The US dons the
sunscreen galoshes in October and heads down to the land once sought by the British as they take on Antigua & Barbuda in the first game of an away and home series and the final qualifying coupling of 2012.
Whereas Bob Bradley’s team trudged through World Cup qualifying in 2010 with less flare and a more “steady-as-we-can-go” approach leading to results, results and … results but often less-inspiring wins, the Jurgen Klinsmann era has ushered in the age of trial-and-error whipping around the emotions of US fans enough to light-up the talk show and podcast switchboards. (Thank you for that, Jurgy.)
Last time off America soil, it was a sloppy loss in Jamaica after being up 1-0 followed by returning home and authoring an annihilation of the same opponent days later back in the States. Have you no respect for aging fans with weaker hearts, Klinsmann?!
Many will maintain here that this will be Antigua & Barbuda playing the “game of their lives”–and no doubt the Benna Boys will be up to as much of the challenge as they can at their home ground fondly called “Sticky Wickets”–harkening to the real colonialist passion that still inhabits the island….
(For a more comprehensive review of the Benna Boys, check out our previous preview here)
…but the Benna Boys also did not shy away from attempts to get out and run on the US on a soggy pitch in Florida a few months back, even though they lacked success.
Since that time, not as much has changed with the opposition with the exception of some injuries–notably the steady play of Reading captain Mikele Leigterwood will be missed and some volatile club play (red cards and goals alike) from Nottingham Forest’s Dexter Blackstock in the Championship across the pond. (By the way, it’s Blackstock’s play that is one of the reasons that USMNT alum Robbie Findley was sent packing from the side.)
While TSG cited Peter Byers play as key in the last match–and it now looks like Byers, who roasted Oguchi Onyewu for the lone goal last time, will be a scratch in this one–it will be more imperative that Blackstock, who missed two quality chances in Florida, accounts for the pseudo “hired gun” label that has come with him being an Antiguan national much like say Jermaine Jones.
This game though is about the US’s ability to get a win in qualifying on the road and it should be looked at that way by those reading here.
A draw in Guatemala was acceptable even after the States led in that one some months back, but a win here reduces the pressure on the States next week in Livestrong. It’s imperative regardless of any management double-speak coming across.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our “mini” preview. Per usual it goes:
• TSG What Are We Looking At
• Eleven at the Whistle
TSG What Are we Looking At
• The Head of the Spear
We haven’t addressed the Jozy issue here on The Shin Guardian…nor have we addressed the fact that Herculez Gomez is more “settled” and less en fuego currently in the Primera.
But the question on everyone’s minds this week is and was, why no Jozy Altidore? A US striker who is slamming the back of the net in the Eredivisie (no other US striker is currently) and has that frame that should be so Klinsmann-to-die-for.
If you’ve been reading through TSG for the past three or four years, then the decision can be seen in a different light.
Altidore has has had two types of games typically for the States: (a) flashes of sheer brilliance coupled with unfocused stretches of malaise or (b) merely unfocused stretches of malaise.
The most recent US loss in Jamaica was an example of the latter. Whether the job “to score” is imperative upon receiving service or not, there is oh-so-much-more a striker needs to do these days due to teams playing further up the field on defense. (For a concise argument on this case, see our piece on Dimitar Berbatov a few months back).
Altidore simply doesn’t do these secondary things in the international game or, more softly, doesn’t grasp what Klinsmann needs him to do. Against Jamaica, Gomez was tasked with staying high, but as soon the game start breaking down, the shifty forward was making his way back to provide hold-up deeper and help defend. Altidore neglected those
opportunities, nay, responsibilities.
In terms of the former Altiodore game arc, two games zoom to the top of that list, the US friendly against the Dutch in preparation for World Cup 2010 and the history-making win over Spain at the 2009 Confederation Cup.
In both of those affairs, against Altidore had bouts with lack-of-motion but had the luxury of working off other players high up the pitch, Robbie Findley against the Dutch and Charlie Davies against the Spaniards.
Altidore is a Thierry Henry-mindset trapped in a Didier Drogba body with a discount on the natural skills. And for the young forward–and he is still young so that is a grace–that plan has worked wonders in club world where Altidore has added to the scoresheet off the creation work of others (save one blistering goal) but for the US–as evidenced by the Alan Gordon call-in–that’s not what’s needed and it’s why you find Altidore in the cold this week instead of basking in a start and island warmth.
Is it a good decision? Probably, because Altidore hasn’t helped the States win a game since Slovenia really–a friendly where he was paired with another player creating space for him, Edson Buddle.
• Tired of backline questions? Tough.
No Fab Johnson and no Edgar Castillo–who along with Geoff Cameron may be considered at least the defensive surprises of the 2012 international season.
But as we know in these games, it shouldn’t matter if the US dictates tempo and play. For crissakes it was Klinmsann’s Torres addiction that saw the US skipper put the little Primera man out on the flank last time to a forgettable display and regrettable injury–an injury that doesn’t get picked up by a player who knows how to play the position–i.e. stay on their feet.
For now the key to the US backline will be the ability to seal in the opposition in their end and force balls to be hucked over top and-or the place of the US central defense which is already tasked through Klinsmann’s fullback-barraging attack with covering–along with the CDM–for forward runs on the flanks.
Here will be about the ability for the States to generate offense minus Fab Johnson and Edgar Castillo because whoever is at leftback–save perhaps a Danny Williams runout–is not going to threaten the US nearly as much.
So in this case, that backline question becomes either: (1)Can the prolific US attacking flank of Zusi and Cherundolo with Gomez going high and Dempsey cutting underneath manufacture the necessary offense or (2) Since the field is supposed to be long and narrow, “Can Dempsey and Gomez in tandem or Gomez and Eddie Johnson in tandem stretch the Benna Boys backline.
Well, those two and set pieces of course. Let’s remember is was the every-not-so-ancient Carlos Bocanegra who nailed the first one in came one off a stalled corner.
Where’s the width? That Central Midfield.
Another popular exasperation here from States fans. And as we’ve seen with Klinsmann again it’s, “never compromise the center, narrow of the pitch for attacking purposes.”
Klinsmann–and really Martin Vasquez who seems to be running the tactical ship–has continually used the play of Cherundolo and Fab Johnson over the past year to achieve that width or the forward play of Gomez and Brek Shea. (Note: What a perfect game for Shea this could have been.)
It has rarely if ever been the play of the US true midfield to create that width–with the exception perhaps of Landon Donovan who was really tasked with less ball carriage and linking and more floating forward anyhow.
It’s quite a quandary in this one as to the complexion of the midfield, because the US is lacking one flank and it would seem a few well placed long balls can either open up or scare the bejesus out of an advancing A&B side.
It’s quite the pontification and we’ll leave that to:
11 At The Whistle
The skinny: We know that, if healthy, Klinsmann favors Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Danny Williams on the pitch. In all likelihood Graham Zusi gets the nod as well. So the question becomes, does Bradley add another attacker to the mix in Eddie Johnson or does he add another ball circulator/defender in Kyle Beckerman. That is the fulcrum in this one.
Also to ponder: Who plays leftback?
The movement of Bocanegra out to the left seems ill-conceived. You’re asking an old vet who you want to go against better and just-as-fast competition a few days later to get up-and-down against a team who’s only asset is speed and you’re asking him to play a position he hasn’t really played in over two years? Can’t see it. Shouldn’t see it.
Then it becomes a question of Parkhurst vs. “another option.. Williams perhaps” and that is a very real question because Klinsmann-Velasquez had to see the absolute lack of danger provided by Parkhurst in getting ahead against Jamaica. Parkhurst was given the opportunities and though he was smart on the ball, he wasn’t threatening….and now he’s on his weaker foot.
Put your money on Pankhurst, but TSG will toss Danny Williams out there, moving Michael Bradley to the #6 with Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi ahead of him and Clint Dempsey central with Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson ahead of him.
The US will need Bradley’s combination of trust in possession with his ability to rope it on a dime up the pitch. He’s a better option there in this one over Williams because of his skill, experience, but mostly decision-making. The US is not going to circulate the ball quickly because the pitch is narrow and A&B could jump the slots. It’s about movement up field–which is why there is another asterisk and you may see Beckerman out there with Williams pushing forward, etc.
Just spitballing here; hopefully Klinsmann is not.