Archive for the ‘USA vs. Slovenia’ Category

Op-Ed: Pass The Damn Ball!

The USMNT need more players like Holden. Players who are comfortable and safe with the ball.

Guest contributor John Nyen, wrote an interesting piece that TSG published on why one should be more excited about Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj versus Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.

He maintained that the USMNT needed to shore up their defense in order for them to win more games. Though the US scored 5 goals, they also let in 5 and ultimately went home, earlier then expected.

Where as I do agree that the best form of offense is defense, I think the number one problem for the USMNT is not offense or defense, age or youth or formations. It’s the ability to complete a pass on a consistent basis.

If one looks at passing stats from the past World Cup, the USMNT ranks second lowest in passes completed out of the teams that made it into the group stage (1175) and out of the 32 teams, ranked 26th in percentage of pass’s completed at 67%.

Basically a third of the passes made by the USMNT went astray or were intercepted. They did have a better percentage with their shorter and medium length passes at 72% and 73% respectively, but that didn’t put them in the top of half of the teams that went to South Africa.

Ball possession is one of those overblown stats. We’ve all seen many matches, when the team who had the majority of ball, leaves the pitch as losers (Spain against both the US and Switzerland come to mind). There is a difference though between not possessing the ball, but playing good bend not break defense and losing the ball when in possession a third of the time.

When you get caught in possession or gift the ball to an opponent with a bad pass, your team gets caught out of position. This enables the offense to take advantage of space and can attack more freely and create goals. Obvious huh! but it’s the reason the USMNT give up so many goals (first goal against Ghana for example). If it wasn’t for Howard, who saves the USMNT time and time again, there would be many more goals being let in.

Also, the majority of the USMNT’s goals, are scored on quick breakaways where only a few passes are required or long/longish balls in a route one style (Bradley’s goal against Slovenia). This method is effective as a counter punch, but the lack of consistent passing would explain why no US striker has scored in a World Cup in a long while.

The USMNT’s best passers of the ball are also their most dangerous players. Donovan and Dempsey and now Holden are comfortable on the ball and rarely give it away cheaply. Problem is their team mates do, so a goal in which the USMNT works the ball around for a minute or so, looking for a hole in their opponents defense is a rarity.

Still needs to work on his passing and distribution before he becomes an elite full back.

In my opinion, all US players, especially the ones going to the camp need to work on their ball control and passing. Even players playing in the EPL like Lichaj and Spector, give the ball away too easily and for a defender especially, that’s a cardinal sin.

If the USMNT can hold the ball up and pass it around with ease and accuracy (doesn’t have to be Tika Taka), their chances at the next World Cup dramatically improve, because one thing is certain. If their opponents don’t have the ball, they cannot score.

Pass completion….something I’ll be looking at this Saturday when the USMNT face off against Chile.

Associated from the archives:

• Paging Bob Bradley: Let’s Get Holden & Feilhaber More Run!

Friday Night Rewind: USA vs. Slovenia

Some quick pointers picked up upon re-watching. I’ll add in start with some comments I made in the last post:

1st Half

• Findley – Altidore “action” up top.

Both Tuesday and I commented on this going into the game. The US needed creativity motion from their strikers up top. Didn’t happen in the first frame, but also hard to because long balls were so vertical over the top.

• Was it the game plan or the execution in the 1st half?

Here’s my comment I made in the last post section.

Wanted: Someone to show for us in possession, must slot into openings, must return ball and find space again shortly...

The game plan was possession and linking and I thought it was the wrong one early on. Slovenian did essentially what Trinidad & Tobago did in the 1-0 win down away in qualifying. They put three guys near the ball in the middle with one of their strikers drifting back.

Thus Donovan and Dempsey were useless for the most part on the wings because Torres and Bradley couldn’t move the ball, making them sitting ducks for a tackle unless they want to go backwards.

Two follow-ups:

(1) The US did move the ball okay early on, for the first 10 minutes. And then it seemed like the team abandoned the game plan. Altidore, Findley, Donovan all showed centrally for the ball early.

However, through the middle stretch of the half (10 minutes to 35 minutes) the Yanks abandoned this with Donovan and Dempsey staying out wide and neither Findley or Altidore showing for the ball.

I say execution. No help for Torres and Bradley.

(2) The Yanks probably should have moved the ball wide quickly. Both Torres and Bradley–once no one showed for the ball–kept forcing passes that weren’t there vertically with the top four (Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, Findley) also pushed up the field, that shape both didn’t work and continually created counterattack opportunities. One that ended in the 2nd goal.

This pointer *is on Bradley and Torres for not taking the leading and explicitly instructing their receivers ahead of them.

It wasn't just this free kick where Landon had wisdom

Better things the Yanks could have done? a) Take a page from Barca program and stay a lot closer to the guy with the ball b) Move the ball outside and follow it to support c) Be a lot more patient in possession…

The Yanks do those three things (and eliminate the two goal mistakes were about to talk about) and they’re looking a lot pretty going into the half.

• The first goal is on the central defender

We wrote that maybe Donovan was supposed to drift in or Cherundolo or Bocanegra were supposed to track Birsa on the 1st strike for Slovenia. Looks simply like Onyewu is supposed to step up there. Making it worse, Onyewu shield an off-his-line Howard and ducked on the shot.

The second was a classic counterattack without enough countering defensive precision from the States. Whether Howard was screaming for Onyewu to move up is unknown.

2nd Half.

• In possession

Moved the ball outside, predominantly to all the way near the touchline on the right flank. Michael Bradley followed for support. Feilhaber and Dempsey cut in from the left in the middle of the pitch. Altidore dragged to created space.

Gorgeous offense.

Much better movement in the 2nd half.

• 70th minute slick free kick

After another foul on Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan lined up for a free kick and conversed with Clint Dempsey.

You are that good. Keep showing it and don't get frustrated.

Donovan instructed Dempsey to move to the left-facing side of the wall and then depart in the moment before he approached and struck. A low liner that Altidore ended up eventually feebly putting on goal, but a really clever move by orchestrated by Donovan.

• Bradley’s goal celebration

A few remarked that the US should immediately ran back on the field.

To me, any goal celebration that celebrates your teammates more so than the goal scorer is alright by me. I loved it.

• Ratings revision

Revised my ratings piece

Upward: Bocanegra, DeMerit

Downward: Edu

….and that’s all I got for you today….

Jumble: USA vs. Slovenia Predictions

I literally just spent an hour searching The Shin Guardian for my USA group predictions from January. Couldn’t find them.

With the States, and Slovenia, expected to go for the win tomorrow morning. We asked this final question of our Jumble participants….and then got a bonus answer at end from a Slovenian friend of ours.

Will Donovan and Torres create some magic tomorrow....or will Gomez be called on for the sleight of foot? (courtesy, Matt Mathai)


United States  2, Slovenia 0. I didn’t see anything from Slovenia against Algeria that suggested they’ll be a great threat in the run-of-play, and I imagine tactically they’ll play for a draw. With our counterattack suffocated tactically, we’ll need better link-up play, or a piece of set piece magic, but I love the leadership on this team and think Donovan is determined to not allow his teammates to fail. I think we’ll score early from a set-piece, opening the game up, creating the second late.

Walsh, Ninety-Plus:

USA vs Slovenia. 2-0 win to the USA.  After watching the Slovenia-Algeria match, I came away unimpressed with either team.  They lack speed and creativity moving forward and their defending was questionable at best.


My initial prediction was 1-0, Slovenia.  My current prediction is 1-0, United States.  Against Algeria, a saw a Slovenia team that was not reacting as confidently and decisively in defense as they did in qualifiers.  This resulting in slow reactions on the part of defenders and midfielders in closing space, challenging attackers.  Playing without the ball as much as they do and given the quick, direct nature of many of the U.S.’s movements, I no longer like the Slovenes to withstand every attack.

Additionally, I didn’t see Novakovic supported as well as they used to.  They just seem to have lost their mojo.

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The Chess Match: USA vs. Slovenia

(This is Part IV of IV of our USA vs. Slovenia Preview)

(Part I) (Part II) (Part III)

Okay, TSG already gave you a profile on Slovenia, including what to expect out of the match-up.

But what should Bob Bradley and company do tactically to get a much-needed three points in the swing game of the group stage? It’s time for the TSG Official Preview.

With admittedly more talent, Bob Bradley will be counted on to get the tactics right...

In our first piece this week, we used a Bob Bradley quote calling this game a chess match. Expect it.

With two teams lined-up with similar 4-4-2 formations and similar counterattacking styles, it usually comes down to moments of the unexpected, the amazing or buffoonery to declare a winner.

Saturday’s game saw a slugest, especially in the midfield, between two teams trying dictate their style on the game. Notice against England how the US looked to use their fitness to their advantage? Tim Howard constantly yelling at players to get up the field after a save or change of possession in the box. Throw-ins taken immediately. Free kicks put back into play before the defense could set.

That game plan won’t work against Slovenia–the Green Dragons are too well-drilled and cohesive to surprise them.

Might JFT hub the midfield early? (courtesy, Matt Mathai)

Unlike England, where Bob Bradley went with a line-up that had as much as experience and reps together as possible, this match-up will be more about moving the pieces around at the right moment.  Tactic, counter-tactic.

Bob Bradley’s in-game prowess may be tested like never before during his reign, given the heightened importance of the affair.

Therefore when reading the  “11 at the whistle” segment below keep in mind that the line-up and complexion of the squad on the field will likelyevolve from the starters penciled in below for the kickoff.

Both teams want and need to win this one.

Expect the States to start cautiously as always Friday, shooting the ball up-and-over the top if they get pressured and then chasing it down. It is absolutely imperative that Slovenia doesn’t score early and doesn’t score first. If they do, Bus City for Charlie Brown’s crew and a long day of unlocking for the Yanks that may only end in a draw or worse.

Look for the Yanks as well–pending the scoreline–to change up how they’re playing both out of the half and into the 2nd frame. I would expect Bradley, having calibrated the first half, will go a reliever or two either at the 45 minute mark or no later than the 65 minute mark.

And now, our customary preview.

As usual we go:

TSG What We’re Looking For

11 At The Whistle


TSG What We’re Looking For

• Primarily-forward and creative motion from the strikers is vital to creating opportunities

TSG wants a Buddle start. No surprise there. (courtesy, Matt Mathai)

While the tendency may be for a post-up game of Jozy-and-distribute, that’s not the best call here. Altidore may be feeling his oats coming of his Carragher scorching and woodwork job, but with the combination of Suler and Cesar in the middle for the Slovenians, hucking the ball over-the-top to the would-be target man would be a poor call.

Altidore’s strength is not his first touch and too often his distribution is either a moment of creative brilliance, but more likely a “just-miss.” (See “Findley back-heal” (1st half) and “Findley lead pass” from the England match).

Primarily though, simple distribution from Altidore goes back to a waiting Donovan or Dempsey. Laying off the ball backwards and allowing Slovenia to set up shop behind the point of attack is not what you want to do against the tactically-sound Green Dragons. Oh, and should that touch go eschew, Tim Howard may be staring down the barrel of a counterattack.

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Decrypting Slovenia’s Defense

(This is Part III of IV of our USA vs. Slovenia Preview) (Part I) (Part II)

Tuesday’s here. (Pun intended) with a follow-up on how Bob Bradley should play the Slovenia affair.

Keys to breaking down Slovenia:

Findley needs to expand his mind off the ball.

1. Mobility in and around the box. Our strikers cannot be static in the box, simply standing on the shoulders of the defenders waiting for a cross. Against a defense that drops deep quickly, sometimes the striker’s best run is to create space by standing still as the defense drops before attacking the aggressively ball as it arrives.

At times they will need to come deep and wide to link up play in the hopes of pulling defenders out of shape and creating gaps for late-arriving players to run into. With Donovan and Dempsey narrow positions discomforting the English fullbacks, a similar approach will compress the Slovenian back 4. It’ll be important to get runner’s into the outside channels to exploit the space they create.
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When Counterattacking Is Not An Option

(This is Part II of IV of our USA vs. Slovenia Preview) (Part I)

Part II looks at how Slovenia will play…which is just about how the States plays.

This is a guest post by Mr. Tuesday.

The Problem

Klinsmann's Opine

Jurgen Klinsmann recently said the US don’t have a style. That is not entirely true. Our playing identity over the last decade has been defined in opposition to our continental rival and can be summarized as “Beat Mexico”.

This style has been largely successful against its intended victim and teams of a similar Latin possession-oriented style. It’s reached the point where the tables have turned and Aguirre’s has heralded a tactical revolution designed to revitalize Mexico against 4-4-2 systems like our own. The question for US Soccer has become what happens when we don’t have a Mexico to beat?

Beat “Mexico” has brought us through 20 years of US Soccer development but this isn’t enough to get to the next level. Even in the moments of the greatest World Cup successes of these past 2 decades, the pattern was clear: The US defeated Portugal and Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, but drew with Hiddink’s Korea, fell to Poland and were knocked out by Germany. In meetings with World Cup caliber teams with a similar styles, we haven’t found ways to come out on top often enough. To take the next step, that must change.

Catalyst of the "Counterattack Heard Round The World"

We also seen this pattern occur within games: if the US doesn’t jump out to a lead and instead concedes the first goal, well-organized defensive teams can simply shut up shop. Too often it’s clear: we’re not coming back. There are no “counterattacks heard round the world” against a team with 8 or 9 well-organized players behind the ball. It isn’t easy – just ask Spain. Just one game into the 2010 World Cup, the US has already gone some way to disproving this criticism, fighting back for a 1-1 draw with England after going down a goal in the first 5 minutes.

They have shown in the past year that with Dempsey and Donovan, they’re an attacking side to be respected, that can take down the very best sides on their day. The US may have rode their luck on Saturday, as Dempsey’s 30-yard two-bouncer may have been saved by a keeper that wasn’t so “Green” at this level or with a different match-ball. England were also fortuitous to benefit from our defensive error, rather than conjuring some magic that unlocked our defense.

The USA looked a side that has become accustomed to playing in the biggest games, showing some new qualities in that they didn’t panic, settled into the match, took the game to England and never looked like not scoring. In the second half they absorbed more pressure but showed danger on the counter and had more quality chances over 90 minutes. The match was finely balanced and a draw seemed a fair result. 1 point, banked.

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Kickstarting Our USA vs. Slovenia Coverage

This is photo is indicative of how the team plays....very "Yanks or team-like"

(This is Part I of IV of our Slovenia preview coverage)

Bob Bradley, “My overall assessment is that the pure speed and physicality of last night’s game (England)….that is probably on the very high end and the Slovenia game in some ways may be more of chess match.”

Take a deeper look at the tactics, teamwork and precision of the Slovenia team and Bob Bradley’s comments are unerring.

Here’s a few storylines to get us started as we march down to the Slovenia match:

• From Slovakia With Love

You’ll hear something very similar to the following from broadcasters over the next few days, “Slovenia shouldn’t be underestimated. They beat Guus Hiddink’s Russia in a playoff to get here.”

While the Russia win was quality, it did come against a Russian side that was down a man for nearly 40 minutes and down two men for stoppage time.

A better measuring stick that broadcasters should be keying on is the Green Dragons match that transpired the night the States clinched a World Cup trip in Honduras. Slovenia away at Slovakia.

Koren should Sunday he's still got it....

Slovenia calmly went into Slovakia’s den–that’s right the same Slovakia who beat the U.S. 1-nil in November–and walked away with an impressive 2-0 win over a full-strength Slovakian team. The Slovenia attack, led by Robert Koren and Milivoje Novakovic, outplayed the classy triumvirate of Martin Sestak, Marek Hamsik and Vladamir “Jonathan Bornstein is in my pocket” Weiss.”

If you’ve been watching a lot of World Cup, then those last three names are quite household.

In that game, Slovenia scored on a hell of a boombasa (see here) for their first goal and–roll tape below–took a page from the Yankee playbook with a gorgeous counterattack goal. Make sure to press play and watch because TSG will be talking more about the counterattack shortly.

• Milivoje Novakovic is legit

Novakovic, who does his club work at Cologne, is a true goal scorer. He’s a striker in the mold of John Carew, able to score if given space to strike and he’s a clear threat in the air.

Novakovic has netted 16 times in 38 games for his national side. At 31, Novakovic seems to be now coming into his own. He’s goes into the Cup with five  tallies in qualifying to lead the team.

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