Posts Tagged ‘USMNT’

Assault Lake City: TSG’s Official USA vs. Honduras Preview

It's a redemption shot for the USMNT and certainly Fab J.

It’s a redemption shot for the USMNT and certainly Fab J.

The USMNT finds itself in Sandy, Utah this week looking to affix a three-point dollop of whip cream-and-cherries on top of the 6-point ice cream sundae it crafted at the expense of Panama and Jamaica over the past week. Sure would be nice with expected temps at game time hovering around the nineties.

The States have manufactured four goals during this Hex stretch in four distinct ways, a salvo that has resulted in two victories and put the Yanks close to punching that coveted 2014 World Cup ticket.

The Honduras fulcrum game here is one that loomed large and pivotal on the qualifying calendar upon announcement but even more so after the US tripped over itself and coughed up a 1-0 lead–and its gumption–to the Honduran squad in February’s opening round of the Hex campaign.

Now, though, the US is dining from a position of strength atop the qualifying table and Los Catrachos are the ones powered down for the return match.

Victor Bernardez, Maynor Figureroa, Boniek Garcia and Jerry Bengston among others all set to miss the Sandy city clash on Tuesday for the visitors. Additionally, while Honduras pummeled the Jamaican speed bag on Friday–a 2-0 win that sent Reggae Boyz skipper Tappa Whitmore to the Jamaican Fed guillotine–the lead-up to the match saw Los Catrachos go scoreless through the two previous road qualifiers against Panama and Costa Rica.

Against a States team that has been rippling the nets, going scoreless probably doesn’t get Honduras the draw and single vital point in this match-up that they seek.

Scoops up!

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

It goes:

TSG What Are We Looking For?

About The Opponent: Honduras

11 At The Whistle

(Photo courtesy American Outlaws Salt Lake City)

(Photo courtesy American Outlaws Salt Lake City)

TSG What Are We Looking For?

» Middle management

This game will may “will likely” be won again in the midfield.

Here are the numbers in February from the central midfield battle between Los Caratchos and the Yanks:

Honduras: 107 of 127 passing (84.25%), 5 tackles won, 4 interceptions, 15 recoveries

United States: 114 of 139 passing (84%), 5 tackles won, 1 interception, 13 recoveries.

("You'd want the one on the left")

(You want to have the chart on the left. The one on the right looks like some incubating virus or something.)

Seems rather even, yes?

One more datapoint to add.

That Honduran CMF stat line was accomplished with two field positions (and two players, Luis Garrido and the indefaiguable Roger Espinoza) while the US line was accomplished with three field positions (and five players Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones/Graham Zusi and Danny Williams/Maurice Edu.)

Those numbers are astounding. Let it be noted that most of the damage was done by former Sporting KC johnny-on-the-spot Espinoza–no boots to the face in the match though (yes, that’s Ike Opara, Sam Cronin and Cody Arnoux in that video also).

Honduras flat-out bossed the midfield. It took Los Caratchos three fewer players and they defiantly shoved the line of confrontation into the US’s defensive half. By the way, subtract Danny Williams’s contribution from the numbers and the difference in the stat line of Bradley-Jones versus Espinoza-Garrido is staggering. Bossed.

Things have a funny way of changing of course and the roles here seem reversed; Honduras’s depleted troops and Los Caratchos being on the road may make the US midfield selection more complex actually.

After Tuesday’s man of the match performance, many will want to see Stoke City utility man and TSG fave Geoff Cameron in central midfield.

However Honduras may elect to press the midfield–given their success with that strategy last time–much more than Panama. In something few pundits incredulously pointed out, while Cameron excelled on Tuesday, he did so with very little pressure on him on-ball and in possession–think of a running back whose blockers have lined-up defenders and so the back doesn’t need to elude but instead can take his time and pick his holes.

That was Cameron on Tuesday who gave an excellent performance against a weak opponent with a perplexingly passive defensive effort. It may be different if the Roger Espinoza terrier is unleashed.–as it was in the series opener–to push high and shut down the deep US attack supply line.

Not his best day to be ... nice.

Not his best day to be … nice.

Jermaine Jones has proven he has the steel and ability to run with the ball and deliver passes with a man on his hip already. So maybe the decision in favor of Jones is rote?

However, Honduras may, in fact, look to sit deep and protect their second-string centerbacks. Does Klinsmann then opt to keep Cameron on the field–while either granting more rest to Jones or even Bradley–because he did well in tracking space and spraying passes against a similar defense?

Then again, if Honduras is consistent with its two previous road deployments, it will likely put out three central midfielders, one more than February. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. So Jones is the pick?

The bet here is that Klinsmann goes back to Jones-Bradley in the middle and uses the former’s harried on-ball defending to push the line of confrontation to around the halfline. Both Jones and Bradley are adept if Honduras starts pressing and putting them both on the field likely dissuades Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suárez from thinking he can gain an advantage by pressing.

(Note A: A big theme in the February match-up was the inability of US fullbacks–Fabian Johnson and Tim Chandler–to get ahead in the attack or even provide width and–while that is true–it’s damn near impossible to get ahead in the attack if your midfield is losing the turf war centrally in your defensive end.)

(Note B: There’s some prevailing notion out there that central midfield is Cameron’s best position–hard to say that. He’s a very good stand-up defender on the interior and he’s good at surveying the field from the middle, but his best skill is not turning in traffic with a defender on his hip. Centerback is likely where Cameron ends up on the club and national team level and where he ultimately excels.)

» Backswap

A look back at the Panama game plan suggests that Klinsmann and staff expected Panama to have more bite in their  central midfield.

Last week, Klinsmann schemed to get Jozy Altidore going in the Germany friendly with early balls in stride to his feet through Brad Evans. Tuesday, Klinsmann game-planned to get DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler active earlier in possession and providing supply up to Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore–because pressure was expected in central midfield and because Panama’s Leonal Parris tends to put himself in positions that even Lindsey Lohan would find shocking.

Anyway.

The US left rear pairing had the second (Besler, 72) and third (Beasley, 70) most pass attempts on the evening after Michael Bradley’s team-high 87.

All *incomplete* passes by Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Besler was given license to drop more long balls up the field, 2 to 1.

All *incomplete* passes by Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Besler was given license to ping more long balls up the field, 2 to 1. Gonzo’s long balls were typically clearances as well.

Many expect musical chairs to ensue and for Fab Johnson to be moved to the backline with Brad Davis or Eddie Johnson moved ahead of him, but that seems poorly conceived if it transpires.

First Fab Johnson is giving the States some much-needed width on the left through his ability to hold the ball and break down defenders. Davis would give the States width, but give very little going forward. Eddie Johnson would offer width, but little cover for a new leftback.

The logical choice to deputize is Edgar Castillo who has the ability to distribute appropriately from the back and defend on the break.

Castillo hasn’t many supporters this camp, but he’s versed in Honduras’s style and he’s got a way of playing big when he’s truly needed.

(Castillo was called on after having gone through morning training already for a Canada friendly in May 2012; he was one of the best players on the field. In the US’s first victory at the Azteca in an August 2012 friendly, Castillo played pristine positional and on-ball defense as DaMarcus Beasley failed to track back on multiple occasions.)

» Good circulation

Given that Honduras probably retreats some in this one looking to clip a draw or 1-0 win, how does the States elect to break down the bunkered defense.

The schematic seems simple and is one that anyone hanging around Kansas City in October of last year probably is familiar with. October 2012 saw the US shellack Guatemala at Sporting Park 3-1. The Guatemalan side they faced that day  looked a lot like the US opponent Tuesday; Guatemala was beset by injuries, especially to its backline resulting in a novice centerback pairing.

In the October 2012 match, the US aggressively pushed the ball up the flanks to create space centrally, both in possession (Eddie Johnson on the left) and through passing sequences (Graham Zusi on the right). As they worked on the fullbacks for Los Chapines, the young Guatemalan centerback pairing was called in for support.

That cued space in the middle, something that Clint Dempsey knows exactly how to make use of. With Herculez Gomez running the channels, Clint Dempsey playing hide-and-seek and Michael Bradley making his Late Box Runs, Los Chapines were overwhelmed and succumbed.

The key of course to this attack, like most, is quick ball circulation. Below is Danny Williams passing chart for that match. 82 of 88 passes completed on the day, nearly all of them laterally. Don’t play Hot Potato with that man; he’ll be still standing.

Danny Williams, horizontal shuttler, USA vs. Guatemala (3-1 US, October 2012)

Danny Williams, horizontal shuttler, USA vs. Guatemala (3-1 US, October 2012)

The faster you move the ball, the more out of position the support defense is and the easier the opponent’s defense breaks down. With two of Fabian Johnson, Eddie Johnson and-or Graham Zusi on the wings Tuesday, this will hopefully be the same tale for the States on Tuesday.

Continue reading

Paging Bob Bradley: Let’s get Stu Holden and Benny Feilhaber a little more run

Strike Force 1

Strike Force 1

Recently, TSG had the opportunity to email some questions to Stu Holden. One question we asked him is, “How did you develop such a good first touch on the ball and ability in possession?”

While we await that answer and others from The Kilted One, let’s delve into just why Bob Bradley needs to find more room in the rotation for players with the skills of Stu Holden and TSG favorite Benny Feilhaber.

Feilhaber and Holden possess a rather unique ability among U.S. players to…well…possess…the ball that is. They not only understand the value of possession, from how subtle positioning of the ball on their foot–whether it’s instep or the inner arch to continuous motion with the ball in their possession can virtually unlock offensive opportunities and change the entire complexion of the field: new passing lanes are opened, new runs opened up, etc.

Strike Force 2

Strike Force 2

The second component of possession, putting the ball in motion, is perhaps the single most misunderstood and neglected skill set in soccer. By putting the ball in continuous motion, the defense has no choice but to react, they know not where the next movement will come from–a defender is thinking “defend” not “takeaway.”

And continually that defender is now at risk and has lost whatever upperhand they may have had.

Take a look here (9 minute mark of the clip) at the second goal from the Americans against Spain in this year’s Confederation Cup semifinal. A long square ball is played to Benny Feilhaber with the opportunity for Benny to drive to the goal.

Because Benny is comfortable with his possession and keeps the ball in continuous motion, he’s able to effectively stall and slot a pass to Landon Donovan who is trailing off his right foot. Feilhaber, before the pass, is clearly in a threatening position, but the defense is sitting there, reacting, because of Benny’s subtle continuous motion with the ball. As we now know, Donovan laces a shot unimpeded that Clint Dempsey then pokes in for the 2-0 lead. All of this, compliments of Benny Feilhaber’s solid work in possession.

Stu Holden as well possesses this gift of skill as we saw in the Gold Cup.

The U.S. in the top tier and mid tier tournaments this year continually suffered from a lack of possession maintenance. It’s up to Bob Bradley to find room in his midfield rotation to balance out the defensive middies (Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, etc) with the threat of the offensive creation of Benny Feilhaber and hopefully with a little more maturity Stu Holden as well.

Kenny Cooper to…Bundesliga 2

Beer and football, perfect together

Beer and football, perfect together

News out of Dallas this morning is that USMNT member and South Africa ’10 hopeful, Kenny Cooper is headed to 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga 2.

My brother refers to Cooper as “my boy,” but the reality is that I just like that he is a true striker. And Mark, everyone knows that Benny Feilhaber…well that adoration piece is coming shortly.

Cooper, for his part,  wants the ball and he wants ownership of the goal scoring responsibility. In contrast, Landon Donovan has much more skill (and plays in a different way), but really has never taken that onus until the Confederation Cup this year.

I think the Bundesliga is going to be an excellent and crucial fit for Cooper. While the exposure is not the same as some of the other European leagues, the Bundesliga boasts a very high level of technical soccer. Further, the cross–see: Michael Ballack–and header is just as big in that league as it is in the English leagues.

Is Coops a Carew in hiding?

Is Coops a Carew in hiding?

Speaking of the English leagues, while Cooper was unable to hack it at Manchester United where he had a trial out of college, I’m curious why none of the team (maybe they did?) pursued him.

If Kenny can improve his technical proficiency, I think there are correlaries to such noted EPL strikers as John Carew and to a lesser extent, Peter Crouch.

Not speculating: You choose Spector (63%)

"I rule the right flank"

"I rule the right flank"

With 135 out of a possible 212 votes, you vote for John Spector to be your starting right back for the USMNT right now.

TSG thought the victory would be a bit of landslide for Spector after his strong showing in the Confederation’s Cup, including his cross to Clint Dempsey that got the U.S. started against Brazil and on the way to winning the 1st half at least.

However, we didn’t expect second choice Frankie Hedjuk to command nearly 27% of the vote with 58 votes for the RB nod.

Fan Larry says, “Frankie until Kevin Alston is ready and available”

Fan Mark says, “Frankie gets the nod due to his tremendous work rate and his leadership qualities.”

And Fan B.T. goes so far as to add, “Frankie is an emotional leader. Hiw will to win is unmatched. Any team that has the chance to play him and does not, will have regrets.”

Bringing up the rear was Steve Cherundolo with 18 votes and 8% of the vote.  Others receiving votes were: Heath Pearce, Danny Califf, hyped youngster Kevin Alston and Dallas standout Drew Moor.

Finally, there was a lone vote for “Your Mama.” We’ve never seen her play, but let’s trot her out there is you think she can hang.

See all the commentary here.

Go For the Gold (Cup)…Sometimes

Looking back at my post after the Haiti draw, I realized that I was only half right in my criticism of the contest. I am still not fond of the seeming lack of focus going into and during the contest. However, some of the criticism was misplaced at that time as I didn’t really agree with US Soccer’s decision to make this a developmental tournament for the US program. That opinion has changed.

The international stages of the Confederations Cup and World Cup (qualifying) are much more important for the quality of US Soccer if not necessarily for its perception in America than the Gold Cup. Furthermore, the confluence of the deep run in the Confederations Cup, the MLS season, and club training made participation in the Gold Cup a little too much to ask for most of the starting eleven in light of World Cup qualifying (and particularly, August 12th).

Big Ass Trophy

Big Ass Trophy

In general, the Gold Cup itself is not held in the same regard as  the European Championship (or even  Copa America) by the world soccer community around the globe in part due to the quality of play and its occurrence every two years. In fact, even fans of CONCACAF nations have lamented its bi-annual format as opposed to a four-year model that could make it a “bigger deal.” Given the money it brings in, I doubt that will change, but that isn’t a bad thing.

On the contrary, I think the US should use the bi-annual format to its advantage as it has this past cycle. Play the “A” team  the summer after each World Cup in hopes of getting into the Confederations Cup and then purposefully make it a developmental tournament the summer prior to the next World Cup. While I am not suggesting that as long as the US regulars show-up they will win (thereby securing a birth the next Confederations Cup), I think we can safely assume that they will be one of the two favorites (with Mexico) for the foreseeable future. (A by-product of this approach would be that the Gold Cup the years after the WC would be a “bigger deal.”)

Aside from the “psychological” boost (if there even was one) and a big ass trophy, what did Mexico gain by being crowned the champion? With neither side at full strength, the win will get them two weeks of good press and bragging rights until the “real game” on August 12th. So kudos to US Soccer for being smarter than me and figuring this out well in advance.

As Predicted, ESPN.com Misses The Mark

While Ives Garcalep (www.soccerbyives.net) filed a fair game report on the U.S. meltdown against Mexico, the same cannot be said for ESPN soccer editor Jen Chang.

While I generally feel that Chang’s commentary is right on (calling out BB’s strategy of two defensive midfielders, arguing for overseas players over MLS players), his commentary on yesterday’s game was just plain off.

Chang calls out the Americans for letting Mexico recover it’s swagger by not fielding a strong Gold Cup team. He further excoriates the U.S. depth and suggests that beyond Stu Holden and Troy Perkins, yesterday’s performances by Kyle Beckerman and Chad Marshall among others undid all the work they put in earlier in the tournament.

My first issue is that I did not hear from Chang the entire tournament. Maybe he was recovering–like nearly THE ENTIRE US FIRST TEAM–after a long arduous tournament against top competition in a different time zone. Really Jen, you wanted the U.S. to trot out it’s first team in a weak Gold Cup field where no team brought all their top talent after playing 5 games in 3 weeks just days before? Further, after many had been away from their club teams and the top level play we want them to get before 2010.

Also where was your analysis early on? The U.S. struggled against Haiti and even Panama at times. That they would struggle yesterday was more likely than the phenomenal 1st half display the team put on.

To suggest that players like Marshall and Beckerman did themselves a disservice is another egregious mistake without mentioning that a) their play was strong in the first half and b) Javier Aguirre was so concerned with his team’s first half play against a second rate U.S. squad that he brought in Carlos Vela to pair Giovani Dos Santos to start the half. That’s two, count’em, two EPL strikers to take on the U.S. jv team.

Further, it is play against quality competition that coach Bob Bradley can use to measure his arsenal of players. He just saw his “A” team against Spain and Brazil less than a month earlier. What did the “A” team have to prove in the Gold Cup? What player insights would be gained against mostly inferior competition for players that taken on 3 of the top 10 teams in the world?

A better angle if you wanted to call out the USMNT team would be to discuss the eerie parallel between Brazil piling on the U.S. in the 2nd half of the Confederation’s Cup final game with yesterday’s second half implosion. As this blog can well atest, I have been critical of Bob Bradley’s halftime adjustments and considerations in such situations and again yesterday we saw the U.S. come out not ready to handle an invigorated Mexican attack. While the manner of attack was flashy and the score finally obnoxious, the U.S. had a similar behavior against Haiti, giving up two goals in the course of ten minutes after half time in a decidedly different manner.

At least this time Bradley tried to change up the team (admittedly too late) with early insertions of Kenny Cooper and Santino Quaranta.

The story of yesterday is not the Yanks letting Mexico regain their confidence (if Mexico has to rally around beating the U.S. “B” team just a year before the World Cup that’s a bigger problem) or how certain players canceled out their entire tournament. It’s about measuring the Gold Cup team in aggregate (by achievement and by the next step of growth necessary) and a disturbing trend of coming out tactically unprepared in the 2nd half.

Yesterday’s post-game opinion saying ESPN would miss the mark

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