It’s a tired movie analogy, but it works oh so well here.
The movie–of course–the Princess Bride. The scene? Billy Crystal’s Mirace Max character has just returned the Dred Pirate Roberts (“Wesley”) to life.
Along with swordsman Inigo Montoya and behemoth Andre The Giant–rest his soul–the half-alive-Wesley and crew are expected to take on Prince Hupperdink’s army, liberate the princess and make a be-pajamaed Fred Savage happy that his Peter Falk grandfather came over to read stories. Mission accomplished though Miracle Max says it will take a….
The castle in this case?
None other than the nearly impenetrable Colossus of Saint Ursula or to known the fervent US fan merely as “the Azteca.” …. a rocking cauldron, more than 7,200 ft above sea level, of anti-“whoever” energy bombing down on the opponents just as quickly as beer and urine do on the unlucky enemy winger taking a corner kick.
Alan Gordon is your Giant and Herculez Gomez is perhaps your vindicated Montoya.
(Wait, can’t you just see Alan Gordon on a white horse in the 94th minute knocking in a ball off his thigh …
it’s the stuff dreams are made of it’s the stuff that lives on trashy romance novel softcovers.
Okay, now, quick, quicker, to the preview!
Alan Gordon? Nope.
Chris Pontius not on the travel roster? Nope.
Steven Beitashour? Sean Johnson? Brek Shea? Nope across the board.
The United States national team will travel for “what really shouldn’t be called a” friendly at the Azteca in Mexico City and the biggest surprise of what was an eventful selection process will be the absence of US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra.
This marks the first time–excluding the 2009 Gold Cup Final where Bob Bradley used a “B” team–that Carlos Bocanegra will not captain the United States against Mexico since June of 2007 and it will be the first time that Bocanegra doesn’t play against Mexico in any encounter–save the one mentioned above–since September of 2005. Even in that one, Bocanegra was on the bench.
(Note: The last time Bocanegra wasn’t selected for a Mexico match it was April 28th, 2004. Bruce Arena was coach, Josh Wolff started at forward. Oh and the last US captain (non- 2009 GC Final) not named Carlos Bocanegra? This guy!
Is it a changing of the guard? No, not really; one can expect Captain Carlos to be back on the field come qualifying time in September against Jamaica, sporting the armband and dishing out meaningful fouls–but it’s still a moment.
For whatever reason that the current Rangers player wasn’t selected (club situation up in air, beginning of the Fall Euro campaign), it still is a nod–like many other player selections–to a forward-looking roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The US has improved under Jurgen Klinsmann in defense, but they haven’t improved in central defense.
Whether it has been Oguchi Onyewu’s recent walkabouts in qualifying, Brazil’s forwards playing spin class with the US interior or Slovenia playing over-the-top-ball late last year in almost coming back on the Americans on their home turf, the US’s aging central defense has been an area of protection, not strength for the side.
This shouldn’t be a newsflash for anyone.
At Euro 2012, the average age of the starting centerbacks for what largely is a tournament with the highest percentage of elite teams, was 28-years-old. In their recent qualifying series, the average age of Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra was almost 32.
That’s acceptable, but only if the players have last names like Nesta, Stam or Desailly.
Now the US will brandish a younger, perhaps more athletic central defense when they play under a shroud of vitriol this Wednesday. It’s a rude education.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary TSG preview.
TSG What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent
TSG What Are We Looking For
» Midfield Rocks
Jurgen Klinsmann has tipped his hand on the midfield; he wants to–much as he and Germany does–rely on the consistency and authority of the midfield to be the foundation of a game plan.
In the last series of matches, the US moved around parts, but the combination of Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones featured in the starting eleven all buy one time. All though word is coming in (via Jeff Carlisle) that the Maurice Edu will now be used at centerback in all likelihood.
With Bradley unavailable, Klinsmann still sought out three of those components to maintain that desired consistency for a one-game friendly: Torres, Edu and Jones–despite the former two looking to get new Euro campaigns underway.
As for Jones, perhaps no player is more important in this game than he.
The German-American was expected to be a star of the US side way back in 2009 but he couldn’t stay on the pitch. Jones was hammered by a series of injuries that saw him not really get into the US picture until the end of 2010.
2011 saw Jones struggle to cope with a formation that demanded ground coverage at its central midfield core. This was an elder Jermaine Jones and as Jones’s inability to cover the amount of territory as he did when he was younger bled through his game, the Schalke 04 player let his temper and an erratic passing game get the better of him. Jermaine Jones would often snowball into a pinball careening into and off of tackles and banging passes like he was using flippers instead of feet.
Now, a formation switch has helped save some wear and tear on Jones and takes advantage of his veteran skills.
Jones is often relied on to be the key linking player in a US attack that has often lacked creativity in getting the ball to its forward in scoring opportunities. This is not say that Jones has the ability to conjure up creativity or pull assists out of hat, but Jones has accepted the role and the required discipline at not turning the ball over has rubbed on playing defense with less “incidents.”
Big player for the US this Wednesday if they want to win, Jermaine Jones.
Now the question becomes how will Klinsmann build around that midfield and….
» Where does the US elect to try to win this match?
The US has tried multiple approaches to playing Mexico over the past few years. The two most recent games from the Bob Bradley era saw different approaches. Bradley used the US bunker-and-huck at the Azteca after springing Charlie Davies and stealing for a goal at a qualifier match in August of 2009 at the Azteca.
At the 2011 Gold Cup Final, Bradley employed an identical strategy to the one that saw the US carry though a 2-0 win over Mexico in Columbus in February of 2009.
Bradley went 4-3-3 as a means of keeping the ball up the field and Mexican’s defense under duress. The strategy nearly worked again as the US went up 2-0. However an injury to Steve Cherundolo saw the US backline get juggled, then mangled.
The US lost shape, got stretched, and Mexico was merciless in roaring back to a thrilling 4-2 win.
The “reduction of space” from backline through striker and keeping the ball has been a focal point of Klinsmann’s campaign and that plan issues a challenge to the States’ front six on Wednesday.
The challenge: “Keep the ball. Keep it up the pitch. Or that very green defense behind you might get thrashed. Are you going to let that happen?”
That’s the expectation here.
The US will use defensive mids who can keep possession to try to keep the ball over the half-line and find the small opportunities to inject passes for scoring chances.
On the defense, the US will rely heavily on making its midfield as best a moat as possible, likely defending just aft the half-line with either five across or more likely four with a sweeper (Edu.)
» About that backline
The back four will be green, but they will also have wheels — that a first for the States in some time.
That is, a defense where all four players can run. The US can’t afford to drop Mexico on set pieces–see Brazil, silver medal, 2012 Olympics–but they also aren’t going to bust you up like a say Terrence Boyd, Alan Gordon or Brian Ching up top would.
will should be able to recover if they get beat beyond the line and their fleetness should make them able to set a higher line up the field and reduce some space–the same space a Giovanni Dos Santos (not making this game thankfully for US fans)–was able to exploit to ridiculous extremes at the aforementioned 2011 Gold Cup final last summer.
Some small things to look for:
» Will Maurice Edu be able to handle a centerback role? Or if it’s Michael Orozco-Fiscal, will he avoid that one foul a game that always seems to plague him and give the other team one of their best chances. (The red card against Nigeria–2008 Olympics–should be forgiven by the way)
» Is Geoff Cameron in game shape and will he be focused enough on the game to avoid the lapses in focus that plagued him during his last few months in Houston?
» Will Fabian Johnson just settle down?! He’s the US’s most thrilling youth player, but he’s prone to over-committing, over-dribbling and just over-everything?
» Can the recently recharged Steven Beitashour if he starts continue to improve on 1 vs. 1 defense? Or will be it be Edgar Castillo who enters on his wrong foot?
» Will it be lunchpailing or finishing providing goals? Or just no goals at all?
The personality of the US forwards represented ranges across the board, from the tested Landon Donovan to the everywhere-but-at-the-national-team-level-yet Chris Wondolowski to his forward counterpart Alan Gordon, a construction worker man of a forward. Young prodigy Terrence Boyd rounds out the mix.
It will be interesting to see when and who is deployed. Wondolowski works better if the US can keep any sort of possession and work chances in the attacking half while Gordon (see Olave, Jamison and dominance a few weeks ago in San Jose) can boss a lot of players with superior strength
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Will the US run out a keeper in the second half at all–probably not–to give them a taste of the Azteca?
DEF: Edgar Castillo, Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson
The skinny: Still cannot wrap the mind around Beitashour….starting…first cap….Mexico. Thus we’ll take the option that Edgar Castillo gets flipped and plays on the right.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
The skinny: With Maurice Edu rumored to be tabbed as a centerback, Klinsmann turns to Kyle Beckerman who had a strong match against El Tri last year in Philadelphia.
MID: Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Jose Torres, Landon Donovan
The skinny: Welcome back into the fold Danny Williams. Once again, you’ve got the soccer role version of “clean the latrine!” See Castillo behind you? He needs cover, so you get to play out of position and have US fans scorn your abilities despite never being played in your natural role.
Enjoy the Azteca, try not to get a urine shower. At least, you don’t speak Spanish so you can’t understand what they’re saying about your mom.
STR: Herculez Gomez
The skinny: Now, Herc, he’ll understand what they’re saying about his mom …. and hopefully channel it.
How great would it be to see America’s leading player in the Primera nail against Mexico on their home turf?
» Fabian Johnson at RB; Castillo at LB
» DeMarcus Beasley for Danny Williams
» A 4-4-2 with Alan Gordon-Herculez Gomez tendering up top; Danny Williams sacrified for a midfield across of Donovan, Beckerman, Jones, Torres.
About The Opponent:
Is the next Golden Era of Mexican soccer upon up?
Mexico is feeling good; though for a few, their necks might hurt–that, of course, from toting around the Olympic Gold medals courtesy of a 2-0 statement win over a Brazilian team still looking for their first soccer Olympic gold.
The Mexicans were unfazed in the final Saturday, deftly and calmly playing the ball out of the back against advanced pressure from the next World Cup hosts. The finishing was glorious and the victory resounding.
The Mexican team that enters Wednesday will perhaps be a nick below full strength, but will be more than capable. It says here that is the US loses composure, this could be another whupping like the 2009 Gold Cup.
Thankfully, one slight reprieve for the States.
Gio Dos Santos–he of the Joakhim Noah quaff & dazzling dance work-footwork–will be absent. However, the TSG-coined “Dos Santos Swivel” will still be in effect.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will start up top and look to exploit the gaps in the US defense–ones that the midfielders need to not author with poor pressure on the ball.
That will be a key for the States–not necessarily backline positioning so much as shutting down passing lanes.
South of the Chicharito striker spear will be Aldo de Nigris who pounced on the US last year in the Final also. He’ll play that Dos Santos Swivel role.
The attacking de Nigris will be a backstopped by a midfield that will sport Cruz Azul’s Pablo Barrera on the right and Andres Guardado on the left. It was Guardado and Steve Cherundolo who got locked in a manu-e-manu battle last time down Azteca way in the States 2-1 loss in 2009.
The central midfield makeover is perhaps as key to Mexico’s success heading into Brazil 2014 as solving the central defense is to the US’s chances.
The aging Israel Castro and the mainstay Gerrado Torrado (he of what seems like 576 El Tri caps) are now expired/retired, but their replacements don’t seem to be making statements just yet.
Monterrey’s 25-year-old 6’3” Jesus Zavala seems to have a lock on the CDM shield role. He’s got the potential to fall just shy of Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi on the center midfielder ability scale, but Zavala has been erratic and also tends to tire as the game wears on.
This could be an opportunity for the in-form Landon Donovan.
Zavala’s pairing will likely be with Herculez Gomez’s Santos Laguna mate Edgar Gerardo Lugo. It is in center midfield where the US with Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu should be able to go toe-to-toe. Lugo is hardly a lock long term for El Tri.
The backline is starting to gel as well for El Tri as World Cup qualifying gets going.
Stuttgart’s steady Francisco Rodriguez and Espanyol’s Hector Moreno–the only other Euro players to Little Pea, Guardado and Ochoa–pair again for this match and have become the preferred pairing for coach Jose Manuel de la Torre.
That both are called in again here–after both featuring in friendlies versus Brazil and Boznia-Herzegovina in June–tells you how serious that Mexico is about building cohesion in the back. Severo Meza starts on the right. On the left, Jorge “El Pechu” Torres Nilo will deputize for starter Carlos Salcido who was an overage player at the Olympics
and stays abroad to start Fulham’s Premiership initiative. (not at Tigres)
Guillermo Ochoa likely starts between the posts.
As for their style, it’s nothing the States and its fans haven’t seen before.
Keep the pressure on, take on defenders off the dribble and look to play a through ball, cross (on the floor), or cutback for the opportunities. Mexico is so good at home locking the opponent in their own box that the US will need to be opportunistic with ball advancement and diligent in possession.
The key match-up of course will be Mexico out-letting to its attackers versus a States backline which lacks cohesion and must come together under fierce conditions.