Can we all agree that friendlies are friendlies?
Like single game player observations, goals scored and more, “friendlies” in soccer are cruel hangover-inducing hallucinogenics often for fans.
And when you talk about friendlies involving the national team–a team that averages less than 25 observations per year and a rotating cast of players, opponents and stadiums–those friendlies can be downright mind…messing.
At this time last year, the US was whupping Scotland… in a friendly; 5-0 the tune in a game where Landon Donovan questioned his desire beforehand and then proceeded to pocket a hat trick.
Donovan, of couse, looked disinterested in nearly every game after that for Jurgen Klinsmann and is only now rekindling his affinity for wearing the badge.
More than four years ago, a hat trick got fans percolating–it was Sacha Kljestan’s footwork that turned that one and had fans salivating at the prospect of a Bradley-Kljestan or Kljestan-Feilhaber pairing in central midfield for years to come. This past Wednesday marked Kljestan’s first start for the US under the new regime.
Likewise Wednesday’s results–Germany’s 20-minute thrashing of Ecuador who looked like they couldn’t wait to take their lack of talents back to South Beach and the US’s 4-2 defensive undressing at the hands of Belgium–can’t really be looked at in terms of team measurement gauges.
The success of this friendly series will be measured by the Yanks’ point total following the US’s battles with Jamaica, Panama and Honduras in the June games that count.
And should the States get run by Germany on Sunday–a plausible possibility–the result should be only viewed in through the lens of the entire June series.
Heading into the Sunday’s game, the States should really focus its onfield investigation on: (1) continuing to try and solve their inability to find chances from the run of play (more on this in a bit) and (2) getting reps in for their would-be central back pairing–the unfamiliarity as well as uncomplementary nature of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson was evident from the moment the team sheet was made public against Belgium.
In Germany, the US will face a “B +” team with a fistful of players with something to prove. It will still be contending with class players, like Podolski, Klose and Kruse, but the first eleven will obviously not be the humming mannschaft that a team gearing up for three critical qualifiers should be the equal of.
Without further Freddy Adu, we go to our customary preview.
As usual, it goes:
About The Opponent: Germany
TSG: What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
(Germany 4 – Ecuador 2, from Wednesday)
About the Opponent: Germany
Under Joachim Löw, Germany is executing a subtle identity change that likely has Jurgen Klinsmann drooling with envy. Die Mannshaft bolted through Euro 2012 until they banged up against Italy’s Azzurri.
It was that match–a 2-1 defeat at the feet of Mario Balotelli–that toggled the lightswitch for Löw. In the 2010 World Cup and for the predominance of this tournament, Germany sat deep against teams and ignited vicious counterattacks. In this match the lack of forward pressure meant Italian maestro Andres Pirlo could ping passes forward and the sitting deep failed to put the correct pressure on Antonio Cassano who made himself available between the lines.
Low, who had largely been aggressive–some thought borderline arrogant–in his player selection and tactics was faced with the realization that he wasn’t squeezing all that was possible out of his club by merely playing defend and counter.
Before the next competitive match in September of 2012, here was Low’s sentiments on the UEFA web site:
“We will have to completely change our tactics – which used to be, ‘if we have the ball we are active, if not we drop back’.”
“Our aim in the next months will be to play a high pressing game, even against attacking sides. We have to be more active when defending without the ball.
Obviously this may sound familiar to US fans as well.
Since that time, the goals have been plentiful for Germany though the back, as expected with a higher line and new tactics, has also conceded a shade more. Against Ecuador on Wednesday–a disinterested Ecuador–Germany did just that as Lukas Podolski notched the first goal for the adidas men just nine seconds into the match with pressure on Ecuador’s centerbacks.
The US will likely see more of the same on Saturday. High pressure from the Germans. Further, Löw’s team has gotten so good at that high pressure and teams so worried to protect the middle that Germany is largely outmanning their opponents on the flanks–and that’s where the bulk of their scoring opportunities have come from.
La Tri was constantly outnumbered from the hashmarks out in the attacking third on Wednesday as they refused to vacate the middle to contend with German’s quick and precise passing. Twenty-two minutes later, four goals was the tally as Germany either authored crosses or penetrating balls from their flanks in the three goals after Podolski’s pick-pocket.
Where can the US take advantage?
It’s with their own forward pressure.
German will muster a back five of Rene Adler between the sticks with Benedik Höwedes, Per Mertesacker, Heiko Westermann and Marcell Jansen across the back. The back four are resolute defenders, but none are world beaters in the mode of Badstuber or Lahm. If you can have a howler in a 4-2 friendly drubbing, Höwedes work on the right flank attempted that on Wednesday. The US will need to get aggressive off-ball movement going and it would seem after the left flank combinations played against Belgium that they can attack the Höwedes-Mertesacker in Germany’s right rear guard.
The front six will likely change in complexion and configuration from the Ecuador match. Podolski will undoubtedly start up top with MaxKruse, both pistoning depending upon the flow behind them
The midfield quartet of Julian Draxler, Lars Bender, Roman Neustädter, and Sidney Sam will likely see one or two of these players sacrificed. What’s interesting is that Löw used Sam and Draxler on their weaker fooks on the flank at the outset against La Tri–perhaps hoping to collapse La Tri’s middle with incutting. Draxler–all 19 years of him–will could give way for the man who broke England’s heart, Aaron Hunt, on one wing.
Depending on the US selection, a midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley would be superior to the Bender-Neustädter pairing for the Germans. Even just one of these veterans for the US should enable the States to at least battle for control of that central midfield.
Defensively, the States back four will have to track runners expertly–something they failed to do against the Red Devils and be wary of trailers as Germany likes to flood centrally for cutbacks to Bender particularly.
A possible German runout:
DEF: Höwedes, Mertesacker, Westermann, Jansen
MF: Sam, Bender, Neustädter, Hunt
FW: Podolski, Kruse (though the ancient one, Miraslav Klose might get a ceremonial runout, no?)
TSG: What We’re Looking For
• ”Maybe I pushed him too hard…”
For matches and years, TSG has called into question the focus of Jozy Altidore.
The burly striker appeared to turn a corner last year when he started hitting the back of the net with consistency in the Eredivisie.
Altidore talked of maturing as a player and it seemed that the stable hand of former USMNTer Ernie Stewart in AZ Alkmaar’s front office turned the knob on Altidore’s career from “potential” to “realized.”.
Yet, for the States, the inverse happened. Jurgen Klinsmann was dissatisfied with Altidore’s national team product in 2012, and rightfully so.
Following a lackluster and awful performance from Altidore where the US drop it’s first game in Jamaica in qualifying ever, Altidore was banished, returning against Russia late last year with a very public challenge–and soft vote of confidence–from the coach.
Yet 2013 has not led the US to it’s Altidore Moment. A poor performance on the road against Honduras was followed up by somewhat strong work in the snow against Costa Rica in the Denver highlands only to see Altidore again be silent days later against El Tri at the Azteca.
While it’s clear that Klinsmann’s US system operates like a white blood cell, gobbling up “free” and “radical” scoring chances at the expense of protecting the overall defensive health, Altidore’s ability to be a difference maker in 2014 seems to be teetering in the balance right now.
The system surely doesn’t fit. Altidore can’t grasp his offensive responsibilities and his defensive work and commitment is still wanting.
Additionally the Jozy-Jurgen relationship seems to be one ebbing dangerously closer to the Michael Jordan-Kwame Brown end of coach-player spectrum rather than the Harbaugh-Kapernick end.
Klinsmann seems to be unduly hard on Altidore while pushing him to excel at a role where he’s just not a fit. Altidore’s continually questioned fitness and aforementioned unfocused game play only revs the vicious frustration cycle.
Will Altidore start on Saturday with an away game against Jamaica–the very match he underwhelmed in last round–just a few days later or will Klinsman audition Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson or Terrence Boyd with an eye on the next few games?
• About The Offensive Offense…
The problems of course with bucketing chances extend well beyond the Altidore-Klinsmann relationship.
Save a few nice DaMarcus Beasley dribbles and and a few late through balls that found Eddie Johnson on the edge of the box (well after Belgium were content with the result), the States again manufactured scant to nothing threatening from the run of play.
Compare the chalkboards below; they tell the tale. The charts show all US and Belgium on-ball/in-possession events by the all starting field players save the centerbacks of each side on Wednesday. While Belgium consistently pushed the ball into dangerous positions and was able to manuver in between the hashmarks so to speak, the US got into few positions in the attacking half that weren’t wide on the flanks. The US either couldn’t find the pass or the offball movement wasn’t there or the defense pressure was too intense to get central. More the former two…
The work of Clint Dempsey as a #10 continues to beg for more while the lack of a dynamic corner player (EJ being doing the best work Wednesday) leaves the US with no player in possession who can make a defense capitulate. Add in the weak Altidore hold-up play and Klinsmann’s penchant lately to provide cover-focused wide midfielders rather than those that run at defenders and the results are of little surprise.
Worse however is the US is not building and improving on a system that works. With a year left to Brazil, the US should be at the point of looking to build on roles and develop chemistry, not still looking to solve the system.
• CB Heebie Jeebies
Taylor Twellman for all his excellent points on Wednesday’s broadcast likely wishes he had one maybe “half” back–that is the one where he said that Omar Gonzalez needs the right partner in order to succeed at centerback for the US. Twellman referenced Gonzalez’s success with his Galaxy and collegiate partner AJ De La Garza.
Twellman’s right of course, the centerback pairing needs match skill sets and that Gonzalez specifically needs the right complement however it’s unclear that the US should build its defense around Gonzalez and complement his particular skill set. (In fairness to Twellman, he did add, “If you don’t complement him that you don’t use him.”)
In fact, when meshed with what Klinsmann is trying up the field, Wednesday’s selection was troubling.
Klinsmann has acknowledged that he needs to move to a double pivot in the midfield to attempt to jumpstart the attack–which in turn leaves one less cover over the centerbacks.
Combine that notion with the US attempting to play a higher line to remain compact and the tactics would dictate that Klinsmann’s centerbacks must defensively be: (1) solid at maintaining their line and (2) have some speed to contend with errant runs.
Yet Klinsmann chose a pairing of Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson.
Gonzalez is average at best at keeping line while Goodson is well, well below average. Neither Gonzalez or Goodson possess the necessary speed as well to close down errant runs (like De La Garza does when playing with Gonzalez with the Galaxy.) The first and third Belgium tallies were a clear result of an improper pairing in the back.
It’s perplexing that Klinsmann choose neither Geoff Cameron or Matt Besler to partner Gonzalez or Goodson on Wednesday. Perhaps Klinsmann is resigned to Cameron as cover on the right or Besler was not back to full fitness, but should the Goodson-Gonzalez pairing be trotted out again Saturday, it would be a real head scratcher.
In fact, though Klinsmann will likely shun the potential solution, based upon observations to date, Cameron and Besler should be tried together in central defense as both possess the necessary recovery speed and aerial prowess to effectively handle the role. Beyond Blas Perez–who can be managed–there is no abject aerial threat in the box in CONCACAF that Cameron and Besler would be overmatched against.
11 At The Whistle:
(Remember, this who we think Klinsmann will deploy.)
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Howard gets the start–though Guzan is more than his equal right now. With Howard’s experience, his selection is the safe, if not necessarily clear cut, choice.
DEF: Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley
The skinny: Goodson is sacrificed for Besler. Speaking of, Besler catch-up tackle on Christian Benteke late in the second half Wednesday is one of the best recovery defensive plays you’ll see from a CB in any league. Go watch it again if you can. After going 90′–incredulously–a Beasley runout would be a bad idea–you can pretty much count on Beasley’s experience and speed being the choice when the US heads south to face the Reggae Boyz. But maybe the veteran gets in a 45-minutes shift.
CM: Michael Bradley, Danny Williams
The skinny: Jones sits afte going the distance against Belgium. Bradley plays a half. Williams gets tested against quality competition to measure just how much he’ll have to offer over the June stretch. Williams covers deep on defense, while Bradley is the quarterback when the ball flips to the States.
RM/LM: Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson
The skinny: Zusi may go or Davis may deputize for him. Fabian Johnson’s given a runout up the field and asked to replicate the left flank incutting that dissected Slovenia in the US’s second most prolific goal count game, a 3-2 Slovenia win, under Klinsman.
CM: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: He may not be the answer in the #10 role, but outside of Joe Corona (maybe) the US has no #10 back-up. It’s possible Dempsey is given a day off as well for and the US goes two forwards.
STR: Herculez Gomez
The skinny: It’s hard-pressed to see Altidore getting another start Sunday after his work against the Red Devils. If the US goes two strikers, it just may be Gomez and Boyd paired up top.