That Wasn’t Algeria: TSG’s USA vs. Guatemala Preview

One player, though, was vindicated.

Scruff of the neck stuff it was not. Nor was it Algeria. Cathartic for Eddie Johnson; anything but for the nation he represented.

The United States is going through the reps in Kansas City today, preparing for the final game of this World Cup qualifying series….and that work is perhaps just a tad less intense following Eddie Johnson’s late game winner on a saturated pitch in Antigua & Barbuda Friday. US fans exhaled, the States suctioned themselves to the top of their CONCACAF group qualifying table.

Let’s begin at Sticky Wickets in Antigua & Barbuda.

The USMNT is out of whack. In short it’s some sort of a makeover-in-progress–one that likely spans more than this cycle.

The USMNT struggled mightily to earn quality chances on goal Friday while its improved defense under Jurgen Klinsmann faltered and was just as much an eyesore.

The US managed just a single shot on goal while the Benna Boys looked downright El Salvador-like in making fans sweat out a victory on the road. While El Salvador-like? Because they always make the States work for it, but typically come up short.

How out of whack is the US or was the US in this one?

» A mid-30-year-old veteran was asked to move to a position he hadn’t played in over two years–a positioned that demanded speed and fitness and whose foil merely superior speed, not skill, of the opponent.

TSG told you in the preview it would be a poor move and it turned out to be as Carlos Bocanegra was often unsure whether to be tethered in parallel to the central defenders or take up an advanced position. It was Bocanegra who made the turnover that resulted in A&B’s lone goal. (Mind you, this was the same position and opponent who the US played at home in June and the manager proclaimed that “anyone could play leftback.” He then penciled in Jose Francisco Torres much to the detriment of the Primerican’s ankle.)

» The renaissance forward brought in from the Pacific Northwest–the one that feasted on crosses and lead passes–was tasked with playing left midfielder in a 4-4-1-1. Now, the role did allow Eddie Johnson to float in on the back post for good angles and chances, but it also saw him drop deep–too deep–and fail to create, turnover the ball or worse compromise space for his buddy Clint Dempsey. Also, it didn’t help that his cover over leftback wasn’t the strongest.

» A central defender who was last seen being subbed out against Guatemala due to quality of play was re-inserted into the line-up, even though his club form has been wanting all season and another player who was heralded as a potential central defender (Maurice Edu) remained on the bench. Not that Edu deserved a start here, but he also did pair somewhat effectively with Cameron against Mexico six weeks ago.

Sadly, there’s more.

Against a bunkered Antigua & Barbuda, a dropping Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey combined with Michael Bradley being vital on the ball, left Danny Williams in no man’s land and with very little value to the side. Bradley’s need for space with the ball often pushed Williams out slightly to the left away from from a true CDM role. He couldn’t go forward because that was the space being found by EJ and Dempsey. Williams was sacrificed for Jermaine Jones–rightfully–in the second half.

The US started out the game with Michael Bradley on the ball. That notion is fine, but launching diagonal balls into the opponent’s right rearguard as a first order of attack before even trying to breakdown the opponent with less risky passes is not.

Let’s stick with Michael Bradley here–because again as the TSG preview cited–Bradley would be needed/required/essential to the US threading any passes through a buckled-up back eight for the Benna Boys.

Bradley got on the ball and he was excellent in the conditions; a shine to his game that no other player possessed on the field.

However, as the Benna Boys retreated Bradley found himself unchallenged in possession and thus Danny Williams became an innocence bystander in a tactical mess as sloppy as the field itself. Williams was caught; surplus requirements to manning the CDM space that Bradley had free movement in, conflicted in going forward and joining the attack from the #6 position.

TSG had that one in the preview too. (Klinsmann-Velasquez appeared to realize this gaffe by inserting Jermaine Jones just after halftime.)

More broadly, the US players seem at odds with themselves on the field, unsure whether to push the tempo or maintain possession.

The States–as had been known under American coaches Arena and Bradley for the past decade–have been temporarily castrated.

The fitness superiority and counter-attacking ability that were hallmarks of the past generation have been gashed from the attack by Klinsmann in favor of driving at a more balanced team that can morph based upon both personnel and tactical tweaks based upon its opponents strengths and weaknesses.

It’s an ambitious goal and Klinsmann–in name, prestige, German-ness–may have been the only one that could do it, but the drive towards that goal–much like the US attack–is like riding in a pick-up on a gravel and rock-laden road. Oh, you’ll make it to the end of the road, but the journey will be uncomfortable and it will be bumps-and-bruises galore.

The US hasn’t mastered it’s possession game and it has gotten rusty on the counter.

Don’t worry folks, we’re entering even ground here before the next climb. Take a breather and grab a sit-upon.

Friday’s game wasn’t a rude awakening, nor was it a warning. It was status quo for an era and coach who are trying coax victories, by inspiration or trial-and-error, out of revolving pieces.

C’mon fans, you’re no stranger to this. Just the expectations.

Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our TSG preview. It goes:

TSG What Are We Looking For

11 At The Whistle

TSG What Are We Looking For

• Why Alan Gordon of course!

Belongs….yes…really.

You knew it the moment the roster was announced. As certain as Jermaine Jones’s voluminous and distinguished yellow card collection.

The US battled for the first 30 minutes on the road in Guatemala a few months back trying desperately to use Herculez Gomez with his back to the basket to hold up the ball.

The US found no joy and, as the 65th minute dawned, Jozy Altidore was inserted into one of his more regrettable performances of the 2012 campaign to take over the banging on Guatemala’s central defenders. Altidore ended up looking for fouls and looking plain unfocused.

The US desperately needed someone to hold-up the ball instead of racing up and down with a Guatemala team that could at times have been mistaken for Argentina with its upfield pressure. Yes, it was that good–a tribute to their coach Hugo Almeida.

Enter Alan Gordon–a player whose first call-up brought questions and whose second call-up brought proof. Terrence Boyd isn’t there yet and Altidore may never excel in the role. Gordon is the target man–for now.

Bruce Arena had Brian McBride. Bob Bradley, Brian Ching–who probably would have made the 2010 World Cup roster if not for his balky hamstring. (Ching turned over into Edson Buddle who was first on Jurgen Klinsmann’s list when he started).

Klinsmann tried Buddle early on and that led to quick bat of the eye at Teal Bunbury and next extending a stepladder to Terrence Boyd’s senior campaign, still a work in progress.

When you watch Gordon up top, you can’t help but notice how dedicated he is to his trade and role–almost like a boxer who knows that he’s trying to win a 12-round decision by punching to the body rather than cocking a haymaker and going for the knockout to the head.

Gordon is physical.

He is big.

His elbows puncture defenders’ ribs like that boxer; ask any MLS central defender about his handiwork, elbow-work.

He works defenders knowing that it may not be the first ball played to him or maybe the fifth or the 10th, but at some point his defender is going to either foul him–a relief cry from the constant barrage–or make a mistake. (Good observation on Gordon? June at Buck Shaw Stadium as Gordon’s Quakes faced off against Real Salt Lake. Jamison Olave, no defensive slouch, was worked over by Gordon, leaving Olave securing a yellow, griping at the refs and soundly beaten on the day. Pride department as well as scoreline.)

Now the question is: Can the big man stay healthy and can he play at international soccer speed?

Guatemala will give us another peek at Gordon. If Los Chapines sit, then Gordon will be used to wreak havoc in the box for a trailing attacker. If they push up the field then Gordon will attempt to go Olave on Guatemala’s second-string central defenders. (Los Chapines first-stringers are out on account of injury or match-fixing scandal–ah Central American football.)

“If I could just get through these seven defenders over here….”

• And what of Clint Dempsey

Perhaps no player may, may, benefit more than Clint Dempsey from the addition of Gordon. Dempsey has sputtered as a trequartista, lacking the passing acumen and disposition necessary to exploit the role.

Something has to give, because with a US attack that likes to compress its midfield and use its fullbacks for width, Dempsey is physically being squeezed out of space making his job as a withdrawn forward/attacking midfielder that much harder.

Look for Dempsey to get more space Tuesday as the width of the pitch and likely an edict to Eddie Johnson to stay high and wide (“the Brek Shea role”) will likely be handed down.

• Less than 30 games left, time to settle…

Amazing to think that World Cup 2014 is less than two years away, a shade over 600 days to be precise.

The States–friendlies and presumably qualifiers–have a little more than two dozen games left until that time.

It sure is looking like Steve Cherundolo is fixing to be Brazil’s Giovanni van Bronckhorst; GvB was the oldest starting fullback in South Africa 2010.

Centrally, Geoff Cameron has a bead on one spot, but the other? Bocanegra at 35-years-old come ’14 seemed like a stretch a few months ago, but no clear challenger has emergend. Leftback incredulously perhaps seems to the be the lone somewhat settled position as a healthy Fabian Johnson backed up by the improving Edgar Castillo seems to be commanding the depth chart.

Yet another observation against a tricky Guatemala side featuring thoroughbred Marco Pappa and wiley attack jockey Carlos Ruiz.

• Miscellaneous

» Graham Zusi was percolating on the field on Friday, zigging in crosses and corners packing some heat. If he knocks long-distance on Tuesday or dazzles in another way, the crowd is going to go off the rails with applause. Good stuff for another one of Peter Vermes’s diamond finds.

» Had the US won or drawn in Jamaica a month ago, this could have been the game to get Brad Guzan an international rep that he hasn’t seen under Klinsmann. No can happens now.

» This publication has been harsh on Michael Bradley from time-to-time, but it’s clear to see that Bradley right now is perhaps playing the best true midfield of any player that’s ever worn the shirt, including Ricky Davis, Tab and Reyna. You want to know why Klinsmann and Bradley wanted players to go abroad and play? Speed of game. Bradley is playing perhaps on the most frenetic team in Serie A and his ability to cope and decision-make at pace is having a calming impact on the team.

11 At The Whistle

One possible line-up Tuesday…

The skinny:

You won’t see Bocanegra at leftback this time, will you? Les Chapines are not quite as fast, but they bring a better concoction of speed, attacking verve and finishing than the Benna Boys

And Jermaine Jones will be in a collared sheet and not allowed to tackle anyone. Fabian Johnson has been ruled out.

Guatemala will bring their customary 3-5-2 with their two wingbacks making it a 5-3-2 if they go up a goal or are being extra conservative. While Los Chapines initiative is that of the States, that is, “get the hell out of here with at least a draw,” they also don’t possess the disciplined ability to move the ball in circles against what will be a strong US defense.

So up-and-downs will occur, although not with the same frequency they did in Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores back in June.

A study of the line-up above shows Danny Williams in the same role near Mike Bradley that he wasn’t successful in down in the islands.

How come? The difference here is threefold: (a) The LIVESTRONG–why are you screaming at me?!–field is wider and bigger, (b) Eddie Johnson will inevitably be pushed a little higher into that space and (c) Williams can slot out left–maybe he even starts there–and provide cover for the next Johnny Leftback. Someone tell Heath Pearce to get off the assembly line for his bow ties and make a guest appearance in a tuxedo suit of another kind.

Clint Dempsey should find room and Graham Zusi and Steve Cherundolo should combine better on the right.

Carlos Bocanegra slots back inside to help Geoff Cameron manage the veteran Carlos Ruiz whose scoring more than nearly as much as Ryan Gosling these days.

Oh, and raise your hands if you had a pairing of Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson as the USMNT’s starting forwards in a World Cup qualifier back when bets were taken in January. Hello? Anyone?

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32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by TGP on 2012/10/15 at 11:31 AM

    Man might be nice to have a couple more options at left back or on the wing. too bad the roster is full…oh wait.

    Reply

  2. I wouldn’t say Ricky Davis and Roy Wegerle ever played “true midfield”. Maybe you’re thinking of Steve Wegerle ( TB Rowdies) who was more of a winger/midfielder than his brother.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Chazcar2 on 2012/10/15 at 1:29 PM

    Still kinda like my lineup for the last game (still will never happen):
    3-4-3
    —-Dempsey-Johnson-Zusi—–
    Klejsten–Williams-Bradley–Dolo
    —–Bocanegra-Edu-Cameron—-

    Alts: Corona for Klejsten, Gomez for Johnson, Gordon for Johnson

    Alt back three: Bocanegra-Cameron-Parkhurst

    Otherwise 4-4-2
    —-Johnson–Gomez—-
    Dempsey-Bradley—Zusi
    ——Beckerman/Edu——
    Williams-Boca-Cam-Dolo

    Reply

  4. Posted by Nelson on 2012/10/15 at 1:31 PM

    D Williams played next to Michael Bradley (not Bob) in the Antigua game.

    Does anyone see Klejstan having a role in this game?

    Reply

    • Posted by JGD on 2012/10/15 at 3:49 PM

      If not starting, he’ll almost certainly be coming-on off the bench. Especially if we’re finding ourselves either down or tied in the last 20 minutes.

      Reply

  5. Posted by KMac on 2012/10/15 at 3:40 PM

    Not saying Boca didn’t lose the battle on the left for the AG goal, but in his defense it looked to me like Zusi-cakes(yes you heard that nicknamei here first!) fed him a hospital ball compounded by that county park quality pitch and Caddyshack weather. I replayed it a few times and it looked like at least 75% not his fault to me. I for one would cut Capt. America some slack for all his great play over the years.
    Next a rare Cameron torching.
    Third, it’s interesting how Goodson gets dragged down from behind rather than slipping as the play by play called it (a foul in most parts of the universe- except COCACAF- yes I expect that kind of BS, not my first time watching qualification). Sure he perhaps could have not gone to ground so easily, but again. A strange confluence of events that yielded the equalizer.

    Reply

  6. Posted by ex_sweeper on 2012/10/15 at 3:50 PM

    Gordon isn’t a 90-minute player for the Quakes. I don’t see him starting but coming off the bench if Gomez still isn’t producing. I worry a bit about his rate of picking up yellow cards. Of his 7 yellows and 1 red this season, I think one was for taking off his shirt and another for arguing a call with the ref; I can’t recall the rest. Given Guatemala’s players’ tendency to flop at the slightest contact, we will be at the mercy of the ref, but big physical players tend to get carded more. What a great story, though. If Gordon doesn’t win come-back player of the year, they should retire the award.

    Reply

    • Posted by PanchoMiguelMoralesdeConejo on 2012/10/16 at 6:57 AM

      What’s Gordon coming back from? Contrary to published reports, mediocrity is not a disability.
      Still, you gotta love him!

      Reply

      • Posted by ex_sweeper on 2012/10/16 at 10:55 AM

        Double sports hernia and muscle tears that limited him to just a few matches in 2011.

        Reply

  7. Nice preview. Some random thoughts after watching the first 30 minutes of a replay of Friday’s Guatemala-Jamaica match:

    * The overall pace of play was much higher than the US-A&B match. Comparatively it was like a table tennis game with the ball rapidly going from end to end with some scoring chances for both teams. As an example of the speed of play, on the first Guatemala goal, there was a throw-in at midfield and the ball was worked up the field 50 or so yards and was in the back net within 10-12 seconds. A great individual effort to beat several Jamaican defenders on the goal.

    * Guatemala was very aggressive in their offensive half on both offense and defense. When Jamaican defenders had the ball, two forwards would be in their face trying to steal the ball with some supporting midfield pressure. I’d liken it to an aggressive forecheck for any hockey fans out there. It was fairly effective leading to turnovers and errant passes, but it also left them somewhat vulnerable when Jamaica was able to move the ball across midfield.

    * Much of the play was in Jamaica’s end or in the midfield area, with Guatemala using medium distance passes (longer and less frequent passes than the U.S.’s more methodical tempo and compact approach), while Jamaica preferred very long hail-mary passes to a streaking striker once the ball crossed midfield. In particular, Guatemala quickly advanced the ball several times up their offensive right early on, which could cause problems for whoever the U.S. throws out at the left back position.

    There are obviously many reasons to take that game’s tape with a grain of salt – much better pitch conditions and weather, more evenly matched teams, more on the line for Guatemala needing 3 points, etc., but Guatemala was the better side during that timeframe. If they decide to go into more of a defensive shell with a slower pace of play needing just a draw to advance, that could play into the U.S.’s hand, whereas a more aggressive approach like what they used on Friday could really test our defense as well as our ability to quickly counter-attack.

    Reply

    • Posted by Ufficio on 2012/10/16 at 1:21 PM

      The second half was all Jamaica. Dane Richards was a real difference-maker. It was really a shame they didn’t take at least one point; Guatemala capitalized on their only real chance of the second half while Jamaica squandered several.

      Reply

  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/10/15 at 7:59 PM

    US are 8/1 for a 3-0 win. That’s a great price.
    4/11 for a win in general.

    Reply

    • Posted by JGD on 2012/10/16 at 6:50 AM

      I always find it interesting, betting on the footie matches is enormous in Britain but not very big at all in the States.

      Reply

    • Posted by AdamFromMich on 2012/10/16 at 10:03 AM

      I think I would go for a 2-0 US win myself, but I’m not much of a gambler. 8/1 odds are pretty good, however …

      I imagine you wouldn’t get very good odds for a 1-0 or 2-1 US win. What about a 1-1 tie? Not that I would _ever_ bet against the US.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Soccernst on 2012/10/15 at 10:07 PM

    I’m ok with Gordon. He’s a solid hold up man.

    Reply

  10. Posted by dth on 2012/10/16 at 12:07 AM

    Ridiculous that with the amount of talent scoring in the pool and we’re still putting out such staid offensive efforts.

    Reply

    • Not really.

      Ths issue for the US going a long way back, has always been the inability to create chances not necesarily finishing off those chances.

      Reply

      • Posted by mbw on 2012/10/16 at 12:42 PM

        Historically the US has been a pretty high-scoring team. Even under Klinsmann, we’ve been shut out, what, once in the last thirteen matches?

        Reply

    • Posted by ex_sweeper on 2012/10/16 at 10:57 AM

      The one time the U.S. (Klejstan) attempted a long shot on goal, the A&B keeper spilled it. Definitely needed more attempts. However, you have to balance that against the short field and treacherous footing that made A&B breakaways dangerous.

      Reply

    • Posted by mbw on 2012/10/16 at 12:37 PM

      I’m more sanguine on this point than a lot of people. The major issue coming out of the last cycle was that the US gave up like a half-goal per game more than other teams that regularly make it out of WC group stages. Whatever other issues the team’s now dealing with, at least we’ve stopped leaking goals — GAA is down 2/3 of a goal per game from what it was in Bradley’s last two calendar years in charge. Some of this has to do with the quality of competition at this point in the cycle, but some of it is definitely down to decisions taken by the coaching staff.

      Reply

      • Posted by Ufficio on 2012/10/16 at 1:18 PM

        The only way we can compare meaningful games between the Bradley and Klinsmann eras is to compare the respective third rounds of qualifiers. The groups were very similar in quality (Cuba, T and T, Guatemala vs A and B, Jamaica, Guatemala). Bradley conceded three goals in six games, with one of those goals coming in the four games in took to secure passage to the Hex, all while never surrendering a lead. Klinsmann has conceded five goals in five games and amazingly surrendered three leads – ultimately leading to five dropped points.

        Reply

        • Posted by mbw on 2012/10/16 at 2:55 PM

          I take your point, but 2008 vs. 2012 isn’t a particularly meaningful comparison either, and it doesn’t tell us much about the transition from Bradley to Klinsmann. See the concluding sentence — some of it has to do with quality of competition, some of it has to do with coaching choices (the designated 6, etc.).

          Reply

  11. Posted by matthewsf on 2012/10/16 at 12:10 AM

    It’s funny — when you look at that starting line-up out there it looks vaguely familiar to Bob Bradley’s notorious 4-2-2-2 — Zusi playing the Donovan role — EJ the Charlie Davies role.

    Williams the Jones or Edu role.

    Reply

    • Posted by Alex on 2012/10/16 at 12:30 AM

      But with the dedicated 6, which is when the US were at their best under Bradley

      Reply

    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2012/10/16 at 9:36 AM

      At a high level you are right although their are a lot of subtle differences.

      - Under Bob felt like Bradley and Rico/other DMF both stayed back. Now Bradley gets a lot more forward. Not sure how much of this is related to JK (he definitely seemed to stop the 45 back and sideway passes per game that Bradley used to make) or to Bradley improving.

      - Under Bob we always played two relatively slow CBs and a deeper line. Under JK we seem to play at least one quicker better with the ball CB.

      - There seems to be much more possession (although we don’t seem good at converting that to anything). I feel like under Bradley we would have had 55% not 75% versus a team like AB. The real question will be can we eventually do something with that possession.

      - Not sure how good we would have been under Bob without Landon. JK has basically been without Landon all year. Landon is still our third best outfield player IMO.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/10/16 at 9:42 AM

        Fair and excellent point on Landon — although you have to be curious whether Landon fits JK’s mold. He should.

        On two deep CMs, not sure I agree there. Everyone used to call it “The Empty Bucket” but it really wasn’t. Bradley was in fact–defensively–ahead of Jones except when the US bunkered in. He would funnel players one way and Jones would crush the tackle.

        But you’re right, because of those CBs and if the ball got played quickly out of the back or reversed the US would break down on Bradley’s watch.

        Bradley–to me–gave to much work for his son to do. You can see know with Bradley that when he’s not exhausted from continually chasing he’s really much sharper at the end of games.

        Reply

      • Posted by Eric on 2012/10/16 at 10:24 AM

        Agree with Matt that Bradley was always the center mid going forward, even if he started deep in the ‘empty bucket’ position. There’s no other way he would have been able to to get forward often enough on those late runs into the box that made him a decent scoring threat.

        However, you’re absolutely right about the centerbacks. Of course, Klinsmann has been looking for a quicker/better on the ball centerback since he took over. As Matt has pointed out on the site before, it’s the very reason Orozco-Fiscal saw so many runouts early on with the nats. Because Klinsmann is trying to play a higher defensive line on average, he needs a speedier centerback as insurance. Thankfully, Cameron has started filling into that role.

        Finally, I’m with you on Donovan. I’m curious to see what Klinsmann does when he has Donovan more consistently. In fact, it makes me wonder just how often Klinsmann has been able to call in a true ‘full squad’ in his tenure. Does anyone know off the top of their head because I’m having trouble recalling more than maybe one or two matches where the US has had all it’s top players available at the same time for Klinsmann to select.

        Reply

  12. Bostonian here. Do I have any options for watching this on replay if i can’t live? ESPN3 says it won’t carry it but that I can go to ESPN2 (ergo live, not a replay). But it shows up on the ESPNWatch schedule for upcoming events… Too many ESPNs to make sense of and I just need to figure out if I need to cancel a dinner I agreed to…

    Reply

  13. [...] The Fan In You « That Wasn’t Algeria: TSG’s USA vs. Guatemala Preview [...]

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