US Prove They’re The Supremes In Motown, Tune Out Canada But Not Without Some Missed Beats

This post by TSG scribe in hiding somewhere in the Beltway, Mr. Tuesday. Images by the outstanding Matt Mathai.

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After Saturday, you could see the temptation for Bob Bradley’s players to call in sick. But neither USA National Team players nor Shin Guardian Game-Reviewers have that option. Maybe it was the two days stuck at home with a supposedly sick kid who just got more energy as my illness misery index multiplied.

Maybe my usual excitement was dulled by a hefty dose of Nyquil. I’m trying to see the bright side of USA vs Canada, but we’ve both got a bad case of defensive frailties.

Yes, it’s the first match on the road to the Gold Cup final. After a speeding 18-wheeler in Spanish colors made US Soccer’s collective life flash before their eyes, the US side tentatively merged onto the Gold Cup highway with a 2-0 win over their northern neighbor.

Thanks to Tim Howards customary heroics, the US managed to keep a clean sheet despite being troubled by Canada’s pace in wide areas. Too often the defense looked disorganized and stretched, especially when the fullbacks were needed up the pitch to provide width.

There were more positives in possession than out of it.

Both Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson did a good job cycling the ball through the back to restart the attack without taking too many risks. Jermaine Jones is an upgrade on the other options when it comes to showing for the ball out of the back and playing the simple pass. With Jones in partnership with Michael Bradley, the US looks strong in central midfield. Provided the center backs are careful not to allow too much space between them for a quick attacker to run into, the spine should be free from symptoms of whiplash.

Bradley’s performance was solid but I don’t think too much should be made of it. Freed by Jones to operate in more advanced positions, he was more visible in the attack than when he’s asked to play the more defensive role. He played some very good passes and fewer of his simpler passes failed to come off than usual. When he did make mistakes, the consequences were not as dire due to his position further up the field and his shots from outside of the box could’ve been more reliably on target.

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Landon Donovan and Steve Cherundolo rekindled their winning combination play.

Cherundolo got forward frequently without exposing his flank too much when the USA lost the ball. But Landon hasn’t quite got the same sharpness and speed of thinking as was on display when he peaked at the international level in South Africa. Nonetheless, it was his pass on the counterattack that Altidore slotted home beneath Hirschfeld, who would have hoped to do better. Altidore’s performance was promising, but both he and Agudelo often appeared too static in the box, giving Canada an easy task when faced with balls in from the flanks.

Clint Dempsey’s Premier League form was on display here. Sometimes seeming frustrated that he was not as involved in setting up the attack as he likes to be for Fulham, he nonetheless popped up at the far post to put Altidore’s cross in the corner pocket from a difficult angle and put the match beyond Canada’s reach. Dempsey does miss a naturally attacking fullback that can create gaps in the back four he can exploit. Bocanegra had a solid match and found opportunities to get into advanced positions but he doesn’t carry quite enough threat in the attack.

Still, having Dempsey and Donovan as the key pieces of the attack creates defensive weaknesses.

Dempsey’s forward runs resulted in a lot of space on the flanks when Canada countered. This was taken advantage of through the trickery of Canada’s Simeon Jackson. Jackson running at the corner was responsible for creating many of his sides best scoring opportunities. Bocanegra’s august legs were just weren’t too frequently found wanting but neither was he comfortably up to the task of coping with the winger, but he had good covering help from his DMs and CBs.

While the USA looked comfortable for the first half, and coped well enough with Canada’s increased energy to start the second, Bob Bradley’s substitutions added to the pressure on the defense rather than relieving it. Besides having a couple good chances of his own, Juan Agudelo had played an important tactical role. Alternately checking to the ball and running into the channels, he opened gaps in Canada’s backline for other attacking players to exploit.

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Taking Agudelo off for Wondolowski allowed Canada to start tightening things up at the back. After another few minutes, Klejstan came on for Altidore and the US lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with the intention of keeping possession and closing out the match. However, Wondo wasn’t able to make himself available for the out ball, leaving the US struggling at times to get out of their own half with Canada pushing forward. When they did, it was often through interplay between Donovan and Dempsey and the central midfielders.

Asking Klejstan to play wide right, Bob severed the link between Donovan and Cherundolo that had most troubled Canada. Edu replaced Jones in a like-for-like switch and was adequate though somewhat less assured in possession.

While the USA eventually found a new rhythm, there were a few minutes when the Canada goal that would put the result in doubt looked a distinct possibility were it not for important saves from Tim Howard. All told, it made for a nervy end to a match that the scoreline might suggest was more comfortable than it truly was.

I still don’t quite know what to make of Klejstan. He’s got a promising array of deft touches, but doesn’t have the understanding with his team-mates required for them to come off with enough frequency. That said, he did seem to find the pace of the match about five minutes after he’d come on. When he did settle in and chose to play the simple option, the US found its rhythm and looked more likely to close out the match with another goal than to concede in the last five minutes.

There were some stretches where the crowd might have been tempted to shout “olé” with each pass had they not been in such a state of shock watching a USA side manage possession adequately. Perhaps had the USA found more penetrative possession out of the back, the idea might have taken root but the ball was frequently played back to Tim Howard to knock long up field in the late stages. Still, giving the onus back to Canada was a superior option than forcing a pass through midfield only to have it intercepted and hoping tired legs were capable of making one more recovery run.

This match was a promising recovery but not a statement of intent.

There are a lot of questions about whether this USA side is capable of dealing with a rival suddenly boasting pea-level attacking talent. There were positives to be found on the attacking side, but the defense is still looking wobbly. Not to tempt fate but this team will need to tighten up at the back if it wants to resemble the 2007 model year rather than the Bradley 2009 that got totalled just as it drove off the lot.

43 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by usasoccerfan818 on 2011/06/08 at 12:45 PM

    If that scorpion kick went in, that would of been amazing!

    Reply

  2. Largely agree with your assessment. I’ve got hopes that the Panama and Guadeloupe matches can breed more familiarity and understanding between our veterans and new players — especially guys like Agudelo and Kjelstan — before we see Mexico.

    If memory serves, there was one promising possession where Deuce laid off a quick one touch ball back to Agudelo at the top of the box, when Juan obviously was not expecting it at all. If we can tighten up little moments of intuition like that, I see promise.

    Really glad to see Gooch stay on the bench. Goodson & Ream looked good together, to me.

    Also, WAAAWOOOWEEEWOOO. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9bH5w9azb0

    Reply

    • Posted by MitchH on 2011/06/08 at 4:06 PM

      Yes. Yes. Yes. The Al-Jazeera Sport guy was ridiculous. I could not decide if it was awesome or super awesome.

      Reply

      • Posted by Crotalus on 2011/06/08 at 5:40 PM

        Are those guys actually employees of Al-Jazeera? I watched the game on that same stream and I thought maybe it was two kids in their dorm. Then he went “AAAAaaaaAAAAAA” and I decided they were cool.

        Reply

  3. Posted by dth on 2011/06/08 at 12:49 PM

    For the reasons you’re talking about, it seems to me to make much more sense to put either Kljestan or Dempsey in the hole than Donovan. But what the heck do I know?

    (Possible reason: Bradley wanted to move Donovan to a less energetic role in the center–on the flanks he had Cherundolo had to do a lot of work both defensively and offensively.)

    Reply

  4. Posted by John on 2011/06/08 at 12:58 PM

    Still worried about the defense. Howard kept that game from being much close than it could have been. If Altidore’s shot is saved (which it probably should have been) and Howard’s monster save was let in… we would be looking at a draw. The frailties are still there, hopefully we can see some improvement.

    Yes, I know… “If.”..still though. Insert response with “US took foot off gas because of 2 goal lead” below.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/08 at 7:19 PM

      Ah yes, the USMNT fan alternate reality/parallel universe. If this shot and if that shot….If Gerba’s shot had gone in how do you know the US would not have just gotten more focused and gone right back down the field and scored again? Maybe the score becomes 3-1 or 3- 2, US. Maybe it even becomes 4-1.

      Who knows and who cares?

      The US did not take its foot off the gas. No team can keep up a consistent attacking effort for 90 minutes and Canada is good enough to have mounted at least one or two comebacks.

      Worry all you like but keep it to yourself and let others enjoy the team for about a minute.

      Reply

    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/06/09 at 6:50 AM

      John- please refrain from posting any commentary that detracts from our post-Canada soccergasmic afterglow. Or, in keeping with your desire to bring the rest of us down, please change your signature to one of the following:
      D Downer; P Pooper; C Blocker; Cleatus Interruptus
      or any other similar bad pun of your choosing.
      Frankly, you should know better…
      BTW- we’re petitioning to change the name of the site to……..

      The Positive Spin- a happy-thoughts-only analysis of the USMNT. Lead story- John Harkes’ Contributions to Eliminating 3rd World Hunger. (most people don’t know that John didn’t throw out his Burger King leftovers in S African airports as a gift to the cleaning staff…left em right on the table)

      Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2011/06/09 at 7:30 AM

      I wasn’t impressed with the defense in the game as much as everyone else. Canada was far too dangerous in the second half and Timmy was required to make some big saves. It reminded me too much of the last time they played.

      I also didn’t like Bob’s subs. Wondo isn’t a lone striker when you need an outlet. Klejstan isn’t a good choice for me. If you’re going to go more defensive (which I don’t think was a good idea as it lets the other team back into the game) then bring on Edu for a striker and go 4-3-2-1.

      Reply

  5. I don’t think people are giving Jozy enough credit for that goal. He was being forced to move away from the goal, got a sliver of space from the defender and absolutely ripped a shot back across his body through a very awkward spot near the keeper’s body.

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Jozy got off a good one, and people are very quick to put in on the keeper. If I’m in the pressbox, I’m scoring it a base hit, not an error.

    Another way of looking at it. If it were Howard making a save on that shot, we’d be singing his praises about another great save. Some keepers make some great saves. OUR great keeper makes PLENTY. Canada does not have a great keeper. He’ll make a few great saves, but he can’t be expected to make all of them, and this was one of those opportunities he couldn’t capitalize on.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/08 at 4:41 PM

      Nobody is saying that Altidore did anything wrong – he got his shot off on target when his back was towards goal, minimum requirement IMO. However, if Tim Howard conceded a goal like that, and the USA lost, we would all blame him and rightly so – it was a goalkeeping error. Not sure how you can argue that it wasn’t.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/08 at 7:10 PM

        Very easily.

        The shot was hard, swerving and placed in a very awkward spot. Hard to get down to. If he had had another millisecond he could have easily kicked it out.

        The “error” if you can call it that was that the Keeper was poorly positioned, But that was most likely because it was an unexpected shot.

        In my book Jozy gets credit for sending in a hard,swerving, unexpected on target shot.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/08 at 8:10 PM

          “The shot was hard, swerving and placed in a very awkward spot. Hard to get down to. If he had had another millisecond he could have easily kicked it out”

          Really? Please re-watch, because I disagree.

          I would have saved that. Not joking either.

          Reply

          • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/08 at 8:18 PM

            And out of curiosity, why do you say the keeper was poorly positioned? Where should he have been?

            Unexpected shot? Altidore was the only guy in the box, and support was a long way off – he was always going to shoot from there, no? He was never going to attempt to hold it up IMO.

            Reply

          • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/08 at 8:21 PM

            Goalkeeper positioning: please can you expand / explain where he should have been?

            Unexpected shot: Altidore was the only US player in the box, with zero support / or even close to having any support. He was always going to shoot, no?

            Reply

            • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/09 at 4:08 AM

              Well, in the wonderful world of replay you can see all that but if you are the keeper, real time is much more difficult.

              Jozy could have headed for the byline for the center. It seemed to me the keeper was sliding over for a cross, which is why he was just a bit out of position for a shot but who really knows?

              More important, when Jozy got the ball he kind of bounced back a bit as a result of turning to shoot and at that moment the goalie was unsighted ( the derfender blocked his view of Jozy and the ball) for a second and that is when Jozy shot. That is why the ball came up on the keeper so suddenly. It is a subtlety that old keepers like me sometimes notice.

              That is how it looked to me. You’d have to ask the keeper. You might have saved the shot but it probably would have been because you did not move slightly for the cross as it seems he did.

            • I was standing on the end line at the edge of the area (on the side Jozy shot from.) The ball was low and struck very hard. Watching live I thought the keeper should have had it, but it would have been a tough save. He got his hand on it, but the ball squirmed under his body.

              It’s always interesting to ‘read’ body language after plays like that. Jozy showed surprise, probably because he expected the keeper to make the save, while the keeper showed chagrin.

            • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/09 at 6:52 AM

              “As a keeper”* myself, got to say that the keeper has to slide over in order to narrow down the interior and exterior angles / give the striker less goal to aim at. If you pause the clip just as JA is about to pull the trigger, and note the keeper’s position, he is in the right place considering JA hasn’t got much ‘open goal’ to aim at…

              I guess we will have to agree to differ.

              *Got to love the qualifying statements!

            • My original point remains:

              It’s definitely a stoppable shot. But it would have been a VERY good to great save. I like the baseball analogy to a scorer’s decision between a fielding error and base hit. If the hit was difficult enough to handle, and the fielder makes an unsuccessful attempt to field it, it can still be entered as a base hit. That’s the case here, in my opinion. Jozy would be creditied with a base hit rather than Hirschfelt credited with an error.

        • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/06/09 at 6:32 AM

          My Mom texted me right after that goal….”had that!”…and she hasn’t played goalie in years.

          Reply

          • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/09 at 3:54 PM

            Aston Villa needs a keeper, does your Mom have any immediate relatives with a Euro passport?

            I would say only 5-10%, maybe less, of the all goals I’ve ever seen were completely unstoppable.

            The point is a goal is almost always the result of an error from somebody on the defense. Could Hirshfeld have stopped that shot? Sure but he didn’t. If Howard did not make those saves would the US have been in deep do-do? Maybe, but he did.

            You judge keepers and goal scorers the same way; did they do everything they could have to put themselves into position to stop a shot/ score a goal?

            Jozy beat his man to the ball, managed to shake loose from him and then put in a hard, swerving shot on target. If the keeper had saved it I stil would have applauded him for the effort. He did everything he could do to score but he keeper was just better. In this case Jozy’s effort proved to be better than the keeper’s so he wins. Good for him.

            Your mother might have scored too but she did not and frankly, I won’t lose any sleep over that even if it means:

            1.We don’t know whether she could be a good replacement for Freidel.

            2.No offense but chances as she is probably too old to still be in the picture for 2014.

            Reply

    • Posted by kaya on 2011/06/08 at 9:51 PM

      I don’t think Timmy would ever miss that stop, frankly. It was a good shot, regardless… happy for Jozy if it helps him get his mojo back.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martin on 2011/06/09 at 4:12 AM

        Timmy missed a similar, easier chance.

        First goal, Ghana game, World Cup 2010, the infamous Rico Clark turnover Goal which was actually a team failure and owed much more to failures by Demerit and Howard.

        Watch the replay again sometime.

        Reply

  6. Posted by Tux on 2011/06/08 at 2:30 PM

    Having watched 90% of the USMNT matches played since the Confed Cup, I think I can be fairly confident in saying that if Steve Cherundolo were left-footed, this team would be far better off. Not because of our young depth at RB, but because Dempsey would then be the focal point of this team on the attacking end, and I’m convinced that he’s better than Donovan at this point. He made a leap in the past two years, and Landon would’ve done the same if he’d been able to stay in England.

    Reply

    • Posted by kaya on 2011/06/08 at 9:48 PM

      I haven’t watched this match yet, sadly… but I just love Deuce’s confidence atm. The frustration Clint is famous for is what I feel what makes him better in some ways than Donovan. I think Donovan has the technical and speed edge, but always felt like his nature is a little too nice and thoughtful to be a killer player.

      Reply

      • Posted by Tux on 2011/06/09 at 6:35 AM

        Landon has a bit of an edge to him, yes – he’ll bark at teammates, he’ll stand a guy up if he’s pissed – but Deuce has Old Spice-levels of Swagger. About once a game he’ll try to do something that no other player on the USMNT would ever consider attempting – and while it doesn’t always come off, it speaks volumes to his confidence.

        I have a buddy I went to college with who was a pretty good player in high school (if he hadn’t played for such a small high school, he could have played on a decent D-I team, but the competition wasn’t strong enough to get him noticed, and he stopped playing club soccer around the age of 15), and he’s got a howitzer for a right foot. But in high school, he rarely ever took a rip on net; he played CAM and would rather pass the ball every time. He could’ve ripped shots from outside the 18 with a vengeance, and probably would’ve scored more than just a handful of times – but as he once told me, he didn’t have confidence in his shot.

        I think we can all agree that is something that Dempsey has never had a problem with. The guy had brass ones the size of grapefruits, and it shows every time he steps onto the pitch.

        Reply

  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/06/08 at 3:15 PM

    I agree with the general “cautious optimism”.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Dikranovich on 2011/06/08 at 3:37 PM

    One more win and it looks like RFK will host the USA for the quarter finals. That will be a very nice atmosphere. Does anyone know who USA will be playing In the quarter? I hope Honduras that is the best team to see against USA at RFK except in a world cup qualifier of course. Junior should be noted for the fact that he came back to the defensive line to collect balls, he sprayed balls all over the field,’and he played balls from endline to endline maybe not a breakout game, but a wakeup call

    Reply

    • Posted by Crotalus on 2011/06/08 at 5:45 PM

      We’ll be there first or second, if second we play the winner of the Honduras/Jamaica group, if we win Group C we play the third place from either A or B (A if they get through, B if the 3rd teams from B and C are the ones who qualify as lucky losers.) So since we’re gonna win the group, it’ll probably be El Salvador or Guatemala if things go to supposed form.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/06/08 at 6:34 PM

        either of el salvador or guatemala will make for a good matchup at rfk. jamaica was probably the best atmosphere ever at rfk for a soccer game.

        Reply

    • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/06/08 at 6:22 PM

      Don’t want to play Honduras that early. It’s kind of embarrassing that they couldn’t score against nine-man Guatemala, but they were resting three of their best players, and are still a very dangerous team when their full squad is together.

      Reply

      • Posted by Crotalus on 2011/06/09 at 8:15 AM

        Well, this goalie for Guatemala – had never heard of him before, so don’t know if it was a one-off or what, but he was a monster that day.

        Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/06/08 at 7:14 PM

      Agreed on Bradley — whether he was freed by Jermaine Jones or not this was his best game since England of looking upfield and pushing the tempo.

      He needs to keep stringing them together for sure and show that he can be the quarterback.

      Reply

      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/06/09 at 4:36 AM

        His first half performance was very solid IMO especially considering his lack of game reps. He was pure class in possession and you could see his confidence bleeding into the rest of the attacking squad. Good starter opponent for him to get his legs under him. Big diff in his game when Edu came on for Jones though. I think Jones has the personality and heft to force Mike to play higher up and not come so far back to dominate the ball. Best interplay between them that I’ve seen so far.
        Once 70 mins hit he prob should have been subbed as his legs weren’t up to the late game defensive role. He OLE’d Simpson into a scoring opp at 69th min that indicated he might not have been up to the MB90 role.
        Glad to see him do well and hope that Bob continues to force him higher up the pitch.

        Reply

      • I re-watched the match last night after writing this – Mikey really set the tone in the first ten minutes of the match and Canada played most of the first half in survival mode. Give him a little more credit for that. I thought it was a good match for him but I’m not getting carried away.

        Reply

      • Posted by Dan on 2011/06/10 at 1:14 AM

        It makes me so happy to see that the Michael Bradley detractors finally have so little to say. He is proving with every single performance in the US shirt that he is the rock in the center of the field our team is built around. His distribution in the first half of Tuesday’s game was incredible, every ball he played landed on the foot or chest of his target. His long balls were weighted so perfectly. And the way he gets back behind the ball to win back possession and start the counter is great to see. I don’t think his lack of club minutes is hindering what he’s doing for our national side, and I look forward to watching his play throughout this tournament.

        Reply

  9. Posted by dth on 2011/06/08 at 5:56 PM

    Pretty cool video: http://vimeo.com/24838548

    Reply

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