Jurgen Klinsmann’s first CONCACAF away game wasn’t terribly pleasing to the eye. The Americans dominated possession but created few opportunities, and fans were subjected to a Guatemalan attack that did little but punt the ball forward. The lack of final third quality from either team made the draw a fair result.
Jones Stifles the Attack
With Fabian Johnson back in the fold, Klinsmann’s toughest decision was how to replace the dinged up José Torres. He used the Bradley/Edu/Jones midfield triumvirate but not in a way we’d seen before. Jermaine Jones was fielded as the right midfielder, creating a staid 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1. Without a true creative player on the right side – and the Guatemalans in a very defensive 4-4-2 – the US attack suffered.
Jones didn’t exactly look uncomfortable on the flank, as he often ventured inward to attempt to link with withdrawn forward Clint Dempsey, but Jones wasn’t terribly successful in his efforts. Considering he’s a defensive midfielder by trade, his performance can’t be criticized too much (that’s not to say the same of Klinsmann’s choice to put him out there).
The knock-on effect of his positioning was that Landon Donovan moved to the left. When Dempsey plays on that wing, he spends just as much time in central areas as he does out wide. Donovan, however, stayed much closer to the touchline than Dempsey normally does, which gave Fabian Johnson less room to work in. It’s telling that Steve Cherundolo, who had more space since Jones was coming inside, attempted 14 more passes than Johnson. On the few occasions Johnson managed to get into the final third, the attack prospered. Though with Donovan taking up so much space, Johnson struggled to influence the match with regularity.
If there was one positive to Jones being an outside mid, it was that Dempsey was pushed higher. However, Fulham’s leading man rarely provided dangerous service or looked likely to score himself. His positioning was fortuitous in the 40th minute, though, as he was at the top of the box when Johnson produced one of his rare runs forward. The goal, which included Dempsey skipping past two defenders along the edge of the box, occurred when Donovan moved inside of Johnson, though the pair admittedly benefited from a deflected pass that bounced into Johnson’s path.
That sequence was not a regular sight, though. For long stretches the US pinged the ball horizontally around the edge of the final third. The team simply wasn’t creating enough off the ball support. There were very few diagonal runs into the final third, which left Dempsey and Michael Bradley without anyone to pass to in dangerous positions. The Jones/Donovan outside dynamic, despite decent performances from both players, sucked all the life out of the attack.
Guatemala’s Hypnotizing “Attack”
At the back, defending most often consisted of chasing down long punts from the Guatemalan goalkeeper or backline. The hosts rarely tried to play the ball forward through the feet of their attackers. The strategy was something of an odd choice given the American’s struggles to defend when the Guatemalans worked the ball up the field. Fortunately for Klinsmann’s defense, they didn’t have to cope with many ground-based attacks. Instead the home side sent pass after pass over the top. It’s hard to recall another recent match where so many balls were punted up the pitch.
Eventually the strategy paid off. Carlos Bocanegra misread a booted ball from the goalkeeper and had to watch it bounce over his head to Carlos Ruiz. Johnson wisely squirted over to cover for Bocanegra only to overplay Ruiz and commit a foul; Marco Pappa’s excellently taken free kick froze Tim Howard. USA’s Number 1 read the shot well initially but for some reason didn’t take a stab at blocking it.
The Guatemalan’s strategy may have been infantile, but they did produce twice as many shots on target as the USA (4 to 2), further proof that the US needed more guile up front.
Any away point in World Cup qualifying, even against relative minnows like Guatemala, is precious. But Klinsmann can’t be happy with the way this one was earned.
In some ways, he has only himself to blame. His roster included 4 holding midfielders and 4 traditional forwards. A gimpy Torres left him with little alternative in attack. When the next round of qualifying starts in the early fall, Klinsmann needs to bring more creative players into the fold.
Gringos, what did you think of this one? Did you consider switching over to the NBA Finals once Guatemala’s attack pattern became clear? Could Jones have done any better on the flank, or was the flimsy US attack all Klinsmann’s fault?