ALL THE MARBLES.
If you missed our preview … here.
ALL THE MARBLES.
If you missed our preview … here.
Can’t knock the hustle…
The US is entertaining. Give ‘em that. Hollywood 101N.
Whether it’s a full-scalped Landon Donovan’s shifting crossover against Germany in a 2002 clash that built Oliver Kahn’s lore or going down to nine against eventual 2006 World Cup champs Italy and boxing out a draw. Whether it’s the US’s 2008 Olympic meltdown versus the Dutch, or Landon’s heart-stopping Algeria roller to win the group …. or a last-minute Sean Johnson Olympic berth-preserving
It’s the theatrical.
The US gives their fans something to watch for — and Sunday, even through a deflating ending, was no different as some dude not named Ronaldo ghosted in from the left and left Tim Howard pondering the meaning of life.
The USMNT goes toe-to-toe with Die Mannschaft of Germany early Thursday in a poker game concerned with managing scores and keeping defensive integrity intact. With the US’s stoppage-time capitulation against Portugal and Germany up big on goal tally and differential, this may be a game of red rover where no one gets sent over.
Will the US bunker? Will Germany bunker? Who risks going forward?
It’s no secret that the US under Jürgen Klinsmann has practiced a more pragmatic and conservative approach to “attacking games.”
At Brazil 2014, the US has steadfastly refused to break their shape to create chances up the field.
This is, of course, not out of character for a Klinsmann team that used possession as a defensive mechanism and employed the same three central midfielders in multiple permutations throughout qualifying.
Against Portugal, despite calls to the contrary–including here in our preview–Klinsmann refused to challenge and stretch the heart of the Portuguese defense, electing to employ a 4-5-1 and work 3-vs-2’s on the flanks instead of attacking more vertically.
It was a defensive strategy designed to mitigate risk centrally and beat back Portugal’s full-backs with their lack of cover in their 4-3-3.
It was very Sun Tzu of Klinsmann…
“By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank, we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief….almost”
I added in that last part there. But in other words, you’re not coming down the middle on us.
It’s taken full tanks of exertion from Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones–who must be in contention for World Cup Best XI at this point.
But perhaps the key to all of this for Klinsmann has been the introduction of Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman in the central midfield role. With Michael Bradley’s attacking capabilities and forward positional defense a must in a States’ attack that’s found it difficult to get chances in the run of play and Jermaine Jones proving to be too much of a destroyer for the deep midfield, Beckerman was re-inserted into the line-up against Nigeria in the final Send-Off game.
The US immediately–and finally–looked balanced.
It’s a role not wholly unlike — though not identical to — the famous libero or sweeper role that Franz Beckenbauer is credited with birthing for West Germany in the late ’70s, in matches that Klinsmann must’ve tuned into in his youth.
It’s a role that progressed forward through German all-time appearances leader Lothar Matthäus who moved aft from the midfield for the 1994 World Cup to pronounced effect. Matthäus was famously was quoted ahead of his team’s knockout round effort against Bulgaria as saying: “I am not here to be a great star but to achieve a team goal.”
That could be the embodiment of Beckerman, who few knew before this most recent US qualifying effort outside of MLS fanatics and the state of Utah.
Let’s bring in Columbus Crew center-back and one of the best technical defenders the US has ever produced, Michael Parkhurst on the necessity of Beckerman’s role and the US’s shape:
“I like the 4-1-4-1 the US played against Portugal.
Beckerman plays a pivotal role in the midfield as the holding ‘6’. He allows the outside backs to get forward and also gives Bradley and Jones the ability get up and help the lone striker.
His job will be even more important against a German team who interchanges positions with their front 6 so well and often plays with a withdrawn striker. Its also important in this formation that the other 2 central midfielders do push up and get into the attack like we saw Bradley do a bit more against Portugal.”
Game on for the RSL captain and US.
You’re not coming down the middle.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.
As usual, it goes:
About The Opponent: Germany
TSG: What Are We Looking For
11 At The Whistle
US Keys To The Match
About The Opponent: Germany
Under Joachim Löw, Germany executed a subtle identity change that had Die Mannschaft bolting through Euro 2012 until they banged up against Italy’s Azzurri–the same Azzurri that bowed out yesterday for the second straight time in the group stage. Pouring out a limoncello for you, Pirlo.
It was that match–a 2-1 defeat at the feet of Mario Balotelli–that toggled the light switch for Löw.
In the 2010 World Cup, and for the majority of that Euro 2012 tournament, Germany sat deep against teams and ignited vicious counterattacks. In the semi versus Italy, the lack of forward pressure meant Italian maestro Pirlo could ping passes forward at his leisure; the sitting deep failed to put the correct pressure on Antonio Cassano, who made himself available between the lines.
Löw, who had largely been aggressive–some thought borderline arrogant–in his player selection and tactics was faced with the realization that he wasn’t squeezing all that was possible out of his team by merely playing defend and counter.
Before the next competitive match in September of 2012, here was Löw’s sentiments on the UEFA web site:
“We will have to completely change our tactics – which used to be, ‘if we have the ball we are active, if not we drop back.
“Our aim in the next months will be to play a high pressing game, even against attacking sides. We have to be more active when defending without the ball.”
Löw is almost executing on those tactics here at Brazil 2014.
Germany steamrolled Portugal in Game One in an absolute masterclass by Löw. With more than six months to prepare for a Portugal 4-3-3 that is anything but dynamic, Löw was surgical in how he attacked Portugal. The Veloso-Alves Chasm, getting in behind Pereira, floating Mesut Ozil out to the space vacated by Ronaldo remaining high in the attack were all targeted to great effect by Löw.
However, with limited time to prepare for a less-telegraphed and physical side, Germany struggled. Falling behind 2-1 against Ghana, it took an old strategy–the cross in the box–and an old World Cup friend–the regal Miraslav Klose getting up off his rocking chair on the sideline and finishing at the far post–to dig out a draw against the physical Black Stars.
Germany rolls out in a 4-3-3 with what appears to be two distinctly tasked bands of “3.”
The first line is comprised of Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Mesut Özil. The whole key to their attack is range of position and overloading the opposition. Though Özil will usually play a bit deeper and wider than the other two, all three are licensed to find space and create mismatches.
Since the US defense will obviously be zonal in their low block, the ability to effectively pass attackers on as they seep through the zones and/or check to the ball will be critical if the US is to avoid being victimized like Portugal at the hands of Germany.
The next band of “3” is Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Phillip Lahm. They work in unison to synchronously cover the backline while making incisive runs forward and looking to throw defenders off their marks. It is rare to see more than one get up into the attack without the other two staying back, but it happens at times.
Khedira in particular has been late to his rotations when Lahm has advanced. This present an opportunity for the US.
Much has been made of Löw’s perplexing use of four central defenders across his backline.
It appears to make little sense.
Inside is Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker and Dortmund’s Mats Hummels. Despite their club résumés and high popular opinion, neither defender–Hummels due to injury, Mertesacker due to Mertesacker–is dominant, especially when either are asked to pull outside of the center pocket. Both can be caught in the air (see goals from Ghana on Saturday and from Austria in qualifying) or simply caught out (witness Sweden’s repeated abuse of Mertesacker in their 5-3 loss last year).
“Crosses in the air from wide positions will be eaten up by their big, strong back 4. We have to get their CBs running facing their own goal while dealing with crosses, particularly on the ground.”
On the right, is Jérôme Boateng, a player worthy of his position, but who could certainly be used centrally to help narrow the space between the lines with his speed. On the left, is Benedikt Höwedes who Ghana targeted incessantly. It would not be surprising — with Fabian Johnson’s effect on the game — to see Löw go to the bench for Erik Durm, the 22-year-old Dortmund left-back with the explicit instruction to merely keep Johnson in front of him.
The fulcrum match. Win and you get play cat-and-mouse with Germany. Lose and hold on to your seats.
Starting line-ups shortly.
May St. John O’Brien be with us.
Frankly, I’m in a little bit more of a comfort zone right now; the US had one point in 2010, nil in 2006 after their respective Game 1’s. Shock me, Klinsy. Surprise me against Portugal. You’re playing with house money right now. Roll the dice.
After Monday, we can handle it and expect nothing less.
The US clashes with Portugal in the steam bath of Manaus on Sunday, looking to punch their own ticket to the knockout stage with a victory over the Portugals of Ronaldo.
Midfield stalwart Michael Bradley has belabored a point that the media is gobbling up like a dose of Klinsmann rhetoric.
His objective for the team, in his words:
“We want to be the team that can suffer the most.”
And suffer the US did in nothing short of one of their guttiest World Cup performances of all-time. The match saw multiple players encumbered by muscle cramps, injured hamstrings to Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore and a broken nose to Clinton Drew Dempsey.
The US has never lacked toughness and guile, but for a contingent that was shaded toward the inexperienced side, Monday’s result thumbed a nose at any moxie concerns.
Portugal, however, did not as “suffer as well as” the States.
An embellishment job by German forward Thomas Müller goaded Pepe into a red card and injuries to defender Fábio Coentrão and forward/longshoreman Hugo Almeida will keep the duo from starting in game two.
And Portugal suffered some more… taken out back to the woodshed by Germany, leaving them with little dignity and even less margin for error through their next 180 World Cup minutes if they want to see their way through the group stage.
It’s a match-up that has long been set up well for the States tactically, much more so than the slain Ghana.
Even before the US corralled three points Monday, Klinsmann and staff were probably considering a strategy of sitting deep and playing on a very conservative counter. It makes sense.
Portugal have a very difficult time breaking teams down. Forced with the choice of whether to provide patches of space for Ronaldo or whether to merely erect a wall of legs and elbows on his in-cuts, it’s a no-brainer. The latter only takes an MBA to figure out (MBAs are frowned upon at TSG).
And the US proved in game one that it can take a punch or two (or three, or four, or five, etc.) deflect them and land a jab here or there. The comfort of having weathered and survived an attacking barrage can only instill further confidence.
Portugal, on the other hand–torn apart by waves of German midfielders and victims of a masterclass in dissection by Jogi Low–capitulated in their bunker. They attempted to counter and were continually stymied by the four German center-backs.
Moreover, that bunker seemed to be made out of cardboard as Özil, Götze and company surgically passed along the floor time and time again. It was deep, emergency defending from Portugal; not the best kind. When Pepe reduced his side to ten, it only compounded the challenge presented by the German attack — and the weather.
For Portugal–now backed up against the Group G fence–it’s “check the minerals” time. Can they get their vicious counter going? Can they press for long stretches and force the US to boom the ball up to a non-existent target forward?
For the US, it’s “dictate the tempo” …. the outstanding question begged from game one once Jozy Altidore hit the trainer’s table.
And then there is the heat. “Who’s willing to suffer more?” A question all the more apropos.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our not-so-customary preview.
> About The Opponent: Portugal
> TSG: What We’re Looking For
> The Altidore Proxy
> 11 At The Whistle
> The States’ Keys To the Match
About The Opponent: Portugal
Portugal limps into Saturday’s Manaus showdown off a brutal loss to Germany and a clinical dissection by German headman Jogi Löw after months of expert planning.
Low’s decision to play a 4-3-3 with a false 9 was incredibly insightful. While Pepe is fast, Alves is not, and Götze’s constant movement towards the midfield pulled Alves into a position that he could not recover from.
You saw that time and again, causing huge corridors for the Germans to run through. The constant positional interchanging up-front also made it practically impossible for both Portuguese center-backs to get their marks right. That confusion provided enormous holes for the Germans to take advantage of.
Portugal’s effort and decomposition was not wholly unexpected. It was more of the same from their qualifying days.
The opponent’s manual on Portugal is a rather simple one… and wholly based around the man who drafts the team and preaches “tranquility” — manager Paulo Bento.
Bento, in true corporatespeak, is the definition of The Turnaround Guy — and Brazil 2014 will prove to many if he’s overstayed his welcome (Note: Bento was re-upped for two more years in April; his contract now runs through 2016).
The former Sporting Lisbon coach ascended to Ronaldo’s caretaker in September of 2010 when then-Portugal manager (and current Iran coach) Carlos Quieroz was floundering in qualifying and the team was in danger of not even making the cut for Euro 2012.
Like any turnaround guy attempting to cut losses to improve fortunes, Bento brought stability, a reputation for pushing the right people buttons and, specifically, not alienating his star players–basically the inverse of André Villas-Boas.
Bento re-integrated the 4-3-3, claiming the system allowed the technical ability of the nation to flourish.
Now, he finds himself needing to conjure up some magic in Brazil — the country of another turnaround guy, Dunga, whose tenure with host nation parallels Bento’s.
Both Bento and Dunga were pragmatic, no frills defensive midfielders in their day. Both assumed the role of national team shepherd in times of unrest and initially guided their teams back to peak form in international competition–Dunga with a win at the 2009 Confederations Cup and Bento at the helm of a squad that was a few penalty kicks away from the Euro 2012 Final.
However, after escaping their group and suffering a quarterfinal loss to runner-up Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup, Dunga was relieved of his duties, deemed too rigid for the job — too rote to dynamically push his team to the next level.
Bento’s reign and tactical résumé may necessitate the same move from the Portuguese FA if the clash with the States does not go to plan.
The comparisons to Dunga’s Brazil don’t end merely with the management from the touchline.
The primary attacking action of both teams is similar. In 2010, Brazil sported Robinho between the lines in some sort of pseudo winger-withdrawn forward-#10 role — the same one that Ronaldo occupies for Bento’s squad.
And, similarly, both dynamic frontmen had thundering fullbacks bombing up the flanks behind them. For Brazil, this was Michel Bastos, a midfielder by trade who was nevertheless deployed at the overlapping fullback role and created great stress on opponents. Fábio Coentrão was to have occupied that same role for Portugal.
That’s right, CONCACAF. Again, just in case you are unclear (and I can understand why you would be), the often insulted and downplayed region of CONCACAF is currently 4-1-1 with +2 goal differential.
The nasty Group D containing the football powerhouses of England, Italy, Uruguay and the minnows that are Costa Rica, that group is currently led by Costa Rica, who has won both of their games. Think about that for a minute. Essentially it looks like this:
Yes, just like that. Except Costa Rica hasn’t been on a motor bike the last two games, they’ve been driving a freight train, running over both Uruguay and Italy. England is next. Mexico just drew with Brazil, who happens to be the host nation and a sliiiiigghhhtttt favorite according to basically everyone who has money lines. If you were to look for a good price in the betting, you would probably have put your money on Brazil. Like Nate Silver and the FiveThirtyEight crew did. Or like every bookie in Vegas did. You probably wouldn’t have put your money on CONCACAF. Which means if you picked Italy or Uruguay, this happened to you.
Certainly you wouldn’t be alone. The thing is that when everyone talks about how easy it is to qualify out of CONCACAF, they ignore some pretty critical facts. CONCACAF qualifying is against a minimum of 3 other teams that qualified for the World Cup. Compare that to European qualifying where you might have one other team in your group that actually qualifies. It’s long, and travel is grueling, especially from Europe. The conditions are often extremely hot and humid. Do you know what this prepares you for quite well? A World Cup in a spread out country that often has some rough weather conditions, where you have to play good teams the entire time. Weird. Who knew?!
Sure, everyone loves bagging on CONCACAF, but compared to the Asian Football Confederation who is 0-3-3 so far at the World Cup, and the Confederation of African Football, who is 1-5-1 currently, it might be a good time to find a new whipping boy. Unless you really think trying to harass this guy is a good idea (spoiler alert: IT’S NOT!)
Occam’s Razor? Are US fans and media missing the obvious?
Maybe clues to the Klinsminati are sitting there right before out eyes.
The following is all in good fun…or is it?
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore
Teased: Nigeria obviously the comp for Ghana. The US sets its defense and lo and behold the same starting line-up appears. That game played in sweltering heat at about the same time.
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Chandler; Jones, Davis, Bradley, Zusi, Dempsey, Altidore
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Chandler; Davis, Jones, Bradley, Zusi, Dempsey, *[Altidore]
Teased: The US plays on heavy legs a few days later.
Turkey is obviously the comp for Portugal. The US just got worked over on their left flank with DaMarcus Beasley doing the equivalent of shuttle runs with a dog on his *ss. Flip-flopping Chandler and Davis essentially for Jones and Beasley makes some sense. Davis would remain wide, thwarting Joao Pereira’s overlaps…he doesn’t come central from Portugal’s RB spot ever. Tim Chandler plays Nani’s incuts on his stronger leg.
Zusi used to cover over Fabian Johnson for what would’ve been Fabio Coentrao
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Zusi, Wondo [Dempsey injured....or was he?!], Altidore
Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Zusi, Dempsey?, Altidore?
Teased: Azerbaijan’s Ring of Fire or whatever is somehow the comp for Germany. Well, Berti Vogts is their coach and all.
The US keeps the shielding shuttlers Zusi and Bedoya narrow on defense and then wide to go against Germany’s centerbacks!
CALL TOM HANKS!
Think about it.
Did Klinsmann perhaps know that Dempsey would get injured by Germany? Or did he know that the US might have the group sewn up and he could rest the captain?
Maybe we might win the whole f*cking thing after all!
First, we start with celebrations.
Yep. I’m pretty sure Mr. John Anthony Brooks celebrated the same way we all were feeling after that goal. Basically DID THAT ACTUALLY HAPPEN OMG I’M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION THIS IS UNREAL SOMEONE HOLD ME AND VERIFY THAT THIS IS ACTUALLY REAL LIFE AHHHHHHHHH essentially. Of course, there was always this too.
Earthquake? Might as well have been in SF. Beer showers for everyone!
On to those match ratings:
Tim Howard: 12
Clutch saves. Wrong footed once, can’t blame him for that goal. Dude’s a rock. Hey, remember that time we beat Ghana? Me too. He’s gonna be big in this tournament, trust me. We know he can stop the clones, pretty sure that means he can stop anything.
DaMarcus Beasley: 9
Pretty sure DaMarcus Beasley’s beard stopped Ghana personally on at least three different occasions. It also congratulated Clint on his goal, booked dinner reservations post game, and verbally harassed Gyan about his hairstyle choices. Well played beard. Look forward to seeing what you can do against Pirlo’s beard in the final. A battle for the ages.
Matt Besler: 10
By far the best player for Kansas on the field during the first half. Literally he had no match from any other Kansas-born players, and continued to dominate the Kansas category. Reallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllly hope he isn’t hurt bad. Rest that hammy bud, none of us have any interest in #HammyWatch2014.
Fabian Johnson: 9
Looked to be at fault on Ghana’s goal. Do you know what he wasn’t at fault on? Ghana’s second, third, or seventh goals. Because they didn’t exist! That’s huge. Giving up one goal is infinitely better than giving up seven. Especially when your team scores two goals and you beat Ghana.
Geoff Cameron: 10
Finally playing the center back role that TSG so desperately wanted to see him in, looked good. More importantly, had Gyan in his pocket all night long. No, literally. The TSG superawesomecamera captured this great photo of Cameron just hanging out, talking about who has better taste in hair products with Michael Bradley. Oh, what is that there? Is that the special pocket jersey made for Cameron? It does appear so! And why it appears he has stuffed Gyan right in there, terrible haircut and all. Well done sir.
Michael Bradley: 10
Bradley struggled, but America won, so yeah. Suck it. He also had the shiniest bald head on the field, totally embarrassing Andre Ayew. Step your bald dome reflection game up Ayew if you want to even step on the same field as Michael ‘We Can Reflect The Sun Off This And Generate Solar Power’ Bradley.
Kyle Beckerman: 14
Beckerman stepped up big time in the first game of the World Cup, and it showed he really belonged. He gets a 14 because I’m pretty confident his hair as at least that many dreads of doom. Do you know what you don’t do with dreads of doom? Give them a poor match rating, that’s what. Plus, there’s this. It’s rather sexy, please avert the eyes of small children as it might not be appropriate. That sound you hear is WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOP.
Joe Biden: 10
Joe looked good out there. He needs to work on his first touch a bit, but I think he really has a future with this team. Look for an appearance against Portugal with a similar outcome hopefully.
Jermaine Jones: >9000
Not only did Jones have a massive game, assisting Dempsey’s goal, crushing attacks from Ghana left and right, but he didn’t end Sulley Muntari’s life like we all expected him to do when he got in Jones’ face after a pretty rash challenge. Personally I think that was incredibly kind of Jones. Because I saw a very different outcome when that all went down. Thou shall not offend Jermaine or thou shall be smited -Jürgen 13:13. Remember that, it might save your life someday. Best game in a US kit for Jones, talk about stepping up to the pressure.
Alejandro Bedoya: Ambassador to Brazil
Ale looks good out there. He created some danger, took some decent looks on goal, and whipped in a nasty free kick. He also fulfilled the TSG prediction of him being the US Ambassador to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup by ambassadoring it up out there. He did it well. Hopefully his legs were just cramping toward the end of the of the day because the US is going to need him.
American Outlaws: About 20k.
That’s how many US fans were reported to be at the game in Natal. THAT MANY. Absurd? Yeah, honestly, probably. We’ve come a long way folks. This US support is immense, not to mention the support all over the nation.
Clint Dempsey: 1 Minute
That’s how long it took Clint to score. OH HELL YES. Essentially here’s what happened:
Jozy Altidore: 17
Please be okay. Please please pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee please please. PLEASE. I’ll give you any number you want if we get to see 17 back on the field ASAP. My phone number, my credit card number, my social security number, really any number JOZY.
Swedish Referees: Not Koman Coulibaly
Yes, that’s a number. A number called we didn’t get CONCACAF’D or Koman’d in a ridiculous spot tonight. So it’s a number I love. You should love it too.
Aron Jóhannsson: 10
Tough spot for him to come in. Holding the ball up isn’t really his game. We were victorious, so a 10 for him.
John Anthony Brooks: 1,000,000
Scores a massive goal on his World Cup debut in a game that also cap ties him, that he had to come in at half time as a substitute in an incredibly pressure packed situation. The only real question is if 1 million is high enough?
Graham Zusi: 19!
Speaking of big plays, Zusi has them. And excels at them. Is there a way to say someone is getting more clutch? Because his clutchness is off the charts right now. The clutchness charts.
Mix Diskerud: A perfect 10
Gratuitous hair flip inbound. Why? Why not, that’s why. AMERICAAAAAAAA 3 POINTS LET’S DO THISSSS.