Archive for July, 2013

MLS Festivus: Jack Mac & DeAndre Trip The SKC Light Fantastic

Rolling out the boys and the balloons at the ASG at SKC....

Rolling out the boys and the balloons at the ASG at SKC….

Jay Bell is lurking SKC. He’s out there. He files this report.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Major League Soccer All-Stars are set to take on AS Roma at Sporting Park in Kansas City tomorrow night, but it is more than a game. It is an event, especially the way KC is representing this year.

The MLS All-Star game is a showcase for the best talent in the league. It is even better for MLS when those stars include some of the best young talent in the league.

When they play on Wednesday, Jack McInerney and DeAndre Yedlin, both are 20 years old, will be the league’s two youngest all-stars to represent MLS since Freddy Adu in 2006 (remember all that confetti?). Robbie Rogers had been the youngest selection since Adu, getting the nod in 2008 at 21.

“It is amazing. It is such an honor and such a blessing. There’s such good players on (the Seattle Sounders) that I think probably could be here also. For me to get chosen it is a pretty amazing experience. I’m very blessed,” Yedlin said.

The 2013 all-star team boasts players from six different countries and they have played all over the world. When a guy like Thierry Henry has won all of the most significant trophies and honors in the world, an all-star game isn’t that big of a deal any more. To the young guys, it can be the highlight of a blossoming career.

You don't make it if you lead MLS in goals. You don't make it if you make the US Gold Cup roster. You don't make if you make the All-Star game. You make it if, two words: "Fat" "Head!"

You don’t make it if you lead MLS in goals.
You don’t make it if you make the US Gold Cup roster.
You don’t make if you make the All-Star game.
You make it if, two words: “Fat” “Head!”

“It is kind of just something that has happened so fast,” McInerney said. “I’m just taking it all in one day at a time. I never even really dreamed of being here.”

J-Mac came up through the US Soccer youth teams and is now in his fourth (yes, fourth) season in MLS with the Philadelphia Union. McInerney scored 12 goals in his first 60 MLS matches, including 24 starts. Philly’s young striker has now scored 10 goals in 18 starts and one substitute appearance in the 2013 season.

Yedlin is a Seattle Sounders rookie after playing two seasons at Akron. He has made 15 starts and one substitute this season for Seattle in MLS, only recently scoring his first league goal. He also scored a peach of a goal for Seattle earlier this season in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“You always dream of it,” Yedlin said of playing in an all-star game. “It is something that you watch on TV and see the all-star team playing Manchester United or whatever team they may play and you always dream and say, ‘Man, I want to be in that position.’ Now that that time has finally come — a lot earlier that I thought it would — now that it has finally come, its incredible.”

It is even more impressive considering the league’s growth to 19 teams and an improving quality of play.

“There’s guys that are not here that are very deserving and it is getting more and more competitive,” Landon Donovan said. “I think that is a very good thing for our league.”

McInerney and Yedlin are the only representatives of their respective clubs, but they both say they feel like they are not the only ones on there teams that could have been selected as all-stars. The competition was arguably tougher this year than ever before.

The all-star team is filled with veterans that have spent careers in MLS (Donovan, Nick Rimando, Mike Magee) or abroad (Henry, Marco di Vaio, Patrice Bernier). Graham Zusi, a leader for Sporting Kansas City, will turn 27 in August. I asked him if he felt like a younger player again on this team. He laughed and looked around to see Donovan and Kyle Beckerman talking to members of the media while Henry was still practicing tricks after practice.

“Yeah, I am kind of one of the younger guys,” Zusi said. “It’s a little different with the quality of guys and the experiences they have had really all around the world.”

Neither McInerney nor Yedlin were originally selected for the all-star team. Yedlin was selected by Commissioner Don Garber. McInerney was the final inclusion to the roster when he replaced Garber’s other selection, a recently injured Tim Cahill.

Speedy McSpeedster: DeAndre Yedlin, commissioned for the All-Star game.

Speedy McSpeedster: DeAndre Yedlin, commissioned for the All-Star game.

“I would really like to thank (Garber) for that selection,” Yedlin said. “It is a huge honor that he thinks that highly of me. It’s incredible.”

McInerney said his experience with the US team in the Gold Cup has made it a simpler transition for him this week.

“Obviously it is a little different, but when I was with the national team a lot of those guys were there too,” McInerney said. “I got to know them pretty well then and it has been an easy transition into this. I’ve grown some new friends and hopefully I’ll stick with them.”

McInerney and Yedlin said the veterans have been very supportive of them, but Zusi said the varying levels of experience are not much of a factor within the team. That can especially be the case when it is business as usual for guys like Henry and Donovan.

“I’ve used this line before, but when I’m on my deathbed, I’m not going to look back and say, ‘Yay, I made 13 straight all-star games,’ but it’s a nice feeling and I’m very proud of it. I really am and I like to be a part of this group of guys,” Donovan said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Yedlin is only about halfway through his first MLS campaign. He has seen action in CONCACAF Champions League elimination matches and was a member of the US Under-20 World Cup team earlier this summer, but he said the all-star game is the biggest event so far in his young career, even if just based on the level of players he will be playing with and against. When I asked him how he prepares for that, Yedlin cracked a huge smile.

“Honestly, I’m not sure yet,” Yedlin said. “It’s my first time around so I’m not exactly sure. I guess I will just kind of go along with it and see how it goes.”

USA 1, Panama 0: Full Gallops, Whoa Horseys & A Post-2007 Gold Cup Now In the Stable

Secured.

Secured.

Jurgen Klinsmann took the job of “Boss CONCACAF” in August of 2011 with the mantra of creating a US style and dictating play.

His first year at the helm was hell-bent on a few principles: (1) investigating the player pool, specifically players with technical acumen who had been deemed not sturdy enough, appropriately, for Bob Bradley’s previous run-and-gun system, (2) solve the defensive woes that often saw turnovers for the States land with a discourteous swoosh in the back of the Yanks’ net and (3) seek to possess the ball–to what end at first was unclear–for stretches of the game.

The plan bore out with the US halting its penchant to give up goals of the exposure and line-gapping ilk–tallies by Asomoah Gyan for Ghana, Carlos Costly in the same stadium as Sunday’s final for Honduras in a June 2009 qualifier and Gio Dos Santos in the 2011 Gold Cup game were the stereotypical concessions that correctly dogged the US defense.

But Klinsmann’s plan–whether intentional, unimportant at the time, or neither–also kneecapped the Yanks’ scoring ability as the US’s swashbuckling attack style was frowned upon because of the risks it placed on a stretched defense. With a challenge of unlocking an opponent’s defense that retrenched behind the ball, the US stumbled something awful in attack and possession, refusing to compromise defensive integrity by plan and unable to find pockets of narrow space and exploit them. Fans were rightfully alarmed.

The style–revisionist it seems not–came to a head in February of this year when the US looked discombobulated and disillusioned in a loss at Honduras. Its 3-man central midfield dominated by a 2-man central midfield. It’s reluctance to push the attack and reliance on using two gallivanting fullbacks for its sole width horribly incongruous to creating scoring opportunities. A more specific–but not any less critical technical point–was the weakness of requiring a central target striker in a 4-3-3 who would remain static further compounded by this not being the skillset of the strongest attackers in the pool.

Together ... again...

Together … again…

Klinsmann and company took a leap of faith on a blustery night in Colorado–perhaps the environs of the game providing adequate cover to scrap a plan that was continually being forced on the team, like struggling to push a beanbag through a mail slot.

The US would move to more of a 4-2-2-2 set-up of yesteryear; it would vacate the 3-man central midfield using Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones again as the double-pivot. The move along with some ill-timed injuries would see CB Geoff Cameron forced to RB–not only because he was more qualified, but because it kept another defender tethered to the rearguard.

The US may have given up its 3-man central midfield, but they wouldn’t lose that extra defender outright–they would just task that RB with the “stay home” designation.

The rest of course if positive history for the US as a Belgium friendly loss became the lone blemish at the US cruised to its Gold Cup draught on Sunday night. (See what I did there.)

Sunday’s 1-0 win over Panama encapsulated all the building blocks of the past two years and the aggressive learnings of this year.

Early on in the Final, the US poked at the bear of a Panama defense knowing full well the bear of a counterattack that might rage out of hibernation, but the States did so with a set of ready-to-fire Winchesters cocked and loaded.

The US knew that Panama would sit back–what they didn’t want was to risk the wrath of a counter by trying to manufacture chances against the Canaleros in field locations that would leave them caught out.

Instead of an overlapping DaMarcus Beasley which has been the Act One script in many of these Gold Cup games, Eddie Johnson was used to help overload the flanks.

In this way, the US could leave two wide players–Corona and Beasley for example–behind the play or have the threat of them going forward at least occupy Panama’s dangerous wide midfielders.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 11.37.33 PM

DaMarcus Beasley – 1st half distribution

DaMarcus Beasley - 2nd half distribution

DaMarcus Beasley – 2nd half distribution

The US was even more cautious.

Frequently–Kyle Beckerman specifically–the US would have the option to make a long square/switchfield pass to the right to the feet of an advancing Parkhurst. There’s a low probability of Parkhurst in possession beating his man off the dribble and flinging in crosses into the box is not a strategy that typically works against Panama. Those two notions and that the Canaleros most dangerous attacker on the dribble–Alberto Quintero–would be ready to pounce on anything errant sent cross court ruled that pass difficult-to-dangerous.

Beckerman and company elected to ignore what would normally be the right pass and keep on working Panama’s right rearguard eluding the problems that a Quintero-Parkhurst 1v1 battle would present.

(In fact–as shown below and warned by Rapids coach Wilmer Cabrera in our preview–the one time Quintero got the ball in space the US immediately sent help–with Ale Bedoya the bodyguard–to help Parkhurst in battle).

Bedoya races to support Parkhurst while Quintero gets ready to receive in space.

Bedoya races to support Parkhurst while Quintero gets ready to receive in space.

More Cabrera commentary for you: The Rapids assistant belabored that the US must stay patient and that they did all through the first half–taking their chances without committing numbers and overlording the flanks to work over Panama and keep their dangerous pinching-in midfielders from finding space.

It was a shame–tactically and emotionally–that Stu Holden had to be recused from the proceedings because what made the Holden selection spot-on was his speed and his ability to read the play and know when appropriate to come forward–Holden knocked on a shot early and was a dangerous conduit on two other occasions–and when to cover the backline.

Ready to play when called on.

Ready to play when called on.

The second half showed the US following the script it has after the halftime whistle throughout the majority of 2013.

The US seems to edit its plan in a three-fold way in the final 45′: (1) possessing the ball slightly deeper to see if the opponent can be drawn out–in used-car-salesman-land this is called “taking the bait” (2a) pushing their RCM higher–the passing charts for where Mix Diskerud was distributing first half vs. the second half is stark (see below), (2b) bringing on a true winger, hugging the touchline on their stronger foot–Brek Shea’s introduction on Sunday and (3) upping the tempo for stretches to create chances.

Diskerud, 2nd half distribution

Diskerud, 2nd half distribution vs….

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 12.01.11 AM

Diskerud–1st half distribution

Now the opponent–as Panama was on Sunday–was spread–and their wide midfielders were toast after playing Cristiano against Barcelona defense on the flanks in the first half. With the tempo increased, US tightened its possession noose asphyxiating the last gasps of attack Panama had hoped to breath into the game.

The US–gosh, thanks against Coach Wilmer Cabrera for the prescient comments on Friday–stretched the field horizontally and while the States didn’t bust down the doors and go Price-is-Right on the scoreboard they did create a series of half-chances and chances and also left Panama woefully in a defensive disposition that they could not break from.

Beasley could now overlap, Diskerud could find space centrally and at worst the US was not going to concede and at best they’d knock-on and get their game winner.

It was a match that was a microcosm of the US’s team development over the course of 2013.

The States entered the year having solved most of their past defensive foes–through both system and personnel. (The States are still woeful on set pieces and the in-form Alvaro Saborio should give the Yanks some scares down San Jose way in the next World Cup Qualifier, but that’s a problem for another day.)

After February’s Honduran attacking malaise, Klinsmann and his staff came to grips that possession maintenance with thrusts of attacking gusto here and there was there best chance for balance–it’s led to the emergence of DaMarcus Beasley with his wide (non-US-central-defense-threatening) runs on the left and also increased the importance of Eddie Johnson, a player who if used appropriately and given a chance or two in space, seems to be coming through.

Sprinkle in–or rather–empty an entire potato sack of Landon Donovan into the mix pinging passes on those coordinated attack forays and balance that with the positional expertise, counter-busting and tempo-management of a Kyle Beckerman and you have your US Gold Final win, another foundational block for 2014 and, finally, an appropriate hybrid style for the States that appears to be taking shape.

Can the US get results wins against top CONCACAF competition and other top-tier opponents with this schematic?

That questions still needs answers and the second half of 2013 bears watching.

USA 1 – Panama 0 Retro Diary: Gold Cup Top Jimmies

Brekkinization Authorization!

Brekkinization Authorization!

Welcome back Will Parchman. Your retro diaries are always …. Top Drawer.

I’m wearing black today. Pouring out drinks. Saving front row seats (or just one for my German Bro). Jurgen Klinsmann, our Herr, our Fuhrer (eh, too soon?) is watching the game like the rest of us. His exposition on his one-game suspension after UNTOWARDLY THROWING A SOCCER BALL SOMEWHERE was “it is what it is,” which makes me want to stab the eyes out of baby pandas. But so does this suspension, so there you have it.

CONCACAF. You suck. I mean it. Love, Will.

Honestly, it means little. If not nothing at all. Klinsmann wears heather-gray half button-downs with that Euro swag on the sideline during games and yells a lot. Jumps around a bit. Mutters German obscenities. Yells some Hasselhoff. Most of his work is done on the training ground before and after games. So that he’s left it up to Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog, two guys who share the same training ground and the same hilariously lofty ideals, is not a big deal.

But here comes Panama, a team the US splashed into the core depths of the Pacific Ocean in Seattle in a brilliant, vibrant attacking display. Lineup.

#USMNT lineup for Gold Cup Final: Rimando; Parkhurst, Goodson, Besler, Beasley ©; Beckerman, Holden; Bedoya, Donovan, Corona; E. Johnson

Not since the gold grill has EJ crunked so hard.

Not since the gold grill has EJ crunked so hard.

Eddie Johnson’s hair starts up top. Like it. Love it. Can we talk about how good Kyle Beckerman is at this level? He’s literally the perfect B-team midfielder, because he’s a B+ player most every game, and an A- player when he’s streaking. Which is like, now. In competitions like this, he’s a pissed off tank in a suburban Kia dealership.

Also, DaMarcus Beasley gets vampire blood infusions before every game. It’s the only way. Holden deep in a 4-2-3-1 is interesting. Basically ensures this will not be an actual 4-2-3-1. He won’t sit deep with Beckerman. More or less ensures an attacking ethos from the outset. Like it.

Gus Johnson and Wynalda for the broadcast. Players will be simultaneously hammered and mispronounced. CAN’T WAIT. Jokes. Seriously though, I like Gus. He was thrown in too deep initially with the Champions League stuff. This is his venue here. You know I support anyone who yells through a routine pass at midfield. Caps. Hyperbole. Beastsause.

Donovan crouch. Let’s go. #TankInAKiaDealership

‘1 – Parkhurst. I’m scared of you.

‘2 – FOX’s three keys to the game that just flashed up on the screen just now (this is not a joke): 1.) Stay true to yourself, 2.) Stick to the plan, 3.) Have some fun. THANKS FOX YOU ARE A CONTINUAL FONT OF KNOWLEDGE. In five minutes comes the ‘Live, laugh, love’ graphic.

‘5 – High pressure so far is great. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Donovan in the middle. In the past he had a tendency to drift out wide right to sort of fulfill his natural role. He’s been excellent there so far, and leading the pressure.

‘8 – Blas Perez is basically the only guy we need to pay attention to now, yeah? Looks dangerous already.

’10 – Back line looking a little ripped open at times. Beckerman greases back his dreds, knocks off the clods from his boots, fires up the “Iron, Lion, Zion.” Ready.

’14 – Panama has turned the USMNT back a bit, which completely obscures the fact that Parkhurst is wearing an actual moo-moo blouse from a Jackson, Miss. WalMart.

’17 – US possession. I like. Finally. I like. And just then a ball ALLLLLMOST falls to Donovan in the box. See. Keep ball. Pass ball. Score ball. CAVEMANMATH.

’20 – Holden’s injured?? HOLDEN’S INJURED??? He walked off. Panama. I swear. We’ll split your country into six more pieces and make ALL OF THE CANALS. #PROTECTTHISHOLDEN

’22 – Holden’s coming out for Mix I think. They just showed Stu with his head in his hands on the sideline. I just got really sad you guys. I don’t know. I’m questioning everything. DEITIES WHERE ART THOU.

’24 – Mix is just all flaily hair and limbs and scattered soccer thoughts. “I’mma pass it over here YO WAS THAT A SQUIRREL BRO I’MMA PASS IT THERE.”

’28 – Disjointed game is disjointed. All the good stuff is through the right it seems, but Bedoya isn’t necessarily the Zusi You Were Looking For on those crosses.

’30 – Beckerman just nut-shotted Torres. Straight. In. The. Walnuts. That was for Holden.

’33 – Fox tells us US possession is at 77 percent. Following graphic says, “Key to the game: do more.”

’37 – Klinsmann on the sideline is good for AT LEAST six goals by now. #thingsnobodysays

’40 – Just had another look at Holden’s knee injury. Non-contact all the way. If that sort of thing is taking him down these days, I don’t know that there’s much hope for his future in the game. Which is sadder than sad.

Bedoya coming on for his first cap ever, USA v. Honduras 2010.

’44 – BEDOYA CHANCE! He’s been relatively dangerous on the right, but he can’t cross for his life. Best-looking opportunity of the game. Begging.

HALFTIME: Killer B’s (Bedoya and Beckerman) about the only ones looking worthwhile in the first half. Klinsmann’s yelling in the glass booth is adorable though. Need more shots of that. I’m not gonna watch Fox’s halftime analysis because it’s probably graphics of YouTube cat videos.

’46 – We’re going. Only sub at half was Wondo at all 11 positions. Also, Brek Shea is coaching now.

’49 – Wynalda: “If you’re playing against a side that’s going to do that…” Gus: “Do what?” This is life.

’52 – MISSED THAT HANDBALL JERKS. Donovan frog jumps and then Klinsmann yells in HIS GLASS CAGE OF EMOTION.

’55 – Wynalda is so happy at Nick Rimando’s distribution that he’s pissed off at Nick Rimando’s distribution. He’s the only guy who can open a set of praise by first shouting, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?”

’56 – DONOVAN FLUBBO HEADER MON DIEUUUUUUU

’59 – Fox’s ‘Keys to the final 30 minutes’ graphic: A.) Don’t be a stupid idiot, 2.) Score goals with fun

’64 – This game. Needs more Dr. Joe. HOW DOES DONOVAN’S BEARD FEEL???

Continue reading

USA-Panama for The Gold Cup: Live Commentary

Can Goodson up end Perez and the Canaleros?

The Gold Cup Final.
First tourney victory since 2007 for the senior side. Shooter Vasquez and Andy Herzog manning the clipboard? Buckle up!

USA v. Panama Gold Cup Final Preview: War Of Attrition Or Composition?

The US is seeking to drink from the Cup for the first time since 2007. Led by return of Landon Timmyboy Donovan....

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!

It goes:

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.....!

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.

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.

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

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.

Roll forward.

Zelaya begins his horizontal box hokey-pokey ending in a penalty call.

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.

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.

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USA vs. Honduras Gold Cup: Live Commentary

Big starts for Bedoya and Holden….

Ride’em.

Enjoy the match.

Go time, Scotty.

Go time, Scotty.

Op-Ed: Cup Quests: Does The USMNT Have The Potion It Needs?

Clint Dempsey left it all on the field that day at the Confederation Cup against Brazil. It just wasn’t quite enough. US fans identified.

Jay Bell sets the stage for the final two Gold Cup games

…..or is the chalice poisoned?

It’s a sobering look at the US’s performance in cup competitions since the 2007 Gold Cup if you will.

Has there been a more heartbreaking soccer allegiance than that of US Soccer fans to their men’s teams over the past six years? What’s the comp in international soccer? Ghana has had some rough breaks, but good luck getting an American soccer fan to feel bad for the Black Stars at this stage.

Is it bad luck or a statistically insignificant sampling size? Are American teams just that are constantly outplayed or outclassed by opponents just about or slightly above their equal when Mikey pushes the chips in?

Or is there a deeper problem?

I’m sorry I awoke you from your delirious Ron Burgundy unicorn dream sequence slumber, but while the US is feasting on minnows like Baxter does cheese, there are teams out their making news that’s more … that’s more … Anderson Cooper-worthy.

US players and fans have watched time and time again as chances for trophies have slipped away in numerous competitions over the past six years. Even this Gold Cup, despite the barrage of early success has some doubt; though with Mexico’s Brazil trip and Honduras having naryly escaped Costa Rica, the US must be considered the true favorite.

Think about this, the US senior team and youth teams have won just won one tournament since that gorgeous goal six years ago by “BEN-EE FEIL-HABER, YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!”

Soak that in.

In CONCACAF, where the US is clearly one of just two juggernauts, it has managed to top the rest of the region just once in the last half decade, more so actually.

One-offs have not been kind to the US since 2007 either.

Americans do well in group play at times and have continued to find success in World Cup qualifying, but American dreams are often killed when the teams face do-or-die matches, whether in bracket play or group play. There are major exceptions, but they are outnumbered by the recent disappointments. Again, it may not be fair to consider World Cup advancement, but CONCACAF elimination?

Here is a not so brief recap of the events since that glorious 2007 Gold Cup championship:

2007

FIFA Under-20 World Cup

A stacked US team rolled in the group stage to top Poland and Brazil to win the group. The US won 2-1 to advance past Uruguay, but fell by the same score to Austria in the quarterfinals.

FIFA Under-17 World Cup

The US finished second in the group and beat Belgium in a do-or-die match before falling 2-1 to Germany in the knockout rounds.

2008

Beijing Olympics

The US defeated Japan 1-0 on a goal by Stuart Holden and seemed headed for a 6-point start after goals by Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore gave the team a 2-1 lead late in the second match against the Netherlands. Then Gerald Sibon’s late, low free kick flew under the wall and past Brad Guzan for the Oranje to snatch a 2-2 draw.

The next match then saw the infamous elbow from Michael Orozco-Fiscal and a 2-1 defeat sent the Americans back home. It was, in fact, Honduras that won the CONCACAF qualifying competition despite failing to earn a point in China.

2009

FIFA Confederations Cup

The glaring exception to the US’s recent failures in knockout play is the historically shocking 2-0 upset over Spain in the semifinals in South Africa. The Americans turned that tournament on its head. They looked to be steaming to a first international tournament championship when Charlie Davies sent a perfect ball to Landon Donovan, who then converted the electric fast break opportunity for a 2-0 lead. The Counterattack Heard Round The World.

Donovan goes left foot for the 2-0 score after the Rico-Lando-Charlie sequence...

Donovan goes left foot for the 2-0 score after the Rico-Lando-Charlie sequence…

Arguably the most excruciating 45 minutes ever for US Soccer fans followed as the inevitable took seemingly forever to come to fruition. The Brazilians conquered Bob Bradley’s men 3-2 that night in one of the best matches in Confederations Cup history.

CONCACAF Gold Cup

From Holden’s strike against Panama to two separate “Dos a Cero” victories over Honduras, Bradley rallied his backups to make the final against Mexico. What followed was a dismantling of the US defense–Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson cringe–and a punishing victory that gave all of the momentum in the rivalry back to El Tri.

U-20 World Cup

The US crashed out of the group stage in 2009 in the final group match to South Korea by a 3-0 scoreline. The team had also fallen in the CONCACAF final.

U-17 World Cup

The US finished second in the group before losing to Italy 2-1 in the knockout rounds. The semifinals of the CONCACAF tournament were not played due to the outbreak of swine flu.

2010

FIFA World Cup

The other best example of Americans being victorious in a do-or-die match was the 1-0 win over Algeria to advance to the Round of 16…..where the team promptly lost to Ghana, again.

2011

Gold Cup

The US came together in a way few thought they would to set up a third straight Gold Cup final match with Mexico. Bradley expertly worked the semifinal match against Panama with Freddy Adu, Donovan and Clint Dempsey combining to seal the victory. The trio were back at work in the final to give the US an early 2-0 lead.

Steve Cherundolo went 17 minutes before an injury decapitated his day and the US team… “and the rest is history.” Mexico, Giovanni Dos Santos in particular, was on another level than the US for the rest of that match. 4-2, El Tri, campeónes, again.

U-20 World Cup

The US wasn’t there. The Americans fell in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF tournament to Guatemala in…Guatemala.

U-17 World Cup

This team gave the US its only championship of the last six years.

The CONCACAF champs finished second in their group at the World Cup before losing to Germany 4-1 in the round of 16.

2012

London Olympics

It was a second straight disappointment for some players in this age group. The US crashed out of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament on a 94′ goal by Jaime Alas of El Salvador. Sean Johnson and others seemed to have moved past it, but it is still one of the stinging disappointments in recent US Soccer history.

2013

U-20 World Cup

Mexico added yet another trophy in the qualifying tournament by topping the US 3-1 in the final. The Americans went on to face a gauntlet in the group stage and had a chance to advance until the final match, where they were thrashed by…Ghana.

U-17 World Cup

Another US youth team will not be competing in an international tournament for the third consecutive year after the U-17’s crashed out of the qualifying tournament. The US’s attempt at qualification ended in a loss to Honduras in Panama.

CONCACAF only began to include bracket play in youth World Cup qualifying in 2009, but even the Olympic qualifying bracket have never been kind to the US. US teams lost in the 2000 final and later failed to reach the 2004 Olympics after falling in the region semifinals.

US fans aren’t and shouldn’t be expecting constant World Cup championships and there is certainly debate, perennially and appropriately, about just how much to value these tournaments. However, if you’re there and in contention, shouldn’t a win be expected? (It sure looks like Klinsmann is aware of this very phenomenon this year, even with the increased table stakes.)

There might also hope for better performances against teams outside of the world’s elite, but itt hasn’t been Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Spain knocking the States out of these tournaments.

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