Archive for March, 2014

TSG’s Official USA v. Mexico Preview: Weekends With Berti

"You think they'll go for this?"

“You think they’ll go for this?” Berti Vogts & Jurgen Klinsmann — The German Days

We got El Tri playing a 3man back w/Crash Marquez, Bayern kids getting USSF press releases, & an 11th hour tactical leadership change. Let’s do this WC!

Well, this little money grab friendly escalated quickly?

A few weeks ago when the US announced this match to line the administrative coffers in a tilt against their southern neighbors, it looked like this would be a casual affair. European players would be staying home–and by home, that means the east side of the Atlantic–and there would be one or maybe two MLS-based players looking to quickly shimmy their way onto the preliminary 30-man US World Cup roster.

Now? A cornucopia of narratives awaits the US as they land in Phoenix for their El Tri showdown. And even the location–the trip to Phoenix–is a storyline. All major sports league came out aggressively just a few months hence when a questionable bill on personal freedoms looked to be making its way to Arizona’s state capital for approval. USSF? They elected to play a friendly in the state. Go figure. High six figures?

Is it okay to look yet?

Is it okay to look yet?

Moving on… to better and more timely fare, it’s less than three months until witness is borne to the Brazilian version of “TSHABALALA!” (oops, who was that opponent?) and US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann just rummaged through his coach’s satchel–with both hands–and dug out two grenades, yanked the pins and lobbed the boomsticks into the USMNT locker room.



Into camp: Bayern II sensation Julian Green whose commitment to the Red, White & Blue suggests that a World Cup ticket is in the offing.

Out of camp: Martin Vasquez–the long-maligned tactical Smithers for Klinsmann who has been continually and widely questioned. Word is he will be reassigned to the U-21 side.

In other news, there are less than 70 days until the World Cup.

A headscratcher?

A headscratcher?

In: Berti Vogts…and Tab Ramos. Vogts is currently the coach of Azerbaijan but comes stateside with a player’s resume only short of a whatever soccer’s purple heart is. More importantly, perhaps, is Vogts has coached this past cycle against both Portugal and Germany.

By all accounts, the securing of Green’s services is a coup and one the US could benefit from for a while.

TSG contributor and now alum Steve Fenn dropped a succinct piece  on measuring Green by year and class for his short career and how he projects.

Continually, statistics show that most teams bring too many defenders to the World Cup. The chances of the 21st man (two keepers behind) getting on the field for the States aren’t high. The 2010 cycle saw two defenders (Jonathan Spector and Clarence Goodson) only on the pitch for goal celebrations. So the thought goes that Green is likely to be additive and may get some run …. if he makes it.

Gutsy and shocking if not disruptive is what you could say banishing a top technical assistant–an assistant sidekick of 10years no less–with just more than two months to the World Cup. Not to say it may not acquit itself as a masterstroke.

If you stood watching a month ago as the US played a pre-occupied Ukraine team that not so much dissected the States as took advantage of its collective ineptitude. It was a stunning continuum of efforts that have shown the US exposed recently against teams that are adequately prepped to face them. (This is not to say CONCACAF foes aren’t well-prepared, but the US’s three group stage opponents have the clear ability to dictate the game and attack weaknesses–in CONCACAF the US has superior talent.)

The opinion on Vogts is decidedly uneven.

Scottish commentary leads itself to grave concern from his time there. Opinion is mixed on his tenure with Azerbaijan as he “competed” with a team well below the talent level of its opposition.



Here’s what former US national player and ESPN analyst Janusz Michallik told TSG Monday:

“It had to be an incredibly tough decision for Jurgen knowing his relationship with Martin. He is and was his champion for so long.

There had to be something right now that made him make this difficult decision.

In terms of Berti it’s a bit out of leftfield, but I am sure that he is more than capable of the scouting the opposition. The questions on Berti have always been about communication and personality.”

To be clear, few, if any,  teams change their tactical command less than three months before the World Cup. This is an astounding move. It’s a clear demotion for Vasquez and it’s an introduction of a variable that does not have a clear history or managerial success. Maybe Klinsmann lost faith or Vasquez balked at having support in Vogts? Maybe there was some restlessness at recent performances and players or management questioned the coaching staff? All curious with Klinsmann’s extension (amazingly already) in place.

In any World Cup country, this leads Sportscenter. It’s that big.

Beyond all these sidebars, there’s a game going on Wednesday in Phoenix and there will still be a handful of Yanks on display hoping to win camp time come May.

Maurice Edu will be gunning to jump the pack in midfield while Michael Parkhurst will seek to show that he can back-up anywhere along the back four. Book that latter one.

And then there’s El Tri.

Key kickoff note here? Just one player, Jesus Zavala will likely start from the motley downtrodden Mexicrew that got Dos-A-Cero’d in Columbus a half year ago. Amazing the tumult when you consider Chicharito and friends were a trendy World Cup favorite pick coming of their Olympic win.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.

As usual, it goes:

About The Opponent

TSG What We’re Looking For

11 At The Whistle.

Marco Fabian looks to impress...and get on that all important South American radar Thursday.

Marco Fabian looks to impress…and get on that all important South American radar Wednesday.

About The Opponent: Mexico

Just the local yocals this time for social media maven and El Tri honcho Miguel Herrera.

Forget Saint Zusi. Saint Herrera.

Forget Saint Zusi. Saint Herrera.

Herrera of course announced his last roster selections personally on Twitter. After submarining New Zealand in the World Cup playoff, Herrera can probably walk into any bar in Mexico …. and not buy himself a drink … and walk out with the title.

El Tri will trot out a highly domesticated but altogether refactored side when they line-up against the States in Arizona.

Though the squad has turned, Mexico still suffers from the same main ills that plagued their World Cup qualifying campaign–metronomic build-up out of the back that fizzles upon entering the attacking third.

They’ll add two more problems to surmount here–a general lack of team speed and new holes in a defense that’s toying dangerously, at times, with a three-man backline.

The team is certainly more cohesive and playing as unit.

Mexico presents like the States in that the rearguard must be shielded and they do their best defending swarming weaker opponent ball-handlers up the pitch. It’s not consistent or voracious enough, gegenpressing it is not. El Tri seems to defend aggressively only in spurts and they can often be content to sit back and wait out some minutes if they lose the run of play. That said, when they do sit, they can be given over to long spells of merely defending and hoping, more than anything, to hit on the counter.

Under Herrera, the attack has blossomed.

"Hey?! Still important over here." (Yes, but in a different way.)

El Tri in possession.

"Hey?! Still important over here." (Yes, but in a different way.)

“Hey?! Still important over here.” (Yes, but in a different way.)

By this eye, it’s down to a single change: the removal of Gio Dos Santos.

For all his unquestionable talent, Dos Santos is the El Tri equivalent of Allen Iverson–singularly good enough to force his team to victory on occasion but relied on so frequently that the exclusivity bred staleness.

Dos Santos is a terrific player. His 2011 demolishing of Carlos Bocanegra and the US backline at the Rose Bowl will live on in series infamy but there can be no question that El Tri has a freer range of movement and linking with Dos Santos off the pitch.

Herrera’s assessment dovetails with the one above. Here’s what he told the media in December:

“Gio is a player that can make a difference, but he plays in a position that I don’t use, in the hole,” Herrera told. “I need two strikers, I don’t need an enganche.”

The simple assessment is that Dos Santos ate up space and time with the ball on his feet at the top of the attacking third, in-cutting from the right. Now with two strikers, the space between the lines can be checked to instead of inhabited–either by one of the strikers or a tucked-in midfielder coming horizontal.

Up top in Brazil may be Oribe Peralta and Chicharito, but their understudies Wednesday will be Raul Jimenez and Alan Pulido–a partnering not unlike, in spirit, what the US faced in Bosnia’s Eden Dzecko and Vedad Ibisevic.

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The US Roster To Face Mexico: The Last Ride for Edu

Remember me?

Remember me?

GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

> Excellent addition of Mo Edu. Those that follow TSG know that the missing element in the mix–by this publication’s call–is a speedy, tracking CM for when the US knows it will be an up-down game. Danny Williams acquitted himself reasonably well in Cyprus. Now it’s Edu’s turn.

> Big go as well for Michael Parkhurst who sure is looking (Cameron, Gonzo, Besler, DMB, Evans, Goodson, Fab J*) like the “seven-and-a-halfth” defender on the roster. (Depth Chart coming soon.)

> Don’t understand the calls for EJ being on the bubble. He is clearly Klinsmann’s preferred back-up to Jozy Altidore as he presents the strength to hold-up the ball and take on a defender that Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo just don’t have the reps for.


Julian Green Allowed To Train With US for Mexico

"Mexico! It's right there!"

“Mexico! It’s right there! Just Brazil somewhere.”

According to SI, Julian Green–the wunderkind striker out of Bayern II–has been given permission to train with the US team ahead of Mexico.

Signs certainly point to Green having more than a passing chance at making the World Cup roster in Brazil, cap-tying him to the US for his international career.

This is not an unprecedented from a US coach as Steve Sampson promised leftback David Regis a starting spot at World Cup 1998 if he committed. Regis was naturalized on May 20, 1998 and then summarily started ahead of Jeff Agoos on the backline in ’98.

At World Cup 2010, defenders were the least used players as no side came closer than one player–Germany–from using their entire roster.



Openers: MLS Week One

Theme of the weekend...

Swoops Edu

….and we’re off!

Hell of an opening weekend to MLS. You don’t have to be an MLS apologist to like some of the end-to-end action that transpired in Vancouver, Portland and DC among other places.

Single observations are always very fleeting and often incorrect, but here are some one’s that may be material as the season gets going.

• Choreography improves.

One of the more subtle knocks on MLS is that the movement of the players doesn’t exist within a set team system. There are acceptable reasons for this–lack of some technical ability, lack of coaches with deep portfolios and little academy or d-league development. It’s hard to assume that any one player will be on the same team come the next year still AND that if they’re not, that the next man down the ladder will be ready to step-up.

However, in Columbus–with the movement of Hector Jiminez, Josh Williams & Higuain–he deserves a single moniker; for Philadelphia, with the movement of Maidana, Gaddis & Nogueira and even in Vancouver with the movement of Fernandez, Kenny Miller and, gulp, Darren Mattocks showed better and more systemic choreography of movement in creating chances.

I also don’t think that it’s any surprise that these combinations were by players educated outside the domestic system, but it’s welcome nonetheless.

…and one final note on that gorgeous goal by the Crew….you’re better than that Nick DeLeon. You really are.

• Don’t bring a bulldozer to a motorcycle fight.

Here’s was my tweet Saturday evening.

Stand up Union fans–at least for this week and despite that stoppage time mess–there should be a spring in your step. And Hackworth Ire should diminish–for now.

The Union went into Portland and gave Portland something to be seriously concerned about and that is, “Our midfield and fullback support are as fast or faster than yours.”

The Timbs busted teams up in 2013 by laying waste to the opponent’s midfield.

In Week One, Chainsaw fans saw the back of Diego Chara more than front as Chara raced back frequently to help close down Philly wingers–specifically Cristian Maidana–after the triumvirate of Brian Carroll,  Vincent Nogueira & Maurice–hereby by dubbed “Swoops–Edu continually linked through and around Will Johnson, Diego Valeria and Chara.

(Quick aside, Maidana might’ve quashed even the smallest hope that Michael Harrington had for a shot at the USMNT leftback  chart.)

More so, even when the Timbs got out on the break, Edu and Nogueira rushed to get back behind the ball. Probably easy to grab double digit images of times when the Timbers outletted and by the time they were bearing down on goal in the attacking third as many as seven Union defenders were there to greet them.

With Austin Berry and Amobi Okugo–you may not find a young defender with a better understanding of the game in MLS than Okugo–keeping a tight line, the Timbers had some looks but for the most part got bottled. That said, Portland being Portland capitalized on a singular fundamental mistake of the Union to wrest a point back at the death–good teams find a way to win without their–not pun intended–fastball.

The grander point here is–and one that was witnessed as Vancouver bum-rushed the Red Bulls–is that this year it is clear that you better have a midfield that can compete with speed at a minimum, but frankly technical ability as well. (FC Dallas had some pretty linking on the weekend as well.)


• The replacement refs should get to the negotiating table

…because that was a well-refereed first weekend–something that is not always present with said “regular refs.”

• Chivas USA should’ve had it easier

Ultimately an authoritative header by Bobby Burling closed out what was a great first stanza by Wilmer Cabrera’s “FC ML”S squad. That said, Dan Kennedy had a bit of shocker.

The two goals he gave up were extremely soft–the first one being banged home by Benji Joya after Kennedy did a poor job of parrying and the second one–though screened–a poor reaction on a good, but not great ball on the turn outside the box.

Kennedy will be fine, but he dodged a two-point bullet today.

… and while we’re on keepers, Bill Hamid has too many reps to have as poor body language as he does.

• Bruin revolution?

It was an unfortunate call by many in pre-season but the Revs stumbles out of the gate is not surprising, but should it be troubling?

Hopefully, it’s singularly on account of the lack of continuity with Lee Nguyen and Andre Farrell nursing injuries.

Jose Goncalves was apparently not 100% and showed as such. He’s battling his contract situation as much as a knock. Scott Caldwell was hesitant–to put it kindly–on shutting down in the middle. And the Revs’ loss stands in stark contrast to when Jay Heap’s side went down to Houston last year and ran the Dynamo off the pitch.

Will Bruin last year regressed and scored in spurts. He got a soft NE side out of the gate Saturday–needs to keep up the consistency to show a healthy correction.

• Uri-nated (sorry)

Olum's passing chart.

Olum’s passing chart.

Plaudits for the work Saturday of such noted midfielders as Osvaldo Alonso for the Highlighters and Benny Feilhaber for Powder Blues, but the key midfielder for both sides Saturday was Uri Rosell, who sat on the day. Lawrence Olum filled in for the visitors and with KC missing their first-choice fullbacks in Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic, Seattle was able to get the ball in transition where it wanted to go faster and create some opportunities.

Continually with Rosell not moving the ball quickly out of the back, Feilhaber had a good game, but was much less integral in creating chances without Rosell protecting him.

For some visual and quantitative perspective, above is Olum’s passing chart (11 of 30 to go with some difficulties defensively). While not apples to apples (and in a 1-0 loss at home last year), Rosell went 14-of-66 against the Sonics at Sporting Park. Hard to overcome the engine out of the back being absent if the fullbacks require cover as well.

And PSA: Jeb Brovsky…onto another good cause. Have a click-and-sign if you would:

MLS 2014 Preseason Prediction Preview (II of II)

…and we forge on….without your consent or approval. (Part I here if you missed it.)

Hanging with Mr. Co...Magee!

Hanging with Mr. Co…Magee!

* The Mike Magee It’s Not HGH; it’s Landon’s Sabbatical Surprise Goal Scorer 2014 award?

Zack: Can I still pick Mike Magee for this? I look around that Chicago team and I’m not sure where else the goals will come from. I expect another big start to the season for him, especially with that potential, if unlikely, World Cup spot up for grabs.

Parchy: SURPRISE! You might’ve thought FC Dallas found Tesho Akindele in the Mines of Moria, and you’d be right. He’s an Oredigger, and he only escaped the mighty Balrog of the Misty Mountains via his wits and a pretty handy left foot. But, his entrance to the league delayed by a nasty case of dwarvish gout, it’ll be Alan Gordon. PLOT TWIST!

Nutmeg: You might think I’d say someone like Eddie Johnson, because anyone scoring goals in DC would be a shock to the senses. I think we’re all well aware that Ben Olsen is probably going to ride GAM until the wheels fall off, but I still don’t think that Eddie Johnson scoring goals is that surprising. The surprisingly still under-30 Kenny Cooper putting up Red Bulls numbers again, however, would be. Prepare.

Matthew: Urruti Tutti Fresh N’ Fruity. Can you imagine Timbs’ opponents this year. Valeri? ✓. Gaga Fernandez? ✓. Nagbe? ✓ “Damn, where did Valeri go?” “Wait who’s the young rattail kid sneaking in on goal all alone.” 12 to 15. Book it.

Biggy: Assuming Eddie Johnson is off to the World Cup, and that is a mighty large assumption, it will be Conor Doyle. He’s got a lot of potential, and with the offseason to actually get to know some of his teammates, he could be the breakout star of 2014. In fact, I’m going to go pick him up in fantasy right now.

Never gets old

* Seattle’s pitch in 2014 will…. get better? get worse? burst into flames? cave into a sinkhole? or other?

Zack: Somehow be triumphantly proclaimed “the loudest pitch in the league” in another MLS Cup-less season by Sounders fans and media.

Nutmeg: I’d like to allow Richard Sherman to answer this question for me since he feels the same way about Michael Crabtree as I do about Seattle’s pitch.

Matthew: …will do this:

Don’t laugh…that happened in Tacoma. Something about the Washington … air.

Parchy: This question should’ve somehow been melded with the Merritt Paulson tweet one. Can we give Merritt a dedicated Twitter account entitled “Does Seattle’s Field Have Football Lines Today?” Even when it doesn’t, every day is a “Yes.” To answer your question, orange.


* Player most likely to enjoy “the air” when in Seattle or Colorado?

Nutmeg: Thierry Henry isn’t a fan of the “grass” in Seattle, but at some point, if he decides to travel, he’ll need something to do with his free time. And they say “the air” helps with phantom ailments.

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USA v. Ukraine: Live Commentary

One hour to Cam vs. Kono at UFC 238. (If you missed the preview, it’s here.)

USA vs. Ukraine as the US tunes for Brazil.

The grounds ... via Rog Bennett, ESPN.

The grounds … via Rog Bennett, ESPN.

TSG’s USA vs. Ukraine Preview: Shadow Casting

Ruslan Rotan and Clint Dempsey may face off again Thursday almost three years after they dueled in the Europa League.

Ruslan Rotan and Clint Dempsey may face off again Wednesday almost three years after they dueled in the Europa League. Deuce dropped a brace on Dnipro as Fulham led a rout at home on the day.

Wednesday’s USMNT match will be a game of shadows.

The stratified and sweeping pall of turmoil dragging south from Ukraine, clinging to the nation’s players like a wet lapel in unrelenting snow.

The Ukrainian republic compacted in a beleaguered state of revolt, tamped down under the sole of the imperialistic whimsy of Vladamir Putin and Russia. And, as is such with many smaller Eastern European republics, the narrative of the national football team somehow gets interwoven tightly with the national dealings. This week–in fact yesterday–became an exercise is media manipulation as reports–apparently perhaps erroneous–out of the former Soviet state claimed players unwilling or refusing to travel for competition.



More, European rags just two months ago were enlivened by the cartoonish words of recently-ousted Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych who shook his fist at none other than John Terry–yes freaking that John Terry–blaming the centerback for his country’s rickety state of affairs, sternly pointing to the Chelsea centerback cleaning a ball off his goal-line in a key Euro 2012 match and consequently dumping the Yellow-Blue out of the Euro championship tourney. That Euro championship of course was partly held on Ukraine soil in what now seems like a half-decade ago.

Many a fair accusation has been laid at the feet of the villainous English defender; this however is not remotely one of them.

[Note: Simon Schuster, Reporter for Time, is a must-follow on Twitter for events happening on the ground in the Ukraine.]

For the US, the theme is shadows too–none as magnanimous or important as the ones their opponents will tote with them, respectfully.

The States were expected to have a fairly rigorous test here as the World Cup countdown marched into double digits–playing Ukraine on their home pitch with a fairly flush US side.

However, injuries to Michael Bradley and even Tim Chandler–word was the Nurnberg man finally played his way back into contention–Mix Diskerud retained by his club  and MLS’s season kickoff have conspired to further muddle the prospects of the match for the visiting side and making it more an individual player fact-finding mission.

Pep: "Head westward young man!"

Pep: “Head westward young man!”

The US training path wrapped through Frankfurt this week with some player story lines distilling into focus–none more omnipresent than Bayern II man Julian Green in camp for a look-see.

Another want-away refugee from what seems like a bottomless vat of German-American dual nationals, Green brings as much or more of the sizzle that American fans grasped at with the early reviews of Juan Agudelo in South Africa or YouTube watch sessions of Josh Gatt.

Green is already who we thought Charlie Davies might be–and then some.

Word around the camp is that US skipper Jurgen Klinsmann is dangling Brazil in front of Green, knowing that the 22nd-rostered man may or may not make a difference in South America, but the commitment could see Green blossom into a force come Russia 2018….if he chooses the red, white and blue.

A few other fresh and grizzled faces of note are in camp. Birmingham defender Will Packwood who just overcame a Bryan Oviedo-esque leg injury gets a look. Long time centerback Oguchi Onyewu, coming off an injury, is in camp and looking to scratch his way into May’s 30-man roster. RFK October 2009 seems like just yesterday.

Also, of note, leftback Edgar Castillo and left wing Brek Shea are both in camp and it sure looks like “a Klinsmann tell” here. With DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson already locked in to Rio, Castillo and Shea may be battling for the final southpaw role.

Likewise, Sacha Kljestan and Danny Williams (with Diskerud’s club embargo) may be battling for an ultimate look in midfield. Since Mo Edu has trailed off, the US has been desperately lacking a tracking central midfielder to guard against inverted wingers. (More here in a minute.)

Williams has a golden opportunity to put his star back on Klinsmann’s clipboard. Then again and once again, Alfredo Morales has somehow “earned” a call. Morales is to Klinsmann as Findley was to Bradley…or something like that.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview. This time it goes:

» About the Opponent: Ukraine

» TSG What We’re Looking For

» 11 At the Whistle

Yarmo & Kono...

Yarmo & Kono…

About The Opponent: Ukraine

Not only did Ukraine get bounced from their home Euros in 2012, but the former Soviet state is still smarting from getting knee-capped–hard–from a World Cup birth at the eleventh hour by a resilient French side just a few months ago. That loss all the more compounding as Ukraine bowed out in a similar style for a 2010 World Cup bid, succumbing to Greece on their home turf. Tragic poetry that you just cannot make up under present circumstances.

Irrespective of outcomes, Ukraine have been struggling since that 2010 qualification campaign to develop their style, but under former FC Dynamo Kyiv defender Mykhaylo Fomenko–their fifth manager in six years when he assumed the top spot in December 2012–the national team hopes are now at minimum flickering. It appears a committed youth movement is in flight. In fact, only one or two starters remain from the side that crashed out of the ill-fated 2012 Euro.

For USMNT watchers, most are pinning Ukraine as a warm-up for the States’ third group match against Germany in Brazil. However, a closer look at the Ukrainians unveils a side that is nearly identical to how the Portuguese play, replete with similar strengths and weaknesses.

Ukraine organizes well as most Eastern European sides do, explodes into attack on turnovers when it presses the opponents’ backline, but they can have difficulty breaking down good defensive sides.

For Ukraine, like Portugal, it all begins on the flanks in attack.

Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine’s Ronaldo and Nani in some one-two order.

Both are the future for Ukraine. They are both strong, technical inverted wingers who must be accounted for at all times.

Konoplyanka is arguably the chief conductor of the Ukraine attack. “Kono”–a Liverpool transfer target this past January and dubbed the “Ukrainian Messi”–actually plays like a sturdier version of Brazil’s Robinho, matching the Milan man’s skillset and uncanny ability to exploit space between the lines.


… This is a little nifty play here. A dead ball has produced an entry pass to Stephenko. Konoplyanka has occupied the right back for France who faceguards him (top arrow) between the lines–this move however releases the left back who will have a free run-on to a well played ball if the opposing right midfielder is unaware of his assignment or falls asleep. Organized well though the ball is misplayed on this occasion.

The winger can often be found looking to drive the touchline or tucking in centrally between the lines (above) and allowing for his left fullback to overlap. Those fond of the Robinho comparison will immediately recall Michel Bastos marauding down the flank as Robinho caused fits off the 18-yard hashmarks at World Cup 2010. (The Dutch remember.)

Kono is a spirited and well-balanced dribbler and Geoff Cameron’s movement and communication will be tested in handling him–especially in transitions. (More on the Cameron-Konoplyanka dynamic below.)

On the other wing is the Ukrainian Nani to continue the narrative and frankly mangle it a bit too.

Strong and stout at 6’2”, Andriy Yarmolenko actually plays a lot closer to another United player–an inverted Valencia. Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko both came up through the ranks together, but with Kono preferred at left wing, Yarmolenko was tried unsuccessfully at leftback before settling in on the right. (Look for the pair to switch if the opportunity or advantage presents itself Wednesday.)

On to Ukraine’s weaknesses which ape Portugal’s, keenly the lack of a true striker and central midfield management.

Up top, 23-year-old Roman Bezus has been demoing. He’s a fair if not freakish facsimile for Portugal’s Postiga. Bezus will be a nuisance for the uninitiated Onyewu-Brooks combo and can scurry through on probing balls on the floor but will get worked over if he needs to fend in the air. Think Soldado for Spurs if Postiga’s game play escapes you.

As for the midfield management, Ukraine can get caught in two mindsets that are as much the challenge of their tactics as of the players.

The formation will be labeled a classic 4-2-3-1 but how it truly plays is more of a 4-1-3-1-1.

In attack, it will likely be the aforementioned Bezus with veteran Ruslan Rotan pushed forward from his box-to-box role.

Rotan moved forward accounts for Denys Harmash to make the first eleven.

Harmash will be expected to form the base of the attacking midfield and has developed chemistry with Konoplayanka and Yarmolenka since the youth teams. Few discussions about the prospects of the Ukraine team begin without the mention of this trio.

Harmash will be backed by another youngster, Taras Stepanenko recently back from injury. The 24-year-old was thought to ooze potential but common thinking on the Shaktar player is that’s he up for nearly any one-vs-one battle, but is positionally naive or just negligent.

This is where Dempsey’s movement off Jozy Altidore–think Deuce against Panama in Seattle–may should create a chance or two.

The fullbacks in the Ukrainian equation are the unspectacular Yevhen Khacheridi on the right and Yevhen Makarenko on the left. Khacheridi, of course, is the rightback who chopped down Ribery with 40 minutes to go in the French home-and-away elimination series to all but scuttle Ukraine’s bid for Brazil.

Makarenko–who should see his first cap–on the other hand has the homeland (as it much as it can be right now) buzzing. He’s Ukraine’s Josh Gatt so to speak–fast, fearless, but inexperienced.

The centerback pairing is Oleksandr Kucher and Yaroslav Rakytskiy.

And finally, at keeper is what should be a settled situation for Fomenko but is not (a courtesy to English journo-on-Ukraine John Bradley on Twitter for this intel).

Not traveling to Cyprus is Oleksandr Rybka who completed a two-year PED ban just days ago. By all accounts, Rybka is the future for Ukraine in goal but with less than two full matches since his ban ended, Fomenko went with Shakhtar Donetsk’s Andriy Pyatov–who comes with the memo, “Just shoot because you never know which way he’s blowing on the day.”

A possible Ukraine deployment.

A possible Ukraine deployment.

The Ukrainians–excepting a mindset that is likely worlds away from the match–will look to pressure high sporadically and create some chances.

When not commanding the run of play or pressing, Fomenko’s team will drop to a low block defense and look to swarm the ball once the US fullbacks have committed to being in possession at the top of the attacking third–it’s a defensive strategy that perennially gives the US fits.

In the back Oleksandr Kucher and Yaroslav Rakytskiy can sometimes be sucked in to trying to win aerial balls in their opponent’s defensive half. The young pair can be had with balls measured into space behind the them–that sound you heard was Aron Johannsson revving his engine.

Also, the Americans need to be wary of Ukraine’s set piece game–it’s less physically dominant than cunning.

The Ukrainians tend to take quick restarts looking for a down the line run when deep or for a quick switch or set play that catches the defense off guard. A gambling man would likely get good returns on betting Ukraine to get one on a restart or scrum after a restart.

The similarities to Portugal again are many.



TSG – What Are We Looking For

Rightback hazards.

Cameron v. Konplyanka. UFC 238.

No one is Ronaldo and the Ukrainian Messi is certainly hyperbole, but Konoplyanka will ape Ronaldo well–a strong right-footed winger who is devastating coming off the left touchline. This is precisely the type of movement the US will need to solve in Game 2 in a few months and similar quick movement that has troubled Geoff Cameron at his rightback spot. (Remember this publication thinks Cameron should be inked in permanently at CB for the States and Stoke City though we’ll take him over all comers still at RB too.)


The first series of images here is from the US – Belgium friendly almost a year ago in Cleveland. Any defender asked to defend an international caliber forward in space will have a challenge as Cameron does here when Kevin Mirallas is floated an over-the-top ball. The sequence here leads to Mirallas gaining space centrally and Tim Howard spilling a Romelu Lukaku shot on a criss-cross run. Eden Hazard cleans up the mess for Belgium’s first goal on the evening.


Once again, just a month ago against Chelsea in the League Cup, Cameron is foiled–this time directly–by Hazard. Early in the game, Cameron closes aggressively on Hazard. The Belgium winger skips by him on his stronger right foot and buzzes centrally to create a chance.

It was the work of a pedestrian Andres Guardado in the US’s 0-0 draw in Mexico City that gave Klinsmann pause to anointing Cameron his rightback last year and Cameron–who has improved dramatically on the corner this year–still struggles with pacey wingers.

Of course, as is the change in state of the US team under Klinsmann, team defense, not emergency defense is the focal point. The US tries desperately to keep the ball off its weaker right flank early in the match. A situation above where Cameron is caught in space is already a breakdown of the defense ahead in defending the long pass. Continually, it’s the play of the defenders around Cameron who will be tasked with–and are just as culpable if–a breakdown occurs.

Wednesday that should be Danny Williams centrally and Oguchi Onyewu at centerback. This is where the US defense should be evaluated as well.

Take a look below at Konoplyana going up against England at the end of 2013.


In the first set of images, Kono has gotten loose with Steven Gerrard tracking him. This is good defense by the Three Lions here as Gerrard insures that a cutback doesn’t happen by playing almost behind Kono’s run. Gerrard knows it is Gary Cahill–not Jamie Carragher–helping over the top. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)


In the second set of images here, Kyle Walker bites on the fullback overlap and Kono has a channel centrally. Whether Kono is respecting Walker’s speed, doesn’t like the look or whatever Kono fails to be aggressive and issues a relatively harmless entry pass that is well-defended.

Cameron vs. Kono will be the marquee match-up for Klinsmann’s staff Wednesday from the individual duel as well as the team defense. It’s one for fans to watch with Ronaldo dawning.

Will it be Gooch on ice skates in Cypress? Hopefully not. (Photo credit: The Yanks Are Coming.)

Will it be Gooch on ice skates in Cypress? Hopefully not. (Photo credit: The Yanks Are Coming.)

• Can you pass for a centerback?

It goes without saying that distribution is not at the top of the checklist for many a Yank centerback–save Matt Besler perhaps.

With the challenges of moving the ball and the desire to provide a layer of protection ahead of Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley can often be found dropping deep, separately or in parallel, in hopes of grinding the attack into motion.

Wednesday will showcase Onyewu–a lead-footed passer–paired with John Brooks–smoother handles, but inexperienced. Like Portugal, Ukraine will jump on vertical passing mistakes. How will Gooch and  Brooks fare? And will Jones have to drop deep and attempt hero balls to get the attack moving.

[The sound of a bunch of dishes crashing]

“I hear you knocking, but you STILL can’t come in!”

The US has found its attack lacking on road in Europe lacking under Klinsmann, save the a wild result 4-3 result in Slovenia.

Call it a 4-4-2 contact high. Remember that?

As with any team that swarms at the top of its defensive third, the US will need to proactively find the passing triangles– yeah those things–and get the ball moving horizontally. In the land of gang tackle, the square pass is king–that made sense I swear when I wrote it.

Anywho, for this reason, the US Thomas Muller–look I’m going to beat the sh*t out of this comparison so deal with it–Aron Johansson. Johannsson will be instrumental in coming all the way across the field to support on the right flank and integral is allowing for Fabian Johnson’s overlaps on the left. Space monkey!

11 At The Whistle

A possible US deployment in Cypress.

A possible US deployment in Cypress

G: Tim Howard

The skinny: Duh.

DEF: Geoff Cameron, Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson

The skinny: Some veteran European presence here….and that is important as the US will trot out “Not Michael Bradley” in the shield role. Geoff Cameron again here looks to wrest the RB job away from Brad Evans. Geoff Cameron again here looks to wrest the RB job away from Brad Evans. That’s not a typo–the Brad Evans thing always takes another minute to sink in.

Onyewu and Brooks should be aerially superior, but at times positionally-challenged. Omar Gonzalez has shown similarly, but with good emergency defending–will these guys?

And Fabian Johnson in what should be a freer and better role. Leftback certainly looks like Diamond McBeasley’s position to lose but with Johnson given rope to push up the flank he may pencil in a good camp battle with a solid showing against Yarmolenko.

CDM: Danny Williams

The skinny: Danny Williams is playing and playing well for Reading while Sacha Kljestan has been in and out of the line-up in Belgium.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What happens is Geoff Cameron’s my rightback of choice and Michael Bradley gets Costa Rican’d in the first game?” I bet Klinsman has on his mind-clearing copter rides and so should you … so should you.

Welcome back Danny Williams. I bet you’d even take playing out at right mid again; wouldn’t you?



CM: Jermaine Jones

The skinny: ‘Sup Pharrell.

I love everything about Jermaine Jones’s instagram account and intensity …. and almost nothing about the way he starts off game. A 20-30’ JJ drinking game should get every US fans loose on Thursday.

Short pass to the opposition. Take a sip.

Long ball to where only Robbie Findley roams. Drink twice.

Frustration foul in the back. Pound it.

Shank to the ankle of the opposite #10 with a concealed weapon in his heal. Pound two. (Oh what, you don’t think that can’t happen?)

Bedoya hoping to fly his magic red carpet to Rio.

Bedoya hoping to fly his magic red carpet to Rio.

RM: Alejandro Bedoya

The skinny: TSG dubbed Ale Bedoya The Ambassador to Brazil way back in 2011. Looks like it’s coming good. We also thought that Robbie Rogers might surprise on the road to Brazil. Wrong category though.

Nice spotting by Dax McCarty to find Bedoya on the Oscar’s the other night by the way.

LM: Aron Jóhannsson

The skinny: This is a bit of a stab here, but it makes some sense. Johannson is on form. Moves well laterally and will be asked to come centrally to support Dempsey in the attack.

If it’s not Johannsson, expect it to be Fabian Johnson in the midfield with Edgar Castillo behind him.

CM: Clint Dempsey

The skinny: Paging Clinton Drew. Clinton Drew. Will Clint Dempsey please report to the pitch in 2014 and “TRY SOME SH*T!”

How do you think Don Garber feels about dollars recouped from Dempsey’s Fulham spell? It’s almost like getting comped at the casino. “Oh I’m sorry, you lost $1200, but here take a watered down Jack & Coke and please do come back.”

STR: Jozy Altidore

The skinny: I actually subscribe to the theory that Jozy’s education in hard knocks at Sunderland is better than tapping in shots in the Eredivisie.

Yup, talking myself into that line of reasoning.

Elsewhere: ESPN’s Rog Bennett with a cool retrospective on the 1994 World Cup.