USA versus Argentina: Why Not Gamble?!

I watched part of the US – Argentina game a second time, and reflected on some things that had been bouncing around my head for the last 36 hours on what went wrong for the US in this Copa America semifinal. I’ll start with the fact that I (and no one else) should have had the expectation that the US was going to win this game. Argentina is playing on another level right now, and the gulf in class between them and the US is larger than the Gulf of Alaska, especially when we talk about Wood, Jones, and Bedoya being suspended.

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Does this count as a shot?!

– Bradley played like a dumpster fire. Everything starts with the captain in a game of this magnitude. If the US was going to pull off an amazing victory, they needed a big game from their skipper. They did not get one. In fact it was quite the opposite. His passes seemed to be wrong more often than not, he and Beckerman were not in sync in terms of positioning, and his decision making was bad. The sooner he can forget this one, the better. I think giving him the night off versus Colombia might even be in the picture.

– Everyone playing terrified: Alejandro Bedoya’s piece in The Player’s Tribune had me hyped. The US knew they were an underdog, but they were ready to come out firing, and maybe anything could happen. Instead, we got 9ish guys who looked scared to even be out there, and a team who was rattled almost immediately after giving up a soft goal. They got composed, looked decent, and then.. Messi. It was like no one wanted to look dumb on the biggest stage of most of their lives. I get that tons of people were watching, and the possibility of embarrassment was rather high. I just wish it would have been different, that the whole team hadn’t respected Argentina so much.

– John Brooks hurt? Brooks looked off. I saw him limping a bit at one point, and he seemed to be grabbing at his elbow pretty regularly. Not sure if this was a factor or not, but his play seemed very different. Hopefully he is alright. He’s the guy I hope took the most away from this game in terms of experience, because I think he and Yedlin have the best opportunity to feature in future runs deep into international tournaments in the future.

– Lack of depth on the current roster: The drop off from Wood, Jones, and Bedoya to Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi is nuts. Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi are all good MLS players (great in Wondo and Beckerman’s cases) but that does not translate to the international quality needed against teams like Argentina unfortunately. Nothing against them, most teams don’t have that depth either. It’s more of an instance where the US youth need to step up and win a place in the team or Jürgen Klinsmann needs to hand the keys to someone like Darlington Nagbe and gamble a little. This also is greatly influenced by the roster, which I will touch on below.

– Leveraging the players at your disposal: So instead of starting Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi, why not play Castillo/Besler and pushing Fab Johnson up into the midfield/forward in your 433 to give the team an outlet and a speed option on the wing that can beat a guy off the dribble/turn out of trouble? Why not bring in Nagbe and playing him in the center with Bradley to help relieve pressure instead of going super defensive with Beckerman? You know you are going to have to take some pressure off of your defense. Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi are all known quantities. They aren’t going to help you beat Argentina 999 times out of 1,000. Mix it up, get creative, take some chances. Worst case it doesn’t work!

– The roster: The lack of players like Lee Nguyen instead with an emphasis on defensive midfielders like Kitchen and Beckerman on the original roster immediately concerned me. It was the first thing that I texted to my friends, instead of “LOL Chandler”. The lack of a creative option that really could have helped the midfield relieve some pressure in a game like this was concerning, and we finally got to the game where this was a major issue. I know Jurgen picks his players with specific intent, but why is Kitchen here? Why bring him and Beckerman? The other is depth up front with Wondolowski versus someone more raw and explosive like Morris. Is it 2014 all over again? With Wood, Dempsey, Zardes, and Wondo, you lack a like for like replacement for Wood, or a speed option. Jordan Morris had been playing well, and offered something that would have been really helpful against Argentina. Starting the kid up front against Messi and friends? Why the hell not!

– Lack of any game plan: I’m guessing there was a game plan. I even saw some of what looked like one, which was working the ball to Zardes and getting him into good spots to attack Rojo, which in my mind is great. Zardes whipped in a couple good balls, one that was extremely dangerous. Maybe you win some corners, which the US can score from. After the second goal, that game plan was gone. Everything seemed to go back to Guzan to clear deep, making Dempsey and Zardes work as if they were on the offensive glass constantly, and when they would win a header or control the ball, their options were minimal. Who was the outlet man, the pressure relief valve? Why was the high press so disjointed? Tactically this game was a mess. I know early goals can do that to you, but still, that is on you Jurgen.

– Let’s gamble: The biggest frustration of them all, go after it. No reason to worry about what the score is versus Argentina, if it is 1-0 or 6-0. Everyone expects you to lose. We are realistic fans. We have seen Messi and friends running teams over of late. Guys like Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi don’t need the experience though, they won’t be there in a year. Let Nagbe start. Push Fab Johnson forward. Get creative with a Cameron Bradley Nagbe midfield. Give Pulisic a chance to do some ridiculous things. Just do something. Anything. Try something that would have made this game a worthwhile learning experience or tactical experiment, something that we the fans can reflect on positively. Not a “shit, let’s try and stonewall them for 90 minutes and get to penalties”. If the US is going to play deep into the World Cup, or Copa America, or anything else, they are going to have to be able to beat a team like Argentina. Not just play for the draw super conservatively. They have weaknesses too. If the US had gotten past Belgium at the World Cup, guess who was waiting? Argentina. The US can’t exploit them if there isn’t a plan of attack, or willingness to gamble on some new things. Fans would be hyped about that. In this situation, it is better to try shit than sit back and accept the loss.

Overall, I think the Copa America has been a success, a semi-final spot is a solid achievement. Ecuador is no slouch, and some bad decisions/bad reffing hurt the US in terms of suspensions pre-Argentina. I just wish Jurgen would have been a bit more daring. Okay, a lot more daring. He was already playing with house money, and that is the best time to do something ridiculous that just might work. Worst case, you walk away with a good story. Colombia in the third place game should be interesting.

USA’s 2016 Copa America Centenario 23 and lineup possibilities

It’s major tournament time for your boys ye olde USMNT and that means everyone’s favorite game – who will Jurgen Klinsmann name to the 23-player roster that will make you pour a stiff cocktail and rethink your parents decision to have you in America instead of on vacation in Germany, Spain, or France. This time, Jurgen has gone in hard on defensive minded midfielders and has gone light on actual wingers, instead opting for one who will start at left back, another who is an extremely promising (attacking) midfielder, and Graham Zusi. Are you drinking yet? Might want to stock up before Copa America games begin in two weeks. Just saying.

Overall, it’s safe to say Jurgen hasn’t really gone fully crazy here, which we are thankful for. The only major “k.” guys are Michael Orozco, Perry Kitchen, and (kinda) Wondo. Orozco is depth at left back I presume? Or something? I have no idea why he is here at this point. With eight defenders being named, and CB being a position of relative strength + RB having Yedlin, Chandler, and Cameron if needed, I’m not sure why someone like Eric Lichaj or Jorge Villafana, who both play left back weren’t part of the 23. Plus Orozco has been not good for the US of late. Whatever. Perry Kitchen is more of a “(semi) embarrassment of riches” scenario where I’m not sure how he fits in with Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones. Probably like for like for Beckerman. Seems like his spot would be better used on someone who is a true winger? Someone like Sebastian Lletget. Finally comes Chris Wondolowski, who is in form and is a dangerous late game sub. Only thought here is Jordan Morris is in form as well, and offers more of a pacey option late game. Apples and Oranges really, so not much of a complaint. But really, is Jurgen Klinsmann allergic to left backs? Does the sight of a natural one in the wild make him see red? What did Tim Ream accidentally say to him in German?

Roster selection is less than half the gauntlet for USMNT fans though, as at times it feels like JK takes his roster, puts all of the names in a hat, pulls a name out, then blindfolds himself and sticks the name to a spot on the field like so. Okay, all the time. If so, I commend him for his dedication to that elaborate and likely time consuming exercise. So based on this fun (ie maddening) scenario that seems to play out every time the US plays, here are a few lineups that are possibilities, ranging from “Wow that seems like a good idea” to “Please someone pre-dial me an ambulance and a liver transplant”. Let’s start with the perfectly reasonable and perhaps even slightly exciting.

Copa16 yay

 

This is the “we too have competent midfielders who can possess and unlock our defenders getting forward on the wing”, also known as “guys playing positions they usually do”. How Pulisic and Dempsey work together would be the million dollar question, but this lineup has some flair, the ability to move the ball around, and could defend pretty well too. The USA’s Copa America group isn’t the most intimidating, and this lineup could do some damage and maybe (shhhhhhh don’t say it out loud) make a run.

Likelihood: 20%

 

copa16 blah

Next is the “defend like we are playing with a lead at all times even though we aren’t + JK <3’s speed” look that moves some people to places they don’t look comfortable, like Yedlin on the right wing and Bradley as the AM. Upside is defense would be real solid, downside is Clint and Bob would be stranded up top. Not like that would be the first time. Fab still might be able to do some damage, who knows. Same old, same old. No thanks.

Likelihood: 50%

 

copa16 lineup of terror

Finally, the “bartender, please pour me drinks at a continuous rate and ignore my swearing” concept, where most of us end up with liver and heart problems. I don’t even really want to think or talk about this one. At all. Ever. Please God.

Likelihood: 30% / 100% / find me a new hobby

Guessing what JK rolls out against Colombia is pretty futile, although I am guessing we will get an idea against Ecuador and Bolivia next weekend. I’m actually looking forward to the game against Puerto Rico tomorrow to see Steffen, Lichaj, Stanko, Arriola, and Picault in action (hopefully) more than any other game until Copa America starts. Anyway, give us your JK 11 to start against Colombia and what you will be drinking when it doesn’t happen and maybe we will steal some of it. And by it, I mean your drink ideas. Never have enough of those.

The Inexplicable: US Concedes to Guatemala 2-0

If you’ve been following on Twitter, everything will sound identical for the past 3 years.

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That said, here are 10 completely inexplicable things the US did last night that defy good coaching:

10) Edgar Castillo is an attack-minded leftback. DeAndre Yedlin has speed on the right. Geoff Cameron is your most trusted in possession at FB. Why keep Castillo flaring out if it will just open the middle? Why not counsel him to mind Carlos Ruiz a bit if you’re going up the right? Symmetrical, but unbalanced on the formation.

9) Being attack-minded (down two goals in the late second half) does not mean that you have to put on every attacking player in the world. It’s about where you have to play the game…in this case in your attacking third since Guatemala are now sitting deep…and where’s your advantage…in this case the flanks as Guatemala are…sitting deep.

So the incorrect sub is Jozy Altidore at this point for Omar Gonzalez. Not to mention that Gonzalez is better on set pieces and it tether Michael Bradley from making forward runs. But, hey, “ask the players.”

8) Asking Mix Diskerud to mark a seasoned central defender in Rafael Morales on the goal. There is Cameron, Orozco, Bradley, Wood, Dempsey who are all more capable of marking one of the better attackers in the air for Guatemala. (By the way, it was the 70′ mark when the same Morales pinged one off the cross bar on a header this time with Dempsey on him. Morales is decent in the air. You know this before going in. You tell people who to guard. MILK WAS A BAD CHOICE!)

7) Where is the US defender on the near post on that goal?

6) Shame on you Klinsmann. You had your OWN TAPE OF WHAT CARLOS RUIZ does. Here’s the US 3-1 win in Kansas City in October of 2012. Pay attention the early part of the tape with that Ruiz goal of course. (Look familiar. Like something you’ve seen recently?)

5) Playing players out of position. This is rote, but at some point Sunil or someone needs to rap Klinsmann on the hand and scream, “Stop that you little boy!” No? (Thank you kindly though for finally correcting that in the 60′ mark with Cameron to CB…WHERE HE BELONGS!)

Oh and we need Bradley in the deep role. If only for the defense, less his exquisite long diagonals.

4) Continued 0 (ZERO) pressing cues. One guy goes, the other guy…rests…thinks about. These are things that teams, especially national teams work on with the players in the right position…in order to have a defensive strategy on short notices. Like Concacaf qualifiers.

3) Something the US did early in the Klinsmann era–under Martin Vasquez no less–was keep their centerbacks tethered. This time with a new pairing and Tim Howard supposedly direct traffic time and time and time…and time and time again they continually got gapped. If the US CBs agree to stay tethered–if someone tells them at halftime–maybe a different story (0-0?) in this one.

2) Moises Hernandez, Guatemala’s young centerback, picks up an early yellow card in the first half and has a number of testy tackles, but you don’t go at him? Say…what?

1) Go find the 46′ mark of the 2nd half

Allow me to do some commentary here.

The US now has the ball in the back. They’ve got aways to go to get back on this game but it looks like they’re unsure what to do.

Wait?! Is that Orozco dribbling up from centerback what could he be doing?!

Oh please don’t do that Michael because Carlos Ruiz…like from before…he’s just waiting.  Orozco is almost at the halfline.

Stop that! Stop that! Someone make him stop. Someone on the US tackle him! Oh no! [sounds of cars crashing]

What in the world kind of pass is that?! That’s worse than Ruud Gullit trying to coach the Galaxy. That’s more cringeworthy than Steve Buscemi trying to hit on Olivia Wilde. Ew!

I mean I know no one was running because they didn’t expect him to have the ball there but still.

Oh no, there’s Carlos Ruiz, that spry AARP candidate. He’s sprinting. Oh no, right into the hole behind Orozco. Gonzalez, he doesn’t see this. Castillo sees it, but it’s too late.

[Ruiz cuts back to an incutting teammate who skies it over the bar with pressure from Cameron]

Catastrophe averted, until the final whistle.

One more… Restart defending (courtesy Matt Doyle here.)

 

 

Street Soccer USA signs Wondo in advance of National Cup in SF Aug 14-16

It’s a big week coming up for Street Soccer USA. In case you don’t know Street Soccer USA, they are the leading sport for social change organization in the U.S. and they just reached a deal for San Jose Earthquake’s Chris Wondolowski to join the organization. He will officially sign with Street Soccer USA August 12th at the UNIQLO USA store in Union Square, and will be signing autographs for fans from 6-7 pm as well as talking about the National Cup in SF later in the week.

ssusawondo

The US National Team striker, MLS MVP and 2-time goal scoring champion will officially sign on to the SSUSA National Soccer for Social Change Board for the 2015-16 season at UNIQLO’s Union Square San Francisco store, just days before the Street Soccer USA National Cup kicks off in Civic Center Plaza. Street Soccer USA COO Rob Cann commented, “Our goal is to find people that fit our philosophy of playing for bigger goals. Teaming Chris alongside our other key partners, Uniqlo USA and the SF Recreation and Parks Department, we feel like we can really win our match against poverty this year. Street Soccer USA is delighted to announce it has reached agreement with Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski. A local soccer legend and someone who has done so much for the Bay Area community, Chris is the perfect partner as we prepare for our upcoming National Cup in Civic Center,” Cann said.

The National Cup, put on by Street Soccer USA, in partnership with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, will be held August 14-16 in San Francisco at the Civic Center Plaza. The second annual National Cup, hosted in Civic Center Plaza, is a four-a-side soccer tournament designed to catalyze the expansion of a Bay Area-wide soccer league for at-risk youth and homeless young adults. The event features 64 co-ed amateur adult teams (ages 16 and older), including the SF Police Department, Zendesk, and Google all competing for the Street Soccer Championship of San Francisco. In addition, 16 of SSUSA’s social program teams from across the country will showcase their skills and celebrate their achievements. The tournament will be played on a pop-up stadium in the middle of Civic Center Plaza on August 14-16th. If you are in the Bay Area, come out during the day Saturday the 15th or Sunday the 16th and enjoy some of the exciting action. Games are extremely entertaining and fast paced, making for a great weekend of soccer in the City.

USA – Cuba Gold Cup preview: The Great Unknown

Last night I was writing a preview of the Gold Cup quarterfinal between the US and Cuba. For Cuba, it was mainly focused on Ariel Martinez, their forward with a solid left foot who was causing a lot of problems for Guatemala from set pieces and whose pass set up Cuba’s only goal of the tournament so far. It sounds like he defected today, so that preview isn’t really worth a whole lot any more.

Cuba is even more of an unknown now, a team who got through with a -7 goal differential and who shouldn’t pose a real challenge for the US. Their goalkeeper did look good against Guatemala, and it’s pretty clear that Cuba will likely park the bus and try and strike on the counter, as most smaller teams in CONCACAF do. Considering how bad the US has been with possession, with keeping the ball when pressured, and really with short passes in general, this might not be as easy for the US as one imagines. Check out Cuba’s last game to get an idea of what they look like.

Not exactly overwhelming with talent or organization. Thing is when a team gets a win in a game like that it builds a shit-ton of confidence real quick. So you need to go in and take the game to them early. The upside is this lineup is built to go after Cuba. I love Jozy. Man is a beast. Problem is, he is hurt, and you could tell on the field that he was not at full strength. This means it is finally time (JK willing) for Aron Jóhannsson to get his shot up top for a prolonged (hopefully three games) period of time. Jóhannsson is perfect for this type of game because he is quick, he moves well, he passes well, and he creates for himself. He and Dempsey are going to cause problems for defenses going forward because they both are unpredictable. It is time to shine ArJo, it is time.

arjokey

The biggest question for me is does Kyle Beckerman start? This likely isn’t a game that the US needs Beckerman. They do however need a consistent lineup, since at times they look 11 guys who just met who all happened to be wearing the same outfit and cleats. They are 11 very well dressed strangers for the situation, but still 11 strangers. Beckerman will likely be valuable later on in the tournament, so having him start makes sense to build some rhythm and familiarity in the midfield for the semis and final . Which means he probably won’t start.

Beasley starts at left back, Johnson at right back, which allows Ale Bedoya to pinch inside a bit and allow Fab to overlap. Beas goes back to the outside back who stays back more, leaving Zardes with less defensive responsibility. This is if Bedoya is good to go, which JK hinted that he was today. We shall see. The US needs him, it’s very clear. It is possible that Yedlin will play on the right wide and shift Bedoya to the left and no Zardes, but Fab + DeAndre attempting to overlap each other doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Yedlin seems like a great idea off the bench against a weakened tired team, which Cuba will likely be. Let Fab make the dangerous runs on the wing while Bedoya, Bradley, Dempsey, and Jóhannsson thread the needle in the middle.

The final component is Ventura Alvarado, who has not had a great Gold Cup. I think he continues to start, because he and Brooks are the best pairing against forwards who can dribble (ie Mexico) and possession-wise he is better than Omar Gonzalez . Gonzalez struggles against quick guys, and considering Cuba is likely to be countering all day, probably not a lot for him to win in the air. Large bald white man in net. He’s looked great so far, and Timmy Howard might have some work to do to reclaim his job.

usa cuba

Do the impossible? Guess a US starting 11?

US needs to be patient with the ball, move it quickly, and get after Cuba early. Get a goal or two, make them attack a little and then bury them. This should be a comfortable win for the US.

USA 1 Haiti 0: Three Important Things

After much consideration, here are three things that really stood out from the US – Haiti match on Friday.

1. Reffing is hard.

2 No really it is. Highly recommend turning on the volume for this one, especially if you watched the game at a bar. (Don’t turn the volume on at work, in public, with children around, or if swearing frightens you)

3. Someone should take Clint’s armband more often.

US wins the group unconvincingly, the lineup for tomorrow could be anything. I’m guessing Morales gets a start. Probably best off drawing the other ten out of a hat for accuracy.

USA 2, Honduras 1. Some thoughts and highlights after the first US Gold Cup 2015 match.

John Brooks was immense today, especially in the air. The number of crosses and corners he won was slightly ridiculous, especially in the last fifteen minutes. He looked comfortable on the ball and didn’t make any silly mistakes. He stepped up as his partner in the middle Ventura Alvarado struggled. Well done Johnny Futbol.

Is *NSYNC in charge of hair styles for Honduras?

honduran hair

For real though. This pic doesn’t even include the dude with the blonde Iman Shumpert look on the bench. Maybe they have a boy band side gig?

Wondo is not the answer as a sub when the US looks tired. He doesn’t create his own chances well, this is known. He didn’t hold the ball up well or really serve as an outlet either. Not sure why Jürgen Klinsmann didn’t go to Aron Jóhannsson, who is much better on the dribble and in tight spaces. This is probably the biggest tactical mistake in my mind.

Fabian Johnson is a beast. Straight up. His defense today was quite good, and he is a serious problem for teams when he gets forward. The US looks best when he has the ball running at players, because he can beat you off the dribble or with the killer pass, like he did to set up Yedlin in the second half.

Yedlin and Zardes on the field at the same time doesn’t seem to be working. The team looked disjointed in the midfield, likely because both Yedlin and Chandler were looking to get down the flank. It didn’t help that Yedlin was fouled repeatedly with no consequences for Honduras. Have to wonder if Alejandro Bedoya is not back at full strength yet, and if we will see him take the place of one of the two outside midfielders when he is. Yedlin seems best used as a super sub once teams are tired in the second half currently.

In case those Honduras highlights aren’t enough for you, here are the actual game highlights.

A parting fun fact:

 

 

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