USA 1 – Mexico 1: More Analysis

Our analysis today begins midway through the first half–in the 21st minute to be exact. This is because when I eagerly clicked on my DVR recording of the game I found that was the precise minute at which ESPN ‘s coverage began (Blake will post more on the whole television coverage debacle).

This initial shock was followed by a blast of disappointment (“Dang, already down 1-0?’), after which I quickly began scanning the squads and players to get a grip on strategy and formations. A question immediately popped to  my mind: what are all those central midfielders doing out there for USA ? Bradley, Jones, Torres and Beckerman all seemed to be gracing the pitch–this definitely ain’t no 4-4-2. As it turns out, with a little reverse engineering and inference we were able to determine that Klinsmann had debuted with a 4-2-3-1 of a slightly different flavor than we’d ever seen, with Bradley as the supposed play-making trequartista and the old Bob stand-by Buddle as the lone striker. Mexico was in the same 4-4-1-1 they used in the Gold Cup final, swapping Sinha for dos Santos and Peralta for Chicharito.

We do love the 4-2-3-1 here at FFG, and in fact suggested it as a tactical option for team USA way back in summer 2010. However, there were some problems with the way it was executed on Wednesday. Both Donovan and Torres cut in often, which would be fine if they had fullbacks charging up the line, but both Cherundolo and Castillo showed little inclination, not that they had even much time to breath under Mexico’s intense pressure, let alone dream of windy overlapping runs.

Klinsmann's debut 4-2-3-1. Donovan and Torres pinched in but fullbacks failed to fill the vacuum left behind.

Causes for Comcern
Yesterday, Blake sharply criticized usa’s lack of pressing, and rightly so. He justified with data the fact that Mexico’s decision to press hard gave them the upper hand in terms of turnovers, passes and possession.

Aside from the anemic level of pressing throughout the first 70 minutes or so, there are a few other worrysome questions that Klinsmann will need to ponder:

  • Do we have the right striker/trequartista for a 1 striker formation?
    Michael Bradley did not convince as the Fabregas-esque playmaker a 4-2-3-1 needs to be truly dangerous. When Landon moved into the middle behind Agudelo late in the game, he DID display flair and creativity. Ironically, here at FFG we often bemoan the fact that Donovan gets lost in the middle of the pitch, but Wednesday’s display will force us to rethink.

    In terms of the lone striker, all we can say about poor Buddle is that he jogged a few kilometers. Agudelo was much more effective in holding up the ball and working with his supporting midfield. We’ve argued before that Altidore’s idiosyncratic development as a player and his ability to hold up the ball make him a possible candidate for a one striker formation. Time will tell.

  • One of Klinsmann’s major priorities without doubt has to be solidifying the back four. We just can’t seem to find the right chemistry. From the rookies (Castillo turned the ball over repeatedly) to the veterans (Bocanegra was even miscommunicating with Howard) we have issues that make us vulnerable. I know you’re a striker, Jurgen, but you’ll need to put some big attention on that other end of the pitch.

Signs of Hope
Overall we take a positive impression from Klinsmann’s first game at the helm, and not just because he seems like an amicable, thoughtful and sincere manager. Here are a couple reasons for hope that occur to us:

  • A spirit of experimentation with long-term goals in mind
    Klinsmann came out of the gates with an experimental mindset, playing a still-evolving formation, calling up young players and players Bob Bradley had long forgotten. The thing is, he called the RIGHT players. It’s clear he has been watching Americans not just in Europe, but right here in MLS.
  • The right substitutions
    If the starting 11 is a first draft, than a manager’s substitutions are his revisions and final copy. Klinsmann gets an A in this regard. The introduction of specific subs and positioning tweaks radically changed the run of play in a game that could easily have turned into a victory.
  • 20 minutes of kick-ass soccer
    We aren’t naive–we know it was a friendly and Mexico was tired from all that pressing. But let’s face it, those last 20 minutes were the best soccer we’ve seen from team USA this year. If it took 70 minutes of timid play to warm up to that level of game that can carry over into our upcoming games, we’ll take it.

USA's shots. All but 2 (including goal) came in the final 20 minutes of play.

Gringos, let’s hear your first impressions of Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1? Are you more focused on the mediocre first 70 minutes or the elevated finish?

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    It really doesn’t seem like those of us who recorded the match missed much.

    But I am puzzled by the starting winger selection. Not only were the fullbacks rarely able to overlap, Donovan and Torres were playing on their natural sides. If they’re going to come inside anyway, why not play them inverted so they can unleash their powerful shots?

  2. AG says:

    I particularly like bringing Shea off the bench!

    • bensten says:

      I know! I wanted to do a performance profile on our hometown hero but ran out of time. I thought he, Dono and Agudelo had a nice little dynamic. I also started wondering how shea would look as an inverted winger?

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