Well, it just won’t be the same without Stephan Hart’s tactics this US friendly, but it’s not really about that either.
The United States Men’s National team brings three weeks of grueling camp work to its culmination Tuesday in Houston’s new BBVA stadium as they take on a reincarnated Canadian national team whose predecessors somehow became a US program nemesis since coach Jurgen Klinsmann began lording over the States.
Most recently, the US senior team–on a whirlwind friendly tour before the first round of World Cup qualifiers in late Spring 2012–left Toronto with a very static, mostly yawn-filled 0-0 draw against The Reds.
It was a game that registered more than a faint blip on the US fan “uh-oh” radar as a team with severely less talent, but a better tactical plan outplayed a US squad whose player deployment and tactical plan figuratively mirrored what you get when you ask a blindfolded 2-year-old to assemble a Mr. Potatohead.
The US wide forwards (Donovan and Torres) were miscast, the plan to slingshot crosses into the box misguided, and the US midfield three had the chemistry of a supermodel on a date with the Stapler Guy from Office Space. To read more on the anything but sanguine affair, just click here.
….and that wasn’t even the most painful of two dust-ups with Canada in 2012.
It was the U-23 Reds that virtually canucked the US U-23 side out of an London Olympics trip earlier in the year. In that wince-filled match, the US could not solve the midfield maze of Canada; the States left their fullbacks in possession on the touchlines to do “something” with the ball.
“Do something” is not typically a recipe for success as Caleb Porter harshly found out that day and then again against El Salvador days later to the see the US youngsters dreams for the pedestal–or even contention for it–denied.
Let’s bring it back though; this is a very different affair timing-wise and narrative-wise.
This USA-Canada match should see the US devour their northerly neighbors by virtue of its talent and its three weeks of intensive training. That and Canada looked jalopy-like in a match against a B-team Denmark side that transpired this past Saturday.
And all of this said…this match is mere prologue to the looming first game of the World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal set to go down February 6th in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with a different USMNT cast.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our preview.
TSG What Are We Looking For
About The Opponent: Canada
11 At The Whistle
TSG What Are We Looking For
» 2012-13 Cause-Effect-Progression:
A quick look back to last year’s January camp shows just how efficiently and effectively Jurgen Klinsmann used that camp. In many ways, the 2012 narrative for a a few key US squad players and spot starters in 2012 found its beginnings at HDC a year ago.
Some insights and discoveries by Klinsmann in 2012:
» Graham Zusi would be a player this cycle. Zusi may have looked off in his passing last January but he was ahead of the speed of the game. Zusi would score a goal against Panama and by the end of 2012 be starting in the senior side’s most crucial qualifier.
»Benny Feilhaber would be deemed surplus to requirements in 2012.
Feilhaber is an interesting cat.
The Brazilian born midfielder has the handles that are desperately needed in the US midfield, but his overall game is dragged down by a petulant and selfish attitude on the pitch–one particular sequence against Venezuela in January 2012 saw Feilhaber arguing with the refs after being dispossessed in the box while the rest of team hustled to get back behind a Venezuelan counter. Feilhaber would not be heard from in the bookend friendly against Panama or for the rest of 2012.
Has Feilhaber learned his lesson and can he up his cerebral game and become a complete player? One of the most interesting subplots of this camp indeed.
» Jermaine Jones was proven indispensable. US fans lament, but Jones hard nose nature in these trival games set the tone around him and carried on throughout the calendar year.
But wait Jones isn’t here?! That’s right, and that presents an opportunity for squad players Kyle Beckerman and perhaps vet Brad Davis to assume that role for at least this game.
» Gonzo’s No Muppet
You have to appreciate Klinsmann’s challenge to Omar Gonzalez. The Los Angeles Galaxy centerback spent the inaugural months of Klinsmann’s tenure completely out of the picture and at one point dropping the notion he might go play for Mexico.
Not a promise, but certainly a veiled threat lobbed toward the new US boss.
Year Two saw Gonzalez called into January camp only to see a Bundesliga trial result in a first day ACL tear instead of a positive impression after weeks of training.
Meanwhile the USMNT staff trotted out Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu fruitlessly in a search to find a potential partner first for Carlos Bocanegra and then next for Geoff Cameron once the Stoke City man was discovered to be a solution in the back.
Gonzalez’s 2012 club season culminated in an MLS Cup MVP on the same pitch as Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham. His return from injury marked the change for the Galaxy in what they could tactically do on the pitch. Gonzalez in fact made those–especially Sean Franklin and Juninho–better around him by eating up space. It’s not often that is said about a non-midfielder.
However, there were also bouts with poor one vs. one defending and whining about hard play.
The US needs to find a reason to sunset Carlos Bocanegra at centerback who for all his limitations still is the number one option as more superior physically and younger players have yet to rise to international caliber.
To hit that level, Gonzalez will need to call a better line, prove he can handle tough CONCACAF striker assignments and develop a nasty streak. Tuesday is the first test.
And Tuesday is all the more important for both Gonzalez and fellow up-and-comer Matt Besler–almost just as much as a contender as the Galaxy centerback–as Geoff Cameron is recovering from an injury for Stoke City and Carlos Bocanegra is only recently returned from his hamstring tear. Can Gonzo–or Besler–make the “A” team leap?
» Gatt Speed?
Klinsmann is saying all the right things about Josh Gatt.
“He has a lot to learn.”
Operative theme? Tempering.
However, there are no players–that is true corner/wingers–on the USMNT side that present Gatt’s tremendous pace and his fearlessness. Gatt is at a key point in his development. That is, learning to apply maturity and situational understanding to his game without removing that fearlessness.
It’s a tough ask. And players like Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream are a prime examples of how painstaking the challenge and process can be.
Despite Klinsmann’s protestations, Gatt is clearly in the mix for Brazil and how he refines his game Tuesday after a very encouraging but ultimately immature performance with the senior side against Russia late last year will speak volumes about just how quickly, or slowly, that development might take place.
» Alfredo Morales continues to be curious call-in by Klinsmann. He likely starts out in the back on the flanks somewhere on Tuesday. Is there promise there or perhaps is there a bit of prejudice for and predisposition to Germans from Klinsmann as Morales has shown little in club ball. A look-in here on Tuesday on this developing situation.
» Can Mix Diskerud command a game and what speed of play will he be at? He’s looked a half-step slow with senior side. Can he put together some dominating minutes here against players that should be his junior?
» Houston Dynamo faithful will ecstatic to see three of their hometown boys (Brad Davis, Tally Hall and Will Bruin) trot out on to their home confines against Canada. One of these guys might get a surprise start. Read on.
This section by noted Toronto soccer scribe James Grossi–too many publications to list.
Key Players Tuesday: Dwayne De Rosario, Kyle Bekker, Tosaint Ricketts
There is no escaping an 8-1 score-line.
Canada’s failure to reach the fourth round of CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualification with a dismal showing in Honduras abruptly ended nearly two years of slow, steady growth.
That milestone loss signaled the end of yet another failed cycle and for many Canadian players.
Stalwarts of recent years, Kevin McKenna, Ante Jazic, Patrice Bernier may well have made their final significant contributions and several other key members of the squad–Atiba Hutchinson, Julian de Guzman, Olivier Ocean, to name but a few-–are entering or approaching their thirties, a time when many decide to withdraw from the rigors of national service.
The CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) long overrun with internal strife and unprofessionalism has slowly turned a corner, and while all is not perfect, steps, some of them right, are being taken.
New corporate partners are slowly emerging, but the errors and mismanagement of the past still echo: Jonathan de Guzman, Canadian born and bred, though Dutch raised, has been displaying his worth under the bright lights of the Premier League with Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City, and was finally called into Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch senior squad to face Italy on the 6th of February, likely ending – once and for all – the will-he-won’t-he saga that has held hostage the national conversation for some time.
Out is head coach Stephen Hart, honorable man that he is, who fell on his sword for that 8-1 result in Honduras in October of 2012.
In, sort of?
FC Edmonton Coach, Colin Miller–interim once more, having bridged the gap between Holger Osieck and Frank Yallop in 2003–was conscripted by the CSA solely for the two January matches; it remains unclear whether a permanent hire will be made prior to any further friendlies and this summer’s Gold Cup.
With no significant matches on the horizon and this series of exhibitions – against Denmark and the USA – falling on non-FIFA dates, Miller and the powers that be elected to call a largely untested side into the Arizona camp that commenced on January 19th.
A much-traded stat, used to emphasize the inexperience on hand, is that two players – Dwayne De Rosario and Lars Hirschfeld – alone account for more than 60% (116) of the 193 caps in the side.
A more telling expansion of that theme is that 92% (178) of the caps in camp have been won by the six players–out of the 22 man squad – who have 10 or more caps, while a full eleven players are receiving their first senior call-up.
As well, two of the more promising prospects Canada has on offer, midfielder Samuel Piette (18 – Fortuna Dusseldorf in Germany) and forward Lucas Cavallini (20 – Juventud de Las Piedras, on loan from Nacional in Uruguay), were not called into the side, as the decision was made that it was best they be allowed to continue to train with their respective clubs.
MLS is well-represented in the squad with De Rosario headlining a list that includes his DC United team-mate Dejan Jakovic, Vancouver’s Russell Teibert, and a quartet of Toronto players–Terry Dunfield, Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry, and third-overall selection in the 2013 SuperDraft, Kyle Bekker.
On Saturday, January 26th Canada played their first match of the series, falling 4-0 in Tucson, Arizona, to a Denmark side composed entirely of domestic-based players.
Handily beaten by three sharp goals in the first 35 minutes of play, Canada began the match in a 4-4-1-1 with Lars Hirschfeld in goal, from right to left: Doneil Henry, Nana Attakora – formerly of TFC and San Jose, Dejan Jakovic, and Ashtone Morgan across the back; Nik Ledgerwood, Kyle Bekker, Terry Dunfield (captaining the side), and Russell Teibert through the midfield; and De Rosario in the hole behind Tosaint Ricketts.
Ricketts is more of a wide forward, where his pace and work rate can influence the match and Henry, a centerback by trade, has struggled in spells at right-back with Toronto.
That being said, it would come as little surprise, if a similar line-up was selected to start the match against the US save the keeper Hirshfeld who sustained a knock against the Danes. In his place will be either Simon Thomas (Unattached) or Roberto Stillo (Genoa CFC)–Thomas had a solid second half Saturday and will probably get the assignment.
Back to Saturday.
Bekker, the first of six players making their debut for the senior side, was the highlight of an otherwise dismal afternoon. Calm on the ball and technically sound–save a few miss-hit deliveries–if still a little raw.
His partnership in the middle of the park with Dunfield, though imperfect, showed moments that brought a twinkle to the eyes of Toronto fans; each taking turns pressing forward and, at times, moving the ball well.
The burgeoning partnership down the left-flank, between Morgan and Teibert, has the potential to be devastating – both have good pace and can deliver a cross – but each still has enough holes in their game that it will take some time to develop into a reliable threat that is not a liability defensively.
The lack of stability in the centre of defense was a major issue on the night, with the Jakovic-Attakora pairing aggressively charging out of their positions, crossing each other up and forcing the fullbacks to narrow.
The fault for such a haphazard display cannot solely be pinned on their performances; neither of the full-backs covered themselves in glory defensively, while the centre of the midfield was too easily navigated by Danish attackers for comfort.
Teibert, on the left, was guilty of sneaking in-field from his wide position, and with Morgan narrow at the back, Denmark found acres of space to exploit, often by their most experienced player, Dennis Rommedahl, deep in the corner.
Morgan allowed Rommedahl to whip in a cross from the right and Henry, ball-watching at the back-post, was caught underneath his mark and failed to properly contain Andreas Cornelius, leading to the first Danish goal.
Bekker, tried to pass Nicolai Jorgensen off to a fellow defender, only to watch the Danish attacker slip in team-mate Kasper Lorentzen down the left-channel for a simple finish at the near-post past Hirschfeld for their second.
Dunfield was out-battled by Jores Okore to a right-sided corner kick above the near-post, his header rebounded off the bar, falling to Cornelius above the far-post, to stroke home his second of the night.
Cornelius completed his hat-trick in the second half with a deft first-time touch on a cut-back from Mikkel Kirkeskov on the left.
Canada’s chances on the night were extremely limited, but they did pose a threat when they managed to hold the ball and gain position in the Danish end.
Many pundits north of the border are projecting further troubles in Houston and though the task, given the inexperience on hand and the weight of recent results, looms large, expect a more solid performance from the Canadian side.
The loss to Denmark was a chance to learn lessons and cut teeth; the second game could address some of those concerns.
De Rosario, returning to the site of some of his former glories, will lead the young team and Dwayne is known to rise for the big occasion. Canada’s high pressing game, a risky venture with a team so ill-used to each other’s tendencies, is nevertheless formidable with so many young legs throughout the pitch and the Americans must be sharp in possession.
An MLS-heavy opponent awaits the Canadians in Texas. While there is quality there to be sure, the familiarity their league-mates in the Canada side have with this opposition could be advantageous.
Defeat is part of the learning experience and Canada, on the road to relevance in CONCACAF and beyond, must play the long game.
11 At The Whistle:
(Reminder, this is how we see Klinsmann’s team deploying, not who TSG would specifically pick.)
The skinny: This is probably TSG’s most conjecture filled best eleven to date (and that’s saying a lot).
Reason? Very little data has dribbled out of the January camp, the goals of the camp have not been made public, and you don’t know what Klinsmann is using this match to evaluate.
We’ll make some assumptions–as we alway do:
• Klinsmann will predominantly go with veterans in the line-up. It’s the one or two newbies that are on trial here for contention in mere consideration for the US Hex rosters.
• Now, you may also see players–Mix Diskerud comes to mind–who may be deployed during qualifying in second half substitution roles–not starting roles–to mimic the roles they’ll play for the States. It makes particular sense for attackers to play this way to get them in the frame of mind to be prepared when called on later in the game. A player like a Diskerud will be hard pressed to start over, say, Clint Dempsey for quite some time.
• You can probably put your money on a veteran midfield. The US senior team kept the reps within a tight group in 2012 and given the amount of touches here and the Klinsmann’s goal to get the ball out to the flanks a solid foundation in midfield of veterans is expected.
G: Tally Hall
The skinny: A bit of a reach here, but what you have seen over the past year is Klinsmann look to get Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando more in the mix as U-23 action and club ball showed Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson make mistakes out of inexperience.
This is Hall’s home stadium and likely the last chance for Klinsmann to see the eldest keeper out of the bunch until 2015. Taking a flyer here on Tally as the keeper du jour.
DEF: Alfredo Morales, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Brad Evans
The skinny: Starting centrally, word trickling out of the grapevine is that Omar Gonzalez is having a monster camp. That should at least turn the corners of US fans lips up.
It says here that Gonzalez travels with the senior side to Honduras next week.
News is that Matt Besler had a solid camp as well and that makes the likely centerback pairing Besler and Gonzalez.
The wides are less clear. Alfredo Morales deployed at RB during the Xolos closed-door friendly this week so TSG slots him in there. A logical player at LB is the cerebral and steady Brad Evans who can add a veteran presence and keep stability for a backline that has little time together. Evans is a Peanut Butter Guy, he’ll fill in on the pitch in real-time for whatever is needed.
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
RM/LM: Graham Zusi, Brad Davis
CAM: Benny Feilhaber
The skinny: Seems like little guesswork to the hub deployment.
You know Kyle Beckerman will be sitting deep on point with the ball and directing traffic. Chances are he gets the armband as well.
Graham Zusi is moved back on the field from his senior role. Klinsmann no doubt will want to get him on the ball, but also see his bite in the midfield–a part of his game that has been questionable at the international level.
Brad Davis drops in the on the left side of the midfield and gives Klinsmann his first true left in the three-man midfield. Davis should author a little hat tip in Dom Kinnear’s direction. The change in Houston this year to the 4-3-3 had Davis often controlling the distribution centrally in really the only role that he could be considered for the national team.
Finally, this is it Benny Feilhaber. Says here that it’s never been about Benny’s talent or skill on the ball. Feilhaber has always been a poor defender and given to bouts of battling the referees instead of the opponent on the pitch.
This is certainly Feilhaber’s last chance to flash his ability and he’ll need to make the most of it–but ironically that means playing good defense, not necessarily good offense.
(Note an Alejandro Bedoya start somewhere in The Hub is not a bad bet either.)
FW: Eddie Johnson
The skinny: Eddies Johnson’s been playing wing for Klinsmann’s senior side. It’s awkward, but it seems to work. Carry on. The master Miami club goer is also trying to keep in shape for what is a likely Hex start.
STR: Chris Wondolowski
The skinny: Call this one another hunch. In truth there are at least three target strikers who are better than Wondo. Juan Agudelo, Eddie Johnson and Will Bruin in no order. This is not say that they are better strikers, just it’s Jurgen Klinsmann’s system that doesn’t fit what Wondo does–that is hang off another target guy and probe for chances.
That said, Canada’s centerbacks are hardly daunting and Wondo has played the role before.
Juan Agudelo and Will Bruin enter in the second half.
» Denmark had a lot of success getting deep down Canada’s left flank (Denmark’s right). Look for the US to push its righback up frequently with Zusi as the orchestrator tucked in just inside.
» Dwayne De Rosario does a great job of being Robinho-esque and dropping either wide or to the left or right penalty box extended to pick up the ball on a break. This is trouble spot for the US who like to get their fullbacks up and keep a single man holding. Watch how Kyle Beckerman–no stranger to De Rosario’s movement–plays this. It could be the difference between a full-on onslaught and more of an even affair.
» Jurgen Klinsmann’s senior side occasionally likes to make a break up the left by ghosting a LCM (expected to be Brad Davis here) up and wide on the left flank and finding that player with a floating cross field pass from the right.
The US has often missed on these plays as Jermaine Jones–typically the receiver–often overplays the space ahead of him. Watch what Davis does with this space if offered. Traditionally his game is to, in turn, loft in a cross. Just a unique juxtaposition here.
» Tosaint Ricketts is a very pacey player who should’ve had a goal in the scoreless draw against the US back in June of 2012. He’ll be taking on the US left side pairing, likely Brad Evans and Matt Besler. Ricketts–besides De Rosario–presents the lone 1vs1-ability to take on defenders. He’ll be a decent test for an unfamiliar backline.
» All eyes on the US strikers who should be able to get the better of their centerback counterpoints. Look for the interplay between the US target player (Agudelo, Bruin or Wondolowski). Some sharp movement of dragging out their centerbacks should create some space for a US swing player (Eddie Johnson, Josh Gatt or Alejandro Bedoya) barreling in after one of the target men has checked to the pass. Bet on at least one breakaway from an onrushing FW/MF in this one leading to a score or a penalty.