Small Things: USA 0 – Scotland 0

One of the few times Altidore saw the ball today.

One of the few times Altidore saw the ball today.

A rough game, though not wholly untidy, game for the States today in Glasgow.

Once again a tale of two halves as Jurgen Klinsmann and staff used the first half to see if they could break down an active 4-1-4-1 of Scotland (they didn’t) and used the second half to rev the tempo as Scotland dropped deep. Though no goals for the States in that second half, certainly more chances and most of that through the work of Aron Johansson.

Here are some breakdowns and observations.

• Conduction construction

The US’s style is to take a risk-averse approach to first halves. It’s understandable and not a terrible strategy.

Feel the other team out. If you nick  a goal, then the other side must chase and pockets of attacking or possession space can open up for the team that has the lead.

This was another somewhat solid first half defensive performance for the US in Europe at the expense of generating any threat on goal. Last time out–against Bosnia–the US made two individual errors in giving up two first half goals (note: one was debatably offsides) but played good team defense throughout in that eventual 4-2 friendly win.

The US was similarly compact and stoic if not frenetic in their defensive work today. The lone exception being TSG fave Geoff Cameron who occasionally found himself getting pulled out too wide left, though Scotland failed to punish Cameron in space.

Cameron wins a ball back high up the pitch...but before you congratulate him ... see below.

Cameron wins a ball back high up the pitch…but before you congratulate him … see below.

It should be noted that Cameron had two excellent ball pressures up the field that led to turnovers and one–seen here on the left–that could’ve been pounced on for a chance.

The story on offense was simple….as in simply dreadful.

Perhaps due to unfamiliarity but not due to instruction, the US failed to effectively poke and prod at Scotland’s defense.

What are you doing Jermaine?! That's not a good place to be!

What are you doing Jermaine?! That’s not a good place to be!

Three contributing factors plagued the States’s attack in the first half.

Lack of movement to receive balls between gaps–specifically by Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan–in building out of the back.

Lack of width provided and movement by Eddie Johnson and, at time, Ale Bedoya to come narrow or stay wide to create space. The US had two outlets that were rarely involved in the build-up.

And as result of the first two, floaters or hospital balls by Bradley and Jones to the outlets (Beasley, Bedoya, Johnson and Evans) which retarded reception and thus quick distribution.

Michael Bradley is pinned a bit in the corner--he next jams a ball into Altidore that results in a turnover. Jones fails to provide support.

Michael Bradley is pinned a bit in the corner–he next jams a ball into Altidore that results in a turnover. Jones fails to provide support.

There were a few ways the US could have solved these issues in-game.

First, obviously checking to open spaces.

Jones was particularly negligent here often hoping for the “perfect pass” from Bradley or Kljestan to find him. Jones, with his distance from or angle to the passer, often made that pass very difficult.

Second, being in motion–something that Graham Zusi and Aron Johansson in particular do well.

Smart running–knowing when a run will take a defender or merely stretch the defense–was needed. And sometimes its just the urgency to build tempo and merely get in motion that works. Start moving and the teammate next to you will feel the responsibility to move in synch.

Other first half notes:

• Thought Brad Evans played okay in the first half. Wasn’t challenged much though. And that said, Ale Bedoya was continually tasked with playing support cover over the top and Evans got skinned a few times and better players punish the US here. On the play below if Evans drops into the box a little more to cut down a Fletcher dribble-drive, he can recover to play Conway wide outside.

• While the Scottish defense closed quickly with numbers on Kljestan, the unfamiliarity with his role and his average close-range technical skills hurt his ability to do the job that was needed. Klejstan is excellent with his head-up and when looking vertically. Too often today he wasn’t quite sure where he was going with the ball when he received it. Worth another runout though.

• Not the strongest half for DaMarcus Beasley. Beasley had a few chances in space with the ball on switch fields–one notably at the 38th minute–and he continually had his head down and often went backwards with the ball. Risk-adverse, conservative, but also not productive.

• Whether due to Gus Poyet’s attendance or not, Jozy played a decent first half without a lot of touches–he was probably the most active of the front four when not in possession or rather when looking for possession.

The US gives us Scotland's best chance of the first half. (Click to enlarge.)

The US gives us Scotland’s best chance of the first half. (Click to enlarge.)

2nd half

• Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley are more vertically aligned. Simple movement by Bradley into the holes opens up the game. US revs the tempo–like they did versus Bosnia–by pinging balls long up the flanks to wide players Eddie Johnson and Ale Bedoya to start.

• Due to the flank chances, the subs of Mix Diskerud, Brek Shea and Aron Johannson are now more poised to take advantage of a Scottish defense that did not fear vertical play. (Love this Johannson kid… seen below here pushing/urging a tardy Shea into where he should be in space to receive the ball.)

Johansson directing Shea up high.

Johansson directing Shea up high.

• More on Johansson. Mentioned this previously, but a good comp for how Klinsmann is using him just aft of the striker is German Thomas Muller. Muller sweeps horizontally from left to right in the German system looking for the ball and dragging players. It allows Ozil the space opposite him to get on the ball unimpeded at times. Same here for Johansson who was continually looking today to provide a linking outlet into the attack.

(Minor note–and an important one in ultimate frisbee too (just thought I should add that): By *not checking back directly to the ball, a player can–obviously–spend less time turning upfield and finding a pass or taking on an opponent. It’s subtle, but important skillset and one that hurt the US in the first half as Kljestan had difficulty getting on the ball with enough time to turn and see a pass.)

• Some unsung work today by Jozy Altidore who did the best with what came his way. Here below Altidore fights to get to the near post on Shea’s cutback for Johannson. Altidore doesn’t halt his run when he can’t beat his defender, but rather barrels into him, providing a deep set-up option and screening the keeper. A little thing that wasn’t always present in Altidore’s game.


• Good performances today by Johannson, Altidore and Howard. Beasley, Jones and Kljestan left wanting.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by the original jb on 2013/11/16 at 7:00 AM

    What a great screenshot that last pic is! Wondo is so open… Hard to fault AJ too much who I usually wish would shoot more.

    What is the deal with Jones? His form has been dreadful for awhile. Reports of a knee issue…why doesn’t he get the surgery now (if thats what’s needed) and have time to rehab/recover before the summer? I hope Klejstan starts the next game for Jones and we play someone else as the attacking mid.


    • That last screenshot is the coach’s (or maybe more fan’s) dilemma with strikers – you want them confident enough in their abilities to take that shot but you also want them cognizant of the better options available (when available) to them.


  2. RE: the checking back to the ball/disc, the alternative is to play the soccer equivalent of dishies and allowing a “handler” (in yesterday’s game, Bradley was the only one deserving of that title). Though the less vertical nature of the game takes a little pressure off of the necessity to be looking for the deep shot as you come onto the ball. Also, we don’t have a guy like Beau playing up top.

    Really, really liked what I saw from Aron Bacon. He’s probably the second most polished fielder player that was called in. Looked more dangerous with the ball at his feet than anyone else and the link between him and Jozy seemed stronger this time around.

    Speaking of Josmer…this game reminded me of a pitcher gritting it out despite not having his best stuff. Very active, and deserves accolades despite being stranded quite often. That’s rare in general for a forward, and especially rare for him.


    • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2013/11/16 at 3:48 PM

      “That’s rare in general for a forward, and especially rare for him.”

      Jozy has been like that in most of his Sunderland games this season. You should watch him more often.


  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/16 at 10:00 AM

  4. Posted by markwal on 2013/11/16 at 11:54 AM

    Matthew, great points in helping to understand where the U.S. attack went wrong. One thing that struck me watching this game is that the USMNT is by nature conservative, even tentative, and that’s why they always seem to start matches that way despite Klinsmann’s efforts to instill a more attacking mindset.

    There he was again, screaming at his players in the first half to push forward. Granted, it’s a friendly, so the natural sense of urgency is lacking. But then, why not take more chances to jumpstart the offense, especially if you’re a player on the bubble looking to the make the World Cup squad?

    I was surprised Bradley didn’t try get forward more, given the opposition, making one of his forays into the final third to shake things up. I still think he dwells too long on the ball, looking for the perfect pass, and then tries to jam a vertical pass into Jozy or another player forward, that gets directed right back to him or the midfield.

    Maybe that has to do with the lack of off the ball movement mentioned above. That may also explain the lack of angled passes that can break down a defense more effectively than vertical or square ones. Way too many back passes in this match against a less the world class defense.

    To underscore the points about Johanssen, one thing I think came out of this game was him establishing that he should be a starter. Not only is already arguably the U.S.’ most technical player, but he’s the best 1v.1 player by far. Shea is the only other player that even attempts to take defenders on directly.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/16 at 12:18 PM

      Thanks for the comments and I agree with your sentiments.

      I don’t think Bradley held the ball too much, I think that among EJ, Bedoya, and especially Jones the US was very reactive and too slow with movement.

      I think if you put, amazingly and I haven’t been his biggest fan, Diskerud in that game from the start the US has some attack in the 1st half.

      Whether he was tired or merely just looking to get the ball in space, You need Jones to provide an option for Bradley and the fullbacks and he was downright negligent in that.

      Johansson will be interesting. I love what he does–he did though after the 65th minute against a pedestrian Euro team. I do think he is capable of more and should be in the starting discussion.

      To use a frisbee analogy going back to Jones, when a defensive plays zone against its opponent they deploy a “cup” up top–3 or 4 players that circle around the handler with the disc–one marker and three others shutting down passing lanes.

      It’s the “poppers” who come in to the cup and attempt to make the cup collapse on them even more so than receive a pass. That’s Jones role in the US attack (as well as Kljestan yesterday) and they both really struggled.

      Scotland were able to keep Bedoya and EJ out of play because their wide players very rarely had to collapse inward. Think that was most of the attacking tale there.


    • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2013/11/16 at 3:55 PM

      “Not only is already arguably the U.S.’ most technical player, but he’s the best 1v.1 player by far. Shea is the only other player that even attempts to take defenders on directly.”

      The other side of that is that 1v1 play can sometimes slow down the attack fatally.

      If you are going to take on a defender in a 1v1 in the attacking third, you better beat him and get in a good shot or cross. Otherwise, you’ve just slowed down your attack and disrupted their rythm.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/17 at 7:33 AM

        Tend to disagree with this: “If you are going to take on a defender in a 1v1 in the attacking third, you better beat him and get in a good shot or cross. ”

        No coach is expecting a non-superstar to have a “dribbles won” or whatever the stat is ratio greater than 50%. It’s accepted that either a play will be made or perhaps the ball lost.

        There is an acute need, especially on the US for 1v1 players who can beat a guy off the corner. The US really doesn’t have many of these.

        Donovan is more a playmaker now and is more likely to drive and dish. Dempsey doesn’t play wide. Zusi is perhaps the closest to that bucket, but he often takes the ball wide or looks to and issue a cross exclusively.

        Bedoya fits that bucket.

        Shea needs to show his willingness to take people on…not necessarily beat them all the time. If he is enough of a threat that opens space up centrally.

        The US is less fearful to lost the ball in 2nd halves. I don’t think it’s coincidence that goals late against Mexico at the Azteca, Panama at the Gold Cup or late against Costa Rica I believe at the Gold Cup were a result of Shea’s involvement.

        He’s not a great possession player right now and he gets lost sometimes inside as he did Friday, but he’s an option.


  5. Posted by Hensley on 2013/11/16 at 12:31 PM

    Thanks for the reference. Great analogy on the poppers. This is starting to make more sense now. I did find myself talking to the players in my head, telling them to fill certain spaces and make runs. Really wish I had played organized soccer at some point in my life. What’s the equivalent of a shutdown defender in soccer? Stay-at-home fullback?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/16 at 12:49 PM

      I would think it’s the forward destroyer who is deployed on a Xavi or Pirlo or the like…but no right answer.


    • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2013/11/16 at 4:17 PM


      “What’s the equivalent of a shutdown defender in soccer? Stay-at-home fullback?”

      This particular NFL tactic is not often applied the same way in soccer. The defender would have to be on the attacker the entire 90+ minutes and successfully keep him from scoring OR assisting.

      There are not too many players who can be guaranteed to keep a Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez or Zlatan shut down all game like that. And the trouble is you’ve now made it a ten vs ten game. It can disrupt your team. Are you better at playing ten on ten than they are?

      Most likely you’ll get one players assigned to keep an eye on the star and then scheme to keep the ball away from the bad guys.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/17 at 7:35 AM

        I think you’re seeing it applied more and more actually (disagreeing all over the place today.)

        Boateng on Pirlo
        Phil Jones on Ronaldo
        Maurice Edu on Gio Dos Santos in Mexico.

        I look at the analogy closer to Bruce Bowen rather than Darelle (spl) Revis.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/11/18 at 1:10 PM

        Schutzdeck — not sure you’ll ever see man-marking to that extent — it will be a combination of man-marking and zonal marking,

        Do you want one of your back four following the opponent’s False 9 as he drops deep? How deep do you follow? As long as your forward[s] drops into midfield [out of possession] to stop getting over-manned in the middle – and this will be worked on by the defensive coach beforehand… not sure if there is such a thing as ‘shutdown defender’ in the modern game. More of a ‘shutdown defensive system’. Now, whether that’s proactive or reactive is another story!


  6. Posted by markwal on 2013/11/16 at 1:40 PM

    The only problem with Johansson starting is that it could mean displacing Donovan or Dempsey, if he’s playing in the hold behind Altidore. Who’s the odd man out, or does it just depend on who’s most in-form when the World Cup rolls around?


    • Posted by Nelson on 2013/11/16 at 4:43 PM

      why not Dempsey in the hole and Donovan and Arjo on the wings for a few games?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/16 at 8:12 PM

        I think Johansson in this system is either a #9 or #10ish. He may have that aptitude on the wings, but you don’t want his movement tethered with defensive responsibilities. He’s not the best defenders and he also gets bodied out of position quite a bit. You need him in a sweeping forward role.


    • Posted by chris_thebassplayer on 2013/11/17 at 1:21 AM

      I think given a few opportunities to gel, we could see some truly magical combo play between LD and Johannson. I think they share the share vision, ability to read the game, exploit space with pace and create for themselves and others. I’d rather see AJ in the hole rather than Deuce. I don’t like Deuce centrally on the ball in the midfield… he slows things down and kills ball movement. I don’t know where that leaves him, maybe a tucked in left mid role, but I’m not crazy about that. Johannson and LD absolutely need to be on the field at the same time. I wouldn’t mind at all if Deuce was a late game sub. The possibility of that happening are nil since he is currently the captain, but that is a whole other issue.

      Matt – stellar stuff, I always enjoy your breakdown.


  7. Posted by G.I. Joe on 2013/11/16 at 3:49 PM

    I don’t think that’s AJ directing/urging Shea into a better position at all. That’s AJ telling Mix that I am open to receive the ball. If you watch him with AZ that is his way of telling the passer that he wants to receive the ball to feet. I would make the same mannerisms with my hands when I played as well.

    But I could be wrong.

    Shea isn’t looking at AJ so I don’t see that as him being directed at all. If anyone should be directing Shea it would be Mix who has the ball and can see the whole attacking third and everyone in front of him.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/16 at 4:37 PM

      Watch the play again and it’s readily apparent. Shea is allowing them both to be guarded by one defender. The still image doesn’t help, but it’s matter of fact in the game.


      • Posted by Nick on 2013/11/18 at 11:33 AM

        i’ll have to go back and watch that sequence again to see it now that it’s been pointed out. You’re spot on, Matt, that it’s allowing both of them to be defended by a single opponent which is troubling…Too bad as well because Johansson’s check-to reminds me of EJ’s great give-n-go goal in the Gold Cup with LD and the possibilities with Brek on that side of the field would’ve been tantalizing.


  8. Posted by wixson on 2013/11/17 at 9:02 AM

    solid as always Matt.

    I’m ok with jozy holding up top and aj below him. with an above average LD playmaking on the right. it does leave Clint either on the bench or on the left… decisions decisions.

    question. can gcam pair with Mikey? he’s got the ball skill and passing, and has a work rate similar to mb and jj, but without the destroyer ability. does he and Mike compliment or hurt each other?


    • Posted by KickinNames.... on 2013/11/18 at 7:38 AM

      I think as Jones continues his natural declination at 35 ish the Cameron option will become more of a necessity. Not sure why we don’t see him more there especially in friendlies.
      Mikey is trending more towards conservative ball movement the last 3-4 times I’ve seen him both for Roma and now US. You have to wonder if Jones’ lack of discipline and willingness to expend energy for the small stuff is forcing Mike back to his old “no mans land” role in the MF. His aggressive attacking mindset is what made them go during that streak and won him a role with Roma. I compare it to how he played with Clark and/or Edu where he didn’t really trust them and so was caught between two worlds and therefore less effective deploying what he does best.

      I have to say that the downslide to Dempseys game since IMO the awful decision to come to MLS has to have JK questioning his auto starter status.
      Similar to LD I think that I’d like to see him have to earn his minutes again. Prior to that decision we also saw a greater and greater display of the Bad Deuce who slows the ball down and spends too much time staring down anyone who has the temerity to tackle him (or not call a foul). Johannson is going to force a ton of decisions in the next 6 months and that’s a good thing.

      I also agree (fantastic analysis Matt!) that Jozy has a different look to his game and his work rate is astounding. Not sure what the failure mode at Sland is all about other than the obvious lack of focused service but I am happy to see that he’s choosing to work thru adversity rather than his old pouty approach.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/11/18 at 9:07 AM

        I didn’t think about that with Bradley but I think it’s possible.

        That game was an odd one. You had Bradley and Jones popping up balls over the top because they couldn’t break down… Scotland.

        I mean from maybe 25′ on …that was the means of beating Scotland’s pressure. Maybe it was just a massive audition for Kljestan–though I doubt it.


        • Posted by KickinNames.... on 2013/11/18 at 12:24 PM

          Not pretty considering that they are the starting combo. Small sample from Mike in his 3 Roma matches and 1 here but definitely seeing him as less aggressive and more conservative in ball movement.


  9. Posted by Chazcar2 on 2013/11/18 at 11:48 AM

    I couple of thoughts I had during the game:
    -Cameron and Gonzalez together was bad and forced. I view them both as “stoppers” Besler is definitely the sweeper. It allows Gonzalez or Cameron to step more effectively. For me this game showed the Gonzalez and Cameron are competing for the same spot. (unless Cameron moves out of defense).
    -I think the idea of playing a player out of normal club position is in general bad. But the fullbacks at the modern international level have the most time and space. Playing a midfielder there makes sense. Its important to focus less on a stand up defender and more on someone who can manage possession and make good runs.
    -While talking about club position, Cameron should not be playing in central defense until he is playing there for club. It may seem counter intuitive but I think central defensive mid and fullback are and easier transition than fullback and centerback. Especially in the US’s system.
    -I think shea showed why he is called in and why he is making the team for Brazil if he can get any regular minutes. Naturally left footed wingers that can take people on in the us player pool: Beasley, Shea and….
    -I have never been a Jones fan. This game just makes me less of a fan. We talk about Donovan and Dempsey’s age, but Jones is 32. Been kinda injury prone and played in a physical role in a physical league for a long time. I think this decline is to be expected. If he would accept a pure holding role I think he could be valuable as a starter, but that just isn’t his nature

    All that said Here is what I want to see for the next game starters


    What I think we should start at the world cup given no injuries:

    my roster is:
    GOALKEEPERS- Howard, Guzan, Hamid/Johnson
    CB: Gonzalez, Besler, Goodson,
    FB: Beasley, Cherundolo, Evans, Lichaj,
    Center: Bradley, Cameron, Jones, Kljestan,
    Wide: Zusi, Bedoya, F. Johnson, Shea,
    FORWARDS- Dempsey, Donovan, Diskerud
    STRIKERS: Altidore, Johannson,


  10. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/11/18 at 1:29 PM

    What is the situation with Holden and Gatt? They both did their ACLs in May/June, right? Any news of progress / setbacks? Guessing time is running out for them to get fit impress Klinsmann…

    Must admit, the few times I have seen Gatt, he got me sitting on the edge of my seat. Really love direct players like him – can be unplayable on their day.


  11. […] History will report that on November 15, 2013, the United States and Scotland played a friendly match in Glasgow, Scotland and the match ended in a scoreless draw. That history will report such things is only because history is required to report them. The match was as tedious to observe, perhaps taking on the character of a gray, November afternoon in the city where it was played, where life continues to be rather Hobbesian even if the people are arguably more friendly than what one would encounter at a Minneapolis soup kitchen. There is a fine, and rather brief (befitting the whole affair) tactical discussion over at The Shin…. […]


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