USA – Argentina Analysis

SOCCER/FUTBOL GRANADA VS ESTADOS UNIDOS DEBUTAN LOS DE CASA COPA DE ORO 2009 Action photo of Bob Bradley of USA, after Gold Cup 2009 game, held at the Qwest Field of Seattle, Washington./Foto de accion de Bob Bradley de USA, luego de juego de la Copa de Oro 2009, celebrado en el Qwest Field de Seattle, Washington. 04 July 2009. MEXSPORT/DAVID LEAH Photo via Newscom

Not a lot changed in three years. In 2008, USA and Argentina held an exciting, but scoreless, affair in Giants Stadium. Tonight, they clashed at the New Meadowlands Stadium, and though both teams managed a goal, the match still ended in a draw.

1st Half

While the end result emulated the ’08 friendly, Bob Bradley’s tactical inspiration came from a 2009 match. In the ’09 Confederations Cup, the United States used a threefold defensive strategy to stymie Spain. The US packed the middle of the pitch (with the outside midfielders and fullbacks pinching in), used a size advantage to deal with passes in the box, and, if all else failed, relied on Tim Howard to thwart the chances that were created. Unlike the Confederations Cup, when Bradley used a 4-4-2, the US deployed a 4-5-1 against Argentina.

The starting lineups

But with Lionel Messi in top form, La Albiceleste had little difficulty dealing with the congestion in the middle. Howard was called on to stop shot after shot and cross after cross.

While Messi’s excellence was the main reason for Argentina’s first half dominance, manager Sergio Batista’s tactics shouldn’t be discounted. As Ben alluded in his preview, Batista has recently made use of Messi as a false-nine in his 4-3-3. We’ve previously discussed the false-nine in depth but, in brief, a false-nine is a lone striker who drops into the midfield. Messi performed the role wonderfully on the New Meadowlands stage.

At times he was stationed behind center midfielders Esteban Cambiasso and Ever Banega, with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel di Maria vacating their wing positions as they surged into the middle. The tightly-packed US midfield struggled to mark the free-flowing attackers.

Howard’s brilliance notwithstanding, it seemed inevitable that the Argentines would find the net. And when they did, it naturally came through the feet of Messi. He squirted behind the defense and crossed to di Maria. The winger’s shot was stopped by Howard, but Cambiasso, whose run wasn’t racked by Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones, knocked in the rebound (42nd).

The United States didn’t have a lot of possession, though their attack wasn’t completely inept in the first half. Clint Dempsey actually took the game’s first shot after intercepting a pass (7th). But it took 30 more minutes for the Americans to generate another decent opportunity. Jermaine Jones and Landon Donovan formed their own two-man counter before Donovan found Dempsey at the top of the box. Dempsey’s first shot was blocked, though his follow-up effort was bending toward the far netting before goalkeeper Mariano Andujar cut it off.

2nd Half

Bob Bradley’s only substitutions of the match – Timmy Chandler for Jonathan Spector and Juan Agudelo for Jones – occurred at the restart. Maurice Edu slipped into Jones’ holding midfield spot and Agudelo took up the task of linking play between the midfield and Altidore. Chandler for Spector was a like-for-like swap.

With Batista only making one change (Lucas Biglia for Cambiasso), neither managed ended up changing his side’s overall overall strategy. Tired legs, though, accomplished what the changes did not.

As the match progressed, Argentina pressed less and less. Throughout the first half, the Argentines quickly won the ball back as soon as they lost it. No US player was safe from pressure.

Combined with their quick passing game, the intense pressing rewarded the visitors with the vast majority of possession. But late in the match, Argentina couldn’t muster the energy to continue their defensive intensity in USA’s half.

The USA, as a consequence, held onto possession for those few extra passes necessary to create decent scoring opportunities. Argentina’s defenders, though, were up for the challenge. Excepting one sequence.

In the 59th minute, Agudelo latched onto a loose Landon Donovan free kick to net the equalizer. The New York Red Bulls striker has now contributed on 3 goals in his first 3 US matches. His tally tonight wasn’t so much a tactical triumph as it was a poacher’s instincts coming to the fore.

Donovan’s free kick screamed straight at the head of Carlos Bocanegra, whose header was too much for Andujar to handle cleanly. Agudelo beat everyone else to the rebound.

Will the 4-5-1 come back?

It wasn’t pretty. And at times it was agonizing to watch, but Bob Bradley chose the right strategy.

Going forward, though, Bradley might need to tweak his formation against top-class opponents. The Edu-Jones-Bradley triumvirate has been used in two matches (a 0-0 encounter with Colombia was the other). And in both cases the Americans performed better after one of holding midfielders was dropped.

Yes Argentina tired as the game approached its conclusion and injuries to Stuart Holden and Benny Feilhaber may have forced Bob’s hand. Agudelo, though, was much better than Edu in the linking position. Surely the experienced Feilhaber would have fared even better.

We’ll discover whether Bob agrees in three days’ time. Come Tuesday, the USA will take on Paraguay. Ben and I expect the Americans to play a more possession-minded game. But, after tonight, our nerves are demanding it.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gringo Primal says:

    That was pretty difficult to watch. Especially the first half.

    It’s really too bad Holden is unavailable. This is the perfect kind of game for him. He can put in his tackles and use his silky passing. Edu can only do one of those.

  2. bensten says:

    I agree it was a perfect match for Holden, and I really hoped for better from Jones. I think the Gringos showed some real guts that second half not just locking down and instead using a second “forward” in Agudelo.

    Once again Bob has shown his tactical diversity and flexibility and this is one worth a feather in his hat. Sure, it was a friendly, but Argentina ALWAYS plays to win and coming up even is a huge achievement.

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