The American attack is devolving. Against Scotland, they scored 5 goals in a variety of ways; against Brazil they scored one slick goal and forced a number of saves from young keeper Rafael; but against Canada they never seemed likely to ripple the net.
Why couldn’t the USA penetrate the Canadian defense?
Dempsey roams unsuccessfully
On paper, this was the most attack-minded squad of the three friendlies. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were finally on the field together under Jurgen Klinsmann, and the gaffer even managed to include Iniesta-like José Torres alongside the accomplished American attacking duo. It didn’t work.
The formation most closely resembled a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1. But Dempsey and Torres roamed quite a bit, making the overall shape pretty fluid. Both players tend to cover a lot of ground, though last night’s movement was often excessive, especially for Dempsey. He spent a lot of time near or behind the midfield line. At one point in the first half, Dempsey and Torres were both behind holding midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. This movement created quite a discord in the build-up play. Herculez Gomez, nominally Dempsey’s striking partner, often found himself far afield of any other US attackers.
On one of the few occassions Dempsey received his first pass in a possession in an advanced position (40th minute), Donovan and Dempsey combined to create a shot and win a corner. This sequence looked fairly similar to an old Bob Bradley standby. The striker, Gomez, pulled wide to stretch the defense as Dempsey and Donovan charged inside. It was one of the few promising attacking possessions of the evening.
Puzzling reliance on crosses
USA’s success at posting a goose egg also had a lot to do with a puzzling reliance on crosses. The gringos attempted 27 crosses (5 successful), which was an order of magnitude higher than in either of the previous matches. They attempted 18 against Brazil (9 successful) and 13 against Scotland (3 successful).
What made the strategy so odd was that there was rarely anyone in the box to take advantage of the service. Jermaine Jones appeared to be the target of a number of crosses to the back post, but Dempsey was often too deep to be of any use and Gomez needed someone to take defenders away when he made his run.
Given the positioning of Dempsey and Torres, the strategy didn’t make much sense.
Stout Canadian defense
Any time one squad fails to score, it’s worth taking note of the opposing team’s performance. And Canada certainly performed well. When they didn’t have possession – which was 62% of the time – Canada used a defensive 4-5-1.
They dealt very well with the avalanche of crosses, making 17 of 27 successful clearances. They also did a good job preventing the Americans from developing any fluidity in the final third. They won 9 tackles in their half of the field (and 10 of 12 overall) as well as making 17 interceptions in the same area.
Their disciplined play shamed the Americans, who far too often looked shaky dealing with Canada’s forays into the final third.
The Canadian’s sound defending, along with the weird reliance on crosses and roaming of Dempsey, conspired to prevent the Americans from developing a consistent attack. Klinsmann will need to do some tinkering before Friday if he wants to keep using Dempsey and Torres together.
Any thoughts? Or were you as puzzled by the display as we were?