The US is seeking to drink from the Cup for the first time since 2007. Led by return of Landon Timmyboy Donovan….
(Limited gushing for Panama head coach Jorge Dely Valdes this time. If you read TSG, well, you know already. The Anderson Silva look-a-like with his evil doppelganger brother always nearby is held up on a pedestal around here.)
It’s not the route, pleasantly, that was predicted or the opponent that was anticipated, but the USMNT finds itself, as expected, in Chicago for the CONCACAF Gold Cup final; a bittersweet chance (no Mexico) to vanquish overwhelming defeats in the past two Finals in this Series–2011′s Bob-Bradley-ousting two-goal lead capitulation and 2009′s-live-by-the-B-team-die-by-the-B-team 5-0 final.
If a 2-1 loss on the road in World Cup qualifying in February was the nadir for the US’s play during Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure, then a 3-1 win Wednesday certainly represents a temporary zenith. The ceiling being recalibrated by media and fans alike.
The US has not lost in competition since that fateful day at San Pedro Sula and their latest spin through the Gold Cup group stage and elimination rounds has been blinding. While the fare has been–to be generous–meek, the US nevertheless has been wielding a sledgehammer and almost aimlessly swinging it through opposition defenses, the walloping being felt hardest by Belize, Cuba and El Salavador.
The lone mundane result? A 1-0 win against a Costa Rican side content to sit way back in a 5-4-1 and accept the the consequences of looking exclusively for a single attacker–Arrieta–to provide some magic that might scratch a point out of the match.
The US for the most part accomplished its wins this tournament by revving up and then shifting down the tempo in an effort to balance the need to create scoring opportunities (revved up) with the the steadfast dedication to setting its team values as Defense (revved down) -Team-Attack-Country. Or something close to that.
However, the results have not been without a few visible blemishes that any iPad-toting coach can rewind and discover.
Cuba and El Salvadaor both opened the US up with a single dangerous attacker who found some space in the States’ defensive half of the field. Both US fullbacks–Michael Parkhurst and DaMarcus Beasley–have shown they can bend and not break for the most part, but some branches may snap off in the process.
The US attacking forays up the flanks have–at times–led to serious pressure primarily on the US right rearguard (Goodson or Onyewu and Parkhurst) and some emergency defending that was supposed be left behind with the theatrical game play of last cycle.
For their part, Panama arrive in Chicago brimming with a similar confidence having paddywhacked El Tri back to what was surely a toxic homecoming.
The Panamanians cruised through the group stage like the US–though they didn’t light the lamp nearly as frequently they still banged six in on Cuba and then tortured Mexico with timely clearances and faithful devotion to disciplined defending.
The scoreline read 2-1 at the final whistle to the good for the Canaleros at the whistle. El Tri lobbed in grenade after grenade into the box, but the Panama bunker remained stout and Chicago became the team’s next Alamo.
And there’s more. To add to the intrigue, the US has dueled with Panama thrice in the past two years when stakes are on the line and once in a friendly in January of 2012.
Just a few weeks ago, JK & Co. clamped down on the Dely Valdes interlopers and registered the most comprehensive WCQ third round win to date on the Canaleros.
In the 2011 Gold Cup, the Yanks faced up with the Canaleros twice, dropping a 2-1 group stage decision, but following it up by scratching out a critical 1-0 victory through some electric boogaloo of Adu-to-Landon-to-Demps.
For more on Panama, check out Panama’s overarching strategy, check out the “About The Opponent” section here.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to a unique USMNT preview!
TSG What Are We Looking For.
11 At The Whistle
Rapping with the Coach: Wilmer Cabrera
From The Twitterati
Man, why you bringing up old sh*t…..!
TSG What Are We Looking For
» Blas Perez & The US’s Weak Ankle.
This may be a bunch of CONCACAF B teams skirmishing for the right to get a shot at the 2013 Confederation’s Cup, but Panama has stayed true to their senior team strategy of defense first. However, they’re also carry quite an attacking load. On Sunday they’ll offload their best pure striker (Blas Perez), their most dynamic attacking midfielder (arguably Alberto Quintero) and their speedy sub who created some tense moments against the States A team a few weeks ago (Rolando Blackburn) onto Soldier Field.
FC Dallas man Blas Perez is the stick that makes butter out of the Panama attack.
It was Perez’s absence against the States in Seattle that changed the entire complexion of the Panamanian side and left them throwing hopeful roundhouses up the flanks instead of playing a little Route One to Perez and giving him license to uppercut the center of the US defense.
Perez is a true target striker. He’s adept at movement, both off-ball and in possession. He’s an underrated passer and typically solid finisher. Perhaps most importantly–this is CONCACAF–and Perez works the zebras like Bono works a crowd. He may be the region’s best “call-milker” since Carlos Ruiz.
Blas Perez attacking half passes against El Tri Wednesday. He worked primarily on El Tri’s weaker right flank; he’ll likely try the same against the States.
Tactically, though, Perez’s field positioning and skillset will likely be consistently kicking at the USMNT’s weak ankle, the right rear guard.
Perez will probably get himself to the US’s right hashmark and force Goodson to decide how far to track him. Depending upon Perez’s movement and reception, Quintero will run of the FCD forward and present some challenges to the US there.
In this tournament–and during the latest WCQ run–the US has solved it’s deficiencies at RB (injuries, speed) and RCB (lack of experience, lack of focus, offsides trap mismanagement) by typically: (1) pushing higher with the “RCM” (Diskerud, Holden) and allowing some cover with the deeper-lying CM (Beckerman) and (2) (with some exceptions) Keeping it’s rightback deep, taking less overlapping forays.
A third and minor tactic has roosted occassionally: The US–like it does with Zusi on the “A” team and did some with Bedoya against Honduras, run its RM inside earlier in the game, forcing any counter to go wide first rather than up the gut. That retardation has been key in the early goings.
Now, teams like Costa Rica have dared the US to push both their flanks up at the same time by committing numbers defensively to defend the US’s left flank advancement and staying narrow on the right. And there’s the chess match where Perez and Quintero come into play.
If the US commits its RFB to the attack, they’ll be acres of space behind for Panama to exploit. Against El Salvador, Michael Parkhurst got high and deep in the attacking third.
El Sal was able to outlet occasionally behind him to Rodolfo Zelaya who filet’d the US rear flank.
Perez will compound the problem because he can either attack or drop to an onrushing midfielder. Zelaya for El Salvador didn’t have the option all that often.
The secondary defense, specifically the line call of Besler and the positioning of Beckerman will be absolutely critical as well.
Beckerman was shaded to the left against Honduras.
In the US attacking set Beckerman can find himself shaded just left. This is Beckerman’s heat map against Honduras.
Now let’s look at the Zelaya goal and how the US gets broken down on their right.
El Salvador PK-play developing
After a turn, El Sal’s Zelaya is found in space on the right; trailing the play is Mix Diskerud and Joe Corona, the right midfield protection.
Zelaya begins his horizontal box hokey-pokey ending in a penalty call.
Zelaya has now incut against Parkhurst and left the slow defender in his wake. Corona is late in supporting and closing down over the top. Diskerud is walking into the play after being well behind it.
Worse for the US in this case, Beckerman has been shaded left and is attempting to close the touchline-moving space in front of Zelaya. He’s late…. with acceptable reason.
These are the types of plays the US is now more prone to give up because to create offense the US has committed numbers to the attack and increased it’s speed of attack. Commit numbers and bum rush up the field and you’ll find yourself in a more challenging spot to close down the bum rush back the other way.
With Perez’s motion Sunday comes more danger as the central positioning of Goodson and Besler will be challenged to stay central and not create a bigger gap.
Besler’s line calls and Beckerman’s positioning…again vital.
» Midfield overload overlords.
Working in batches off the hashes.
Okay, quick how many people are reading this passage right now? 17, okay great. Show of hands, how many people hated Mexico’s attacking strategy on Wednesday? Wow, 35 hands.
How did that happen?
What Chepo and El Tri were thinking in regards to attacking Panama suggests that someone left the glue out in their locker room beforehand. Mexico beyond being embarrassingly disjointed as a team, consistently took cautious space on the outsides and flung in hopeless crosses against Panama.
That’s like taking Chris Paul and asking him to dunk on Dwight Howard.
Better off drawing Howard to you on dribble penetration and dishing to someone else (BJ Mullen, really Clips?) for success. Parallel solution? Work the defense out of position, something the United States has done extremely well throughout this tournament due to Beckerman, Donovan, Johnson, Beasley and Corona.
Whereas Mexico was content to rush attacks and just get something in the box, the US will need to manage tempo as they have done, thrust attackers forward and force Panama to compromise their shape.
You do this in two ways with Panama outside of the piston-like movement of Eddie Johnson (or Chris Wondolowski) and Landon Donovan. (1) Overload pairs on the outside after Panama has been challenged in deal with EJ-Donovan and (2) Knocking diagonal balls to the other side to keep the defense honest. Circle gets a square.
And patience here for the US–as it showed Wednesday night in working out its spacing in the first 20 minutes is the key.
Panama is flat-out tough without the marble. In non-friendly competition in 2013, they’ve given up just 10 goals in 11 games. And a handful of these even have been of the amazing variety: a Bryan Ruiz bicycle kick, a Bryan Ruiz straight-shot-seeing-eye free kick that a toddler could have stopped it he saw it, two powerful headers (anomalies) by 6’1” Marvin Elliot for Jamaica and 6’1” Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio.
» Set pieces
The US must improve their set piece defense and not fall asleep on marks. Panama is very good at defending and attacking set pieces and scored once against the States (2011 GC group stage) off a set piece scrum in the box.
That is all.
A possible US deployment on Sunday.
11 At The Whistle
G: Nick Rimando
The skinny: Rimando’s been strong and unflustered when underpressure with the ball at his feet. The US will need to play an effective highline on Sunday and Rimando is a terrific clean-up artist behind that.