This was the first match, after a few days with a new coach who is implementing new players, a new formation and a new philosophy. It was against a superior opponent. Juergen Klinsmann wanted to “get to know” everyone and considered the Mexico result “no big deal.” Showing a few flashes in a loss would have been acceptable. The U.S. drew 1-1 and would have had the chance to go ahead had a late penalty call no been botched. That performance should be encouraging.
We tend, like our English cousins, to view soccer solely through what happens with the ball. The first half was awful, as the U.S. created little. The second half was awesome, as the U.S. created much. It injects drama and fashions a logical narrative and we all can agree to ignore the fact the U.S. only looked dangerous after Rafa Marquez departed. What we saw, however, was not so much a tale of two halves, but a continuous performance and one that should engender some optimism.
This game was more boring than last month’s Gold Cup Final, with far less back and forth. That was by design. The 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, whatever you want to call it, kept the U.S. balanced and stable. The team was organized. Everyone tracked back (Donovan was quite effective at it). The midfield wasn’t outnumbered. Miraculously, the back four appeared less vulnerable, even with some unstable left back play (Honestly, what does Bobby Convey have to do to get a call up?)
The formation provided a stable base to be proactive without getting wrecked. It offered the versatility to be combative or attacking, depending on the personnel. They were blunted on the final third starting a lone striker, because that lone striker was Edson Buddle.
Brek Shea was great. He was direct, he took players on and he gave the U.S. an attacking impetus. He showed more poise than in his first appearance. His cross on Rogers’ goal was excellent. He looked like the ideal “impact” guy for the U.S. to bring on in the second half. Be impressed, but with this caveat. It was a friendly. There’s no tackling. Who does that help more than a player who likes to charge at defenders?
Kyle Beckerman also impressed me. He could have been a little better with the ball, but he did his job. He carried water competently. He positioned himself well, he covered a ton of ground and he protected his defenders in a profoundly flash-free manner. He made few plays, but he kept the other team from making them. He might struggle against more robust teams who can knock him off the ball, but his effort should earn him more opportunities.
Klinsmann’s most controversial move was playing Bradley in an advanced position. I agreed with it. Bradley’s strengths are his aggressiveness, his marauding runs and his knack for scoring goals. His weaknesses are playing simple passes and covering his position soberly. Playing him with a firm foundation behind him, maximizes his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses. His frenetic play up front is valuable. It disrupts the other team. His frenetic play as a holding midfielder, especially in a 4-4-2, disrupts his own team. Ball movement breaks down. Too many jailbreaks for the other team, beginning in midfield. If he’s going to play, he must be in a more advanced position. Emphasis on the “if he’s going to play.”
The worry with Klinsmann was his tactics. Without a staff in place, he fielded a logical formation given the raw material and made adept substitutions. He was good technically, while permeating the infectious enthusiasm we expected. The latter can be as influential as the former at international level. The performance wasn’t perfect. The revolution will take time, but last night’s positives showed where the U.S. is heading and that should breed some cautious optimism. Americans may finally get a team that does not need the prospect of imminent peril to be exciting.
[Photos via Getty and Mocksession]