Part IV: 60 Days To The Rumble At Rustenburg

So how does the USMNT counter the England attack?

We continue our series on the Rumble at Rustenburg looking at the US offensive strategy .

Part IV, The States’ Offense and Neutralization

USA’s Main Offensive Strategy by GeorgeCross

The USA must run as one...

* Keeping shape is vital

I feel that England are ‘expected’ to win this match, and as such, a lot of the onus will be on England to take the initiative and break the USA down – a 0-0 result is ‘better’ for the USA than it is for England. I am not saying that the USA won’t attack but it will be very disciplined. I think that the longer it stays at 0-0, the more frustrated and inpatient England will become, which could provide areas for the USA to counter-attack as England begin to lose their own shape.

Key for (all) clubs and country...

* Landon Donovan (left wing)

I think a key match-up for England’s defence will be how Landon Donovan flips the tables on Glen Johnson’s offensive runs.

The biggest difference between the Walcott vs. Bocanegra match-up, is that I can see Bocanegra not posing too much of an offensive threat because he would be worried about the threat of Walcott exploiting the space left behind.

Bradley Sr. will tell him to stay tight and compact with the back-four, especially with the score at 0-0; I believe this whole side of the pitch is crucial.

In addition, we documented yesterday that Johnson’s forward runs can leave the space behind him vulnerable. Fig. 8 looks at this. The green shaded area looks at the region that Donovan can exploit should there be a quick turn-over of possession. Bradley Sr. will be watching tapes of Johnson to see when he likes to get forward.

Figure 8: Donovan with space...

In addition, even if Johnson’s marking Donovan, I still feel that Johnson is not the best to cut crosses out. This is especially dangerous because of Dempsey’s ability to arrive in the box at the right time, not to mention he is a good finisher, together with England’s goalkeeping frailties.

Lastly, Donovan is two footed, so he can go either way around Johnson. If he cuts in, then he’s going to be on Johnson’s wrong foot and could potentially draw a foul (see Fig. 4 for same logic).

* Charlie Davies

As with Donovan, Davies will be looking for ways to use his speed. I think the best way for Davies to do this is explained in Fig. 10.

Figure 10: DAVIES!

John Terry’s positioning is generally very good; however, we also know that he lacks a little pace especially when changing direction. So, I can see Davies coming short to pick up the ball and then using his pace to turn Terry and head for goal.

From Tuesday the US’s main challenge in attack:

Without a fit Davies, can the US maintain the attacking threat to keep England honest?

#2 on TSG's USMNT Indispensable List...

It’ll take an approach along 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, maybe even 4-3-2-1 without him. Altidore has shown he is capable of troubling the world’s best defenders and could give either of England’s center-backs a torrid time leading the line with Dempsey playing behind him.

As mentioned in previous posts, Dempsey could play an important role defensively by dropping into midfield out of possession while being quick to support Altidore in attack.

The US could go for a more solid shape with Holden starting at right midfield, ready to tuck in and help out centrally, with Donovan playing on his “wrong” side in a 4-4-1-1, or start Beasley on the left and Donovan on the right to support Altidore and Dempsey in a formation that would almost match England’s 4-2-3-1. Beasley’s speed and ability to provide defensive support adds flexibility on the left flank at the expense of strength in central midfield.


A big thank you to “GeorgeCross” and “Tuesday” for all their efforts here and curbing their vitriol in my direction as I made a mess of their pieces as I diced them up into many posts.

Thanks guys….

40 responses to this post.

  1. “I can see Bocanegra not posing too much of an offensive threat because he would be worried about the threat of Walcott exploiting the space left behind.” Lol, when is Boca ever an offensive threat besides on set pieces?


  2. Posted by Ben on 2010/04/12 at 11:24 PM

    I have recently become a daily reader of your posts. I do not believe Davies will make the England game and call me crazy, but I suggest playing Bornstein as Left Midfielder to help neutralize the pace. LD or Dempsey up top and the other on the right wing. Landon can take Ashley Cole as seen with Everton.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 11:42 PM

      Welcome Ben….

      On Davies….very real and probably a betting man’s possibility.

      On Bornstein… I don’t think there is a shot that Bornstein plays midfield given that Bob hasn’t played him there at all throughout qualifying (Bob never played Hedjuk there either as I can recall) and that Bornstein is playing center defense for his club team.

      The closest I think you get to that is the late game 5 defender sub where Boca moves into the middle and Cherundolo or Bornstein come in an advanced or very wide role.

      Thanks for reading


      • Bornstein played left mid last weekend in Chivas’ 2-0 win vs New York


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 11:47 PM

          And I stand corrected…and maybe you two are on to something.

          My apologies and nice catch Evan.

          I still can’t see it, but intriguing. Why did he play left mid?


        • No, we are not on to something. There is no reason for him to play left mid for USA. The reason he was playing there for Chivas though is that they don’t really have any traditional wide midfielders and with the signing of their new Costa Rican center back, they no longer needed Bornstein there. As to why he didn’t play left back, Martin Vasquez considers both Ante Jazic (who I believe is Canada’s new captain) and Johnathan Bornstein key players to his side and he doesn’t want to leave either out. Jazic is less versatile then Bornstein who was a forward in college so therefore Jazic plays left back and Bornstein left mid. I think Vasquez also wants to see if he can get the same kind of offensive contribution from Bornstein that they got his rookie year in which he had 6 goals and 4 assists.


    • I think we’re more likely to see Davies as a substitute if anything against England.


  3. Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/13 at 7:10 AM

    Agree with the point that davies could turn terry, but with just a few games under his belt and knowing that Terry plays a more physical game, will that cause Davies to think about getting tackled by Terry thus affecting his effectiveness in that role. I think altidore may be better standing up terry and letting davies speed by ferdinand. If they can get a couple combos early this may force Terry back off Altidore a bit and give hime room to turn into the box and draw some fouls. Worst case, they could almost use the same approach with ferdinand and once altidore beats ferd a couple tiems, it would force Terry to pay more attention to Jozi giving CD a bit more time and space to play with. But Terry does position himself well and I believe this may not give the same results as putting Jozi on Terry.

    I like Donovan on the left as well, but we all know that Dempsey on the Right is a waste. He’s not comfortable there and he becomes invisible. Not to mention if Spects is on the Right, Demps on the left that is a great crossing combo. We have seen what Demps can do running left to right across the goal. Where Donovan on the other hand would server as a great counter attack on the left, but he would be very limited in that role if they are attacking hard with walcott. So that question for me is do we start Demps or Lando on the left knwoing what England would most likely bring. Personally i would start Demps up top with Jozi, Stu on right (fast recovery on Spects runs), Landon on left. Around 55 mins, take out Stu, put in Davies, shift lando right and demps left, then you have the quick counter down the left, but all right side runs from spects would be towards dempsey’s strong side. Not to mention, Lando laso has the pace to recover for runs by Spects as well.

    I wish we had some simulation software to run all this through, would be interesting to see how things play out for each persons analysis. Hopefully TSG brings out more articles like this in the next couple months. Great job George an Tuesday.


    • Thanks Jim.

      I’m very much in agreement with your analysis. In fact, here’s a tidbit that didn’t make the piece:

      “In CDs absence I think Dempsey will play off Altidore up top, providing the option to spring the counter while linking midfield and attack. I would instruct Dempsey to shade to the right so he’s in the space that Fat Frank likes to operate from so he’s there to pressure him. Altidore has a tendency to end up in the outside right channel, so Dempsey could run into the space between the CBs if he takes Terry with him on a counter.

      On the left, I would put Donovan on the wrong flank with instructions to press Johnson in possession so the ball to Walcott comes from the center of midfield, giving everyone more time to adjust to help Boca. I think Donovan is plenty capable of helping out his left back against Walcott and still be able to spring the attack quickly and get forward. I would be tempted to field Holden at right midfield since he’s able to tuck in and help in central midfield, with instructions to track Lampard/Gerrard’s runs into the danger areas. This should give Edu more freedom to tuck into the inside channel to support the fullback when Walcott is running at Boca or to drop between the center backs when they are stretched.

      That midfield also helps if Donovan is late coming back from the counter-attack. It’s a sometimes 4-4-1-1, sometimes 4-3-2-1 depending on how much risk Donovan is taking to get forward. This way we can play conservative for the first 20-30 minutes, before being a bit more adventurous in the middle of the half and conservative again the last 5 minutes of the first half and the first 5 of the second.”

      Dempsey would have plenty of freedom to get into the box for any cross coming from a central-right position. Finding space at the back post is exactly what you’d want him to do in the attacking phase. The key in the counterattack is to pull England’s CBs as wide as possible by getting into the space behind England’s fullbacks. Rather than leading the line, I’d like Jozy to spend a lot of time getting behind Ashley Cole in wide right positions with Dempsey ghosting into the box. If Terry is pulled wide, Altidore can cross to Dempsey with only Ferdinand and possibly Johnson defending or pull the ball back to Donovan cutting inside. This is also a case of “attack is the best defense” since it’ll force England’s fullbacks to be more careful getting forward and leave England very narrow in attack.

      After the pressure phase is broken, Dempsey’s job is to position himself to cut out the quick switch from England’s right to Ashley Cole on the left so we can keep England’s attack narrow on that side. Dempsey and Donovan should feel free to switch roles from time to time if the threat of speed from the right wing doesn’t materialize.

      If Cole is fit, It’s just like in the confederations cup vs. Spain, pinning him back is important to keeping England’s attack narrow so our defense shape stays nice and tight. I said it in an earlier piece and I’ll repeat it – Ashley Cole is the key to England’s current system. If he’s not available, Capello will have to seriously consider a different approach.

      Anyways, all this goes to show you that after beginning to think along these tactical lines you can go on and on and on… and on.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 8:04 AM

        If Davies is absent, and Donovan is playing wide left, who are you going to task with pinning Cole back? Does Dempsey or Holden have the legs to worry Cole?

        I agree that Cole is very important, he gives us balance and width to our left flank.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 8:05 AM

          edit: balance to the team and width to out left flank.


        • I’m not going to say that Holden has equal pace, but I think he’s fast enough and more importantly accurate enough to keep Cole honest. Holden’s pinpoint crossing means Cole has to stay tight enough to keep from giving him a lot of space to work in, one time getting caught too far forward and one bending ball from Stu to a streaking Davies/Donovan could change the match.

          Dempsey’s strength seems to be more cutting from the right than his service from the right, I’m still not convinced that he’s the better choice over Holden on the wing for the Nats (though I agree he’s the better player).


        • Another tidbit: “England will primarily attack down the right, but a counterattack from England’s sprung on England’s left flank could present the most serious danger.”
          Capello generally has one fullback staying back when the other advances so it’s not an issue if England are attacking primarily down the right. The danger from Cole comes if England can switch the play quickly to the left or if they break quickly up the left on a counter. If Dempsey, supported by Holden and Bradley, can get close enough to Lampard in possession and position himself to cut out the switch and counter when the ball is on the other flank it’ll kill the impetus on England’s left flank. This will leave Stevie G drifting further and further inside and narrow England’s attack even more while opening up an outlet for the US on the right.

          Altidore likes to run the outside right channel. I’d love to see Ashley Cole spend a lot of time dealing with Altidore while Terry and Ferdinand stand around wondering whether to come out and help or stay put, or stepping up to deal with Holden while Altidore runs in behind him, pulling Terry wide. Basically, I’m suggesting we play with no true CF – it’s all about getting into the space in wide areas behind the fullbacks on both flanks and stretching the CBs and relying on Dempsey’s timing to arrive in the box at the right moment or Donovan to cut inside to the penalty spot. After 20-30 minutes to see how the right winger threat is playing out, Donovan and Dempsey can switch to provide a different threat.


        • I’d love to see Ashley Cole spend a lot of time dealing with Altidore while Terry and Ferdinand stand around wondering whether to come out and help or stay put, or stepping up to deal with Holden while Altidore runs in behind him, pulling Terry wide.

          Should read:

          I’d love to see Ashley Cole spend a lot of time dealing with Altidore while Terry and Ferdinand stand around wondering whether to come out and help or stay put, or if Cole steps up to deal with Holden, Altidore runs in behind him, pulling Terry wide.


  4. Basically, if you let Terry stand around in the box and put his head to crosses, he’s the best CB in the world. If you pull him out into wide positions, he struggles. If Altidore gets into space behind Cole and pulls Terry wide, Holden and Spector both have an excellent deliveries that I’d put money on Dempsey getting a head to vs. Ferdinand and Johnson.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 10:17 AM

      “if you let Terry stand around in the box and put his head to crosses, he’s the best CB in the world” – his head is like a magnet to the ball.

      I suspect Barry will be covering Altidore’s runs into the channel, especially if he hasn’t got the ball – Terry is too important for us not to be in the middle. If the ball is on the your right flank on the top of our third, I cannot see Terry not being in the middle.


  5. Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/13 at 8:38 AM

    I concur with you tues, a swift counter down our right could be a major problem, if we end up focusing too much on the left side. But we can only hope that our “vast knowledge” of counter-attacking style, the defense will be able to read it properly and cut it off.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/13 at 9:56 AM

      I’m actually going to disagree on the swift right counter here…more philosophically.

      First the USMNT has to be prepped for anything…but they’re all good players with many games under their belt.

      However, one of my favorite bits on coaching I’ve read comes from Chuck Daly via Phil Jackson’s book.

      During a timeout in the 4th quarter, Chuck Daly would walk into the huddle and merely instruct on the one thing he thought would improve his team’s play. Jackson used the example of “Rebound the ball! Rebound the ball! Rebound the ball!”

      I feel the same way here. If the US is not going to be aggressive on the west coast (left flank) and push a Bornstein or Pearce up who are capable of crossing it or at least aiding the offense and are going to favor hunkering down on the left than I would rather the US as a global strategy be aggressive on the right.

      If Bob Bradley instructs the team to be defensive on both sides then the States will be tentative and the result will be 2006 not 2002.


  6. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 8:42 AM

    I would absolutely agree with the right flank being our main threat, but a lot of the offensive play doesn’t necessarily start there. Remember, if the USA are nice and compact, England will have to find a way to break you down and find space, before playing that pass to put Walcott in. Under Capello, we have really improved in that aspect over the last 2 years, being patient and passing the ball around rather than taking speculative long shots like with did under the clowns like Keegan, Eriksson and McClaren. That won’t bother the USA if the ball in in front of them, but being patient is the key.

    CFIG – remember, Holden doesn’t have to beat Cole to get his cross in!


    • If Walcott’s on the right flank, the key is the angle of the ball to going him – I want to ball to him to take him away from goal rather than anything he can run onto going straight up the pitch or over the top towards goal. Bocanegra or whoever doesn’t need to get tight to him if he’s going wide – just defend from the edge of the penalty box and let’s see him produce the final ball from a wide area.

      I don’t think we simply try to stay compact and let England try to break us down – In the middle third, I think we do a lot of pressing just inside our own half to make England hard work for penetrative possession and keep a reasonably high defensive line. The hopeful balls will come and Howard will be out quickly to meet them, making our defensive job easier.

      In our own third, we need to stay compact but not give Lampard the time on the ball to start pulling the strings from central areas. I paid less attention to defending on our right, but I’d feel confident that Holden and Spector are up to the defensive task of dealing with Gerrard and Cole when England are trying to break us down with possession in the final third.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 9:22 AM

        I think we’re on the same page Tuesday. This is what I wrote about the pass to Walcott that didn’t make the cut:
        “Another thing regarding the Bocanegra vs. Walcott match-up is the inside pass. When Bocanegra is marking Walcott, and England has the ball and Walcott makes a run down the line, then it is important that Bocanegra doesn’t run alongside Walcott when he is anticipating the pass because the ball can get played inside and because of Walcott’s pace, Bocanegra will be out of the game. Instead, Bocanegra needs to run towards the near post, because then he has a chance to intercept the ball and he is narrowing down the angle for the passer – simple matter of ‘percentages’. If the ball does get passed to Walcott, it has to be passed outside of Bocanegra, and that means that Bocanegra hasn’t been beaten and is still goal side of Walcott”

        I didn’t mean to imply that you’re going to just sit back and take it, but more about defensive discipline. You will press, but like you said, it will be in your side of the middle third rather than any higher up the pitch. During the friendly, there was a shocking amount of space in the middle when we had the ball. There is no way that Gerrard should have been afforded so much time and space to score – and that came about from some nice one touch football – and starting from deep. I will be surprised if Bradley doesn’t rectify this because it was too comfortable.


        • Intelligent pressing isn’t about tackling a player, it’s about limiting passing options to force the player in possession to find and make a difficult pass with limited time. We’ve gotten much better at it since this friendly and it’s much more effective against a team that doesn’t have a holding player.

          That was a good goal. Hargreaves in the holding position made that goal by being in position to bail out the bad pass from Rooney (?) that would’ve otherwise been intercepted, putting England’s back 4 under pressure. Poor defending from Bocanegra to chase Defoe out into midfield instead of keeping shape.

          I do think we have a harder time with the more expansive passing of England than the types of shorter passing practiced by Spain (or Mexico).


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 10:09 AM

          Mate, that’s why it’s called “pressing”…

          It was a good goal, I have enjoyed wayching that many times. But from a US defensive stance, I personally, would be very unhappy with it. The US were very flat footed and were ball watching, offering no resistance. Re. Hargreaves, it wasn’t the best pass, but he was never in any real danger of not getting there first. Bocanegra left a MASSIVE whole for Gerrard to run into. This is what I was talking about when I mentioned Rooney (forward) coming short for the ball and dragging a defender with him.


        • Re: Hargreaves. My point is that neither Lampard or Barry are likely to be found in that position while England are in possession. Without Hargreaves as a holding player, the US pressing will be more effective. In this example we have way too many players pressing in the England half – everything needs to shift 10-15 yards back.

          You look at the Classico over the week-end. Barca are immensely good at high pressing and gave Arsenal absolute fits but their pressing was not nearly as effective against Madrid with Alonso playing the holding role just in front of the center backs.


        • RE: Pressing. I’m not saying you don’t know George, I’m saying the US players sometimes expend too much energy chasing the ball about but they aren’t pressing intelligently.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 10:42 AM

          I didn’t understand what you were saying – got it.

          That is a fair point Tuesday, but I feel that whoever plays as the two defensive midfielders, one will be instructed to sit back. I concede it is always a risk playing playing someone in that role who is not naturally defensively minded – as they will always have an urge / instinct to get forward.

          When it comes to Barcelona pressing high up the pitch, they pretty much play 2-5-3. They (and Spain) get the ball back so well. Amazing to watch and appreciate.


  7. Posted by Sam on 2010/04/13 at 10:04 AM

    Didn’t quite no where to share this with you guys, but perhaps in the spirit of talking up hypothetical strategy on our complete destruction of England we could stop a minute and think of just how far we’ve come…


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 12:03 PM

      I used to collect the Panini sticker albums in the early 80s – all my pocket money when on those things trying to get those elusive badges. They always had the tastiest bubble gum too!


  8. Posted by Texas Tippler on 2010/04/13 at 10:36 AM

    I enjoyed this discussion guys! It would be interesting to read this sort of article from an English Foootball blog point of view. Also, I hope we get this depth of analysis for the Algeria & Slovenia games, because those are two teams that I know much less about than England. Cheers!


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/13 at 10:37 AM

      I’ve been trying to locate a good one….suggestions welcome…thanks for the comments Texas….


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/13 at 10:54 AM

      Also, we have looked at the US ‘counter-attacking’, and that’s fine when you’re playing the better teams. But does one expect the US to employ this stretegy against teams who are probably going to play counter-attacking football against you?!


  9. Posted by Joe on 2010/04/13 at 11:38 AM

    Something that might be worth posting!

    Great articles guys


  10. Posted by dude on 2010/04/13 at 12:40 PM

    I agree mostly, but still see Beasley as a sub. He hasn’t been playing at all recently, and his confidence is notoriously fickle.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/13 at 1:12 PM


      Nothing more than a sub…I think what Tuesday is saying that it terms of a quiver of skills…Beasley is your guy…I put Bedoya in there as well, but he may be too green.


  11. […] Part IV: The States’ Offense and Neutralization […]


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