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!
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.