USA – Brazil Analysis

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 10: Jonathan Bornstein  and Carlos Bocanegra  of the U.S. guard Robinho  of Brazil in the first half of a friendly match at the New Meadowlands on August 10, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

If last night was Bob Bradley’s last match as USA’s gaffer, it’s certainly not one he’ll want to file in the ‘tactically sound’ department.

Tactical Analysis

When a two-striker system comes up against a three-man central midfield, as USA’s 4-4-2 did against Brazil’s 4-2-31 last night, a squad has three choices to cope with their inferior numbers in the midfield: 1) drop one of the strikers into the midfield, 2) bring an outside midfielder into the middle, or 3) drop the entire midfield line behind the ball. Last night, Bob Bradley tried all three at some point during the match. Landon Donovan, used as a withdrawn striker, put himself in decent defensive positions when he moved toward his own half, left midfielder Benny Feilhaber sometimes ventured inside to help Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, and the two aforementioned center mids gave Brazilian midfielders space on the ball in an attempt to cut off passing lanes.

Unfortunately, each technique has its own Achilles’ heel. To begin with, Donovan may have had decent positioning when in defense, but man marking is not his strong suit. Holding midfielders Lucas and Ramires had little trouble avoiding his efforts. When a 4-4-2 is forced to use a withdrawn striker to counter a three-man midfield, they lose the advantage of having two forwards and may as well have played an attacking midfielder instead of one of the strikers.

Next, Benny Feilhaber, who found great success during the World Cup pinching in from outside midfield, had an off night, too easily losing control of possession. To make matters worse, Brazilian right back Dani Alves was able to exploit the areas Feilhaber vacated, which is a noted concern when a winger plays centrally (for example, Germany rampaged down England’s left flank whenever Steven Gerrard moved inward). If Alves had not been jet lagged from a recent flight from Beijing, where he was playing with his club, Barcelona, Brazil would have picked up a few more goals during the first half.

Last, Edu and Bradley had no luck with the bend but don’t break technique. Had Brazil’s formation been static, they may have been able to give up as much space as they did, but since wingers Robinho and Neymar joined midfielders Ganso, Ramires, and Lucas, Edu and Bradley had absolutely no chance at cutting off all of the passing lanes.

Unfortunately, Bob Bradley didn’t have much of a choice in his tactics, as the lack of preparation before friendlies means a manager has little time to install new strategies. Additionally, Omar Gonzalez was playing with the national team for the first time and Alejandro Bedoya earned his first start, increasing the risk of giving players unfamiliar responsibilities.

That said, Brazil seemed to have little trouble adjusting to a new manager, with Mano Menezes putting his stamp on the squad in his first match. Later in the week, we’ll compare his 4-2-3-1 to former manager Dunga’s 4-2-2-2.

Gringo Performance

As this was a friendly, whose purpose is to A) allow managers to evaluate players and B) make copious amounts of money, here’s a breakdown of each American’s performance.

Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein – With Neymar and Robinho occasionally switching wings, both fullbacks had an opportunity to mark the Brazilian tricksters. Neither fullback was up to either challenge.

Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley – During the second half, the American duo may as well have not been on the pitch for all the ease Brazil had going from box to box.

Alejandro Bedoya – Outside of being culpable on the first goal, Bedoya was invisible for most of the match.

Robbie Findley – Findley again showed he has speed and not much else. He did a decent job maintaining possession, though.

Sacha Kljestan – Aside from a few nice crosses, Sacha did little to impress.

Omar Gonzalez – Towards the end of the match Gonzalez calmed down, cleared a few crosses, and even showed composure on the ball. However, he had a howler of a first half, routinely losing track of Alexandre Pato. Gonzalez semed to be confused on defensive responsibilities, failing to communicate with fellow center back Carlos Bocanegra and goalkeeper Tim Howard. To be fair, it was his first match playing with Bocanegra and Howard.

Benny Feilhaber – After an excellent World Cup, there were rumors that Feilhaber might be leaving Danish side AGF Aarhaus for a bigger club. His uninspired performance last night may cause teams to reconsider their offers.

Jozy Altidore – Jozy needed a great performance to either convince Villarreal to let him stay on or entice another club into buying his contract. And while his pace and strength bothered center back David Luiz, Altidore never beat him in a number of one-on-ones.

Herculez Gomez – Gomez almost scored late in the match, and given that he was playing out of position at right midfield, had an alright twenty-three minute cameo.

Clarence Goodson – Goodson seemed to do a better job communicating with Gonzalez than Bocanegra did, though he sometimes wasn’t fast enough stepping up when attackers moved behind Edu and Bradley.

Edson Buddle – The LA Galaxy forward displayed a deft touch for a big man, especially towards the beginning of the match. He began to fade as the night progressed.

Carlos Bocanegra – USA’s captain had excellent positioning for much of the night, but on Brazil’s second goal, he and Gonzalez allowed Alexandre Pato to beat their offside trap.

Brad Guzan – He may have been helped a couple of times by the post, but Guzan was authoritative on corners and made a number of nice saves. He should be proud of his 45-minute shutout.

Landon Donovan – Playing somewhat out of position as a withdrawn forward (Donovan has not played there for the national team in quite some time – excepting a brief stretch against Netherlands last spring), Donovan was USA’s only consistent threat. The ease with which Thiago Silva pushed Donovan off the ball shows why it’s best that Landon play out wide, where there’s more space and the defenders aren’t quite so big.

Tim Howard – Though Timmy was scored on twice, he did an admirable job considering the lax defense in front of him.

Gringos, what did you think of the match last night? Were there any positives despite the disheartening loss?

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