Archive for November, 2013

Quick Hits: USA 0 – Austria 1

"Where did all these defenders come from?!"

“Where did all these defenders come from?!”

An altogether more entertaining game from the States against Das Team of Austria coming off a malaisical (new word) canvas of work in Scotland.

Some quick hit breakdowns:

• The US has been found out! Back to the tinker board, Vasquez.

Beasley's distribution

Beasley’s distribution

The above image is the passing chart of DaMarcus Beasley.

Not wholly awful, but what you don’t see above is any incising passes in the attacking third.

This was the second game in a row that the US has been well-scouted.

Against Scotland, Barry Bannan immediately ran at DaMarcus Beasley every time he got the ball in possession looking up field.

It was the same tactic used by Austria on Tuesday. Jurgen Klinsmann and Martin Vasquez have been milking the left side of the US attack ad nauseum since Beasley played back-to-backs against Costa Rica and Mexico in March.

The staff will have to both come up with some wrinkles to free Beasley and have a Plan B as they prepare for Brazil.

Now the good news is–thanks to the switch field work of Michael Bradley–the US adjusted nicely. Geoff Cameron got up the field and had excellent handles in possession.

Cameron's passing schematic.

Cameron’s passing schematic.

It stands to reason that if you run an extra defender out on the US left rear flank that the right side can open up if you move the ball quickly laterally.

That’s exactly what Roma man Bradley did methodically on Tuesday.

Bradley gets the right flank going.

The New One Direction! Bradley gets the right flank going.

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• Speak Up [defensively]!

To any media hound and likely the average fan, the US’s troubles in defense were elementary yesterday.

Way too much space offered between the midfield and back line(s).

Some of this was by design of the US attack–Jermaine Jones clearly was authorized to get forward more and he executed on the directive.

However most of this was due to the backline consistently cheating backwards to guard against the pace of the Austrian forwards. With Brooks and Gonzalez dragging themselves deep and with Jones pushing up, it became Michael Bradley vs. [whole slew of Austrians] in the midfield on turnovers upfield.

You're World Cup, Jonesy!

You’r World Cup, Jonesy!

There are a few ways to correct this: (1) Watch your turnovers in the middle of the field…..[quick interlude]

[Pick  it up Jermaine! Failures of execution on proper passes happen all the time, but the Shalke man must improve his decision-making in the middle of the field. It's one thing to miss a forward pass--that's acceptable. Jones is not a creative midfielder by birth/genetics/tutelage but he's asked to play one on Team Klinsmann. That said, it's knowing when to make a pass or shield that ball and not give up a turnover where you team gets caught out. There is a rather large sampling size recently that suggests that Jones is not improving here. Back to our bulletpoint..]

(2) Put pressure and shield the ball from forward advancement with your midfielders upfield. The US seems hit or miss here. This is something that Bradley’s teams tended to do really well but for some reason–attack creation on the brain–Klinsmann’s teams seem to be inconsistent with and (3) Step up higher and close down the space, trusting your goalie to come out on the one or two over-the-top balls that he may face.

However, those are all fundamental things that likely these players know.

Tim Howard was the captain yesterday. I’m sure he’s a good captain.

However in the middle of the field–and I’m sure Klinsmann was yelling it from the sideline; I know I heard Kyle Martino yelling it from the broadcast booth–there was no one taking charge and assertively demanding that the backline play true.

That’s a problem and it should be simple to solve. It needs to be rectified.

• Wingo Bingo

The US’s board failed miserably here on Friday; however on Tuesday there were some glimmers of hope. Brek Shea and Ale Bedoya didn’t burn up the pitch and force Austria to defend them, but they were more proactive in movement.

You have to believe the additions of Fabian Johnson–to the Shea role–and Zusi to the Bedoya role will alleviate some of the concerns here though.

Miscellaneous:

• Agree again with Kyle Martino in that it looks like Klinsmann is really trying to find a slot for Kljestan. That said, Kljestan is really excelling at the unencumbered deep-lying CM at Anderlecht. That position doesn’t exist on the US and will be under more duress at World Cup 2014.

• Not to belabor the Jones point, but while many may say it’s the centerbacks (a good argument) or the fullbacks (less of a good argument) that are the key positions to figure out before Brazil, it may just be Jones–not even “the other CM.”

It is clear to this viewer, that Klinsmann–and I think rightfully–doesn’t want to burn out Michael Bradley by pushing him up the field the entire game to fight in traffic for creation. It’s also clear, by the way, that Bradley is the guardian angel of the backline. There would often by a whole lot more brewing for the opponent’s attack if Bradley wasn’t shielding.

Likewise–and perhaps correctly–Klinsmann wants two midfielders with steel in the midfield and they just don’t exist. Danny Williams is not quite there; Maurice Edu can’t get on the field and has proved that he’s a liability often with the rock. Mix Diskerud is offering more and more offensively by the month, but he’ll get eaten up defensively at his current level in Brazil. Kljestan is not the answer.

Therefore, it’s Jones. And the US success in Brazil may just depend on how well he plays within himself and how few mistakes he makes.

• Solid game for Geoff Cameron. He’ll be a solid to very good centerback one day when someone gives him reps there, but he’s more comfortable outside and if he shows he can stay 1v1 with quicker players, he’ll get a shot to win that gig.

• Ice skate lessons and fundamental cliff notes for John Brook and Omar Gonzalez today.

• And lest it not be said, good attacking movement yesterday. Solid ability from the US to process out their errors from Friday and come back and execute if not score on an attacking game plan.

USA v. Austria: Will It Be The Sound of Sweet Music for The States?

Will Space Monkey play the disruptor again today?

Will Space Monkey play the disruptor again today?

Here’s a little bit on Das Team by Oxford, Mississippi-based Scott Schroder who writes at SB Nation:

To come at it from my area of expertise, Austria would be a mid-table Bundesliga team with a star in the midfield who would likely be angling for a move to a bigger club in the near future.

Alaba sets the beat for Das Team

Alaba sets the beat for Das Team

That star is Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, but who is deployed within the Austrian team as a midfielder. Truthfully, the only reason he is a defender at Bayern is because he has European Footballer of the Year Franck Ribery ahead of him on the left wing, but the Austrian gets forward a lot for a defender and is known for his skill on set plays.

Back to the broader point of Austria’s level of play, they have only a selection of second division players to choose from in goal, being Energie Cottbus’ Robert Almer and Austria Wien’s Heinz Lindner. Almer has gotten the bulk of the playing time of late and was featured in their last meaningful match against Sweden on 11 October, when Ibrahimovic sealed their World Cup fate in the 86th minute.

If there is a match the team would like to have back from their qualification run, it would have to be their meager 0-0 draw against Kazakhstan back in October of 2012. They controlled play but couldn’t find the net, leaving Kazakhstan empty-handed.

In defense, they have been strong in all matches aside from conceding three goals away to Germany in Munich, the first of which was the record-breaking goal for Miroslav Klose that pushed him ahead of Gerd Müller all-time for the German national team.

Their captain, Schalke player Christian Fuchs, anchors the back line for his country although his time in the Königsblauen side has been limited of late due in large part to positional experimentation.

Austria’s weapons in the midfield, aside from Alaba, include Stoke City man Marko Arnautovic, formerly of Werder Bremen, and Stuttgart’s Martin Harnik. Harnik was born and raised in Hamburg, but decided to play for Austria after never having been called up by the DFB despite always residing in Germany.

Weimann for the Villians today.

Weimann for the Villians today.

In the forward positions, many will recognize Aston Villa’s Andreas Weimann, but also of importance is Trabzonspor’s Marc Janko, who has scored in nearly half of his appearances for Austria.

The match is in the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, named for one of Austria’s best ever players after he died while technically still the coach of the national team in 1992. He also reached great success coaching the Hamburg sides of the 1980’s who won two titles under his reign.

Another Austrian legend, former Werder Bremen and Galaxy man Andreas Herzog currently sits alongside Jürgen Klinsmann on the USMNT bench. He is his nation’s all-time leading scorer.

Graph: Thinking On USMNT First Halves

The graphics below show the US’s typical first half set. They push the ball high on the left and keep compact defensively. If they get a goal, great, but they rarely ever rev the tempo or get the ball going side to side against quality opponents at the risk of giving one up early.

The arrows show the typical movements by position in attack. The grey, transparent section is the space the US usually elects to defend. Ale Bedoya yesterday or Graham Zusi, their speed and endurance protect the weaker right flank by flashing forward to shut down switchfields or tracking back when compromised.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Small Things: USA 0 – Scotland 0

One of the few times Altidore saw the ball today.

One of the few times Altidore saw the ball today.

A rough game, though not wholly untidy, game for the States today in Glasgow.

Once again a tale of two halves as Jurgen Klinsmann and staff used the first half to see if they could break down an active 4-1-4-1 of Scotland (they didn’t) and used the second half to rev the tempo as Scotland dropped deep. Though no goals for the States in that second half, certainly more chances and most of that through the work of Aron Johansson.

Here are some breakdowns and observations.

• Conduction construction

The US’s style is to take a risk-averse approach to first halves. It’s understandable and not a terrible strategy.

Feel the other team out. If you nick  a goal, then the other side must chase and pockets of attacking or possession space can open up for the team that has the lead.

This was another somewhat solid first half defensive performance for the US in Europe at the expense of generating any threat on goal. Last time out–against Bosnia–the US made two individual errors in giving up two first half goals (note: one was debatably offsides) but played good team defense throughout in that eventual 4-2 friendly win.

The US was similarly compact and stoic if not frenetic in their defensive work today. The lone exception being TSG fave Geoff Cameron who occasionally found himself getting pulled out too wide left, though Scotland failed to punish Cameron in space.

Cameron wins a ball back high up the pitch...but before you congratulate him ... see below.

Cameron wins a ball back high up the pitch…but before you congratulate him … see below.

It should be noted that Cameron had two excellent ball pressures up the field that led to turnovers and one–seen here on the left–that could’ve been pounced on for a chance.

The story on offense was simple….as in simply dreadful.

Perhaps due to unfamiliarity but not due to instruction, the US failed to effectively poke and prod at Scotland’s defense.

What are you doing Jermaine?! That's not a good place to be!

What are you doing Jermaine?! That’s not a good place to be!

Three contributing factors plagued the States’s attack in the first half.

Lack of movement to receive balls between gaps–specifically by Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan–in building out of the back.

Lack of width provided and movement by Eddie Johnson and, at time, Ale Bedoya to come narrow or stay wide to create space. The US had two outlets that were rarely involved in the build-up.

And as result of the first two, floaters or hospital balls by Bradley and Jones to the outlets (Beasley, Bedoya, Johnson and Evans) which retarded reception and thus quick distribution.

Michael Bradley is pinned a bit in the corner--he next jams a ball into Altidore that results in a turnover. Jones fails to provide support.

Michael Bradley is pinned a bit in the corner–he next jams a ball into Altidore that results in a turnover. Jones fails to provide support.

There were a few ways the US could have solved these issues in-game.

First, obviously checking to open spaces.

Jones was particularly negligent here often hoping for the “perfect pass” from Bradley or Kljestan to find him. Jones, with his distance from or angle to the passer, often made that pass very difficult.

Second, being in motion–something that Graham Zusi and Aron Johansson in particular do well.

Smart running–knowing when a run will take a defender or merely stretch the defense–was needed. And sometimes its just the urgency to build tempo and merely get in motion that works. Start moving and the teammate next to you will feel the responsibility to move in synch.

Other first half notes:

• Thought Brad Evans played okay in the first half. Wasn’t challenged much though. And that said, Ale Bedoya was continually tasked with playing support cover over the top and Evans got skinned a few times and better players punish the US here. On the play below if Evans drops into the box a little more to cut down a Fletcher dribble-drive, he can recover to play Conway wide outside.

• While the Scottish defense closed quickly with numbers on Kljestan, the unfamiliarity with his role and his average close-range technical skills hurt his ability to do the job that was needed. Klejstan is excellent with his head-up and when looking vertically. Too often today he wasn’t quite sure where he was going with the ball when he received it. Worth another runout though.

• Not the strongest half for DaMarcus Beasley. Beasley had a few chances in space with the ball on switch fields–one notably at the 38th minute–and he continually had his head down and often went backwards with the ball. Risk-adverse, conservative, but also not productive.

• Whether due to Gus Poyet’s attendance or not, Jozy played a decent first half without a lot of touches–he was probably the most active of the front four when not in possession or rather when looking for possession.

The US gives us Scotland's best chance of the first half. (Click to enlarge.)

The US gives us Scotland’s best chance of the first half. (Click to enlarge.)

2nd half

• Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley are more vertically aligned. Simple movement by Bradley into the holes opens up the game. US revs the tempo–like they did versus Bosnia–by pinging balls long up the flanks to wide players Eddie Johnson and Ale Bedoya to start.

• Due to the flank chances, the subs of Mix Diskerud, Brek Shea and Aron Johannson are now more poised to take advantage of a Scottish defense that did not fear vertical play. (Love this Johannson kid… seen below here pushing/urging a tardy Shea into where he should be in space to receive the ball.)

Johansson directing Shea up high.

Johansson directing Shea up high.

• More on Johansson. Mentioned this previously, but a good comp for how Klinsmann is using him just aft of the striker is German Thomas Muller. Muller sweeps horizontally from left to right in the German system looking for the ball and dragging players. It allows Ozil the space opposite him to get on the ball unimpeded at times. Same here for Johansson who was continually looking today to provide a linking outlet into the attack.

(Minor note–and an important one in ultimate frisbee too (just thought I should add that): By *not checking back directly to the ball, a player can–obviously–spend less time turning upfield and finding a pass or taking on an opponent. It’s subtle, but important skillset and one that hurt the US in the first half as Kljestan had difficulty getting on the ball with enough time to turn and see a pass.)

• Some unsung work today by Jozy Altidore who did the best with what came his way. Here below Altidore fights to get to the near post on Shea’s cutback for Johannson. Altidore doesn’t halt his run when he can’t beat his defender, but rather barrels into him, providing a deep set-up option and screening the keeper. A little thing that wasn’t always present in Altidore’s game.

...

• Good performances today by Johannson, Altidore and Howard. Beasley, Jones and Kljestan left wanting.

USA v. Scotland: Live Commentary

Note to long-time (short-time) TSG fans … TSG will be back en force in 2014. We’re almost done removing a 5-foot pile of late 2013 responsibilities from our shoulders. Thanks for the patience.

USA, Scotland, Eric Lichaj at RB? We’ll see.

Centerback please...

Centerback please…

Klinsmann Selects Eric Lichaj and 22 Others To Ax Scotland & Austria

"Hey man, I didn't think you'd be here." "Yeah, didn't think you'd be here either."

“Hey man, I didn’t think you’d be here.” “Yeah, didn’t think you’d be here either.”

Welcome back tot he living Eric Lichaj. Kljestan and his mustache travel too. Chris Wondowlowski gets his shot–but is his right peg fit.

Will Geoff Cameron get to hock his wares–deservedly–at CB?

Can certainly, certainly see Ale Bedoya getting a runout at RB. And I think it makes a lot of sense.

GOALKEEPERS (3) : Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS (7) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Michael Orozco (Puebla)

MIDFIELDERS (7) : Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City)

FORWARDS (6) : Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

The Lalas Proclamation: Is MLS The Most Competitive League In the World?

On August 25th, basement-tenant-on-rent-control Chivas USA whupped up on the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. That would be the 2013 MLS Supporter Shield victorious Red Bulls.

On August 25th, basement-tenant-on-rent-control Chivas USA whupped up on the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. That would be the 2013 MLS Supporter Shield-winning Red Bulls.

Alex Olshansky does Alexi Lalas a solid…and contributes the column below….

Parity is a popular topic of conversation in MLS.

Because of league salary and roster rules, it has traditionally been very difficult for any team to consistently stay at the top. Similarly, unless you are Toronto FC, it is not unusual for teams to go from the bottom of the table one year to the top the next. Alexi Lalas famously (infamously? serendipitously? kidding..) proclaimed the league to be “the most competitive league in the world.”

Is he right? Is Lalas’s assertion on point?

To investigate, a representative group of 14 other leagues from around the world were tested on three key metrics that–it says here–are believed to be the best measures of league parity (or competitiveness… let’s consider them interchangeable).

Intra-Table Parity

To measure this, we looked at the standard deviation of points per game (PPG) for each league. In effect, this measures the variance in results across the league. A lower number means teams are more closely grouped towards the average, a higher number means more teams are further from the average (both good and bad).

Very interesting professor....

Very interesting professor….

Year Over Year Parity

This table is the average change in year over year points per game.

This measures how much results vary from year to year. The EPL obviously has a very low number in this metric as generally the top 5 teams have been the same for the past handful of years (as have the mid-table teams).

*It should be noted that this is only from one year’s worth of data, and likely would be different if looked at over multiple years.

Ah-ha...yep...right...right...

Ah-ha…yep…right…right…

The Haves (10%) vs. The Have Nots (90%)

Quite simply, this measures how much goal differential the top 10% of clubs in each league are responsible for–let’s call this The La Liga Conundrum.

A competitive league should not have the top couple teams hording all the results.

For example, look at the difference between who is responsible for the majority of the goal differential in the Bundesliga (Bayern/Dortmund) and MLS (Chivas USA/DC United).

Ze Germans are weak!

The Bundesliga is like MLS’s evil doppelganger dude!

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Overall

The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric.

Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15 league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.

But for today Alexi Lalas …. you are correct, sir.

...

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