Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A few points on USA vs Ecuador and Honduras

1. I find it a little bit funny that, apart from the Mexico match, the USA has been doing the antithesis of the Bob Bradley era - starting very promisingly, even dominating, before giving up a goal. Three of the four goals the USA has conceded in the Klinsmann era have been in the second half, and two of those three in the last 22.5 minutes ( the "second half of the second half"). Now, to be fair to Klinsmann, I doubt that Carlos Bocanegra would have had as big a mental lapse as Tim Ream did last night. Substitutions inevitably just about always ruin international friendlies, which is partly why Bob Bradley would frequently make half, or even less than half of his substitutions during certain friendlies, using certain friendlies to test his actual tactics, and then using others to test the mettle and merit of players( January friendlies).

2. Oguchi Onyewu had a great game. There isn't much other way of putting that. However, my (biggest) surprise comes from the fact that he had such a great game against the type of attack he is rumoured to struggle against - pacy strikers, tricky wingers, and a counter attacking side that's good in transitions. His positional sense was great, his aerial dominance was evident, and he's playing with a confidence and belief in himself that we haven't seen in a while. The center back spot seems his to lose

3. There is a serious lack of creativity in the central midfield right now. And I'll tell you something else - the solution is not Jose Torres ( or whining about what Stuey Holden would do). Torres may spray the ball around smartly to keep possession, but he lacks the attacking drive. By that, I mean that he's not really trying to make a direct impact on the attack. What the USA could really use is a defensive midfielder who can get in tackles AND spray the ball around in an intelligent manner that helps set tempo and keep possession. I would say that the player best suited for this position is Michael Bradley. He has been playing the role for Chievo Verona, and played it for Borussia Moenchengladbach. He's generally quite good at switching the point of attack ( although some people give him a lot of flack for passing the ball from side to side way too much), and presents a better passing range than some like to admit. As far as the player in front of him, again, it needs to be someone who can provide real drive into the attack. Benny Feilhaber could do well in such a role, as he presents an ability to both spray the ball around intelligently, and unlock defenses, either by skill or by vision. Sacha Kljestan is playing pretty well in Belgium these days, and he has better overall mobility than Feilhaber. He provides the running , stamina, work rate, and tackling of a box-to-box midfielder, and the creativity of an attacking midfielder. That being said, his passing isn't as precise as Feilhaber's. He seems to constantly look for the defense-splitting pass.

4. Timothy Chandler is definitely settling in at left fullback. Not much else to say. He seems to be growing in confidence on both sides of the ball.

5. Altidore has grown a lot as a player at AZA. His hold-up play, his work rate, his aerial ability, and his overall ball-handling have improved. Moreover, he seems confident.

6. I liked Edson Buddle last night, and I continue to question why he's all of a sudden on the outside looking in. He made some good things happen last night simply with solid hold-up play and decision-making. To me, he's like Brian Ching/Conor Casey who can finish on the international level ( no offense to either player - I'm fans of both). I don't think he should be starting, but I do think he should be at least the back up option as a target striker.

Overall, I think the USA does have quite a few positives to take from these two matches, or at least a big one. Apart from getting his first win as manager of the USA, Juergen Klinsmann seems to have found a tactic/formation that works for this side after the first three games. The 4-1-4-1, due to it's numerical superiority in the central midfield, offered great possession and organization, but left the USA looking rigid and predictable in the final third, with none of the central midfielders getting the freedom to roam or create, and none really in a good position to create chances and channel the attack. In this new formation, which looks like a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, Dempsey can roam underneath Altidore to find space to create from, or even join him up top at times. Essentially, the 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 is better than the 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 at having players in dangerous spaces to make things happen. We saw a lot of times, particularly against Costa Rica, where the USA's attack would be slowed down because they didn't have options or ideas in the final third. Against Honduras and Ecuador, the USA had Clint Dempsey in the hole to receive the ball, which helped link the midfield and attack. Moreover, Dempsey is in a good position to support Altidore right off the bat. Generally, I'd like to see the formation posted above given a shot. Bradley in a deep-lying/ holding distributive role and Kljestan shuttling to and fro the "3" and the "2" in the 4-2-3-1.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

USA vs Argentina tactical analysis


The graphic on top shows the USA first half shape, and the graphic on the bottom shows the USA's second half shape. The first half was the USA's attempt to stifle Argentina's central trio with one of their own., but Messi dropping deep created a 4v3 imbalance in the center in favor of Argentina. This was why Argentina were so rampant in the first half. Since the USA wasn't wasn't going to allow Messi roam unmarked, they let one of Argentina's central midielders free, specifically, Esteban Cambiasso the man who got the goal. Offensively, the USA was poor because with them sitting so deep, the only outball they had in their transition play was Jozy Altidore, who was outnumbered 2-4vs1.

The second half saw the USA switch to the 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 that they're comfortable with and have had success with. Playing a two-forward system immediately gave he USA more support for the attack. More importantly, the Altidore, Agudelo, and Chandler's movement into high and wide areas either stretched Argentina and created gaps for Donovan and Dempsey to exploit, or provided an outball in transition play. It was particularly dangerous for Altidore and Agudelo to get wide because Argentina's fullbacks had the tendency to get forward a lot, leaving gaps in the fullback zones. Chandler's forays into the attack were dangerous as well due to the fact that the wide players in Argentina's front three were not instructed to/interested in defend/defense.

Perhaps most important of all was the fact that the USA could sit deep( limit the space in behind the defence), narrow( limit the space in the center) and compact( limit the space in between the lines of defence, midfield, and attack) without worrying about not having any attacking punch. This is why this works so well against possession teams - It threatens them on the counter, exploits spaces they leave open, and closes down the spaces they love to work in.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm back!...Again!...

Listen baby....I know I said I'd post more frequently.....I know.....I know....I KNOW.....Well what the hell do you want me to do? Is it so bad that I want to get into a good college? Well thanks for the vote of confidence, glad you're not the Dean of Admissions at UNC...Oh, don't know I didn't mean it....Listen, I've got another tactical analysis for you and I think you'll really enjoy this one.......I know I said that last time - that was different! I was young and stupid!......That was the day I started this blog?......whoops.....Well here you go!

Bradley's 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1/4-3-3/4-2-1-3?

It seems that Bob Bradley has a new found interest in a five-man midfield, one that a lot of fans felt came a bit too 45 minutes too late.....three times....Either way, there is a wealth of midfield talent to take advantage of and I spent a lot of time trying to find a way to utilize it, and by that I mean I've been looking at various other tactically based soccer sites that happened to have been offering an analysis on any of the USA's matches and compiling them to find a possible solution to this incredibly happy problem. The main thing I noticed against Slovenia, Algeria, Ghana, Poland, and Colombia had to be the interesting role of Benny Feilhaber and Stuart Holden. They were said to have played on the wings in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, yet there were times when they were deep in the central midfield, just in front of Bradley and Edu/Jones. The USA's penalty against Ghana started on a sequence when Benny Feilhaber made a pass from the center of the park into Donovan, who flicked onto Dempsey before he was taken down in the box. The USA's first goal against Poland started when Holden came inside from the left, combining with Bradley and Jones respectively before the latter played a fantastic ball to spring Altidore. There was even a sequence against Colombia in which Holden found himself smack in the middle of the park and started scurrying back to his conventional wide right role when he realized the USA's passing was going to end up needing an outlet in that spot. Another telling moment happened in the Ghana game, this time with the USA out of possession. Feilhaber, Bradley, and Edu all three team stripped a Ghanaian player in the middle of the park who had dwelt to long on the ball. In short the USA switched to a 4-3-3/4-2-1-3ish shape with one of their wide players drifting between the right and central midfield. This kind of allowed Dempsey, and indeed Donovan to drift around the attack without losing the numbers battle in the middle. Moreover, Dempsey and Donovan were given permission to stay higher up the field out of possession, with the more defensively apt trio of Bradley, Edu, and Feilhaber covering for them in the World Cup.

I think the general set up of having Holden, Bradley, and Jones cover all the ground and do the yeoman's work while the slowly-but-surely-aging attacking midfielders Donovan and Dempsey push higher up makes sense. It allows Holden to play wide and put in his trade mark crosses, while also coming inside to play the box-to-box/linking role he seems to do well in for Bolton. Donovan can play his favored left midfield role, while Dempsey is in a role his club frequently puts him in, occasionally moving wide right on defense to maybe pin back the fullbacks the same way Charlie Davies did against Sergio Ramos. Essentially, it's a central trio that's right-of-centre shuttling across the pitch.

Edit: Check out the cheap visual image at the top.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is Jonathan Spector ready to turn things around?

Let's face it - it's hard not to get swept up in the euphoria of Jonathan Spector's impressive brace against former club Manchester United and performance against Sunderland(despite the loss).

Spector is not just playing well, but he's playing in some ways that we've never seen him do before. When Spector was at right back, there weren't too many "moves" that he pulled to be remembered. Yet he gracefully pirouetted his way past two Sunderland players before trotting another 25 yards or more to the top of the box to flash his shot just wide and did so without much thought.

Many ask exactly what has Spector playing so well. It seemed before that he was on a bit of a droop in confidence and was knocked out of the starting right back spot for the United States by veteran Steve Cherundolo( to be fair, Cherundolo is an excellent player who had an excellent World Cup). Plenty of players have slumps that are caused by a lack of confidence just to turn things around. Sacha Kljestan was a similarly hot player for the United States before back-to-back disappointing performances against Mexico and El Salvador in World Cup Qualifying.

While Spector wasn't mentally in great shape, I don't see that as his main obstacle. Spector, for me, was never really a true right back. Yes, he's had good performances such as against Spain, Egypt, or even Brazil for a half, but I think the tactics behind those sides may have favored him. Spain's game has never been focused around getting crosses into the box, and they actually suffered from a lack of width in this summer's loss to Switzerland, who were content to stay narrow the same way the United States did in their own victory against La Furia Roja. The only natural width Spain really had in either of the aforementioned games was from marauding right back Sergio Ramos, who gave Carlos Bocanegra, the USA's left back that day, a bit of a run for his money at times. Brazil clearly changed their tactics at half-time to go after the American fullbacks, and Kaka getting the beating of Jonathan Spector led directly to a goal. Egypt also rarely made a conscious effort to run at either Spector or Bornstein on the day.

The main point is that Spector may be great for passing sides that like to narrow teams up and find space between lines, he tends to get beaten frequently against sides with pacy wingers that like to run at the fullbacks.

A central midfield role not only masks Spector's weaknesses, but maximizes almost all of his strengths. He's always shown pinpoint passing, positional sense, bite, comfort on the ball, touch, and fairly good vision in some way shape or form, so, in a way, the fact that he played better as a central midfielder than a fullback doesn't shock me at all.

The simple fact is Spector, against most-sides, is better suited for a central or defensive midfield role, so don't be surprised if he remains in West Ham's lineup.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sorry for the absence

Haha. There isn' much else to say here. High school ain't easy by any stretch of the imagination. I'll be back posting consistently in the near future.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My U.S. World Cup Roster for April

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

The Orebro midfielder didn't look out of place one bit against Honduras or Holland, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself for a 22 year-old who has, all together, only played a little over and hour on the field in a U.S. Jersey( Bedoya turns 23 this April).

As far as the forwards go, it would take an injury setback to keep Charlie Davies off the roster, and seeing as how he's progressing extremely well, I'd say he's on. If he can't secure playing time or form for Sochaux then that might be a concern, but considering the comments by his manager saying he'll use him when he's available, I'd say Davies will get at least one chance to impress, which was about all he needed in the Confederations Cup. Herculez Gomez has been in good form( 10 goals in 14 games) for Puebla and if he keeps it up, Brian Ching, who is injured, might not have a spot on this team. Conor Casey is another option who is vying for the backup target forward spot, but, apart from his heroics against Honduras, Casey has been pretty average.

As far as the lineup goes, I would imagine this to be the safest bet:





I wouldn't bet against Holden getting back in time, but I wouldn't count on him getting fit and in form before the England game. Edu has been getting time and playing well for Rangers, so I would start him over Ricardo Clark.

A lineup I'd like to see? Something like this:






I think this lineup is conducive to the style that the USA plays. It gives the Yanks some pace and skill on the flanks with Donovan and Davies and encourages counterattacks, like the legendary one against Brazil. Dempsey is put in a position to create and get close to goal, two things he has proven to be very dangerous at. Morever, he doesn't have quite as much defensive responsibility
as he did on the right/left in a 4-4-2. Instead, they're given to Davies, who actually has the work rate to complete them, not to mention the pace to get back into the attack quickly enough when the USA does win the ball. I know that this formation moves Davies away from Altidore, but if you look at most of the USA's best goals at the Confederations Cup, Davies isn't anywhere near Altidore. On the first goal against Spain, Davies brings down a pass from Michael Bradley out wide on the left for Clint Dempsey, who touches it back to Davies, who in turn plays it for Dempsey, who.... well, you know the rest. On the first goal against Brazil, Dempsey and Davies switched places before Spector whipped in the cross, putting Clint in the center, and Davies on the right. On the second goal against Brazil, Davies is out wide on the left and leading the counter attack with Donovan. My point is that the USA my have played a 4-4-2 in the Confederations Cup, but it looked like a 4-2-3-1 at times, and those times seemed to come when the USA scored. Coincidence? I would think not. Even in the El Salvador game, Davies would drift to the right and left and take players on, like his lane-change stepover he did on the left flank before feeding Dempsey for a missed chance. In the Honduras game, Davies fed Donovan, who had to take the playmaker role since Dempsey was injured, who played through Casey for a goal. Now, don't get me wrong. Clearly Altidore and Davies play well together and are good at breaking down defenses, but I don't really expect Davies to just sit on the flank if he wasn't going to do the same thing at the striker position. Davies, Donovan, Dempsey and Altidore would swivel spots all the time during the Confederations Cup and Qualifying. Dempsey started on the right flank against Spain, but had switched with Donovan after a corner kick and thats why he was on the left for the goal. What I'm saying is that this is the most frequent shape the USA should take in it's matches because it fits their style. Of course, if my thoughts on the front four of Altidore, Davies, Donovan and Dempsey floating around the midfield and attacking third are correct, then it really doesn't matter what formation we put them in because they'll just keep rotating until somebody can find a sweet spot in the defense to exploit and a way to exploit it, i.e. Sergio Ramos against Spain, Gomaa against Egypt.

France struggled in the World Cup in the group stage just like the USA. , but a change in style to a 4-2-3-1 with Zidane as the playmaker, Henry as the lone striker, Ribery and Malouda on the flanks, Vieira and Makelele as the central midfielders, and placing David Trezeguet on the bench, trashing the 4-4-2. The change worked; the French beat Spain(3-1), Portugal(1-0), and Brazil(1-0) on the way to the final, and, in my opinion, they probably would have won if it weren't for a famous shiny head. The French played a pretty similar style to the USA, in that they don't focus on possession, are a very direct team and use a team effort to press the opposition, win possession which is where Vieira and Makelele come in handy, and then get the ball into it's dangerous attacking players whichever way is possible( a defense splitting pass, a long ball, build up through the midfield, corner kicks, crosses from full backs) . Two goals against Spain(Ribery, Zidane) were created through interceptions in the midfield. What I'm saying is that the USA's style managed to work against Spain TWICE and got the national teams who used them to a FIFA Tournament final. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so. Davies is back in full training so this is very much possible.

In general, the USA seems to be stronger than it has been in a while, and will continue to strengthen themselves as players like Charlie Davies, Oguchi Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, and Stuart Holden continue to work themselves back from the injury list. The real question is whether they can translate individual strength into the team strength that took them to the Confederations Cup final.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My thoughts on Brian Ching

Brian Ching for my taste is one of the most underrated forwards the USA has ever had and the criticism of him gets tiring after a while. This is my defense of Ching:

I would honestly take Brian Ching over Buddle, Gomez, and Casey if he were to get back from injury on time for a spot on the roster. I understand that Ching hasn't scored a lot for the USA, but he wasn't exacly paired with a great striker to help him, or any striker at all for that matter. When Bradley played Donovan and Dempsey next to Ching it was actually making Ching a lone striker, when he's a target striker, and, yes, there is a difference. A target man, normally, holds the ball up, wins aerial challenges, draws fouls, does most of the dirty work, latches onto crosses, gets the attention of the centerbacks, creates chances for others, provides the second striker with a shield to pass to and run off of. A lone striker combines the qualities of a second forward and a target man, which does not describe Ching. The question was this: If Ching was taking lumps and doing all the dirty work, and Donovan was running the USA's midfield, who was going to actually score the goals? The USA provided temporary answers to this question with things like set piece ability, long balls, and it's home crowd, but once it's competition began to become tougher in the final round of Qualifying, it became pretty clear that the USA needed someone who would strictly score goals, while fitting the teams style. Lo and behold, as soon as said goalscorer Jozy Altidore comes off the bench and onto the field in San Salvador, Brian Ching is involved in his goal, bringing down a knockdown header from Dempsey and getting the ball wide to Frankie Hejduk, who played the ball across to Altidore for a goal. Ching and Altidore then combined again, with Jozy laying off a pass for Ching that he couldn't quite direct home, as he was on his left foot. The next game, Ching and Donovan were again involved in another one of the young striker's goals, with Brian flicking on a Carlos Bocanegra longball into the path of a streaking Landon Donovan, who volleyed a pass across to a free Jozy Altidore. The fact that the USA managed to score more goals(5) consecutively in those matches without getting scored on than they had that entire round surely says something for what an Altidore-Ching combination could have led to if Brian had been healthy. People talk about Ching's lack of goals for club and country, but when he was paired with Dwayne DeRosario, one of the best attacking players in the league in 2008, he was among the top scorers. The point is that even if Ching wasn't a goalscoring machine, he either wasn't next to somebody who could help him, or he wasn't next to anyone at all.
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