USA 0 – Costa Rica 1: Poor Final Third Distribution

Landon Donovan's use as a central midfielder was the key component of Klinsmann's 4-3-3.

Only four minutes into Jurgen Klinsmann’s second match as USA’s gaffer, a pair of young midfielders, José Torres and Brek Shea, skillfully combined to set up USA’s all-time goal scorer for an unpressured attempt on goal. Landon Donovan’s right-footed shot went wide of the post, and the theme for USA – Costa Rica was set.

The US produced some truly breathtaking passing sequences – particularly those originating from the feet of Torres – only to watch the attack fall apart in the final third.

A unique 4-3-3

Klinsmann abandoned the 4-2-3-1 he used against Mexico, preferring a 4-3-3 (Costa Rica started with a very staid 4-4-2). What made USA’s setup interesting was the use of Landon Donovan, who was part of the midfield trio.

Donovan, shuttling back and forth between the midfield and the front three, wasn’t exactly a traditional center mid, but he certainly received passes in deeper positions than he is accustomed to. For the most part, the move came off brilliantly. Donovan served as an immediate outlet for either Torres, the true link man, or Maurice Edu, operating in the Busquets role. Donovan’s presence in deep positions, along with the lack of pressing from Costa Rica, allowed Torres and Edu to pick out passes with impunity.

Edu and Torres both had brilliant games offensively. Between them they completed 135 passes, misfiring on just 17.

On the flanks, Robbie Rogers and Brek Shea operated as natural wingers. Both were lively in the early-going, but Rogers faded terribly as the match progressed. He attempted just 9 passes in the second half and was partially at fault on Costa Rica’s goal (more below). Donovan often joined Rogers and Shea on the wings, and with Jozy Altidore roaming and the fullbacks attacking, the Americans swarmed the Costa Rican defense. At one point, the bewildered defenders were completely at a loss, as Altidore and Shea were deeper than Donovan and Torres.

Americans Play Like Catalans

The visitors did put together a few brief strings of possession, but as a whole the gringos dominated possession. Klinsmann’s crew completed 290 more passes than the visitors. Viewers would have been forgiven for thinking the squad wearing red was Spain and not the United States.

The USA sent wave after wave of aimless crosses toward the box. Their 32 unsuccessful crosses contrasted quite upsettingly with their 6 successful attempts.

But unlike the World Cup champions – who always seem to find some way to score – the Americans never rippled their opponent’s net. A plethora of unsuccessful crosses were a large reason for the anemic number of chances on goal. The reliance on crosses into the box was puzzling. Lone striker Altidore, though an able battler, is not particularly effective in the air. Donovan, however, possesses a knack for finding space to score with his head, but he was coming from such deep positions that he was rarely able a to get on the end of crosses.

That problem was Klinsmann’s fault, not Donovan’s, though blame for the Number 10′s terrible final third distrbution rests solely on Landycake’s shoulders. As we noted earler, Donovan did an admirable job playing in an unfamiliar position, but he didn’t complete a single pass in the final third. As the center mid furthest up the pitch, Donovan’s lackluster final third passes often killed the attack. Consequently, most of the gringos’ best scoring chances came on rebounds following failed Costa Rican clearances. Torres’ blasted half-volley in this exact situation was the best US effort on the night.

More silly defensive mistakes

The loss, though, can be attributed to a vicious Costa Rican counter and some lazy defending. Carlos Bocanegra, for all his experience, played a poor offside trap in the 65th. Alvorio Saborio then ran onto a chipped pass and crossed to Michael Barrentes, whose run wasn’t tracked by Edu. Chandler was forced to cover Barrentes, so when Tim Howard stopped the initial shot, Chandler, through no fault of his own, was unable to mark left midfielder Rodney Wallace.

Robbie Rogers, who seconds earlier had stood just yards behind Wallace, was nowhere in the picture. Rogers hadn’t even bothered to attempt to look like he was tracking back.

The goal came against the overall run of play. But Costa Rica, almost passive participants for much of the first half, took the game to the Americans for portions of the second forty-five minutes. Their newfound success was due in part to the halftime introduction of Daniel Colindres and a shift to a lopsided 4-4-3.

Despite the visitor’s lively counter-attacks, the match should go down as a disappointment for the United States, as opposed to a total triumph for Costa Rica. Klinsmann will be pleased at how well his team strung together passes in the build-up, though he obviously needs to find a way to penetrate defenses in the final third.

Gringos, what did you think of this frustrating match? Who impressed? Who didn’t? Will the Belgium match result in a more satisfying scoreline?

9 Comments Post a Comment
  1. bensten says:

    Nice stats on Edu and Torres. I thought both of them had fantastic first halves, and both faded/tired significantly in the 2nd.

    It’s nice that Klinsmann shows a lot of patience with the younger players and their mistakes, but Castillo’s turnovers and poor decision-making are worrying. Chandler didn’t shine as he did before either.

    In the end I’m left feeling a lot like I feel after an Arsenal match (my favorite EPL team): mesmerized by pretty futbol and disappointed with the lack of bite.

  2. Taps says:

    I wanna see Johnny Spector get some PT, maybe at leftback instead of castillo. and I would also like to see this 4-3-3 get used more in the future as well. I always liked torres, im glad to see him getting a bigger role and succeeding in it.

    2 thumbs way up for FFG. I love this site you have come up with, I am always excited for your next tactical report/article.

    • Blake Owen says:

      Thanks! We’d like to do more but Ben and I are both currently swamped.

      Hopefully we’ll have time for a podcast after today’s friendly but before the October match with Honduras.

  3. James says:

    This game was probably a case where the US would have benefitted from having two committed forwards (Altidore, Donovan) in more of a 4-4-2 than having Landon play as an advanced central mid. Torres and Edu looked to have a lock on midfield (at least in the 1st half). But Donovan ended up killing more buildups and getting practically no looks at goal, other than his glorious early miss. Me thinks Klinsmann might need to find some other corner takers as well. Landon has been leaving almost everything short it seems for months now.

  4. James says:

    Ok, so I nailed Jurgi’s starting 11 against CR, so I’ll give Belgium a go as well (this is who I think Klinsmann will start, not necessarily who I want). I believe Klinsmann will stay with the same formation:


    I think Klinsman will ask Torres to play up field more with Beckerman now able to facilitate the flow up field. I think Dempsey will provide more of an attacking bite so Coach K will want to see alot of interaction between Torres-Dempsey-Altidore.

    I also think he’ll go with Chandler over Cherundolo because Klinsmann knows he’ll need to replace Dolo very soon. I could see him subbing out Shea sometime in the 2nd half, moving Chander up to wide-right and bringing in Cherundolo at right back just to see Chandler in a more attacking role. I just don’t believe Klinsmann wants to rely on a back line that has both Boca and Dolo by the time the WC rolls around. Klinsmann ejected alot of vets from Germany’s program when he took over there, so I would expect a similar approach with Dolo… but I could be wrong!

    • AdamFromMich says:

      Well, I tried to second-guess James last time and I came up short. But I’ll try again.


      So, I’m going with Cherundolo and Goodson in the back instead of Chandler and Ream. And I think Beckerman will play deeper than Edu. I’d like to replace Castillo, but I’m not sure there’s anyone on this roster who’s better (and familiar with the position). I also think Klinsman is trying to build up Castillo’s confidence, and replacing him with a non-LB would not be good for that.

      • James says:

        Hah! Looks like we were both right and wrong! Chandler at left back – I guess the Castillo experiment may be over. I rate Chandler about the same as Lichaj over there – and both are better than Castillo and Bornstein. I guess if Chandler wants the job he probably has it.

        What really messed us up was the inclusion of Rogers. Klinsmann must really like his old teammate because I don’t think he warranted another start.

        Shea was a beast – but Altidore – ugh! We have got to find a forward who can play as a lone striker if Klinsmann is going to persist with these one striker formations.

        • Blake Owen says:

          Thanks for all the speculation, James! I just wish Ben and I could come up with some analysis of the Belgium match.

          It’s a bit hard to do properly when you weren’t actually able to watch the game.

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