“If you kill the head, the body will die.”
With Michael Bradley pine-bound with an ice wrap on an ankle injured just moments before the game, the US took the field in San Jose, Costa Rica Friday in a somewhat traditional 4-4-2 with Geoff Cameron deputizing for the Roma man in central midfield.
Jozy Altidore was either not ready or held out, Landon Donovan entered and paired Clint Dempsey up top. Another change was Michael Orozco Fiscal at right fullback. The Fiscal plays rightback for his club, but has been almost exclusively featured as a centerback when in a US shirt.
Costa Rica came out in an extremely aggressive formation.
The Ticos deployed in a 3-4-3. The Ticos had not played a 3-man backline at home in more than a year, but it wasn’t the formation that was most telling. It was the personnel deployment that should have forewarned the US precisely what was to transpire upon the opening kick.
Bryan Ruiz was right central, Cristian Bolanos left central, both playing inverted. Alvaro Saborio was sacrificed for Joel Campbell, the change bringing much more pace to the striker role.
The personnel deployment should’ve screamed, “We’re coming! With numbers!” With both forwards inverted and a speedy striker looking to not play hold-up, but split the Yanks’ centerbacks, plenty of space would be created wide for the wingbacks to bomb up the pitch as they did.
One should give a bit of reprieve to Klinsmann and his staff to the insertion of Orozco-Fiscal. The move was probably with the intention that the US would maintain some semblance of possession with Michael Bradley hubbing the central midfield.
Whereas Bradley’s play off Jones to begin games is a little more piston-like, the insertion of Geoff Cameron meant a more traditional CDM role for the States. With Bradley out, Jermaine Jones needed to be more disciplined on defense and calm in possession. However, with Costa Rica pushing as many as five players attacking through the midfield, the US essentially countered with no more than four. Per Sun Tzo, “the battle was won before it was ever fought.”
Initiative, home field advantage, and speed conspired with the tactics to make the first 22 minutes a nightmare for the States.
Jones forward movement–ill-advised by this publication’s estimation–forced Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson to pinch in to help track runners, further opening the flanks. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey stayed high–perhaps too high–and were marooned without service. It took 12 minutes for Jones to drop deeper to support possession and aid the defense and took another five for Dempsey and Donovan to drop and help out–entirely too long without the US’s best midfielder policing the center of the pitch.
Bradley’s absence–after his sterling positional play against Bosnia–could not have been more felt.
» The US sees three of their players on yellow card alert pick up a second and who will now miss the Mexico game in Columbus–Cameron, Matt Besler, and Jozy Altidore. Altidore’s yellow is inexcusable–both the nature of it and because the attack would’ve been built around him in Columbus.
» This was an unacceptable game for Jermaine Jones. No American player is going to replicate the balance of Michael Bradley. That said, it was Jones’s responsibility as senior man in the middle to understand the dip in midfield integrity against an aggressive Costa Rica side. Instead, Jones–who should’ve helped drive the US tempo–made it worse.
The Schalke man played bewildering long balls when he could’ve slowed the tempo, was often irresponsible in his own defensive positioning and failed to track back on counters–this from player held up on pedestal by Jurgen Klinsmann for his dedication and effort. With Jones pairing Cameron more as a true double-pivot and being more responsible with his decision-making, the US could have reduced the number of chances Costa Rica took in the first 35 minutes. When Jones settled, so did the US.
» Klinsmann and his staff probably should’ve made some initial adjustments once Bradley was ruled out, but you get the sense that by selecting Orozco-Fiscal at RB and playing no target striker that the manager thought his squad could maintain possession in the first half. That said, the onfield adjustments came extremely too slow as the challenge to the US midfield was all too clear.
» Strong game from Landon Donovan–and a ding on TSG for suggesting he not start this one. The US had four key passes completed by the stats and Landon had all of them.
» The fifth key pass could’ve been tabulated for Graham Zusi who put Fabian Johnson in on goal, forcing a penalty by the Costa Rican keeper Navas. It was not the best game from Zusi who wasn’t sharp and found himself often hesitant when deciding when to track a runner centrally or stay wide with an advancing wingback.
» The US could’ve used a few saves out of Tim Howard tonight. Calls that the US keeper is not big time ignore Howard’s stellar games in real pressure-cookers against Spain at the Confederation’s Cup or England at the World Cup. Howard made some tremendous saves likely with a major rib injury in that Three Lions game.
Tonight however was not textbook from Howard and the problem is it’s the same challenges that Howard has faced lately in his club career: failing to come out on over-the-top balls and indecision on service into the box. Guzan is in form now, but Klinsmann seems to favor the experience of Howard.
Goalkeepers are a different breed though. They’re a little bit like catches in baseball. Sure a keeper may not be able throw a runner out, but maybe his game calls flummox the other team’s hitters. It will be interesting to see how Klinsmann and staff review the position.
Review: Keys To The Game For The Americans:
1) Defense: Apply on-ball pressure whenever Costa Rica is in the US half. Recover that second ball.
Costa Rica repeatedly attacked–as expected–down the left flank. With numbers forward, the US defenders had to concede space often because there would be no help defense. Too much space, as Omar Gonzalez gives on the second goal, leads to good chances and, in turn, goals.
2) Defense: Track Ruiz and Campbell between the lines. Immediately support any 1v1 defender who is out in space
TSG GRADE: C
Costa Rica was UHHHH-ggressive. A little Bayern Munich like in that they attacked with fervor with no fear of losing the ball knowing they would hustle to get behind the ball and win it back–at least for the first 35 minutes. TSG expected a little slower pace; the US was challenged getting support to defenders in space because they were too many Ticos advancing in attack.
Have fun Offense: Get Zusi opportunities on the deep right flank. Don’t be wasteful with corner kicks and deep flank service chances.
TSG GRADE: F
The US never gain possession in the 1st half and when they did in the 2nd Costa Rica drew the line of confrontation at the top of the attacking third and wide–not huddled in the box. The US made the correct substitutions as the game progressed but with a need to press for the equalizer attempting to circulate the ball went out the windor. There would not be a lot of deep service opportunities on the night.
4) Offense: Work the channels with Zusi, Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson.
When the US did get ahead in the second half, Landon Donovan did some work. But it was not enough.
When any team loses a critical central midfielder moments before kick-off and falls behind by two goals in less than 15 minutes, it’s going to be a long night. It was. A single negative observation tonight against a string of positive ones. Tuesday will be illuminating.