Well there goes another dramatic return to the beautiful Bay Area for the US men’s national team.
Last time in San Francisco, Taylor Twellman lit the lamp once and dropped two dimes in a 3-2 victory over Japan in February 2006.
Bruce Arena left him off the World Cup roster in place of someone from Landon Donovan’s wedding party who had nary a contribution in Germany.
Save for Clint Dempsey late chest-thumping lash–“Don’t discount just yet the fight .. the heart … the vigor … the verve of the USA!”—the US would go scoreless of their own accord at World Cup 2006. If not for a Cristian Zaccardo–good thing he wasn’t Colombian–moment of American brilliance, Arena & Co. were coming back from Germany with three “L’s” in their pocket and very little of redeeming value.
This time, the US again assembles its World Cup camp in the hotbed of technology investment and a few basic beep tests later, the US’s all-time leading goal scorer is somehow deemed surplus to product requirements.
The coach’s son uses the Twitter megaphone to broadcast his elation of the Landon news and Jurgen Klinsmann sends the US team cannonballing into the Send-Off Series.
See you again in seven years Julian Green where more drama will surely unfold.
In nothing short of a shocker, American soccer whistleblower Twellman announced Klinsmann’s US selections on Thursday to a stunned fanbase.
No Terrence Boyd–who many thought a shoe-in as Jozy Altidore’s back-up and no Michael Parkhurst, perhaps the best technical defender the US has ever produced.
No Brad Evans who dutifully soldiered on at an unfamiliar position through qualifying only to be tasked with playing another unfamiliar one, centerback, almost exclusively in the Stanford camp.
In their stead, a combination of MLS wunderkind Chris Wondolowski–a product of nearby Danville, CA, World Cup rookie Brad Davis–who is six months older than Donovan himself and some youngster phenoms: Hertha Berlin John Brooks and Bayern II riser Julian Green.
This is conjecture of the highest order, but if you think Brazil tickets weren’t on the table during the Green negotiations, then I’d like to sell you Myspace … or a rotary phone. Or anything at a premium.
Let’s address the Donovan drop head-on and pithily.
Donovan is one of the US’s top 23 players–according to Tim Howard’s he’s much, much higher up.
Donovan is not the player he once was.
Donovan is one of the US’s top 23 players.
At the end of the day, the US–like most international sides–is short on game changers.
This isn’t England dropping Theo Walcott in 2010; he had potential, not resume. This isn’t Spain dropping Raul before Euro 2008–there was a clear set of those able to ascend to the throne. It’s not Ronaldhino for Brazil. Or, for that matter, Kahn for Klinsmann’s Germany–as crazy Jens Lehman was already making stupid saves.
No team-player combination had the bookends of “been there, done that” (Donovan) and “unsure whose ready to step-up waiting in the wings” (USMNT).
It’s one thing to cut out a cancer. That makes abundant sense. You could say that with Roy Keane for Ireland in 2002 or maybe Samir Nasri being left out of this year’s French drama troupe. It’s another thing to say there isn’t a fit at forward–then you realize if not for Donovan the US may not’ve won the 2013 Gold Cup.
And Donovan’s played the bench role before–after being maligned for being uninvolved, benched for lack of commitment.
The response? Emphatic when called.
He took a Freddy Adu pass and glided past Panama’s left rear flank, slipped a pass between the legs of a defender for Clint Dempsey to push in and to push the US into the Gold Cup 2011 final. He may or may not be a 90′ player (Does anyone really believe the fitness bunk? I hope not.)…
…but–like Giovanni Van Bronkhorst fizzing a pellet passed Frances Muslera’s coconut in 2010–he still can make a play.
You don’t need more than a second to change a game and though it’s not prevalent to be fair, history still gives us the twilighting cases of the aforementioned Van Bronkhorst, Rivaldo and debatably 2010 Forlán.
This whole ever-present debate can really be answered one way. Review this scenario:
It’s June 24th in Recife. It’s 1-0 bad guys.
It’s the 85′ and the US needs to scratch out a draw against Germany to go through the group. Michael Bradley has just artfully pulled a 180-degree turn in possession on Sam Khedira after a corner kick has found its way out of the 18-yard box scrum. Bradley steams down the center of the pitch with the Germans in pursuit and Phil Lahm stepping to him to force distribution, but Bradley’s got two players burning up either channel with Per Mertesacker waiting for the commit.
On one flank is Julian Green. The other Landon Donovan.
Who do you want him to pass to? Who does he pass to?
So now, it’s appropriately the Send-Off Series in more ways than one.
And Klinsmann has his squad.
And there is much merit–to be clear–in his selections.
World Cup defenders are getting younger, especially at centerback–Klinsmann went younger too. The US will still have the second oldest outfield in Group G in Brazil. Germany and Ghana averaging almost two years younger across the defenders, mids and forwards.
Klinsmann brought the aforementioned Chris Wondolowski, a technical player who likely would’ve been eschewed by predecessors for his lack of physical superiority. But Klinsmann sees someone who merely puts the ball in the back of the net. Should Wondo be needed, this will be great theatre for all those who dismiss the US’s historical reliance on physical players over technical players, but them summarily dismiss the MLS goal machine’s abilities.
(Wondo’s subtle movement here is just as important as a Chicharito poking around the near post.)
The manager went Tim Chandler, a player’s whose commitment could certainly be questioned more so than Landon’s. Chandler is a game gambit to defend Ronaldo in Manaus at the whistle, but can he do it in the 75′?
Klinsmann is aping his moves from Germany 2006.
He’s questioning fitness and driving a regimen against it. He’s going with younger, unproven players. But that’s where the comparisons end. The pedigree is not the same. The tactical nous of Jurge Low absent.
And let it be said here, it’s controversial from Klinsmann, but it’s not altogether a poor gambit. Ignorance is bliss and a World Cup can be places where youth is served. It’s usually cold but there are moments when it can be scalding. (See Donovan, Landon, 2002)
Again, it will be fascinating theatre. Half-built stadiums and ESPN shining moments await.
Without further Freddy Adu we get to our preview.
About The Opponent: Azerbaijan
11 At The Whistle
TSG: What Are We Looking For (abbreviated)
About The Opponent: Azerbaijan
Should you care about Azerbaijan? Only if they beat the US.
In what surely is a make-good on securing the services Azerbaijan manager and former coach-of-Klinsy Berti Vogts, the US’s opponent Tuesday comes from the nether regions of UEFA.
CONCACAF powerhouses Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago both claim FIFA rankings higher than Azerbaijan’s “85″ to add some perspective.
If you agree that Nigeria is the likely match in style for Ghana and that Turkey can be bent into a clone of Portugal than Azerbaijan is Germany.
[Drop mic. Closes Twitter account. Goes to read Inverting the Pyramid.]
In all seriousness though, there are more than a few parallels between Die Mannschaft and the Milli starting with a team, of course, coached by a former German national.
For all its’ lack of talent breadth and bouts with individual execution, Azerbaijan is highly organized like nearly all Eastern European sides. Vogts’ squad conceded just 10 times in nine qualifying matches. That’s impressive considering their dearth of talent and that they do take chances breaking shape on the counter.
Defensively the team will sit in a 4-1-4-1 formation or a flat 4-4-2. Take a close look at the Milli defense because one can see some principles of it being incorporated by the US through Vogts….most acutely a midfield band that functions with five across often.
That shape gives way to a very fluid 4-2-2-2 in transition, one not dissimilar from what you saw from both the US and Germany at World Cup 2010 (and many other squads too, but we’ll use those comps.)
In fact, dare I saw a very similar “chance”–it wasn’t converted–manufactured from Azerbaijan on tape to this one by the Mainshaft against the Three Kitties in 2010.
The keys for the visitors in their typical gameplan is to clog the top of the attacking third and feast on a mistake high to grab a chance on the break or force the other side to breakdown a compact low-block defense. cut out an ill-timed pass or snatch a turnover … and shuttle the ball quickly high and wide to the free-flowing wingers. The front four for Azjerbaijan all read-and-react to the others’ movement very well. This will a test of the US’s back four team defense.
Where the Milli can capitulate is when they’re late getting into defensive shape or getting overloaded on the flanks. Again, this somewhat plays into their strategy because a mistake by the attacking team can be punished centrally and vertically–the quickest route to chance creation in transition.
Four players to key on for the US defense: Rufat Dadashov–a product of 2. Bundlesliga’s FC Kaiserslautern–a fuzzy comp for Mesut Ozil–and Rauf Aliyev–who’ll mimic the movement of a Miraslov Klose-type leading the line–pair up top. Former Everton prospect Adul Adullayez does a lot of the ball carriage and chance creation from the flanks. Take a look.
Dadashov will sweep underneath Aliyez and pop-up in dangerous places. Aliyez is sharp at dragging the backline out of shape. He can also be found testing it on long balls out of the back often through the foot of Rubin Kazan’s Ruslan Abishov, Azerbaijan’s best player. Abishov can have the same effect on pinging passes that Anatoliy Tymoshchuk did for Ukraine in dismantling the motley US crue in Cypress–watch if or how quickly the US closes his down near the halfline.
Keys To the Match for the US (if they care):
» Track Dadashov and Aliyez…they’re the UEFA version of Bengston and Costly, but they’re technically better.
» Overload a flank–likely the left one as is typical for the US and look for the horizontal to switch to find the opposite wide player in space.
» Be patient and methodical. Azerbaijan likely won’t chase the game.
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: It’s hard to ignore Tim Howard’s commentary on the US during big moments. While many players are held completely accountable for speaking out, Howard’s veteran presence and guidance appears to allow him a spec of latitude in Klinsmann’s normal command-and-control environment.
Here’s Howard after the US 2-1 loss at Honduras in February 2013 on the backline selection:
“They never played together in any game, let alone a Hex. The back four is all about gelling. It’s a frying pan. We don’t have time to learn.”
Here’s Howard this week on Donovan after “the news” just days after calling Donovan one of the US’s “top one or two players if he’s on the field.”
“He certainly knows how much the senior players love him and appreciate him …. I think everyone mostly, certainly expected Donovan to be there, but Jurgen clearly had other ideas.”
It’s not much latitude in a camp where Klinsmann controls the message but it’s enough–from a player who played this year behind World Cup-bound starts like Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku. His opinion of Donovan’s place in the US pecking order has to be valued.
DEF: Timothy Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson
The skinny: It would not surprise me to see John Brooks in place of Matt Besler here (or in one of the matches) and here’s why: the best the US played defensively against European side in the Klinsmann era was away at Bosnia & Herzegovina. In that match, a poor offsides call was to blame for one US concession and the other tally was the result of a very gracious giveaway on the part of Eddie Johnson in the defensive third.
The centerbacks? John Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Further, if you are committed to Geoff Cameron at centerback–and by golly you should be and you should have been since he started trialling there against Guatemala in 2012–then do you have play the more aerial-endowed Brooks over Besler if you’re going up against Ghana?
Even given that, the likely shout has to be for Brooks and Besler, the latter who has earned his way with terrific organizational and distribution skills in a US shirt.
Similarly to the centerback pairing, you thumb through line-ups of yesteryear and the name that appears at LB in games against the likes of Italy … B&H … Brazil … Russia, is Fabian Johnson at leftback. To this writer, DaMarcus Beasley has earned his keep his unflappable performances in a diversity of settings yet the undercurrent of media murmuring at US camp has the role as Fab J’s to lose.
And then it’s back to Chandler. The US rightback appears at ease, unemotional and light-hearted in camp.
One minor note here, neither Fab J or Tim Chandler possess a strong English vocabulary–will communication suffer as a result of it? It’s a question.
CM: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones
The skinny: Easily a chance you’ll Kyle Beckerman here with Jones a late arrival to camp. That said, Bradley as the midfield nucleus with Jones as the negatively-charged electron careening off of him is the call here. Yup, that’s about spot-on.
(A diamond like against Mexico would see Beckerman deep, Bradley up top, Jones on one side and Zusi on the other, in my opinion)
LM/RM: Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi
The skinny: I have about as much idea about whose playing left midfield for the US as Brad Guzan has of looking good in skinny jeans.
Perplexing… could be an enforcer like Jones with Beckerman slotting in behind. Could be Mix Diskerud, tucking in to allow Fabian Johnson to overlap. Could be Brad Davis in the most regular of calls. Or could be Ale Bedoya, owner of the worst pic on the US roster graphic, mimicking the style of Eddie Johnson as a post-seeking slasher. Your guess?
We’ll take Bedoya though Davis or perhaps Jones would be a good call to let your friend’s money ride on.
The underrated Zusi will man the other flank.
WTFWD: Clint Dempsey
The skinny: By Clint Dempsey’s own admission at camp, he’s been playing the withdrawn forward role. That doesn’t actually scan when you’ve watched Dempsey drop deep through many qualifying matches to receive the ball or gather it in at the top of the attacking third and look-to-drive and dish. That said, the withdrawn forward role–and the more go-at-goal, fire-at-will mentality is the one where Dempsey has performed for his clubs time and time again. Glad you’re back Deuce.
STR: Jozy Altidore
The skinny: Key on Altidore this game, this series because he will start against Ghana and there is no other player that brings his skillset. Jozy is neither particularly strong or adept at hold-up play as US fans know, but he’s capable ever-so-often of the magnificent. While Klinsmann has commented that Donovan was treated as sacred cow by the US media the same could be said of the treatment of Altidore.
The forward’s fitness has often been in doubt, his defensive focus waffling and his judgement often immature. Who can forget it was Altidore who committed a silly yellow card after a qualifier at Costa Rica was nearly decided that ruled him out of a Columbus match-up with Mexico. The one where Eddie Johnson delivered.
The US will have no other target forward if Altidore goes down. Additionally Ghana and Germany often initiate the attack from deep where a committed striker defender could really aid in creating turnovers in the midfield.
Watch Jozy. It’s really his World Cup. The drive needs to be there.
BTW, 49% chance that Chris Wondolowski starts in his own backyard so asterisk here.
TSG: What We’re Looking For: (abbreviated)
♦ EVERYTHING–too much here for the typical TSG nuanced take
What shape is Jermaine Jones in and what role will he truly have? Is he emboldened by going to a World Cup? Does a right-sided Tim Chandler tuck in as Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst did through qualifying or is he given license to roam? With Landon Donovan in SoCal, is Aron Johannsson ready to shoulder the burden of Clint Dempsey’s active sidekick? He’s shown the tools; he’s show flashes, but is he World Cup-sound?
A first look at what US fans will see in a few weeks in Brazil.