USA – Mexico Tactical Preview

Gringos, this one could be a classic. Mexico possesses a striker in an unprecedented run of form. The United States has latched onto a free-flowing, entertaining formation, accompanied by the resurgence of a once wunderkind. The Gold Cup final should live up to its billing.

Mexico sauntered through the tournament’s early matches, only to stumble through the knockout stages, even needing extra time to finish off a dogged Honduras. The United States advanced to the final in quite the opposite fashion. Uneven group stages results were followed by dominant performances in the quarterfinal and semifinal. The two sides’ contrasting paths to the final set the stage for what could be a remarkable tournament capstone.

The talent on hand, and the tactics utilized by each team, will only add to the drama.

Similar formations

Control of the wings could be vital given the similar shapes of the projected starting formations.

Assuming both managers maintain the same shape they’ve used in the knockout stages, the formations will be quite comparable, Mexico in a 4-4-1-1 and USA in a 4-2-3-1 (go here to read more about the similarities/differences between these two formations).

The central midfielders for both sides will provide a platform for the more creative players to attack. Intriguingly, all four center mids are comfortable playing as the deep holding midfielder or pushing forward.

The attacking quartets for each side are also remarkably similar. Each quartet is composed of a lone striker operating above a central attacker and two wingers. Additionally, all four fullbacks seek to join the attack.

The main difference will be the interchanging of the three players behind the striker. Mexico’s trio of Andres Guardado, Giovanni Dos Santos, and Pablo Barrera tends to switch positions less frequently than USA’s trio. While Dos Santos does have a free role, and Guardado and Barrera sometimes come inside, they won’t change places for extended periods. USA’s three attacking midfielders have more fluid responsibilities. It’s entirely possible that all three players could play all three positions before the end of the match.

Choosing a trequartista

Sacha Kljestan could be handed the reins to the US attack.

Of course, just which three players will man those positions for the USA is unclear. The biggest question is which player should be the trequartista, the playmaker sitting underneath the striker.

Clint Dempsey will obviously be on the field, though it’s up in the air as to whether he’ll be in the middle, on the wing, or up top. Surely Landon Donovan, with his history of terrorizing El Tricolor, has to start following his 2-game demotion to the bench. We’re not big fans of Landon playing the middle, but he is an option.

Bob’s decisions on the two stars’ positions will color the choice of the trequartista. If the two stars play on the wing, Sacha Kljestan or Freddy Adu will be in the middle. If either Donovan or Dempsey starts in the middle, Alejandro Bedoya will play on the flank as a natural winger.

Either way, the deciding factor might be the use of Dempsey. If the Texan plays on the wing, a start for Adu, a traditional trequartista, could be called for. If Dempsey is up top (and, hopefully, playing as a false-nine), the slightly more defensive-minded Kljestan could get the nod.

Don’t envy Bradley the Elder’s conundrum. Adu and Kljestan both tend to run hot or cold. Bob could hit a home run or strike out with either choice.

Right vs. Left

Given the similar formations, and the congestion in the middle that resemblance brings, the match could come down to flank vs. flank. One side of the pitch in particular will field a remarkable amount of talent. On the USA’s right flank, you’ll find Andres Guardado, Landon Donovan, Carlos Salcido, and Steve Cherundolo.

Slowing down Carlos Salcido would go a long way to thwarting Mexico's attack.

The pair of fullbacks – Salcido and Cherundolo – are without doubt the best left and right backs in the tournament. Wingers Donovan and Guardado are two of the competition’s top three outside midfielders (Clint Dempsey fits somewhere in that discussion).

Unfortunately, knocks to Guardado and Salcido cast their participation in doubt. But if they do play, viewers could be in for a treat as these four make runs at each other. Much like USA’s World Cup match with England, the US will gain a big leg up if Donovan and Cherundolo can pin back Guardado and Salcido

Stopping Chicharito

As Stuart Scott liked to say, you can't stop him. You can only hope to contain him.

Chicharito is something of an aberration. He’s a traditional forward thriving in a post-traditional forward soccer world. He doesn’t fit the role of either the lone forward or the false-nine, the two modern forward archetypes.

In order to make use of his speed and poacher’s instincts, he has to play off someone – be it Wayne Rooney for United or Dos Santos for Mexico. He also doesn’t possess the skill set to function as a false-nine, a la Lionel Messi or Robin van Persie.

Yet he makes it work. Clint Dempsey, Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, and Landon Donovan have a combined total of five goals this tournament. Chicharito has seven. Stopping the Manchester United forward will top Bob Bradley’s defensive checklist.

It’s all about the service

The best way to slow down any forward is to deny him service. This responsibility falls chiefly on the shoulders of the central midfielders and the center backs. The former have to close down opposition midfielders to prevent them from having clean passing lanes while the latter must always be ready to either step up in an offside trap or fall back to track Chicharito’s runs.

And it is that last aspect that might be the most important. The reason Chicharito can thrive in an era of false-nines is his ability to make clever off-the-ball runs. Many players are as fast or skilled as Chicharito. Very few move as intelligently as he does.

Whether paired with playmaker Dos Santos or towering striker Aldo de Negris – whose physicality presents a problem on set pieces – Chicharito plays just off the opposing center backs, looking to make darting runs at opportune moments. Unless the US backline constantly tracks Chicharito, he could easily add to his seven goal tally.

Go, go, USA!

From the brilliance of Chicharito to the resurgence of Adu, not to mention the quality of Donovan and Dempsey, Guardado and Dos Santos, tomorrow’s final should be a delight to watch, whether you’re a fan of tactics or just the intense US-Mexico rivalry.

If the United States can dominate their right flank, slow down Chicharito, and find the right trequartista, all US fans should find some measure of joy in the 2011 Gold Cup final.

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gringo Primal says:

    It sounds like it’s going to be a doozy. I want to see Adu in the trequartista role because, well, I just do. Let’s give him another shot.

    Dempsey could be up top because Agudelo might get overwhelmed if he starts. If there’s no Agudelo, the attacking trio is Donovan, Bedoya, and Adu, and de Negris gets a start, this would be the first game in recent history where Mexico has the bigger side. Could be interesting on set pieces, like you said.

    • Blake Owen says:

      Hopefully the game won’t be decided by a set piece. But if it is, de Negris is probably the best bet to grab a goal. Donovan, Dempsey, and Chicharito aren’t slouches in the air either.

      • Ghengiscone says:

        I actually like Donovan coming off the bench, provided it’s around the 60th minute, his boost of energy and calm on the pitch has seemed to resettle the team when he enters the match. That said I expect him to start, Bradley doesn’t want to outthink him self on this one.

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