The US makes two costly errors in the first half, but pushed the tempo and the game in the second to overrun the home side and tilt the scoreline. 4-3 for the visitors and a record 12th win in a row by the Red, White & Blue.
The States rolled out in what has become Jurgen Klinsmann’s preferred formation, a 4-2-3-1 pushing Eddie Johnson high at times on the left–call it a “screen door”or “swing midfielder/forward” role–and shading Mix Diskerud to that side in the CAM-ish role.
You can’t help but think back to the US-Slovenia World Cup game when bearing witness to the States’ efforts in Sarajevo on Wednesday. Like their neighbors, Bosnia punished two early individual mistakes–an Eddie Johnson brain cramp central clearance attempt and Fabian Johnson’s failure to close down wide service–to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. (Yes, Ibišević may have been offsides but that cross was wide open.)
Like their neighbors, Bosnia succumbed to a seemingly indefatigable US team who pushed the tempo and the game vertically in the second half.
The first 45′ can best be described as “careful” with both teams prodding for the best spot to launch an attack.
The US would push up the left flank, but attacks would often die at the feet of Eddie Johnson through poor decision making or Mix Diskerud, was just not quick enough to work centrally against the quality home side.
Bosnia, for their part, were well schooled. They took careful chances to Pjanic on the right flank early, but when they realized the US had numbers there, attempted to work on Brad Evans on the right or go over the top to their talented forward pairing of Dzeko and Ibišević.
With the States down two after the break, they countered by sacrificing Diskerud for Edgar Castillo and reconfiguring the weak left flank by pushing Fabian Johnson up to a midfield role.
This was the most material change in the match.
The key here was the change in formation; Klinsmann’s side came out almost in a 4-2-4 to start the second half and started rocketing balls up the flanks for the onrushing feet of Fabian Johnson and Ale Bedoya. This appeared more to just up the tempo early as the forays weren’t ultimately successful. (After about 15 minutes or so, the positioning regressed to a traditional 4-4-2.)
The strategy worked though as Bosnia started getting stretched and the pace of the game picked up, leaving the midfield of the home side to play catch-up. They Bosnians didn’t handle the speed well and suddenly acres of space was available in the middle. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, more so, then surgically opened up the Dragons.
Bradley found Jozy Altidore–perhaps the forward’s best game yet under Klinsmann?–over the top on a simply gorgeous Aaron Brooks-like deep ball and then Fab Johnson found Altidore on the floor and the US equalized. 2-2 with a quality strike from Jozy.
The pace continued throughout the rest of the half,; the game becoming looser, more frantic and “friendly-like” as the time waned.
This would play right into the Yanks’ historical soccer roots.
The US vaulted attacks forward and Bosnia capitulated. A terrific Altidore free kick gave the States the lead and another counter produced an inch-perfect pass to Altidore who was making a clinical post run. Bosnia found one more through the head of Dzeko who was very good on the day and that’s how the scoreline closed in Sarajevo.
Let’s break it down. What are the key takeaways.
♦ Hunting in Packs
Save sub-par performances by Johnson and Johnson on the left in defense, the US was extremely solid defensively as a team, executing a game plan of keeping the ball off their right flank where Lulic and Salihamovic roamed in efforts to find Dzeko. This was the side–with Brad Evans in rearguard–that was to be an attacking point for the Dragons.
Diskerud pushed high above Bradley and Jones. He (Diskerud) was primarily tasked–as was Jozy Altidore–in directing traffic down the US’s left flank where Michael Bradley could run interference. It was an excellent positional game from the Roma midfielder who was nearly flawless in his positioning on the day.
Diskerud as well displayed a more stellar and responsible defensive effort than previously seen from the Norwegian man in the Gold Cup.
With the US rallying as many as six around the ball when Bosnia’s fullbacks were in possession, the pack mentality led to two positives and one negative for the States.
The two positives? One, Miralem Pjanic was forced to drop deep in the midfield to pick up the ball, thus negating his influence in-between the midfield and defensive lines and two, Bosnia was forced to play over the top balls to Lulic and Salihamovic on the left flank where the US was able to recover and keep its defensive integrity.
Excellent team defense from the States.
The negative was Bosnia countered by trying to gap the US centerback defenders and Tim Howard with Dzeko and Ibišević making runs along the backline. The Dragons added central runs from the off-flank through Lulic and Misimovic as well which at first flummoxed the US, but under the organization of Bradley was dealt with. It’s nice to have a Michael Bradley on your team, isn’t it?
It was individual errors not team defense that was to blame for Klinsmann’s side conceding in the first half.
♦ An Altidorean Impact
There is no mistaking Altidore’s impact on this game.
From the beginning whistle, Altidore set up shop right on the Bosnian backline, wearing them down like a boxer punching to the solar plexus. Altidore was given space around him and drew two critical fouls in the first half, one when he got loose on a turn and Diskerud headed to him on the break. Spahic was forced to tug the shoulder. As the half progressed, Altidore drifted wider as the endurance of players ebbed and found space on the sidelines, dragging either a centerback or fullback with him.
The US found Jozy and immediately Bosnia paid respects by sending an extra defender to help.
The second half was more remarkable for the now-Sunderland man. The US thrust their midfielders high in a 4-2-4 of sorts and it in turn opened the midfield.
With Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones threading passes forward, Altidore’s presence presented some tough in-game decision making from the Spahic and the Bosnian backline. Collapse on Altidore and have Eddie Johnson and the US wide midfielder make runs for layoffs and through balls or play Altidore man-up and risk being worked.
The Dragons choose the latter and Altidore displayed a wide array of skills in disrupting the Dragon backline. Checking runs, off-shoulder runs. Altidore was a menace, his speed and size the difference as the Bosnian backline could not physically move him off the ball. He was active and looking for space and he buried his chances. He played Dzeko even up or better on the day.
♦ The Pacemakers.
US fans and media groaned in February of this year. Less so because of defensive miscues, more because the US couldn’t seem to find the back of the net. The US had improved their defense drastically under Klinsmann, but they just couldn’t score.
For years, the States had been a countering team, able to rip up turf vertically and threaten even the best (US 2 – Spain 0). If the first two years of Klinsmann had proved anything, it’s that the US had difficulty in the half court set if you will, without the space of the counter, the attack was neutered.
The tweak for the US came against Belgium and has been realized throughout the rest of the summer.
The US would push the pace in spurts, hoping to keep the back door closed at the same time to create offensive chances.
That happened in the second half for the States in Sarajevo who were forced to take the game to the Dragons. As the Altidore section alluded to above, the midfield had space and Bosnia succumbed–like Slovenia–to the tempo-setting of two midfielders–Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones–who could outrun and outdefend their counterparts.
Bosnia’s central midfield could not get on the ball.
Faced with pressure, the home side when in possession in the back had two choices: struggle to work the ball through a more-pressing defense with their midfield not yet in position or punt the ball forward.
Most teams–as the Dragons did–will choose to punt for safety. The US gathered and threw counters the other way. Their historic DNA returned and Bosnia was not the equal today.
Space issues solved, US attack ignited in the very manner the US scored through the bulk of the 2000′s.
♦ Square Passes:
» Subpar performances for Fabian Johnson–whose clearly not ready to usurp DaMarcus Beasley defensively just yet–and Eddie Johnson on the left flank. More so, maybe from Johnson who was negligent in the defensive third with the marble leading to the first goal and who was consistently and taking poor and superfluous touches on the ball. It is clear EJ’s game speed is stuck on CONCACAF.
» Brad Evans has put himself in contention for Brazil. What he brings that Parkhurst doesn’t is the ability–however slight–to move the ball in possession. Parkhurst is an excellent receive and distribute guy, but if the best option is to take on his man, that’s a losing battle for him nearly every time. Evans showed some lackluster crosses on the evening, but possessed some decent handles in creating space for himself on the right.
» It is clear–to this writer–that Geoff Cameron and John Brooks should be the CB pairing. Cameron if only because Besler and Brooks play the same position. The pair had some communication errors and Cameron–who was challenged more–occasionally lost his mark, but Bosnia in Sarajevo for the inaugural runout of this centerback pairing is a big ask. Besler will compete for time, but Gonzalez and Goodson slink a little down the depth chart here.
» Excellent positional awareness and tracking from Ale Bedoya. He serves the same job as Graham Zusi does or James Milner for England.
Run. And run. And run interference to protect the right flank. Bedoya showed some astute central runs and had some nice service in the box, including a hellacious pass in the opening stanza that a one-touch from Eddie Johnson should’ve put in the back of the net.
» Set (Fall To) Pieces: The US’s set piece defense game has been abysmal and Wednesday was no different. It is a weapon, currently, for opponents to use against the States.
♦ States Keys To The Match: Review
» KEY: The midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley must boss and dictate the game.
Yes, the States midfield bossed the game. Even in the first half both Jones and Bradley were able to get a fair amount of incising interior passes going. In the second half, well that goes without saying.
» Find Pjanić as soon as the ball turns, but manage the deep service of Misimovic.
Yes, take a look around the 25th to 35th minute or so, Pjanić is seen frequently dropping deep into almost a sweeper-type role to get some touches on the ball.
» Push left per usual and hit at the newbie Bičakčić.
The US had fairly little trouble on the left flank save some poor fundamental defending from Fabian Johnson and a poor decision by Eddie Johnson. Up top though, Eddie Johnson was awful. He held the ball, was late on runs which killed attacks and took too many touches. The US still survived though as they limited the play through Bičakčić
» Contain Eden Džeko, but also manage the forward runners off him.
The US managed good team defense and both Cameron and Brooks had moments where they won 1v1 duels, but there was much to worry about. Cameron was soundly beaten in the air for two goals. Both defenders were lax tracking the “second play” on the first goal and the pair really had to play very close together to avoid getting gapped. Much to like, much to improve though.