Jurgen Klinsmann needs to branch out in his midfield selections. Last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Jamaica, which featured a trio of defensive mids in the starting XI, was the Americans’ worst showing in the center of the pitch in quite some time. While yesterday’s 1-0 victory showed some improvement in that area, the attack stagnated as the evening progressed, mostly due to the number of holding mids increasing as the clock ticked toward 90.
Klinsmann abandoned the weekend’s 4-3-1-2 in favor of a 4-4-1-1, with Clint Dempsey operating behind Herculez Gomez. Jose Torres and Graham Zusi came on along the wings to provide much-needed guile in attack. As a whole these changes worked, though, as noted, Klinsmann worked against himself as the game progressed.
Misleading Stat Increases
In the first match against Jamaica, not only were the Americans outpassed for most of the game, they completed just a slightly higher percentage of their passes. Both of those trend reversed last night. The gringos held 70% of possession and completed 87% of their passes (Jamaica just 70%). Additionally, the gringos doubled their amount of key passes, from 5 to 10.
What those numbers don’t account for is Jamaica’s defensive positioning. Tuesday in Columbus, Jamaica rarely attempted to venture out of their own half until midway through the second 45, which was the same time frame in which they began to pressure the ball. Up to that point, the Americans had been given a free pass all the way to the edge of the final third. Ironically, Klinsmann probably could have started three defensive midfielders last night with little detriment until the second half.
Torres and Zusi Positive, if not Perfect
To his credit, he did bring on Torres and Zusi, two possession-minded midfielders. Zusi, benefiting from a rejuvenated Steve Cherundolo, caused enough havoc along his flank for Jamaica to shift their personnel, and Torres created three scoring opportunities from the run of play.
The two wingers – and we use that term loosely as both came inside often – were involved in most US scoring opportunities in the first half. These chances were generally created by moving the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, which generally meant attacking sequences started and ended with Torres/Zusi. Jamaica’s net was under constant threat in the first 30 minutes and the Americans were unlucky to go into the interval without a goal. As it was, it took a silly Jamaican foul, and a rare mistake from keeper Dwayne Miller, to allow Herculez Gomez to break the deadlock in the 55th.
Torres, despite the three key passes, couldn’t put his stamp on the match, as Klinsmann has repeatedly stated is his goal for the little midfielder. But should Torres really be expected to dominate when he isn’t playing his natural position?
Torres is a Xavi-style center mid, a player who helps his team maintain defensive solidarity by relieving pressure in the middle of the pitch. He’s rarely filled this role under Klinsmann. The German’s preference for two defensive mids and the return of a healthy Michael Bradley mean Torres may never see time at his natural position. We maintain that a Bradley/Torres holding combo is the USMNT’s best choice when the opposing squad is looking to defend deep and hit on the counter, like last night.
Substitutes Enervate the Attack
Perhaps due to Torres’ not-quite perfect evening, he was the first attacker to come off the field; natural left winger Brek Shea took his place. After Zusi departed for Maurice Edu and Gomez made way for Jozy Altidore, the squad, if not the shape, was changed for the worse. The Americans created 13 shots before Torres, Zusi, and Gomez headed to the bench. They created none after their exit.
In any match, this is an unacceptable situation. With a one goal lead, it was downright dangerous. Save for some fine defending from Geoff Cameron and Carlos Bocanegra – not to mention typically outstanding goalkeeping from Tim Howard – the result could have easily been a draw.
The reason for the substitutes’ enervating effect was simple. The Americans essentially lost an attacker at a time when Jamaica increased their defensive pressure. After all of the subs came on, the Americans again had 3 defensive mids on the field, Edu, Jones, and Williams, who was platooning on the right wing. The Americans lost the ability to string passes together, routinely overhitting attempts to play attackers into space.
Personnel, Personnel, Personnel
Klinsmann, given the players on the bench, didn’t have much of a choice. Which is precisely our biggest beef with the manager in this two-game series. He backed himself into a hole with his squad selection.
Shea, whose pace and directness make him a fine player to bring on as a sub, was Klinsmann’s only experienced forward-thinking mid available. This was another match where Sacha Kljestan or Mix Diskerud would have been invaluable. As we noted over the weekend, an attacking right back was sorely missed when Steve Cherundolo went down before the first match. And where were the wingers? Shea was the only true wide player in the squad.
Jurgen’s job will be easier when Donovan and Bradley return, but he needs to start bringing varied personnel types into the side. Timmy can’t always be there to save him.