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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.)
• 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.