BerlinTexas” in the commentary for that info.)
A&B will have experience in the middle and youth and speed wide. It will be interesting to see if Jozy Altidore or Terrence Boyd (or both) are called in to hold the ball up top and overpower a weaker set of defenders.
Ahead of Dublin’s backline is a midfield most likely comprised of Quinton Griffith, Akeem Thomas, Mikele Leigterwood, and Lawson Robinson.Leigertwood is the heavy of the group; he’s a perennial starter for recently promoted Premiership side Reading. It was Leigertwood on the backend of a set piece (video) that accounted for the lone score in the game that got Reading promoted.
Leigertwood will be in charge of marshaling the midfield as well as pinging the ball forward. US midfielders should be wary on a turnover of closing down Leigertwood before he boots out a long ball. He’s probably partnered inside by Akeem Thomas.
Outside on the left will be Quinton Griffith who is the Barracuda’s assist leader this season….and was a legitimate national track star during his upbringing.
Griffith has captained two youth national teams for A&B and is largely considered in line for the armband once Dublin retires.
Though he plays frequently as a LB, most expect Griffith to play left mid and provide cover against Landon Donovan. He is…fast. The other outside midfield position is debatable but likely goes to Lawson Robinson.
A player for the States to be concerned with it’s up top with Peter “Big Pete” Byers.
A Montreal Impact alum, Byers has 23 goals in 36 caps for the Benna Boys. He can play with either the left or the right and moves well in traffic (as YouTube attests), however A&B will probably look to play the pacey Byers over the top hoping they can sneak him behind a States back line that is sure to come up and attempt to knock the ball around the opponents attacking third. (Someone make sure Boca reads this paragraph.)
♦This insert from Olivier Tremblay. Tremblay is the Montreal Impact beat writer at MLSSoccer.com and also writes at Mise au vert.♦
Peter Byers’ international record proves he can indeed score goals, but he can also be quite selfish and that might explain why he can only hit the mark in international play against such powerhouses such as Saint Kitts and Nevis and the Virgin Islands.
The Montreal Impact let Byers go because of unprofessional behavior, and it is a shame, because had he been more focused, he could have turned the skills he does have into a very interesting career. Moving and shooting in tight spaces are not a problem for him, but again, his selfishness sometimes means that he runs out of space altogether.
What space will he be afforded versus the US and will he try to go it alone?
A major asterisk on the A&B team review will be the introduction of English-born Dexter Blackstock.
Let’s call it the second player who the States should certainly be concerned with if he gets in the initial eleven.
The former QPR player could be a slotted in as a starter in this one, but has not gotten many reps in concert with the team.
When he deployed last time (February 2011), A&B went with a 4-3-1-2 against Trinidad & Tobago and promptly got thrashed by the Soca Warriors 4-0–Blackstock played the Dempsey role in that one.
Still Blackstock, as CONCACAF bottom-ranking sides go, is a talent that will get some run on Friday.
TSG will backtrack here and say the 26-year-old Blackstock starts, but in a 4-4-2. (Somehow we just made ourselves “experienced” the A&B side.)
DEF: McCoy, Dublin, Joseph, Blakey
MID: Robinson, Leigertwood, Thomas, Griffith
FW: Byers, Blackrock
The key for Antigua & Barbuda to have a shot would appear to be remaining as compact as possible, providing cover–always–wide over the flanks and taking quick and long vertical counter chances over the top if or when they materialize.
TSG What We’re Looking For:
• Is this the Seal-The-Opponent-In game?
The US–heck TSG–has long talked about the States dictating play to their opponents.
It was a central theme running into Gold Cup 2011 and publicized bullet point on Jurgen Klinsmann’s hiring.
The US typically does well against CONCACAF minnows (Cuba, Barbados) merely on account of their experience and ability so this isn’t one of those games per se, but the US should work on more metronomic possession and attacking and probing to breaking down the Benna Boys.
The States sorely needs work on their ability to manufacture a score against a packed-in side….or more teams will continue to adopt the recent game plans of Canada and Panama.
Can the US get Clint Dempsey multiple chances in a half court set? Where is Landon’s ability best deployed? Will he be deployed as the counter seems to be Donovan’s strong suit these days.
• Lounging in the US forward pool
Might this be the strongest US senior side forward pool in some time? Include Dempsey as a pseudo-forward and it makes it three players (inc. Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez) coming off extremely strong club seasons with high goal tallies as the metric. Add Terrence Boyd, who has something to prove as he looks to drop a club level in the Bundesliga but get on the starting field more and this is well beyond the days of Barrett, Findley and Cunningham.
Klinsmann has preferred Altidore and the lone time the US deployed in the 4-4-2 was with two big guys up top in Altidore and Buddle .(Hard to call the US’s deployment against Canada a 4-4-2 as Dempsey never led the line or looked to integrate with Gomez).
Antigua & Barbuda should represent a really good chance to check out the spears at the top of the States’ formation and truly investigate a pairing as well as build chemistry. Who starts?
• Reacting to the opponent
» Will Jozy Altidore come out with a head full of steam because it was tiny A&B who knocked Haiti out of WCQ? [Kidding]
» Does Jose Torres get the start or is it a surprise entrance of Kyle Beckerman to circulate the ball? Will Jose Torres prove to have “soft hands?” (as in “lack toughness”).
It’s an interesting case with Torres who if he plays will likely look sublime given the opponents talent level. If Torres is not going to be the answer against bigger sides is he worth developing against smaller sides merely because he is useful. Probably the biggest question is: Who amongst Torres, Edu and…Donovan(?) sits?
» While Clarence Goodson controlled the lanes and the skies against Canada, is this not an ideal opportunity to insert Geoff Cameron? The opponent will attack with vertical pace and the US will look to control the ball on he floor on offense. Cameron presents the correct skill set at CB that the US wants.
» Can Steve Cherundolo continue to be iron man? With the fate of Fab Johnson currently unknown and a tough road match against Guatemala coming shortly after, is this really a game that Dolo needs to go 90 and track meet it up and down the field?
» …and that goes to the wider point. After 3 matches in 8 days, does Klinsmann rest players against a team the US should be able to beat without a full A squad? Or is this “World Cup qualifying” and will it be and always be “best foot forward?
» And finally, can the US avoid silly fouls against a team that they should beat without having to resort to “sending a message?” (See lead photo of this piece.)
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson/Edgar Castillo (if injury)
CDM: Michael Bradley
RCM: Jermaine Jones, LCM: Jose Torres
CAM: Clint Dempsey
RM/F: Landon Donovan
STR: Jozy Altidore
(Pretty graphics return next time.)
The skinny & tactics: The main tactical question for the States would appear to be a common one that shapes tactics: How high a line the US wants to draw.
Look to keep the ball in the attacking third, add an attacker and drop a midfielder perhaps and the US can continue to constrict space and hone their attack without A&B being able to relieve pressure effectively.
That plan would keep the ball in the States’ possession and continually put A&B’s weaker back line under the gun; the risk of course being losing containment a few times and giving A&B’s fast attackers up top the chances to test the US back line they’re looking for.
Play a little deeper in the middle and shut down advanced players upon reception with central midfield cover. Keep the US in it’s 4-3-2-1 formation used against Scotland and Brazil and look to drive up the flanks and lob in crosses to Altidore and maybe Boyd.
A good game to watch how a US team with a large talent advantage looks to command the game.
Supporting material: Rigidity hampering US attack