What We Learned: Defense Still the Question for U.S. Soccer

The U.S. Men’s National Team was lucky to escape from Krasnador with a 2-2 draw against Russia.  They had little continuity and it took about 60 minutes for the entire team to wake up.  We again saw a very defensive minded midfield relying on Jermaine Jones to make runs to the box.  Passing was not a strong point while the back line of the U.S. were dizzy from the Russian attack in many ways.  However, Michael Bradley and Time Howard are good and that isn’t the only positive from the match.  Here are some takeaways from what we saw in Russia.

 

 

Formation and strategy are still in the experimental stage.

Jurgen Klinsmann has tweaked his lineup, formation, and strategy every match.  He continues to preach possession and attacking football, but it never translates to the pitch.  The 4-3-3 formation isolated Josh Gatt in his first international match and put Herculez Gomez in an area that he does not strive out wide.  In recent matches, at least one wing player has felt an after thought unable to utilize their best skills.  The strategy did allow Altidore to be a better target and win some balls, but there was no flow until the game opened up and substitutions were used.

Mar 11, 2012; Frisco, TX, USA; New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo (17) warms up before the match against the FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium. FC Dallas defeated the Red Bulls 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

One lapse in judgment can result in a loss.  Focus is key.

Danny Williams gifted the ball on a horrible free kick that resulted in the first goal by Russia.  Williams is still the only person that knows what he was trying to accomplish.   Russia used a quick free kick to catch the defense sleeping to set up the penalty kick goal.  Clarence Goodson should have been goal side and Maurice Edu kept the play onside.  Howard had the play covered so the foul Goodson committed was foolish.  The other center back position is up for grabs as age becomes a factor for Carlos Bocanegra and Goodson has not shown his worth. Hopefully Omar Gonzalez is contacted for February once the MLS Playoffs have concluded.  These simple mistakes could cost the U.S. a World Cup birth.

There is no longer any reason or explanation that could allow three defensive midfielders to start in the triangle.  

Williams, Bradley, and Jones started the match as the middle three with Williams playing as the deep laying midfielder.  It didn’t work.  The communication was not there and finishing opportunities were squandered by Jones.  The triangle does not work for this trio, but perhaps a different formation would in the future.  Still it feels like Klinsmann needs to take off one, mainly Jones at this point, for an attack minded player or someone that can hold the ball and play a point guard like role.  Jones and Williams can both play the deep laying spot and Bradley is this team’s best player.  Now Klinsmann must find another to make the triangle work if he wants to stick with that formation.

Altidore may have got it.

Jozy Altidore seemed to understand his role and was the target needed.  He also played more spirited defense tracking back.  Perhaps most encouraging was a defensive play made in the 75th minute in which Altidore won the ball on the defensive side of midfield.  Offensively he was available for service but the lack of possession hurt his chances of receiving.  He even set up Jones in the box for a potential go ahead goal late in the match.  Altidore’s form was promising.

The kids are all right.

What we saw from Juan Agudelo and Josh Gatt was promising.  Agudelo had a horrible year but his energy as a substitute was evident.  Maybe this was a revival for the 19 year old.  He was still the youngest player on the squad.  Gatt is very raw, but his athleticism helped him win tackles and his speed made his runs seem more threatening than they were at full speed.  Diskerud was in the right place to equalize in stoppage time, but his creativity is the kind that could allow the previously mentioned triangle to thrive.  These players could be key in upcoming Gold Cup matches.

Side note: He may not be a kid compared to Agudelo, Gatt, and Diskerud, but Sacha Kljestan opens the game up for the U.S.  He seems a vital clog for a team expecting to be without Landon Donovan.

The U.S. is not expecting to play a friendly in January as they look forward to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.  Klinsmann and his staff will have to do a lot of behind the scenes work to sure up issues as they build a large roster for a busy 2013.

Topics: Altidore, Michael Bradley, U.s Soccer, World Cup

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