TSG’s USA vs. Ghana Preview: Michael vs. Goliath

USA v. Ghana. Round III. For whom the bell tolls....

USA v. Ghana. Round III. For whom the bell tolls…. (Design by Brent Diskin)

We’ve arrived.

The World Cup.

In true theatrical fashion, the US embarks on its Brazilian journey this coming Monday in Natal against their long-time nemesis Ghana.

A four year cycle marked by coaching turnover galore, Olympic failure, the fall-rise-and-fall again of Stu Holden. The departure of The American One, Landon Donovan. A win in Azteca. A draw in Azteca. A Brian Straus sea-changing article. Snow jobs, in Colorado and by the coach. The promising, now sloven facade of Tim Chandler. The recruitment of Julian Green.

The culmination is now.

Transition.

The oft-forgotten third phase of the game.

Transition. What both teams do, how they react the moment a turnover occurs.

Transition. Where a team shows its drilling, its schooling; where individual players show their speed-of-game thought, their decision-making under fire.

Transition. One incorrect move in attack–a poor read, a poor run–kills what could be the most opportune chance. One missed angle in pursuit, one momentary lapse and they’re dancing, disrespectfully, at your corner flag.

reyna

 

Previous matches in this series have seen the aggressor in transition and their mercilessness rewarded.

Above, Haminu Dramani’s smash-and-grab job on Claudio Reyna and Kasey Keller–a video sequence that is numeral dos on the US Facepalm List after Torsten Frings’ Sleight of Hand.

DaMarcus Beasley’s hammering away at an un-corralled ball and then putting in a young Clint Dempsey, who lashed it affirmatively into the back netting. Kevin Prince Boateng’s left channel steam train after Ricardo Clark’s ill-advised forward pass. Asamoah Gyan straight bossing of Carlos Bocanegra and then nipping Jay DeMerit to the spot to fire an apple off Tim Howard’s head.

Even the missed opportunities–Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley–show how the chances spring from the transitional game.

For Ghana, transition is the way of their soccer world.

Former coach Bob Bradley told me a few weeks ago that what Ghana wants you to do is, “beat or attempt to beat that first man off the dribble or with the pass so they can set you up for that second player to clean it up — and then you’re done. They’re off on the break.” He should know. The Pharaohs felt the Black Stars countering wrath just last November in their failed World Cup bid.

It was talked about in our last preview. Bait-and-smack. Ricardo Clark, 2010.

The moment...

The moment…

For the States, Jurgen Klinsmann has spent his entire coaching tenure attempting to mitigate transitional opportunities against the Yanks at the risk of cutting out the US’s attacking might.

Klinsmann forced the US for his first six months to play exclusively from the back, only opening up the attack–and summarily his backline as well–in a fun, but reckless Slovenia game that ended 4-3 in the winter of 2011.

Klinsmann was nothing if not pragmatic in his approach, masking defensive integrity somehow as possession soccer — even attacking soccer. This, of course, was a convenient and often uncovered media misdirection. The US was not probing for an opening; they were holding the ball to prevent defensive breakdowns.

Gradually, Klinsmann’s attempts at crafting possession soccer, employing a 4-3-3, pressing the game high gave way to a return to what the US does best: Opening up the tempo and defending just a little deeper.

Games against Mexico and recently against Nigeria showed the US shine in defense–even while the attack floundered–when tasked with keeping their centerbacks hovering around the top of the box, rather than being exposed higher up the pitch. The US looked decidedly Bob Bradley-like in employing a jagged almost 4-2-2-2 (a 4-4-2 diamond with unique defensive rotation if you want to be technical) against Nigeria as Jermaine Jones dropped deep to work with Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya provided conduction and Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore pistoned up top looking for the final product.

This game — this first examination of the US in Brazil — will evaluate the Yanks’ resolve and ability to showcase an attacking posture without compromising defensive integrity. If Nigeria is an indicator, this team may be more ready than most think.

But if not, well, Ghana’s gonna let you know about it.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.

As usual, it goes:

About the Opponent: Ghana

TSG: What Are We Looking For

11 At The Whistle

States’ Keys To the Game

With the US finally have the tonic for Gyan?

With the US finally have the tonic for Gyan? (Design by Ben Saufley)

About The Opponent Ghana.

The Black Stars have thrashed the US the past two Copa do Mundos.

Ghana have a short, but proud tradition at the World Cup finals. They made their first tournament in 2006 and promptly dispatched the Americans in a game that everyone thought was a gimme. They would fall to Brazil next.

In 2010, they met the US in the Round of 16 after squeaking through Group D with the help of a stingy defense–allowing just two goals against Serbia, Australia, and Germany. The US was again sent packing in a game pockmarked by crunching tackles and missed chances on both sides. Ghana then eyed a semifinal birth only to have Luis Suarez play keeper and have Asamoah Gyan miss from the spot. Had Gyan deposited that penalty in extra time, the continent would have erupted.

Ghana arrives in Brazil after getting bounced in the CAF Cup of Nations by Zambia in 2012 and Burkina Faso in 2013, but then mostly cruising through qualifying, spanking their second round competition with a +15 goal differential as they sped through to a meeting with Bob Bradley’s Egypt.

By all rights, the Pharaohs should’ve been a challenge for the Black Stars–quick on the break and decidedly organized in the back. However, domestic circumstances convened to undermine Bradley’s squad, with strife at home contributing to challenges of focus and fitness. Bradley’s Egypt marched into Ghana on October 15th last year with promise, but crumbled, getting drubbed 6-1. They then limped home to clean up the scraps in the backend of the series with a 2-1 consolation victory.

Ghana snatched the finals berth and was back to pop-and-lock at the big dance.

Whereas Ghana typically relied on a 4-1-4-1 (or 4-5-1 if you prefer) set-up in 2010, the 2014 side steadfastly employed a 4-4-2 under manager James Appiah, who–controversially–rose to the lead role after becoming an assistant in 2007.

Appiah’s 4-4-2 seemed to coincide with a few events: the desire to provide striker Asamoah Gyan a partner in crime, the coming of age of Majeed Waris–Gyan’s aforementioned partner–and a desire to rely less on the central midfield partnership of two “aging” stars in Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari.

Appiah’s squad immediately started ripping the nets, but also leaked goals. They often went forward with abandon, but lost shape behind them. This, of course, was a common occurrence under predecessor Milovan Rajevac; however, the more compact 4-1-4-1 (specifically the holding “1″) enabled some protection.

Ghana’s defense is like going up against Donkey Kong.

You’re this little Mario guy and they give you a hammer the size of a thumbtack and ask you to swat away or avoid barrels. If you dodge that first barrel, the second one often wipes you out. That said, once you find the patterns–which ladders to scale–it becomes predictable and you can work your way to claim the lovely prize as a peeved overlord looks on, ears steaming. Man, that was a good video game.

 

Ghana_Waris_Gyan_1

In attack, Ghana wants to play through you on the floor (witness above). If they can’t do that, they’ll start going over the top directly to Gyan.

Force Ghana to play it wide up the flanks and you suddenly find a team meandering from a disciplined shape, launching speculative crosses and attacks and offering up backyards full of space, especially in their midfield.

That’s the recipe for Ghana. Now, let’s gather the ingredients.

It all starts with Asamoah Gyan, whose name is appropriately preceded with a curse word in the United States. Gyan, of course, busted up the US in 2010, using his combination of size and speed to decide the knockout game. He is always prolific for the national team despite playing in the Qatari league UAE (so, quick note, he’s used to the heat. In fact he calls it the cold).

The forward is murderous in two situations: (1) When checking back to the ball and finding the feet of onrushing teammates; or, (2) When striking up the pitch after an opponent’s turnover, usually resulting in a one-vs-one against an unfortunate defender. Those situations recur and play out like “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. It’s not pretty and you’re just waiting for the carnage.

Gyan has been recently joined by Majeed Waris up top.

The on-loan striker from Spartak Moscow is the real deal. He’s the Charlie Davies to Gyan’s Jozy. (<– it was a fun analogy, let it go… let it go.).

However, the big questions here is, “Will Waris be healthy?” The diminutive forward limped off in the final tune-up match against South Korea with what looked like a pretty serious thigh injury.

Jordan Ayew is his back-up — and though he lit the lamp three times against South Korea – he does not possess the same consistency or ability to find space that Waris does. If Waris cannot play, it is a loss that will impact Appiah’s tactical approach.

Assuming Waris is not passed fit, Appiah probably modifies slightly to a 4-2-3-1 with the same principles–the only difference is that Kevin-Prince Boateng slots in beneath Gyan to help keep possession, rather than Jordan Ayew.

In that scenario–and the likely one, given current info–Boateng will be flanked by Andre Ayew playing wide off the right and Sulley Muntari tucking in off the left.

That line of three will be backed by Michael Essien and 6’2” ground traffic controller Mohammad Rabiu behind him.

Many will suggest that it could be Essien as a single holding midfielder or that he will be paired with Muntari in a two-man system. That makes little sense, though, and Appiah knows it. Ghana gets stretched and tasking two of your oldest players to cover the most ground and mind the center of the pitch would be like flunking first grade math. So, Essien will drop deep in build-ups, but it will be Rabiu behind him expected to direct traffic.

The backline–like that of its opponents–is the big question mark on this team.

Ghana possesses individual team skill, but they don’t appear to have an outright leader to marshall the backline. The centerbacks are Jonathan Mensah and John Boye.

Mensah, the defacto leader, has bouts with recklessness. That said, the centerback for the US to key on is Boye, who does his best to give the ref excuses to blow his whistle…loudly …. and repeatedly. Look no further than Boye’s first 45 minuntes against Zambia in qualifying and you’ll see a player who desperately wants to make a play — something that leads to him drifting far away from the middle or getting whistled.

Bookending Mensah and Boye on one end will be Harrison Afful. The Tunisian leaguer is steady and a worthy on-ball defender–he’ll get right up in an attacker’s shorts–but has positional woes. The US may be able to find some joy late in the game behind Afful, who will be playing on Ghana’s right.

On the left, it will be Kwadwo Asamoah. [The young writer exhales. His eyes drop. The news he is about to share is not good. He begins.]

The Juventus wingback is Ghana’s Scottie Pippen. He’s so good just about anywhere he plays.

For the States, it could be a blessing if Asamoah is charged with managing the left fullback spot as it puts him further from goal, where he may just be Ghana’s most dangerous attacker as well.

This was Appiah after the South Korea match:

“Kwadwo’s a fantastic player. Any position he does well. I did put him at the left back with specific instructions, he’s very very tactical.”

Take a look. You won’t like it.

—-

On the aluminum in this one–for some odd reason–is Daniel Opare.

He is, by these eyes, the best true fullback Ghana has–able to be left alone in single coverage and a tricky player going forward. Why he’s on the bench is a good question.

Finally, between the sticks. It’s not Richard Kingson. Ghana have a massive question mark at the position as Fatau Dauda, a veteran of the South African league, probably starts. A decided advantage here for Tim and the Americans.

Late in the game, look for Chelsea prospect Christian Atsu, who is fast and furious, to test the US backline.

Two key positional decisions that will foreshadow Ghana’s posture are Waris’s replacement and Asamoah’s position.  If it’s Jordan Ayew and Asamoah deployed in the front six, this means Ghana will likely strike out of the gate.

If it’s KPB and Asamoah at leftback–the call favored here–then Ghana will stick to its more traditional, deep-lying, play-on-the-counter mentality.

The KPB selection is a crucial one. The sprightly number ten always seems to have big games in the big games. He’s a veteran who gets the job done and he’ll face-up against the triumvirate of Kyle Beckerman, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron and their goose egg of World Cup caps.

The easiest way to get a good chance, of course, is to have less people to go through.

If Waris can't go, Ghana shifts from a 4-4-2 to more of a 4-2-3-1 with KPB entering. A possible deployment here.

If Waris can’t go, Ghana shifts from a 4-4-2 to more of a 4-2-3-1 with KPB entering. A possible deployment here.

TSG What We’re Looking For:

* The Opening Salvo

To this writer, you will learn everything you need to know about how the US will play–and how prepared and confident Jurgen Klinsmann is in his squad–in the first 20 minutes.

For the Black Stars, they must certainly enter with confidence here. Their record over the States–including a “W” at the 2013 U-20 World Cup–speaks volumes. They are undefeated versus the US in critical games.

Former US coach Bob Bradley told me that with Egypt, he wanted his Pharaohs to jump on Ghana early — to not let them settle comfortably and develop a dominant persona.

Wingert

Wingert

Here’s RSL rightback and defensive vet Chris Wingert with some different thoughts:

“I would say the US has to stay disciplined.  Our chances will come if we stay patient and defend well–similar to the game against Nigeria.  If we get involved in a track meet early and don’t defend with numbers, I think we’ll get exposed.”

Wingert’s point is well founded and if the US’s matches under Klinsmann foreshadow anything, they’ll surely be conservative through the first half.

♦ The Line of Confrontation

There is little doubt of the following: Whoever wins the midfield battle is the winner of this game. The question is not what, it’s where.

Does the US sit deep, thus protecting against the direct approach of Ghana through Gyan?  Or does the US press high, forcing Ghana to attempt to plinko through their US counterparts and leaving the Gyan longball as the one-trick pony?

The answer–as it often is–lies somewhere in between, with the midfield that is able to swarm the opposition, suffocate a turnover and immediately attack in transition likely winning the day.

Need cool effort from Junior Jones, not Old Man Winter.

Need cool effort from Junior Jones, not Old Man Winter.

♦ Junior Jones

Thank you, Sir Ian Darke.

Whether Darke misplaced his crib sheet or just got fixated, every touch by the US destroyer against Nigeria was met with gleeful exclamation of “Junior Jones!” by the iconic announcer.

So appropriate. Such a loaded term.

When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the US in 2011, he forced Jones’s counterpart, the sterling Michael Bradley, to earn his keep as a regular.

Bradley had to come off the bench. He was stripped of field general status… to start.  In one game, a camera once caught befuddled Kyle Beckerman looking quixotically as Bradley entered the pitch and attempted to give him instruction. This wasn’t The General’s team… at least not yet.

Bradley earned his way back in organically.

Jermaine Jones was never put through the trial of Jurgi.

In fact, in March of 2013, after a certain article was published, the undercurrent running through the media (and through some of the players) was that, that captain to be named was Jones, not Dempsey.

For his part, Jermaine has always attempted to carry the US on his back, but often its been in the manner of someone attempting to hoist a love seat on his shoulders and carry it up the fire escape.

It’s audacious. It’s stupid. It’s probably possible, but you shouldn’t get a medal for doing it.

Why not ask that guy next to you–Bradley–to help shoulder the load and carry it up the main staircase?

Jones has been good (Bosnia & Herzegovina in 2013; Mexico in Columbus), but all too often (Costa Rica, 2013) he’s been poor when needed the most.

Often, it’s felt like Klinsmann has merely wound him up and let him go careening around the pitch… which brings us back to Jones’s Nigeria effort.

Jones had been tasked with the left flank previously–the 2-1 loss to Honduras in February 2013–and failed.  However, the system against Nigeria was primed for his skill-set–reminiscent of a role he played at Schalke some 18 months ago.

Make runs–with the cover of Kyle Beckerman behind. Make runs–after Bradley et al. has cleared out space in advance.

Jermaine played the Junior role to a tee on Saturday.

And how prophetic, how appropriate was it that it was Jones–bringing down a difficult ball from Geoff Cameron and not rocketing it far post, but dinking it off to Ale Bedoya–who would be the key player in the US sequence.

A junior pass. This. … THIS is what Junior Jones does well.

The US needs Junior Jones to be simple, efficient, hard, but most importantly error-free and engaged against the Black Stars.

♦ Clean Your House

What’s 5’6”, flies from outside and makes Outlaws cry?

Andre Ayew who Bob Bradley calls one of Ghana’s best in the air. And he’s only Ghana’s fourth best attacker in the box by his eyes as well. Boye, Mensah, Gyan, Muntari, Essien, Asamoah when he’s not serving it, Boateng, Rabiu. The Black Stars roll deep with eight who aren’t flying the friendly skies.

Here’s Wingert again with what to watch in defending.

“In the game against Nigeria the US looked to have a few guys playing zone defense on Nigeria’s corner kicks.   Personally, I’m not a big fan of playing zone when defending set pieces.  It allows the attackers to get a free run at the ball since nobody is responsible for impeding these runs.   If you have a great ball-winner in the air (maybe like an Omar Gonzalez) then it might be smart to leave him free and let him hunt the ball.  All the other attackers should be accounted for with individual defenders in my opinion.”

Conversely, Ghana can fall asleep on set pieces as well–often keeping their head down or attempting to body an attacker while the play is in progress. This is an opportunity for the States.

—-

A possible US deployment against Ghana.

A possible US deployment against Ghana.

11 At The Whistle:

GK: Tim Howard

The skinny: Sorry Tim, let me be the hundredth or so person to whisper to you, “NEAR POST!” The ribs are fine now, Tim. You may posture that this is just another game, but you should’ve saved that first one. And the only reason you did that is because you knew landing on your rib cage would create more pain than that Torsten Frings handball. But…like we said. This is your shot.

DEF: Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley

The skinny: Will Matt Besler get bossed in the air by Gyan? Will Fabian Johnson get forward against Asamoah? Can Beasley defend the back post against Ayew on an inswinger from the left side? Natal will ask….

CDM: Kyle Beckerman

The skinny: It’s one thing to have, say, Dillon Powers bearing down on you defensively. It’s a whole other universe when Kevin-Prince Boateng has you in his sights. Game on!

LM, RM: Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya.

The skinny: Bedoya may play a very critical role here in Natal. Occupying Asamoah on the US’s right flank, Ghana’s left flank. Bedoya is hardly schooled in the diamond, but he’s play centrally before at Orebro and also played in a 4-3-3. His positioning and work rate will likely be critical to calming that flank defensively.

Gunning for Ghana....

Gunning for Ghana…. (photo by Matt Mathai)

FDM (Forward destroying mid): Michael Bradley

The skinny: Michael vs. Goliath. I’m sorry, Bradley isn’t an attacking mid. He’s a forward destroyer.

Even more has been heaped on North America’s best midfielder. Early in the Klinsmann tenure, Bradley was used deep, shielding the backline and kept relatively free with Jermaine Jones doing the dirty work ahead of him. This kept Bradley fresh for late-game pushes.

Now, much more is being heaped on the former coach’s son. Bradley is being asked to conduct the attack, defend the deep ball distributor and play help defense when necessary. Late in the game with the lead, he’s then been shifted backward to further secure the defense. There are all these data points swirling around this preview–none more important than finding a way to let Bradley dictate the tempo.

FWD: Clint Dempsey

The skinny: If you’re Ghana, you have to feel that Clint is the danger man. Right? Scored in 2006. Had the best game of any American in 2010. The thing about Dempsey is he is just the type of guy to draw the fouls that Mensah and Boye are likely to give up.

STR: Jozy Altidore

The skinny: You get the sense that this is an inflection point for Jozy. Or maybe not.

Gang Starr vs. Black Star.

Gang Starr vs. Black Stars

States Keys To The Match:

⇒ Show calculated aggression early. Don’t let Ghana get comfortable & begin intimidating.

⇒ Nothing on the floor centrally in transition. Period. (Calculated fouling before the defensive third is allowed, but no rabbit punches.)

⇒ Let Michael Bradley run the show.

⇒ Challenge Ghana’s centerbacks through 3v2 battles where Michael Bradley can get Clint Dempsey on the ball. Dempsey on the ball in the attacking third is the objective.

⇒ Arrive late off the central midfield action. Ghana’s wide players can get sucked in or stay zonal. A late arriving fullback or even Kyle Beckerman may make a play.

⇒ Your late substitution: Send Aron Johannsson down Ghana’s right channel. Afful can be beat behind and Mensah tends to arrive late and foul.

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55 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/12 at 11:53 PM

    Sometimes … Ghana can be unorganized.

    Reply

  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/13 at 12:03 AM

    Martino got knocked out of the game by a Cameroonian at the 2003 Confed Cup.

    Reply

  3. No Kingson? No Kingson! NOOOOOOO KINGSON!!!!!! FTW!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Sean on 2014/06/13 at 6:12 AM

    FDM. Couldn’t be more appropriate. Spot on as usual!!

    Reply

  5. Posted by Hensley on 2014/06/13 at 8:28 AM

    Just watched the 2010 highlights again. We had so many chances! If only Bradley picked up his head or someone yelled “all alone” as he received the pass from Jozy. Monday can’t come soon enough. Howard and Kingson going up for a challenge was pretty cool though.

    Reply

  6. Great preview… I expect to see a defensive game by both teams, especially after seeing Brazil have an own goal, and it could be an ugly game until someone scores and then it will open up for one side… hopefully it will be them that will have to open up and go after a goal rather than us. This is a really tough game to call.

    In the South Korea game, I felt Ghana was just sitting defensively and waiting to pounce (S.Korea had 12 shots taken and how many were “on goal”? zero). While I didn’t feel their defense was anything to brag about… they ended up winning the game in impressive fashion. I would say that in 2010 US would have played like S. Korea did in that friendly but in 2014 we play much differently regardless of formation changes.

    Question: Late in the game (70th minute- assuming we are winning) with our defense tiring, who do you bring in for Beckerman or Jones? That lack of another defensive player may hurt us moving forward with only Zusi, B. Davis, Gonzalez, and Brooks as the only options… Not likely to be Wondo, Johannson, Green, Chandler, or Yedlin.

    Reply

    • Posted by Arthur on 2014/06/13 at 9:28 AM

      Good question. 70th minute, Jones/Beckerman coming off, on comes….Mix? Probably not, if you want a like for like swap. More likely: Cameron gets pushed forward and is replaced in central defense by Brooks/Gonzalez, or Chandler comes in to play a wing and veers inward for defensive support. Frankly, there seem to be paucity of other options. Yedlin’s big and fast enough that he could make a difference. (Insert complaint here about dropping Ream; Goodson and Parkhurst as being replacements for Cameron along defensive line. Donovan may not be the squad decision that destroys the US’s chances during the group stages.)

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/13 at 9:29 AM

        Was waiting for someone to make this point. Mo Edu should … oops!

        Reply

        • Thanks matthewsf… I agree with Arthur that Gonzalez moves to RCB and Cameron moves into Beckerman’s spot. As for Jones… I think we’ll “ride or die” with him in first game. sorry I got all 90s rap on here! It just happen and if you don’t like… look away!

          I just can’t see Beckerman at 32 being able to go 90 minutes for the next 3 games if more than 2 tops. Same could be said about Beasley and even Fabian Johnson (not due to age but fatigue in the humidity that he’s not accustomed too).

          Reply

        • Posted by jeppley on 2014/06/13 at 1:16 PM

          The Jones/Beckerman line up does really bring up the absence of Edu. I see lots of solutions for end-of-game subs if Jones or Beckeman is gassed. If you want to go defensive, you push Bradley back to the vacated holding mid spot and bring in a wing midfielder who can defendZusi, if he didn’t start) and push Dempsey into the middle. If you want to attack, you have lots of options.

          You have a problem though, if either Jones or Beckerman is suspended. Cameron makes sense, but then you’re down to a second choice center back. That’s where I’d want Edu.

          Reply

          • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2014/06/13 at 3:50 PM

            That is why Brooks playing well vs Turkey was so important..

            A defensive triangle of Brooks Besler and Cameron is not the worst thing in the world.

            The guy who replaced Mo was Mix, a concession to possession and attacking football.

            Reply

      • Posted by Berniebernier on 2014/06/15 at 4:07 PM

        if its the 70th minute and I am taking out Jones or Beckerman I am putting in Mix and dropping Bradley back. I don’t think you mess with the two CBs at that point.

        Reply

  7. Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/06/13 at 9:22 AM

    You mention this, and I think its a surprisingly under-reported aspect of the redeployment of Michael Bradley.

    Bradley is incredibly talented at reading passes and winning balls up high, moving the entire team into a transition offense – unlike, say, Clint Dempsey in a CAM role. The way Bradley harries the opposition and allows us to apply high pressure farther away from our own goal and the *whole team* to move into transition in more dangerous areas for the USA was so important against Nigeria. To me, that protection of Beckerman and our back-four is the most important tactical change from 2010.

    After re-watching the 2010 game again, two things stood out…
    - I’d forgot that Prince’s goal was *that* early, but we played like absolute shit for 35 minutes, as everybody knows, but were superior pretty much the entire rest of the game.
    - Thank goodness the vuvuzelas are gone.

    As always, THANK YOU Matt, for doing some of the best writing in the USMNT universe.

    Reply

    • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2014/06/13 at 4:40 PM

      Talking about 2010, the 2014 team has greater depth than 2010 but they are also a little bit luckier with injuries.

      In 2010 Gooch was still fighting his knee, Demerit was a little rusty after his eye injury and Holden was definitely rusty after his broken leg.

      How about this for a healthy uninjured 2010 World cup USMNT :

      Howard
      Dolo, Demerit, Gooch, Boca
      Donovan, Jones, Bradley, Dempsey
      Jozy, Davies

      Subs,

      Benny, Mo, Holden, Gomez

      Reply

  8. Sorry for being Captain Obvious, but you really need 3 points in this game if you’re to have any chance of progressing.

    So, I think the midfield ‘triangle’ is inverted, i.e. you play with a single holder, or if you do play 2, it’s not two DMs but one DM and ‘shuttler’ type — think Chelsea’s midfield in Mourinho’s first stint in 2004/2005 – Jone’s being your Makelele, and perhaps Bedoya / Zusi playing the Essien role. Obviously, they’re going to behave like a second DM when Ghana have the ball, but it’s in possession where I see this being important.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/13 at 2:13 PM

      I don’t think we need three. I’m not impressed by Portugal or Germany. Meaning … I think we can beat them.

      And further.. with Germany’s injuries …getting them in the third game.

      Everyone said the US needed a win against Slovenia to advance in 2010.

      Everyone also said that Paraguay had no shot to advance in 2010.

      The big thing people forget is that it’s way different when one team is playing for their World Cup lives and the other isn.t

      Reply

      • Posted by Josh on 2014/06/15 at 9:43 PM

        I disagree. I do think we need 3 because every time we step on the field we need 3. We need to have the idea that every time we step on the field we must win and are playing to win. I’m sure the lads aren’t thinking about when we may or may not need 3. It’s gotta be every time.

        Reply

    • Posted by Josh on 2014/06/15 at 9:39 PM

      This assumes you believe we can best expect 0-2 points in the remaining matches. I have a hard time believing we don’t a) maybe beat Portugal and b) maybe draw Germany. We are a solid team who could easily win every game we play this tournament. Kiss of death to say, perhaps. But it remains true regardless.

      Reply

      • I am not looking at each game ‘individually’ more as a set of three to advance – just think going into the second game with 3 points vs 0 or 1 changes your approach tactically / how offensive you have to be / risk taking etc. [especially if Portugal loses vs. Germany].

        Reply

  9. Posted by Alex on 2014/06/13 at 11:04 AM

    Oh man. I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life. But I still believe in this team. Let’s do this.

    Btw, anybody curious as to why we didn’t see more of Johannsson during the kick off games? I’d say he’s the guy I would want off the bench if we’re looking for a goal

    Reply

    • Posted by Josh on 2014/06/15 at 9:45 PM

      Don’t be nervous. As a fan you’ve put in your due diligence as have we all. This is the time to now see what we are made of on the big stage. Enjoy it and go crazy.

      Reply

  10. Posted by jeppley on 2014/06/13 at 1:24 PM

    Watching Johnson’s Nigeria goal again, everyone but Beasley touched that ball and only a couple more than once. Nice.

    Reply

  11. Yeah, that Nigeria goal is world class and really demonstrates how much we’ve embraced “playing out of the back”. Starts with Tim connecting with his CBs. I’ve noticed in general how often Howard now starts counters and possession with quick releases rather than punts up the field.

    The Nigeria goal also has me thinking that we’re probably being greatly underrated. I don’t think that kind of crisp movement and precision is something many teams associate with US soccer.

    Great point about MB’s multiple tactical responsibilities. I think those are things that after playing in Italy he is now equipped to do. I also think it suits his playing style. That reserved personality belies a tremendously energetic player. I think pushing him further up the field creates havoc in places that many players expect to have time on the ball, and yet when needed he’s able to slot deeper to cover or circulate in possession. Giving a player with his tactical awareness the freedom to roam is a plus that many other players would abuse, and this is the hidden benefit of having players like Beckerman who embrace a much narrowly defined role on the field.

    Can’t wait for Monday!

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/14 at 12:08 AM

      Compared the other, what, 32 teams the US plays out of the back quite infrequently–usually booting the ball out of trouble rather trying to impress.

      I think that was a nice goal. It wasn’t World Class. It was not a perfect pass to Jones and Altidore merely beat a lazy defender to the spot.

      In Champion’s League, that goal is 50/50.

      Just trying to keep perspective.

      Reply

      • Going to respectively disagree here, but we’re probably only off by degree than anything else : )

        My playing out of the back comment was not meant to be a comparison to other teams, but rather to the prior iterations of the USMNT itself. I think that Gonzos inclusion had also skewed the results a bit. Now with Cameron at CB his comfort on the ball and his technical ability to make a good pass once he sees it means the US can better implement Jurgen’s desire to play on the turf in every third. But I’d also challenge that the US compared to other teams infrequently plays out of the back. I can’t remember a game in quite some time where I thought we were explicitly playing boot ball. I don’t think we’re elite in any respect when it comes to this, but I don’t think we’re at the back of the pack either. Something I’ll keep my eye on as I watch the Cup.

        Agree to disagree on the goal. Not a perfect pass to Jones? Seems like splitting hairs to me. Precise and played with pace to an onrunning midfielder. An excellent ball overall, a great little run from Jones to find the pocket of space, an inch perfect pass from Bedoya, and excellent overlapping run from Johnson. I would agree that the final defending wasn’t great, but in part it was a result of the quick incisive play by the US. Great play decreases the margin of error. The overall product was world class to me–not the sparkling Van Persie kind of world class, but world class nonetheless.

        Reply

        • Posted by Ufficio on 2014/06/16 at 7:04 AM

          My playing out of the back comment was not meant to be a comparison to other teams, but rather to the prior iterations of the USMNT itself.

          I could not agree more. I rewatched the 2010 Slovenia match a couple of days ago and the contrast was jarring. There was very little going through the midfield, and even less when Torres was pulled. These days, our center backs sometimes panic and boot under minimal pressure, but the mentality is now to play it out of the back first.

          Reply

        • Posted by Chazcar2 on 2014/06/16 at 8:10 AM

          @Leftoff77 nice discussion. Great to see such a well thought out disagreement. I don’t know that I fully agree, but I love to see good discourse.

          One point I have is that the US under Klinsmann has occasionally instructed the US defenders to play long balls over the top. This has been to try to stretch out the game when needed. Its been a tactic not a last ditch response. Its a nice change.

          There has been some “just boot it” play from our back line, but against the teams in our group I think its a smart move when we are caught out in transition. The skill is to know when to use which.

          Reply

  12. Posted by Alex on 2014/06/14 at 6:13 AM

    Guys keep dreaming! just remember that the US plays well and better in friendly games and games that don’t count. The Black Stars on the other hand use friendly games as enetertainment and try outs but take games that count seriously. Using Nigeria as a measure for the Black Stars is another mistake. The two teams are both African teams but play differently. Check the records of the US and Ghana in soccer competitions and tell me when the US played better or beat Ghana in any soccer tournament…..A word to the wise is enough!.

    Reply

    • In the World Cup Ghana is 2-0 against the US beating them 2-1 in both instances once on soft PK and the other in OT. In neither instance was the US thoroughly dominated. I wouldn’t be surprised if the US lost but to suggest that the US has no chance against the mighty black stars is silly. Not to mention I’m suspicious of using result s from 4 and 8 years ago to predict anything.

      Reply

  13. Posted by Ed on 2014/06/14 at 7:50 AM

    Thanks Alex. You’ve said it all. They can only beat Ghana in their dreams

    Reply

  14. […] and Essien still patrol and distribute), and by rushing you when they force turnovers in break. As the outstanding TSG preview breaks down in deeper detail- Ghana are marvelous and ruthless in t… The central rule, above all, is to utilize Gyan as both battering ram and receiver, capable of […]

    Reply

  15. Posted by Alex on 2014/06/14 at 10:47 AM

    There is only one team that I know that has consistently proved the FIFA rankings wrong. Check the Black Stars rankings in the past two world cups and check out the Black Stars rankings against the oposing teams including the US and you may understand why I said previously that the US believes in the FIFA rankings but the mighty Black Stars denounces it all the time. No matter how good the US maybe, they cannot and will not beat the Black Stars. Good Luck to the US.

    Reply

  16. Posted by Usually Ranting on 2014/06/14 at 1:38 PM

    Just want to throw something out there that has been amazingly under reported. Part of it is bc Jurgen of who Jurgen is and the decisions he has made (no Donovan). The other part of it may be bc the US hasn’t played in a competitive tournament since the 2011 Gold Cup (the 2013 Gold Cup, as we all know, consists of B teams), so there isn’t the feeling of momentum heading into the WC that the US had in 2010 after the ’09 Confederations Cup.

    This, to me, is inarguably the most talented squad the US has ever fielded. And certainly the deepest. Its actually kind of crazy that no one mentions how this has been the best run of form the US has had in years. Generally speaking, the US dominated qualifying after a slow start. In terms of friendlies, the US has faired well against top teams. The German team they beat, wasn’t a C team as has been widely reported. It was a B/B+ team that featured Draxler, Podolski, Schurrle, Mertesacker, Klose, Howedes, Grosskreutz – 7 players that could/will easily see the field on 6/26 (yes, that is probably only 3/4 players out of the Germany starting XI we will face, but still, it was a good squad and that performance has been discounted too much).

    Never before has the US had the defensive depth it has now, not to mention a right back like Fabian Johnson who may legitimately be one of the top attacking full backs at the World Cup when its all said and done (‘Dolo is an incredible player and more well rounded than Fabian, but wasn’t as dangerous of an attacking threat). The midfield is, to me, better than it was in 2010. You have 3 players (Jones, Bradley, Beckerman) each playing in a tactical position that suits their strengths instead of plugging players like Dempsey into CM even though its not his best position (To me, Bradley in an advanced role is his best position at the moment, regardless of his preference for playing deeper). Bedoya, Zusi, Davis, Johannsson, Diskerud add a bunch of versatility. And most importantly, the current ‘Best XI’ allows Dempsey to play off of Jozy up top which is far and away his best position at the moment and makes him less of a liability defensively than if he were stuck in the MF. This is one of the first times in recent years where if the US has to make a substitution, you don’t feel like the sub will be a step down from the starter.

    So I’m positive. It will take the best tournament in US history to get out of the group and the squad still doesn’t have a ton of firepower (if they concede the type of cheap goals/penalties they allowed vs Turkey and Nigeria it will be a problem). But I think the squad and Jurgen will rise to the challenge (knock on a ton of wood).

    PS – This bogus uproar over the “US won’t win the World Cup” quote by Jurgen is nuts. A) He’s not wrong! B) Brendan Rodgers spent the entire PL season trying to temper expectations for his club and he was never criticized, but instead, often praised for being realistic and in doing so, taking pressure of his players shoulders. And Rodgers isn’t the only one, obviously Mourinho is known for saying this type of stuff. Its crazy that what JK said has been so controversial.

    Reply

  17. Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/14 at 8:03 PM

    Reply

  18. Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/14 at 11:05 PM

    Since Waris trained on Monday. This could be their shape.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 8.04.09 PM

    Reply

  19. Posted by twewlife on 2014/06/15 at 6:28 AM

    Great preview –

    couple of thoughts:

    (1) If the US gets three points against the Black Stars, then Bedoya and Beasley are going to be the unsung heroes of the match .

    (2) How much leash is FJ going to have to make runs up the right flank? Part of the answer to this question depends on how Ghana responds in revving up its counter attacks in the first twenty minutes.

    (3) Ice Man is key. I mean really key. If the US is down in the first-half I think we’ll see Aron by the 60th minutes.

    USA USA USA USA!

    Reply

  20. Posted by Mark Walsh on 2014/06/15 at 7:11 AM

    I find that the U.S. didn’t score more than two goals against any of its opponents in the warm-up friendlies a bit worrisome. I’d like to have seen at least one blowout win, like Ghana 4-0 over South Korea, if not France’s thrashing of Jamaica. That leads me to believe the two goals-per-game average in the friendlies is going to become one goal against Ghana. And Ghana is going to score at least one. That means the game will either end in a 1-1 tie, as it did in 2010, or at least a 2-1 Ghana win. The X-factor is Jozy. If the Nigeria game really marked a breakthrough after his long dry spell, that could be the difference.

    Reply

  21. Posted by Josh on 2014/06/15 at 12:20 PM

    The hay is in the barn. Like most evenly matched teams it will come down to who is most lethal with their chances. One only need look at England’s failure yesterday – they were at least Italy’s equal yesterday. But not in the only area that matters. Let’s do this.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/15 at 2:48 PM

      Thought Italy was better in most facets of the game than England yesterday, but England, of course, didn’t finish their chances.

      The key to me in this one is turnovers. Neither of these teams are particularly sharp as finishing or manufacturing chances.

      Make less mistakes. That’s the key to me.

      Reply

      • Posted by Berniebernier on 2014/06/15 at 4:15 PM

        Interestingly I see this game playing out a little bit like the England/Italy. England/Ghana being very frustrated when the game is slow (three D-mids will do that) but very threatening on the counter or in short spurts. US/Italy bossing the game a little more but not statistically dominant.

        I will be interested to see if the US can frustrate them what the response will be. Felt a little bit like Nigeria gave up on their strategy.

        Reply

        • Posted by Arthur on 2014/06/15 at 6:09 PM

          I don’t see either answer as being incongruous with the other. Just as long as I don’t see the specter of Ricardo Clark in my dreams tonight, I can watch the game with a sense of dignity and pride.

          Side note: Matt, glad to see that your writing has become so popular that you are garnering interest from dikranovich’s Ghanaian relatives.

          Reply

  22. Posted by Wascarat on 2014/06/15 at 1:14 PM

    Contrary to popular opinions these players will be key:
    Andre Ayew, KPB, then Christian Atsu qnd Waris ( ie if they both start).
    The US team seems compact, hard working, athletic and top fit.
    But this is going to be a game saddled with tactics and strategy and the team with the better technical finesse to execute tactical measures will win.
    Friendlies are no yardsticks for measuring success at WC and this applies specifically to Ghana.
    In 2010 we lost almost all friendlies even 0-5 to Saudi Arabia but at the WC we played a totally different game unlike any of their friendlies. Unpredictable! That is Ghana.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/06/15 at 2:46 PM

      Waris will be a critical element. Can’t any key match that Atsu has started for Ghana. He’s really their key late sub, but not considered a starter.

      I don’t think either team is discounting Ayez. Muntari maybe, not Ayew. So not really contrary to popular opinion.

      Reply

  23. Posted by CAPITAN MACPATTON on 2014/06/15 at 5:48 PM

    Because the 4-3-2-1 “Christmas tree” and the Diamond are similar, the difference is (for US)…..Dempsey’s role on the field. That said, the importance is so minimal, it really doesn’t matter much, but if you are going to talk about the match vs Nigeria using formations, claiming that we used a Diamond means that Dempsey and Altidore were partnered up high as a foward duo. BUT, if you look at where Dempsey is at on the first goal vs Nigeria, you will realize he is not playing a striker role alongside Altidore. You can count how long it takes him to get to where Altidore was standing on the penalty spot. Of course Dempsey can move back just like Bradley did in the second goal, (they are not statues) but just like in the first goal, ……in the second goal, Dempsey is playing much lower than Altidore and no doubt that’s why Altidore did not even considered to wait for Dempsey and make a pass. * with all the respect Matt deserves, I have to point out that you can even see it in the replays in Matt Doyles own Diamond article:”Three Things: USMNT commit to the diamond and it finally starts to shine | Armchair Analyst”
    .
    So where is Dempsey playing? In the most important plays and for much part of the game you can see him combining and playmaking with Bradley in the midfield. Besides, why would Dempsey be partnering up with Altidore up front when everyone knows that he has been more of a midfielder than he has a forward and that the excuse to keep starting Altidore has always been that he is THE lone target forward and “he performs a role that none of our other forwards can playing with his back against the goal, his work rate, etc.” When talking formations, the shape or name it gets usually describes its pre planned defensive positioning because attacks usually morph into whatever form whenever the opportunity with whomever is available Attacks arent preplanned (unlike, set plays).
    .
    I believe it is a 4-3-2-1 (and Ive been advocating it for months) but I would be happy to see a Diamond with Johannsson and Wondo in a true partnership up high up front, if needed in the future . Jesse Marsche in a MLS.com podcast and Franco Panizo at BSI site “New-look system and lineup pay off in USMNT win vs. Nigeria” ………………….also agree with the 4-3-2-1. How about Bedoya: “We played a 4-3-2-1 today and I think the main job of me, Jermaine and Kyle was pretty much first of all to help the back four, keep it tight,” said Bedoya. “We talked about Nigeria. They have type of players that like to combine through the middle and as long we stay compact in the middle, force them out wide, then that’s what we were going to do. That involves a lot of running between me, Kyle and Jermaine. We shift into one side making sure that we stay compact and then if they switch it (we have) to get back over there, as well as the connections between me and Fabian (Johnson) and Jermaine and (DaMarcus Beasley) at left back. It’s a work in progress, but I think defensively we did pretty well.” declared by one of JK’s players, Bedoya himself.
    .
    But what good does it do us to to divide ourselves over formations? Is it of utter importance how we decide to categorize how we played vs Nigeria? 4-3-2-1 vs 4-5-1 vs 4-4-2 diamond: I think it is WAY more important that we use this time to enjoy this victory. But this I will say,”You could categorize this game the same, had we played the same way we played Turkey. If we had, Nigeria would have found the same spaces. Its obvious that the difference was an extra DM (Beckerman) and the extra defensive help provided by Bedoya. This allowed our best player Bradley to play up, which is what we wanted right? Now that doesn’t prevent Bedoya from supporting the offense or Bradley from tracking back from time to time. They are not statues. But the SPIRIT and the “difference” between these matches was the three midfielders playing defensively (Jones, Beckerman, Bedoya) and delivering a great performance together. THAT IS WHAT WAS IMPORTANT. That allowed Besler-Cameron to work well and the same can be said about Dempsey-Bradley who combined nicely in the attacking midfield and provided good service to Altidore. Altidore who is there because of his “lone target forward” role (that no other forward can provide, remember?) was even able to get his first two goals since I can remember. We played very different (def and counter) and we whipped a very dangerous Nigeria. We should enjoy it.
    .
    If we play like this, against Ghana we will win. We just have to let them come and get it and then counter, and they will come if we are patient. Thanks to all the American soccer writers and journalists who make this fun and good luck, to all of the US fans and players.

    △ ▽

    Reply

  24. Posted by Wascarat on 2014/06/15 at 9:56 PM

    The comparison of Ghana with Nigeria is far-fetched because both teams play totally different styles and Nigeria has not won against Ghana for close to 10 years now.
    Playing counter against Ghana will be deadly for US because Altidore and Dempsey will be marked closely irrespective of Ghana’s playing style.
    US should play their game if they really want to win and you can win against Ghana if you dominate them.
    Just check the records.

    Reply

  25. Posted by Josh on 2014/06/15 at 9:59 PM

    Pardon if it was referenced in your brilliant preview or other replies:

    Fabian f’ing Johnson. I think it was before the Turkey match I posted I love him going forward getting in to the attack. Then he struck.

    I think Bradley or someone say he’s the best all-around football player on the team.

    And then Ale Bedoya. He is a big secret who’s earning himself a lot of coin lately. We’ll see if he keeps it up.

    I feel we have 11 starters, and reserves, who are primed to play some good offensive and defensive football. We need to score first.

    Reply

  26. According to Wikipedia, Gyan plays in UAE, not Qatar.

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  27. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2014/06/16 at 7:46 AM

    BTW, on my commute to work this morning, I saw a dozen or so people on the subway wearing US tops. Great to see.

    Reply

  28. Posted by Chazcar2 on 2014/06/16 at 8:03 AM

    Good work by most here as always.

    I think that any discussion of the formation against Nigeria is pointless (Can I call it a 2-3-2-1-1-1? or maybe a 4-1-JJ/MB/1-Clint-1). No need to get into formation numbers. This team is all about the players. If we are lining up with players not playing their “natural” roles I think we will fail.

    One of the biggest points against Nigeria, that I hope carries forward, was the rotation of players. Look at the goal above. Bradley drops deep and Jones burst forward to fulfill his role. Jones and Bradley are very similar players. Letting them interchange is important. I think that’s why Klinsmann tried 4-2-3-1 for so long. Trying to get them to pivot without a holder. But the intelligent move to a higher pivot point for them is what works for the US. Also Clint and Jozy interchanged well. If Jozy chased deep then Clint stayed high. If Bradley burst highest, both Clint and Jozy recovered deep. Everyone was moving to cover for the teammate caught out when we lost the ball. We do that again and we win.

    Last point about that Game. Any long balls out of the defense or from Howard really went toward Bedoya. One unappreciated aspect to Bedoya’s game is winning those types of balls and holding possession. Zusi delivers better service but doesn’t win those balls.

    For Ghana I think that formation drawn up by Matt is the best bet. but for an alternative suggestion and something I think we may see: Full Diamond again

    ——-Dempsey———Altidore——–
    —————-Bradley———————
    —-Zusi——–Jones——–Bedoya—-
    Beasley–Besler–Cameron–Johnson

    Then when we take the lead Beckerman and Chandler/Yedlin come in for Zusi/Bedoya. and we look more like:

    ——————-Altidore————-
    ——–Dempsey——–Bradley—————-
    –Jones——-Beckerman—Johnson/Yedlin–
    Beasley–Besler–Cameron–Chandler/Johnson

    Reply

  29. […] If you missed the preview? Here. […]

    Reply

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