Just a scant 5 months until the United States takes on England in the most anticipated soccer match by the US populace since probably Italy 2006.
That’s right…check your calendar on the lower right. Today is January 12th.
TSG lobs in our first shot at some of the strategy that it might take to compete and earn a draw or even win against the former homeland. We imagine the actors in this roadmap, and the roadmap itself, will change frequently as both Bob Bradley and Fabio Capello augment their own line-ups and strategies.
So while England focuses the microscope on Landon Donovan’s Everton performances, below are five ways to impact the game for the States. The strategy and tactics below might not lead to scores, but if they execute, their chances of winning 3-2, 1-0 or evening earning a fiercely contested draw, improve.
1) Attack down England’s right flank….tactics to be determined by Glen Johnson’s health.
Really a no-brainer here. This type of duh-no-kidding analysis is not why you pay the big bucks for your TSG subscription.
While the United States has their share of problems in defense (notably injuries in the center and question marks on the left side), England’s main weakness is the right flank. The would-be starter Glen Johnson is battling knee ligament damage. Micah Richards has fallen off the map. Wayne Bridge wishes his last 10 to 20 performances just fell of the map. Luke Young has retired from international duty. Wes Brown is struggling to stay fit and has trouble keeping up in the center field.
Extrapolating forward, the right mid-flank for England will be manned by Frank Lampard, who likes to drift centrally and even to the left sometimes, or Aaron Lennon…he of pronounced offensive, but not defensive game and then back-stopped by Glen Johnson who everyone knows never met a forward overlapping run he didn’t like.
Lampard for his part does not possess the speed of Glen Johnson let us add. Lennon will be used further up the pitch to attack.
But that’s not all, you have John Terry who is calcifying into a statue more and more each day providing the cover over Glen…Glen…where are you? What are you doing all the way up there?
All this being said, the precise tactics that Bob Bradley uses depend on Glen Johnson’s right knee. Johnson has been ruled out of EPL action until March at the earliest.
Should Johnson be fit, the USMNT would be wise, through starting team or substitution, to put a speedster striking from the left–a Findley or Cunningham. Johnson, like we said, likes to balm up the pitch and getting a pacey player in behind his overlap will create scoring opportunities.
Should Johnson not be fit, any of the other options–Brown, Richards, etc.–are not going to have the same aggression in offense. The USMNT should drift Dempsey or Altidore (the most likely starting pair at this point) over as the opportunities arise, use them to hold up the ball slightly in transition, and hit Donovan with an overlap or the trailing Rico for a shot.
If the USMNT continually punish down the left flank, you know that they are in control of the tempo of the game. That would be a good thing.
2) Protect the US right flank by drawing a midfielder in.
Most recently we saw this strategy employed by Stu Holden in the Costa Rica game and Robbie Rogers at the tail end of the Slovenia game.
I think we’ll see it more often and it’s an often overlooked piece of solid gamesmanship by Bob Bradley. By drawing the midfielder in, the US forces the opposition wider to attack and it allows cover from the central midfielder to arrive and plug the passing and attacking holes. The States’ trade some attacking width for a little cover.
England have Ashley Cole flying down the left and Aaron Lennon able to break ankles attacking from the wing as well…if Lennon is on the right, there is no relief as you still have Jermain Defore or a wandering Wayne Rooney who likes to play off the left side….whether it Holden or Dempsey over Cherundolo or Spector, it’s going to be a challenge.
The U.S. should draw their midfielder in slightly, playing the ball over the top to Jozy to escape pressure on the right and slowly manufacture their chances. Sure, Holden might fly down the right coast for a trademark cross, but that is likely to be the exception rather than role so that Cole, Lennon and company don’t leave Spector/Cherundolo looking like a deer in headlights.
Take a moment here to acknowledge that Bob Bradley is actually already preparing the team for this. You’ve got one feather in your cap, Bob.
3) The U.S. is not as far behind on set pieces as you think…in fact it may be a dead heat. To the aggressor (and defender) go the spoils.
Whether it’s Deuce, Gooch, Boca or Bornstein in the box, on offense the U.S. has some finishing on set pieces. They have service from Donovan, Holden, and Spector. They even have a rumbling run from Conor Casey. It is arguably an offensive strength for the U.S.
On defense, the likes of Gooch, Spector, Boca and others fended off volley vs. volley against Spain and (mostly) Brazil. They have the horses but need the diligence.
A lot of talk and focus will come down to defending John Terry in the box. We all know he knocked home that header in the friendly in 2008.
However, John Terry 2010 is not the aviator he once was. Injuries and age among other things have Terry on pace to score all of two goals this year in the EPL campaign — two! Compare this with campaigns of 3 or 4 years ago when you had him scoring 8, 9, 10 goals. In fact Terry’s lone goal in England national competition in 2009 (against Ukraine) came on a Gerrard lay off on a free kick…Terry was nowhere near the airspace on Beckham’s cross that started the sequence out.
Beyond Terry, aerial wizards England is not–with the next best man in the box likely to be….to be….Peter Crouch who is on the fringe or a role right now or Wes Brown who’s again battling injuries and likely to not come up as often.
That same aerial weakness–even Rio Ferdinand not being the player he once was–rears its head for England defensively. Finally, one of the weaker team on set pieces in the EPL? That would be Chelsea with Ashley Cole and John Terry.
Note, if Joleon Lescott starts, that’s a decided advantage in the air for England.
4) Push Wayne Rooney wide.
Nearly every preview piece will say something like “Stop Wayne Rooney” or “It’s all about Rooney.” Duh….
It’s nearly impossible to take Wayne-o out of the game for two reasons: 1) he floats–and is allowed to float–all over the pitch and finds his spots and 2) he’s willing to backtrack–sometimes to the chagrin of Fabio Capello–all the way to his defensive third to touch the ball, carry it, or just find some rhythm.
The USMNT will need to limit the damage Rooney inflicts. Tactically, the best thing the USMNT can do is force Rooney wide. Wayne is at his best when he is between the hash marks, so to speak, going north-south….this allow him to challenge the defense to either side while still having an open shot going either way. Rooney is absolutely notorious for two moves: 1) receiving wide on the left and hitching in for a shot or pass and 2) receiving at the top of the offensive third on the right and and crossing over to his right after putting the ball on his left.
What is not Rooney’s biggest strength is going wide to the backline and issuing a cross or tip-toeing that endline for a pass to the top of the 18 box. Addtionally, if Rooney is out wide, you’re taking your best or 2nd best (depending how you value Steven Gerrard) ball striker and moving him to a position where shooting percentages drop.
Whoever is wide on the flanks (Boca, Spector, Cherundolo, Bornstein) needs to keep Wayne as wide as possible by either allowing him to go wide through shading or coming up and standing him up when he’s awaiting a pass between those hashmarks.
It’s really that simple.
One more little Rooney tidbit. If he tracks back to help out, body him up. Contain and bottle him up so we can’t get out and help on the same attack.
5) Push the speed of play early.
This strategy is admittedly more risky.
More than any other team, England is less comfortable when they can’t get into their game. Conversely, this is one of the USMNT’s strengths….since other teams often dictate the tempo and opportunities to the States, the States is very good at evolving their game so to speak during the game and taking what the other team gives them.
In parallel, in Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, and Michael Carrick should he play, we are not talking about the fleetest, nor fittest players, both health and ailment wise. Immense skill and steel those players have in abundance, but pace and stamina is not what comes to mind. Fitness is something the US team typically possesses in abundance.
If the USMNT can handle the pace and have the defense resolve to withstand some counterattacks (hence the risk disclaimer above) early on, then they should could and should see what the up-and-down game gets them in the early going. At the very least, it will disrupt the strategy of the English out of the gate and put them more on the defensive to start.
That’s a positive for the States.
A few honorable mention pointers that Asst. Coach Mike Sorber might instruct players on:
• To Tim Howard and “Central Defender A” (Gooch, Boca, Onyewu?): Command your backline and be precise! Should Jermain Defoe start he’s going to challenge that back line unfailingly. We cannot afford to have have any defenders lag back and create an uneven offsides line and opportunities for Defoe.
• To Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein (or Heath Pearce), Boca, and central defenders: Steven Gerrard and Rooney have shown a penchant to go to ground easily over the past year in the EPL. Watch your physicality in the box. Go to ground yourself only as a very last, goal-saving resort.
• To Jozy Altidore: Punish Rio, Upson or whoever is in the middle. Make them feel your presence and move them outside of their positioning in the back….then Deuce and Lando can attack.
• To Clint Dempsey: Do what you do, but watch the dribbling in the center of the pitch as Gareth Barry is going to track back for you.
• Everyone: Avoid the ticky-tack fouls in the defensive third that set up Gerrard or David Beckham for the free kicks that wreak havoc.
And a timely side note here: While TSG may fancy themselves a manager on the Web, John Terry says he is front and center at Chelsea.