It’s down to The Office–formally known as Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica–for a chance to be three more points to the good and ever so closer to removing the refundable clause on a trip to Rio for the USMNT.
The US settled into their opponent Jamaica’s haunts on Tuesday of this week, looking to acclimatize to the surroundings and hoping to secure their first victory against a major CONCACAF opponent on the road during the Klinsmann era.
Jamaica’s team on the otherhand has probably been well haloed in medicinal marijuana since its capitulation on Tuesday at that very same Office. The Reggae Boyz dropped an “as-close-to-a-must-have” decision to Mexico, 1-0 in rather droll fashion.
It’s punch, kick, scratch, claw and grab the jewels time for the Jamaican team–their backs up against a chute that leads directly to “The Road to 2018″ planning. Jamaicans know that it’s their last opportunity here to merely loosen the vice grip the US has on that Rio ticket much less challenge for it.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.
About the opponent: Jamaica
TSG What We’re Looking For
11 At the Whistle
Mexico rattles it saber at Jamaica’s butter knife, Tuesday night. 1-0 visitors.
About the Opponent: Jamaica
By now the US–like two basketball teams slugging it over two weeks–is all too familiar with the Reggae Boyz.
After Friday, three of the Yanks’ last eight qualifiers will have been contested against the Jamaicans. Tack on a Gold Cup victory in 2011 and the US will have played Jamaica more than any other team over the past two years–a right usually honorably and financially reserved for El Tri, the Reggae Boyz’s victorious foil this week.
Tuesday’s match itself providing the US coaching staff with critical intelligence on who and where to ask the questions on Friday evening.
In that skirmish,the first 45′ saw Mexico and Jamaica looking to nick a goal only if it didn’t compromise their rearguard–Mexico was clearly wary of the Jamaicans speed while Jamaica wary of perhaps getting caught out and falling prey to one of El Tri’s symphonic attack.
In the second half, Mexico cocked a fist and jabbed aggressively at Jamaica’s right rib cage–where 18-year-old protege Alvas Powell was making his first WCQ start–and collapsed their weaker flank with great interplay from the wily vet pairing of Carlos Salcido (now at LB for El Tri) and Andres Guardado. One goal turned out to be all that was needed.
There’s four things the US can count on as they head down Kingston way: 1) a bumpy pitch, in fact the Jamaican fans revel in it.
The Reggae Boyz don’t often try to play triangles in possession, they play slingshots.
Hold it up, drop a back pass to support, shoot it up the field to an overlapping winger or streaking forward–picture an inchworm after two lines of cocaine.
2) Speed. Bad things happen when Jamaica puts some coal in the engine and steams out on the break. Defenders find themselves trailing and a stretched defense can be had with less passing accuracy than the desired compact one,
3) Box crashing. No counter and it’s to the skies in the 18′ yard box for the yellow & green. That’s pretty much a guarantee. And…
4) Jamaican coach Tappa Whitmore will crinkle and wrinkle up the game plan.
In the 2011 Gold Cup group stage match mentioned earlier, Whitmore rolled out in a 4-3-3 (after having played frequently beforehand with a 3-man backline) and former skipper Bob Bradley overloaded the midfield with one extra center man–Sacha Kljestan. Jamaica had three forward outfield players who might as well grabbed themselves some hot dogs and beer because they had the best seats in the house.
In the US loss last September, Whitmore this time had the upper hand.
He pushed his team up the field in a 4-3-3 (after having went 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 previously in qualifiers) and the USMNT played into that upper hand with a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation that attempted to connect passes in small spaces out of the back. That in turn, led to turnovers near goal and the wrong result. More on that later..
It says here–we’ll have a crazy go at it–that Whitmore will likely go with the 4-4-1-1 that he employed on the road against Mexico in a 1-1 draw in February.
Whitmore knows the US will be prepping to improve their midfield play; he also knows that his victory last time saw a threesome of Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu attempt to will the ball up the field on the floor. The US will have Michael Bradley in this one combining with Jones and Dempsey–much more formidable on the interior.
Whitmore pushed his young fullbacks high up the pitch and split his centerbacks wide for cover with a sweeper to attempt to slow El Tri’s corner play–he won’t need the protection deep and wide as the US only get forward on the left through DaMarcus Beasley build-up these days and when pushing high on the right it’s typically results in a Graham Zusi service or cutback centrally not barreling-down-on-goal attack.
In short, if the US wants to get keep in the corners on the run that will only help stretch the States defense and play in to the Jamaican counterattack strategy.
Finally, as he did against Mexico, Whitmore will likely sit a speedy ball carrier right behind a target forward. He’ll use that player slightly to the right of center where they can come back and help defensively or link-up or make a diagonal run in behind DaMarcus Beasley when the US has gone forward.
(Note: This is just a bit of surmising here by TSG).
That said, while all of this strategy is nice the reality is Jamaica just can’t seem to put the ball in the goal. A shocking miss by Jermaine Beckford last night was just another addition to a litany of other misses (Luton Shelton, Jobi McAnuff) that could have this Jamaican team staring at a different fate. Put the easy balls in the hole–that’s the first tactic.
To the rollout, the US will probably only see 2 or 3 starters consistent from its last trip to The Office.
Jamaica will start with MLS veteran Donovan Ricketts between the sticks. Ricketts can make the wow saves, but too often he draws “wows” for saves because of his slow reaction time.
He makes the ordinary, extraordinary. The US can beat Ricketts to his top right corner and lower right corner as the gangly keeper has now been fighting a chronic right shoulder problem over the past two years. (Note: Amazed that more teams in MLS don’t test Ricketts to this side.)
Hoping to keep Rickett’s clean will be a back four Adrian Mariappa and Daniel Gordon (a German!) in the middle, flanked by Powell on the right and O’Brian Woodbine on the left. Only Mariappa started against the States last time at home and first choice back of Demar Phillips and Jermaine Taylor didn’t respond to the magic spray. Powell got lit up by Mexico early in the second half Tuesday and will be looking to bounceback while, aside from poor marking on the Mexico goal, Woodbine had a good one.
The Reggae Boyz will show five in the middle like they did against El Tri. Anchoring the crew may be Rodolpho Austin, a card-carrying member of the Michael Essien Bison CDM club, who was THE man against the Yanks on the last visit. Austin made it through 90 minutes against El Tri but carried a groin strain into the game and hadn’t played competitively since April. Many gave him poor marks, but TSG thought he held up well.
The front five is a toss-up.
Ahead of him will be Hoops man Je-Vaughn Watson, the guess being he will tuck inside after attempting to be the wide midfield protection for Powell against Mexico; Marvin Elliott is the guess to be sacrificed.
At winger are two Reading men, Gareth McClary will flip back to the right after accommodating Watson against El Tri and TSG fave
Jobi McAnuff–out for personal reasons and returning to the squad–will likely get the call on the left. McAnuff is getting long in the tooth, had an awful season at Reading (in fact rated one of the worst midfielders) and missed a critical sitter in the first Mexico match but he’s a veteran presence who’s comfortable with the ball and makes sharp offball runs. (Update: McAnuff has been ruled out through the birth of his child–it’s a good question who starts on the left–or right–money is on Whitmore)
The top combination is just as puzzling. Falling back on Jamaica’s February El Tri configuration, we’ll go with brooding -and-bruising Portland Timbers forward Ryan Johnson whose has looked more than solid in Caleb Porter’s system up on Burnside this year and put in an effective if ultimately fruitless shift on Tuesday. There’s the possibility that Jermaine Beckford gets the start instead of Johnson, but it’s a low probability.
Aft of Johnson–is another Johnson–Jermaine. The Sheffield Wednesday player was an unused sub on Tuesday, but Johnson is the bet (ahead of Mattocks or Theo Whitmore) on experience alone.
Jamaica needs to score and they need to win. Their attack and pressure will come in waves and thus game management–by both coaches–in terms of which areas of the field to win is going to key. This bring us to our next section…
TSG What We’re Looking For:
» Don’t Host the House Party
Another set of pretty graphics from TSG….
The side-by-side graphics above? The foul locations for the US and Jamaica respectively in the US loss upon their last visit. To be clear these are where each team fouled their opponent.
Foul your opponent near the box, risk set-piece wrath. Seven (7) of 16 fouls committed by the States in dangerous areas. Two of those leading to deposits.
Further, Jamaica pumped 14 crosses into the box (set pieces included) against a States’ central defense of Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron.
Conversely, only two of Jamaica’s fouls occurred in their own defensive third. The US’s house got messed up. Jamaica? They slept soundly and had no clean-up the next morning.
In short, the US must find a way to defend at the top of their attacking third–they’re likely not going to dominate possession for long stints or on that pitch, don’t want to aimlessly hoof the ball and probably don’t want to play an extremely high line even if they do command possession in stretches.
So how can the US move the battle line away from its goal? Two ways.
First, playing a narrower, flatter central four and forcing Jamaica to somehow find space around the outsides and secondly probably dropping Dempsey into a more defensive role of picking up Jamaica’s deep man in the attacking equation. And of course, you compress your backline further to the front four ahead of it. It would be a similar plan that Canada has used recently against the US’s U-23′s 4-3-3 and that Bob Bradley used against Argentina in the 2011 1-1 friendly draw.
» Doc Martin?
Anyway you slice it, it’s fair to question the US tactical nous under the stewardship of Jurgen Klinsmann and Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN) Vasquez.
The US has struggled to dictate play to stronger and weaker opponents alike, although there were glimmers of hope against Guatemala and Jamaica at home last WCQ round. The States also have failed to adjust tactically in their matches. The set piece defense is the box is abysmal and goal scoring opportunities against committed opponents in the run of play have gone the way of dinosaurs lately.
Speaking of times long ago, Sunday’s match against Germany brought about something very familiar to the US, 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 rollout–with Dempsey being the oscillating player in those schemes.
With Dempsey and Jozy Altidore often staying ahead of the play, the first half saw Graham Zusi & Fabian Johnson positioned in near parallel with each other in a deployment that mimicked the action of Clint Dempsey (FJ) and Landon Donovan (GZ) under Klinsmann’s predecessor.
As when Bob Bradley’s teams were attacking with guile, Jozy Altidore would make a run to his strong side/right foot with Landon Donovan (Zusi on Sunday) in possession choosing to hit Altidore down the line or attempting to move the ball laterally to the incutting Dempsey (Johnson on Sunday).
Reviewing the heat maps below, the spacing is clear.
The formation worked well against the Germans for many reasons: (1) It got Jozy Altidore moving and moving forward where he was much better receiving the ball than being back-to-the-basket (2) ..and this is probably how the Klinsmann-Vasquez was thinking it at the outset, it provided additional central cover with the US now migrating back to a double pivot in midfield. When Zusi was wide, Johnson was narrow and vice versa. In this way, the US can find the width they were desperately looking for without sacrificing the defense.
(As a note: Opposite the Bradley era, Klinsmann and staff are appearing here to use Altidore in the Davies-Findley role with Dempsey in the Bradley-era Altidore role of cutting underneath–see below in “11 at the Whistle.”)
The question is whether the States will continue to employ this formation? Says here “yes” or something very close to it. Will Fabian Johnson be in the left midfield role with questions about his hamstring? He’s supposed to be, but if not Houston’s Brad Davis will deputize and DaMarcus Beasley will get ahead more for width on that flank.
One note here.
While it’s unclear if the US braintrust employed this formation against Germany with Jamaica in mind, the Jamaican pitch is notoriously … well it’s like playing on a super-sized lego field … meaning it’s consistently bumpy … everywhere. The US–as they were wont to do in their loss last September–will likely have to play a fair amount of controlled over-the-top balls. The situation seems to call for a similar strategy to Sunday with similar actors in place.
» Space, in the final (third) frontier
“The US will have a difficult in qualifying if they are forced to or called to do anything other than defend deep in numbers.”
TSG writer who often makes grammar mistakes, June 2nd, post USA-Germany match.
If the friendly series exposed anything for the States’s opponents, it was the fragile management by the backline.
The situation is the Gordian knot of the US.
With the States now in a double pivot set, the amount of work on Jones and Bradley’s shoulders is again immense. Push up the field and commit to the attack and leave the backline exposed. Goals against in Honduras and early against Belgium are the example here. Sit deep, stay compact and incur the loss of possession and initiative as the second half showed against Germany.
Further, get caught at being stretched at wingers–as Draxler did against Beasley on Sunday or Mirallas did last Wednesday–and the US fullbacks–conservative as they still–are left exposed and it’s a toss-up on where the ball ends up five seconds later.
The backline problems could be exposed by the Reggae Boyz to ways on Friday: 1) On an errant distribution mistake by Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez out of the back or 2) On a counter to a US counterattack.
Got to clean it up away from home.
» Zusi, god of possession?
Since he showed up at January camp in 2011, Graham Zusi has been a Leatherman Tool for the US.
Like his role at Sporting KC, Klinsmann slotted him in as a ball-handler and attack-generator for the “B” team. Zusi’s graduation to the “A” team showed him assuming a role in WCQs against Honduras and Mexico of James Milner-Lite, shuttling up and down the field, running vertically as a means of improving the defense and keeping the ball wide … but hardly playmaking.
Against Germany, Zusi got on the ball quite frequently and it was his cross that found Altidore’s instep and the first US deposit Sunday.
Zusi is in-all-ways a critical player for the States on Friday.
He’ll be required to marshal the flank ahead of either Geoff Cameron or Brad Evans–two players who have yet to prove adept at getting forward into the attack when sporting the US badge.
More importantly, there is one part of Zusi’s game that will be and where he is arguably superior to Landon Donovan, keeping and move the ball in possession within very little space.
When Donovan received the ball for the US, his transition game is and was nearly always “go at goal.” If Donovan was holding the ball up though, he’d either actually quickly author a backpass or dribble backwards. Donovan in traffic in possession *and not moving forward was not always the best options. (The friendly against Paraguay in 2011, the friendly against Brazil in 2012 are good examples of Donovan being knocked off his game and rendered pedestrian.)
Zusi, while not always clean on the ball, has the ability to keep moving in possession (a skill that his US predecessor and now understudy at SKC Benny Feilhaber had) keep his head up and keep his pass options open.
It goes without saying that the US doesn’t want to get in a track meet with the national team of Usain Bolt. Outletting the ball to Zusi, who will likely be called on as he was against Germany to make the decision of whether to hold it up or go at goal will be critical to allowing the US defense to come up the field and remain compact.
Can Zusi be a difference maker on the road here in CONCACAF? That’s the question.
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: If Tim Howard was a waiter, he may have lost some shifts over the last few games. Whether it’s the weather or spending too much time marshaling the backline, Howard has spilled a few more balls than normal. Must. Be. Cleaned. Up.
DEF: Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley
The skinny: In no particular order: a) Besler must not let Beasley get caught outside on an island; he needs to step-up and provide support, b) Beasley needs to avoid fouling in the early part of the game. The vet got away with some grabbing in the past few games; never sure how that type of physical, hands-on play leads to cards, set pieces or more in a qualifier on the road (ask Steve Cherundolo about that.), c) Brad Evans needs to remain composed. Few remember–and few should–it was Evans’s poor square ball inside that let a sleepy El Salvador notch their lone goal in a rather droll friendly in February 2010. Evans had a single miscue in possession on Sunday, but it’s always that one. (Evans was at RB in that friendly by the way.) d) Wondering if the manband occasionally gets too tight on Omar Gonzalez’s mop. Either way, a wounded Jamaica means 90 minutes of commitment from the tall man is req.
Also, unsure here if this is where you mix-and-match Geoff Cameron back to CB, but it certainly needs to be a consideration if he’s not out wide at some point.
CM: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley
The skinny: As if there was a question. The Isaiah Thomas-Joe Dumars of the USMNT. First, with the US going double-pivot, the need for more than two back-ups (Kljestan and Williams now this round) has evaporated.
Further Jones is seeing his best days right now in a US shirt. The Schalke man brought an unmatched tenacity to the friendlies and though occasionally he became untethered from a defensive centerpoint, his defensive work was unparalleled.
Credit as well to Michael Bradley. Bradley’s game right now is not unlike how Dumars helped manage and support Thomas during the Pistons glory days. Bradley has all the chops to play first fiddle, but he instead reads Jones’s game and plays off him–no easy feet–and is able to take control and dish or have a run when Jones meandering have left him in a defensive position.
It takes a bigger player, a team player and special player to manage a partnership and game like that, and that–more so than Bradley’s long trumpeted calmness is on the ball–is why Bradley is such a vital player for the US squad.
LM/RM: Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson.
The skinny: Fabian Johnson needs to step up. He was a nice-to-have in attack before. Though some disagrees some of Johnson’s strongest moments for Hoffenheim have not been out side, but meandering Dembele-style down the middle. Scour YouTube and you can probably find some clips of Johnson raising hell down the middle. Would be a good time Friday to show it for the US.
WtF: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: We interrupt this preview to temporarily classify Dempsey’s position as “withdrawn forward.” If he’s found dropping deep, too deep, to receive the ball on Friday we reserve the right rename his position AM or perhaps more appropriately, “NAR” …. the Nicolas Anelka Role.
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: [No need to write anything. Everybody knows what's at stake. The scene of the 2012 "crime."]