“A rolling snowball gathers only momentum” — Book of TSG, New Testament, 3:22
Okay, everyone thawed out now? Did the USMNT melt your heart Friday?
Thank you. We’ll move on.
Here’s what we learned tactically about the U.S. Friday night.
Okay, moving on again. Well, maybe we got a daisy cup cocktail of knowledge. Two parts Beasley, one part Jozy, and a sprinkle of Guzan– tremendous focus from the Villa keeper who probably thought he was playing with ping pong paddles instead of gloves on his hands.
Let’s get back to that momentum thing because it would appear to be the single strongest factor as the US and Mexico are set to collide Tuesday night.
The US of course is the warm front emerging from the cold, putting a notion of internal strife behind them for now with a pragmatic and gritty effort Friday night in Colorado. If you take a step back, the conditions in Commerce City favored the Costa Ricans, in so much as they were looking to junking up the game; content to sit back and punt upfield with a dash of hope. The US is the one that needed the points and would have to press at some point for a goal; luckily it came early.
Now the US rolls into the Mexico City’s fire pit in the sky; it has to be a little less daunting bus ride to the Azteca after the travel to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park–with a number of players who were on the right side of the final whistle in a friendly last August.
No less than 13 current squad members were present in the friendly dress rehearsal; a 1-0 victory off a Brek Shea nutmeg, Terrence Boyd flail and final Michael Orozco Fiscal poke home in the box. 1-0. The Fiscal Game.
The much celebrated El Tri however is hearing it from their nation this weekend and it’s cold and blustery. The celebrated squad is thought to be in their Golden Age, with a squad that all grew up together in their respective roles and fresh off a symbolic Olympic victory over the measuring stick of Brazil. Instead, El Tri arrives as the cold front.
Having been booed at home multiple times in their February draw against the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica, Mexico headed down San Pedro Sula way to face a confident Honduras side on Friday. They put the Caratchos on their ass early with two deposits from the ever-improving, indefatigueable Chicharito only to see the defense capitulate in the second half when Honduran Jerry Bengston banged home his own penalty kick miss. Thisclose to pulling out of town with three points and changing the narrative.
But they didn’t and Mexico is sitting–restless–on two points with the Yanks coming to town.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.
As usual it goes:
About The Opponent: Mexico
TSG: What We’re Looking At
11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Mexico
It’s the US archrival. It’s the Azteca. The expectation is for a Mexico win and a US loss.
However the high performance engine of Mexico is just not purring perfectly right now. A shaky defense, a hardly pristine possession game and just lacking that player–like a Blanco–who can sit in the middle of central midfield and demand respect in possession without necessarily having to be attacking.
The player is/was supposed to be Gio Dos Santos, though he may just have broken his slump with a solid performance in Honduras.
For US fans though, the no notion that Dos Santos is at all off right now, should bring no (read: ZERO) solace.
It’s seems like each year, Dos Santos has comes into national team camp off little club time–that’s changed with Levante this year–and been a mop-haired, bandana-wearing green wrecking ball against the States. Maybe it speaks to Dos Santos needing the biggest stage to drive his desire; it’s unclear.
Either way, Dos Santos’s resume is comfortably padded with entries ripping apart the US in Azteca in 2009–though he didn’t score he forced the entire US left central defense to seemingly be magnetized to any space around him opening up holes everywhere else–and of course in the Gold Final in 2011 when he hung a triple on Tim Howard and the discombobulated backline.
That said, the Mexican attack really begins with Javier Chicharito Hernandez.
He’s that important.
His movement open space and helps dictate the game.
In fact, you can consider the Mexican attack as a progression of sorts from the initial stimulus of his movement.
Let’s go through that progression below.
» 1. Mind your mark and the posts or you’ll lose the little guy.
This Mexico side is the most dominant on the cross that I can remember. It’s well integrated into their game plan. El Tri use it frequently to set the tone at the outset of matches. And it’s all because of one little vegetable. The star of the El Tri pea pod.
Javier “Chicharito (Little Pea)” Hernandez.
Tireless off-the-ball, Hernandez is the engine of the El Tri attack from the point of the attack.
The Mexican striker who leads the line, Chicharito seems to understand–and revel in–that his movement opens up gashes in the opponent’s defense.
Play a high line and Hernandez will hang of a centerbacks shoulder and drive that highline back. Once a defender is on his heels, Chicharito will check back and, rather that attempt to hold the ball and wait for the attack, he’ll knock-on to the wing for an advancing forward. It’s a patented El Tri play.
Conversely, play deep against Chicharito & co. and now you’ve put the hunter in his habitat, the box. The Mexico attack thinks nothing of continually dumping, crossing, slicing the ball into the box for a run that Hernandez has made or the guy trailing behind him. It’s almost worse to play deep–it’s all bad, really–because he’ll drag a CB all over and open up critical space in the middle.
He’s a can opener for the attack; then a merciless finisher on the one-touch.
How the US elects to manage Chicharito’s movement will shape the entire States’ defensive strategy.
Wait, first go get a beer from the fridge. Ready? Okay shotgun that beer. Go get another one and crack it.
Gold Cup 2011.
It may have been Gio Dos Santo knocking in the triple against the US in that 4-2 debacle, but it was Chicharito popping up like the mole(s) in a whack-a-mole game that threw an already disorganized US backline into further disarray.
Carlos Bocanegra had his clear problems on the day as did Clarence Goodson.
In fact Goodson, who owned the snowy skies Friday night might find himself pine-bound for this one. Whether it was Guatemala, July 2012 away (with Carlos Ruiz), Italy in February 2012 (Giovinco probably was onsides for a few where he scooted behind Goodson) or that dreaded 2011 Gold Cup Final match, Goodson has an exceedingly difficult time at keeping an offside trap. It’s an abject weakness for him.
Now, if you remember, it was Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu in central defense back in August of 2012. There is a good bet that at least one of these players. will start at CB paired with one of Gonzalez or Goodson Tuesday night.
They’ll have to solve some simple but effective movement from Chicharito.
Below are two stills of Mexico’s first goal Friday in Honduras. Marking Chicharito is Victor Bernardez who many–myself included–consider one of the top CBs in MLS.
The first still is Bernardez goal-side. His defending mistake–after his first error, perhaps, of rushing back to keep Hernandez onside? His hips are squared upfield.
Bad move buddy. [Better form is to stand at an angle, not unlike an outfielder in baseball when the pitch goes up, and defend the near post. The far post is, well, further for the ball to travel accurately and presents the ability for your goalie to come get it.]
The second still shows you that it’s already curtains for Bernardez. Chicharito has given a quick fake far post while on the left Andres Guardado has beaten his man.
A quick service now to Chicharito who has broken to the near post shows that Bernardez has no chance. Hunter, hunted.
(Note that the pass from comes from the left flank where Mexico tries to get Guardado going early–the reason why comes shortly in our preview.)
You can watch the sequence here.
Just how well the US contains Chicharito will dictate that progression of the Mexican attack and conversely offer just how many opportunities going forward the US has on the day.
If the US is winning this battle you’ll see Mexico will force the ball wide to it’s attackers much more frequently AND more importantly Hernandez will start to drop deep into the midfield. If you see that action frequently from the Little Pea on Tuesday, the US defense is likely doing a very good job.
» 2. The Dos Santos Swivel morphs to the Dos Santos In-Cut Option
We’ve talked about the Dos Santos Swivel before. The Mexican CAM has usually swung his positioning like a pendulum around the centerpoint of Hernandez.
However, you’re seeing Dos Santos more frequently now within the Mexican Attack Plan occupy the same space that Bryan Ruiz typically does for Costa Rica (though not this past Friday).
Dos Santos will either set up shop centrally and then check to a ball off the left flank OR he’ll set up on the right flank looking to come horizontal across the formation (a la Ruiz, a la Messi) and collapse the defense. The space for Dos Santos is of course set up by the defense dropping to cover Guardado’s crosses on the left.
Dos Santos’s key movement–to this eye–is off the right flank.
Almost starting near the touchline and in possession, the quick-footed midfielder is difficult to contain because that a left midfielder has to be behind the ball and then he must follow Dos Santos across the field. Because vertical movement by Gio is that dangerous because it’s at goal, the defender is typically already on his heals and needs help on the inside. The first battle in this case is already won.
As Dos Santos steams inside, Hernandez will make a run, the RFW Aquino will make a backdoor cut and Guardado might crash the far post.
It’s the Gio Dos Santos Incut Option and when it works, it’s sublime.
The US knows Dos Santos’s attacking ability all too well and it would seem that if it’s a single holder for the US, he’ll be very occupied with Dos Santos or if it’s a double-pivot, that might present a more stoic defense but in term fine the States’ on their heals all day with little ability to commit and get numbers forward.
» 3. The trailer option & back to the touchline
As the Mexican attack gets going and Chicharito and Dos Santos work to collapse the middle–like two pass rushers forcing an NFL offense to commit more numbers in protection, the trailers get involved. Either Carlos Salcido makes a late run or another player will make a late run to the space from which a Dos Santos’ helper has been drawn
Often a simple simple square pass is made to Salcido.
He then typically has three options: (1) take a smack on goal, (2) play a forward 1-2 pass with a checking Hernandez or (3 .. and the most common it would appear from the past two games) Loft a diagonal ball back to the right flank to the sitting forward or the advancing rightback.
Now Mexico will make change up their attack mentality against the States, but this is the hand they’ve showed often in World Cup qualifying.
It’s a strong front six for the US who can give the US some problems.
Beyond Chicharito and Dos Santos, the actors deploys as follows.
On the left is Andres Guardado, a terrific winger who prefers to stay wide. He’s a best-selling author of beautiful crosses into the box as Bernardez witnesses Friday.
However, Guardado is reluctant to take players off the dribble–making his game at times one-dimensional–which can compromise his ability to get that cross. He’s often negligent on tracking back–sometimes by design, but often out of lack of effort and his on-ball defending can often be matador-like.
On the right is Javier Aquino whose been in a bit of funk, but is still dangerous on that backdoor cut. The Aquino-DaMarcus Beasley match-up will be an interesting one because Aquino is very savvy–almost like a Pedro–at knowing when to make a run in the box.
Sitting behind the front four is Clint Dempsey’s former Fulham teammate Carlos Salcido, who to this eye has been excellent through the first two games of qualifying. He makes good decisions on the ball and chooses wisely when to come forward and when to sit. To his right is the future of El Tri in midfield, 6’3” Monterrey man Jesus Zavala–as is wont with any youngster, especially during pressure games, he can be given to mistakes of lack of experience.
The backline, however, has proven to be the Achilles heal of El Tri and it started long before it failed to preserve three points on the road Friday.
And now it will be missing it’s captain 31-year-old CB captain Francisco Rodriguez of Stuttgart out on yellow card accumulation.
The pairing instead in CB will be Espanyol 24-year-0ld Hector Moreno and FC Porto 20-year-0ld Diego Reyes and given that’s the case you just might very well be veteran Gerardo Torrado perhaps sit in the midfield instead of Zavala to put some experience in the middle and allow Salcido to roam a little more and make plays.
The centerback spot has had a tremendous challenge stepping to attackers throughout qualifying. The soft underbelly of the deep midfield is where teams have profited and where you might see Clint Dempsey get a look like he put away against Italy early last year. The introduction of Reyes may in fact improve that for two reasons: (1) it was Rodriquez who shouldered most of the blame for Honduras two goals, one on errant defending of Carlos Costly, the other on a poor foul that resulted in Bengston’s penalty and (2) Reyes hasn’t privy–on the pitch that is–to the poor play of El Tri’s fullbacks.
Part of the problem for the centerbacks pushing up is that the fullbacks have been downright dreadful both in defending (and in possession too for that matter getting easily knocked off the ball by stronger Jamaican and Honduras players these two games). When fullbacks are recognized to get beaten it often forces a CB pairing back for cover and that’s just what you’ve seen for Mexico.
At leftback is Jorge Torres who is being given every opportunity to win the role. After a series of good performances, Torres has shown a frequency to get beaten often and more importantly has authored a series of horrific giveaways in his own end. The US should pressure him when possible.
The El Tri rightback spot is the equivalent of the US leftback revolving door. After Paul Aguilar consistently got beat goalside (though without joy) against Jamaica, in case CM-by-trade Servero Meza against Honduras who didn’t have any serious blunders on the day. He’ll likely get the start in the Yanks.
In goal is the very familiar veteran Guillermo Ochoa who wrestled the role away from Olympic sensation Jesus Corona. Chepo has went with experience here and Ochoa saved a Bengston penalty on Friday (though he knocked back to the striker for an easy putback), but for TSG’s money Jesus Corona is the better player even now.
Depending on game situation, the US is likely to see two of the following three in the second half: Aldo De Nigris (who nearly singlehandedly beat the US in the friendly last August), Angel Reyna (for whichever wide forward is faltering) or Marco Fabian (if Gio Dos Santos fails to create opportunities.) Fabian is the exciting one to watch.
August, 2009: The US flirted ever so briefly with history
“Davies In, Davies Shot, Davies Goal. Goal for the United States at Azteca.
Only the 4th man to do it for the Red, White & Blue and they’re going crazy in the corners!”
TSG What We’re Looking For:
(Update: Jermaine Jones out with an ankle sprain/gash).
» Don’t make this a tennis match; Stem momentum and pressure. Maximize your TOB (“Time on Ball”)
El Tri that relies on rhythm more so than any other team internationally save perhaps Argentina.
When thinks are clicking, you can see the run of play invigorate the entire side.
More players make sharper runs. Risky and challenging passes are usually completed. Players who have the ability are more willing to take defenders on.
The US can ill afford to get into an up-down game with this El Tri side, because they are devastating with space.
There’s a few ways the US will need to manage this.
› Get the ball to Michael Bradley and
Jermaine Jones and “someone else.” Bradley must be okay in possession and another player (Zusi, Beasley?) need to be okay with the marble as well.
› Be wise with the fouls early. Beyond gamesmanship–which the US is not a frequent user of–a good placed foul here and there can slow a change in tempo in El Tri’s behavior. Avoid early yellows or persistent fouling early. With 105,000 fans on hand, 104,400 who will be rooting on the Green & Red, fouling incorrectly, especially early, can get the ref looking one way.
› Don’t be afraid to play a few diagonal balls even if there’s a low chance of success. This strategy is one that can work for attack, but also work to get the ball 180 degrees away from El Tri’s most dangerous attacking origination point.
» Managing the flanks.
Unless Chicharito goes Messi, this game will likely be won on the flanks by the team that recognizes when to attack aggressively and also tracksback the best.
US fans may rue Steve Cherundolo’s absence as the tonic he brings on the right would be apt for game strategy in this one.
will should look to play frequently up the right channel with an on-rushing Altidore or even–if aggressive is the plan–Eddie Johnson flipped to that flank. Since Mexico musters much of their attack from the right, getting the ball high on the right puts the ball the furthest from the US danger spot while forcing Guardado to track back. Pushing hard into that corner may also open some room for Dempsey to be found in the middle.
Either side however, if the US can isolate an attacker to go at goal against a fullback, they may two or three good chances on the day as a result.
» Double-pivot or single holder
Now, this is a tough one. The US has been downright stagnant on the attack on the road in CONCACAF when they deploy three defensive midfielders.
That said, it was a 1-0 defensive result that saw the US break the Azteca hex in a friendly in August of last year and one of the midfielders who create a bottleneck centrally was Kyle Beckerman with a tremendous performance.
Look for Beckerman to man a slightly off-left holding role and for Michael Bradley to do yoeman’s work in the middle. Because the US is down Jones and will likely insert Edu at CB, expect Graham Zusi or perhaps even Brad Davis to tuck and form a linking outlet from the center on right or left respectively.
The US will need to balance ball possession and it’s forward push and it start centrally.
» Props to the coaching staff. Last time down at the Azteca DaMarcus Beasley ran around like Frankie Hedjuk on crack. Literally no positional awareness. Beasley entered in the second half ahead of a splendid Edgar Castillo (the US could really have used his experience against the Mexican contingent in this one). Beasley often left Castillo on an island, or let’s call it a boat, and despite Mexico hacking at his boat, Castillo kept it afloat.
Credit to the US coaching staff for putting Beasley in at leftback against Costa Rica and not at left mid. That said, with a better playing surface Beasley will need to maitain his positional discipline is employed in the same role at the Azteca. Likewise both wide midfielders will need to track back with discipline and quickly upon a turnover. Not sure the coaching staff sees it that way though.
When Mexico’s counter comes, it comes hard and it’s usually because a midfielder has bum rushed the box ahead of his defensive counterpart who has been caught upfield.
» Everyone plays defense.
11 At the Whistle
The skinny: This is not the game you wanted to lose Jermaine Jones for as the US could easily have used two CMFers with defensive chops and ability on the ball. The US will also need to find some job on one of the flanks to batten back the Mexican backline creating space.
G: Brad Guzan
The skinny: Will Guzan be the first US keeper to see victory in a non-friendly in Mexico City. Guzan is so used to continued pressure at Villa that this game–aside from the crowd–should be business as usual. Nick Rimando is a worthy deputy.
DEF: DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron
The skinny: Klinsmann certainly needs to choose one or both of Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu in central defense. He, of course, choose both of them last August. The choice between Goodson and Gonzalez is a difficult one. Goodson has shown you his toolset and offball movement and positioning is a challenge for him. Likewise, Gonzalez got worked by Jerry Bengston in February.
It’s a tough call. We go with Goodson because of his experience–albeit a beating–against Mexico–twice. Haven’t mentioned that 2009 Gold Cup Final yet, have we? (Close your eyes Goodson and Chad Marshall.)
Beasley on the left will need some support over the top…..or he’ll be….toothless. (Sorry that joke’s been there for the taking since Friday.)
CDM: Kyle Beckerman
The skinny: The RSL captain gets the call and his introduction offers a few things. First, he’ll sit off-left to attempt to shut down that Dos Santos in-cut. Second, he’s able to play the ball up field under duress. Third, if the US if feeling their oats, he’ll enable Beasley to get a few rushes forward by staying at home.
CM: Michael Bradley
The skinny: No player means more to the US this game than Bradley, especially now that Jermaine Jones is out. As Bradley goes, so go the US. There’s something almost reassuring about that now. Amazing.
LM/RM: Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi
The skinny: Some part inside of me is suggesting that the three subs who came on on Friday (Eddie Johnson, Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman) are all potential starters in this one. The question is for who. With Gomez being the only one that went 90 mins Friday night, he *may* give way to Johnson. Coin flip.
CM: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: The captain attempts to attack the space that El Tri’s CBs won’t step too.
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: A solid effort from Altidore on Friday. He’ll need to something he’s hardly ever done in a US kit at the Azteca. Commit himself offensively and defensively for a full 90+ minutes.
Altidore, as oppose to playing hold-up ball Tuesday likely drags to the right flank often (as he did against Canada in Gold Cup 2011 and Slovenia at World Cup 2010) to push Mexican defense back on that side and open space for Johnson.
Next up: 104,440 screaming Mexican raining down negativity on the US side….