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!
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?
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.
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE YET?!”
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.
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.
About The Opponent: Mexico
Just the local yocals this time for social media maven and El Tri honcho Miguel 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.
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.
Both Jimenez and Pulido are in contention for Brazil.
Jimenez is Dzeko. He’ll be the hold-up guy and look to remained active within the narrows of the 18-yard box. Jiminez will need to show well on Wednesday as the competition to head south this summer has better favorites in DiNigris, Peralta, Chicharito and this next guy. Alan Pulido plays the Ibisevic to Jiminez’s Dzeko.
Here’s centerback for the Philly Union and USMNT prospect Amobi Okugo with first-hand knowledge on Pulido.
“I’ve had the pleasure to play against him multiple times growing up with the youth national teams and ironically I was always playing centerback when we played each other. He’s an up-and-coming striker who is very tricky. He does a good job of running off his other forward and drifting in the gaps between the defense and midfield or just behind the defense. He’s also a pretty good finisher with both feet and even the head.
How would you play him?
I would play him tight just because I know he doesn’t like contact,, little things like grabbing his hand before he runs or leaving a little extra in a challenge to frustrate him.
What about how he’ll play in tandem with Raul Jimenez?
I wish I could answer the second question but I don’t know Jimenez well enough. Pulido works off his partner well though. For example, he will check for a ball and dummy for his other forward and run off it, that’s one thing he’s really good at.
Big thanks to our special correspondent Amobi Okugo there. Bright future for the man on the USMNT too.
Much like Jurgen Klinsmann not-so-delicately migrated Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit out of the US backline, so too has Herrera not-so-delicately migrated mainstays Gerardo Torrado and Carlos Salcido out of the aging Mexican midfield.
In their stead are Isaac Brizuela, Marco Fabian and Jesus Zavala.
The name that will get the air time here is Fabian. The sensation from the 2012 Olympics has been biding his time, Eric Lichaj-style, on getting into game. He’ll be tasked with collapsing the area fronted by Graham Zusi and backed by “US Rightback 3” and Omar Gonzalez on Wednesday. He’ll need to show well–as in an assist or goal to keep his name on the clipboard.
Zavala is the liability. He gets forward in his role for Monterey and is not the stay-at-home man that El Tri needs in the spot.
Spend time watching the top of the box on an opponent’s corner kick or centrally when the ball is wide and watch as the entry pass comes and Zavala falls asleep on his mark–or rather the mark that was supposed to be his. This is a prime opportunity for Michael Bradley to float in late and uncork “a Scotlander” (<– that means this, not this) to open his 2014 account.
Brizuela–at 23–has got a shot to slip in to the squad too with Hector Herrera misfiring lately.
Rogelio Chavez and Miguel Ponce–of Sacramento, CA–form the wingbacks. This is Chavez’s moment. The 29-year-old has been en fuego for Cruz Azul to start the campaign and it’s clear that Aguilar is on the bubble. This is likely the fiercest camp battle going on right now with Chavez probably to get the nod.
The back three will align with Enrique Perez, Rafael Marquez, Francisco Javier Rodriguez and this is a problem for El Tri if they cannot either maintain possession or turn it over in dangerous spots.
None of these players are exceptionally fast or exceptional defenders at this point. Rodriguez in particular can lose his assignments.
Crash Marquez is going through the Nesta-in-Montreal part of his career–only if Nesta was toting a bowling bowl all around with him.
In Mexico’s most recent friendly in early March against Nigeria, both Marquez and Rodriguez turned the ball over in spellbinding fashion, leading to breaks the other way.
The above is a gorgeous sequence … if you’re Michael Bradley and Eddie Johnson.
With Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa already checking out nightclubs in Rio, Alfredo Talavera will likely get the opportunity to mop up in front of the nets and win El Tri’s Mr. Irrelevant at Brazil.
A quick review of El Tri’s goals Wednesday from ESPN El Tri analyst Tom Marshall:
1) What’s the role of the younger generation (Brizuela, Pena, Pulido) moving towards World Cup 2014?
2) Will Herrera get any answers regarding the centerback and right wing back positions?
3) Will he experiment away from the 5-3-2 or is it a case of what you see is what you get?
Note: Tom Marshall and I spoke on the Total Soccer Shot this week on the Yanks-El Tri showdown. You can find it here.
And here’s a must-read interview on El Tri manager Miguel Herrera by Marshall.
TSG: What We’re Looking For?
• Deuce: Sad Face
The US backline is what it is. A fragile, inexperienced and often pushed-to-the-limit entity that relies on dedicated team defending and being compact to get the job done. This is and has been a pressure point for the States going back years now.
Clint Dempsey and his central attacking midfield role was not supposed to be the next concern up on the clipboard here in April of 2014. He’s the US captain. He’s been Nike’s USMNT advertising centerpiece.
But here it is, World Cup prep in its final stages, and Dempsey’s role as has been since the Klinsmann era began continues to perplex and frustrate.
Putting Dempsey in the center of the US pitch and asking him to facilitate breaking down an opponent’s defense in tight quarters is like watching a tiger prowl the front of the cage at the zoo.
Back-and-forth, back-and-forth hoping for something, some weakness to change in the fence.
Getting progressively angrier and angrier until the realization sets in that the damn fence–those US tactics–are immobile and then the tiger slowly ambles back to some grassy, shaded area and flops down in a clump, conceding its inability to effect the situation.
All the while, it conserves its energy, dejected but hopeful that tomorrow might be different.
That’s Deuce and no manager has used him as such in the middle of the park to any success.
Bruce Arena threw Clint out on the wing for the 2006 cycle and the Furman alum danced stepovers like vintage Fred Astaire against Italy’s fullbacks.
Bob Bradley used Clint centrally on occasion until the 2009 Confederations Cup and then realized Dempsey is to linking as Suarez is to sportsmanship and put Deuce out on the left to ghost in as he saw fit and pounce on mistakes.
Fulham manager Mark Hughes stuck Dempsey on the bench. Then he dropped him in wide left or coupled him up top with Bobby Zamora, running off and popping up where he saw fit to impact the game.
Even the The Misguided One–Andres Villas Boas–was reluctant but nonetheless stuck Dempsey up top for Spurs in 2013 when his strikers failed the Magic Spray test. The result? Dempsey’s sweeping runs created space for Gareth Bale’s theatrics and opened him up for the shots–the shots a certain Soldado is burying … in the stands … this year.
Klinsmann? He’s tasked Dempsey with linking and creating in attack, but failed to get him the ball in good spots. What’s the best US fans have seen of Dempsey this cycle? Probably the home clash with Panama in Seattle when the US was going forward with aplomb and Dempsey zipping around making himself a nuisance.
All to often it’s Clint, tamed, with the following record of minutes to the match.
0-10′ Half chance, series of missed long balls
11′-30′ [Goes gets a cup of coffee]
31′-45′ Clint Dempsey, defensive central midfielder. “C’mon guys just let me feel what it’s like again to have the ball at my feet.”
46′-65′ Half chance.
66′-90’+ US subs and the game opens up Clint finds a few chances created or maybe just “Gone Fishin’.” Toss up.
Remember Clint Dempsey slowly shuffling off the field in a US friendly against Slovakia in 2009, not cheering his replacement and looking like that poor tiger.
Dempsey needs support. He needs movement around him. He needs wide players making themselves available, not just drop passes to Jones and Bradley.
Open that cage Berti!
…and there’s two ways to do this:
› Long view: Consider Aron Johannsson for the starting line-up (by default). A careful analysis of the past few games shows one glaring problem that’s escaped detection in the way of poor build-up play. Jozy Altidore’s lack of awareness in supporting Dempsey has been borderline criminal. Either bring someone narrow more often (we’ll get to that) or take a quick look at a different configuration up top.
› Short (Wednesday) view: Flip Dempsey and Donovan on the field or at minimum bring Donovan narrow. Let’s Clint work from the side and clean up after Donovan forces an adjustment. Either way, working with Donovan at the office this week might just do it.
› Or C: Just improve the tactics… the role definition and choreography on the field. Do yourself a favor. Do not watch the 35′ to the 45′ of the US-Ukraine game. You’ll be sad.
No doubt about it.
The likely 70′ unveiling of Julian Green will be awaited with bated breath by the rabid USMNT uber fan. US supporters are falling over themselves to anoint Julian Green the Next One. They’ve been forlorn since Charlie Davies, left at the altar for now by Juan Agudelo, watched Josh Gatt’s YouTube theatrics disintegrate under the incision of a second knee surgery in two years.
Give us something to believe in!
This conversation on Twitter–by extremely logical people–sums it up best.
Isn’t that what’s it all about anyway? Haven’t we heard enough about the USMNT doldrums? Are you really sure about Deuce, because he doesn’t look so upset in this fashion shoot.
Well, dream on US fans. German national Thomas Muller on Green: “the kid is for his age very robust and fast, very willing to work, technically very good. I like him.”
And with dual nationals the question that always comes up is will they embody the American competitive ethos? Will they always fight until the last whistle?
Here’s Julian Green’s father, Jerry Green, on his son’s desire:
“Julian has always been uber competitive! Regardless of whether it’s sports or school work, his desire to excel is always present. One of the hobbies he really enjoys, especially when he is in Tampa, is the sport of fishing.
When he first started fishing at Ballast Point Pier here in South Tampa, he was probably eight or nine years old.
You could hear the competitive juices flowing through his veins. He would refuse to leave until he caught a fish.
Literally, he would stand there on the pier and not move. It’s a funny story now, but very frustrating for his older brother and I.
Of course we would acquiesce, and let him continue. In time, he picked up the “two fishing rod” method; two poles are deployed in the Bay, while he diligently monitors the fishing lines of each pole, with the tenacity of a sailor inspecting his sail lines. About five years ago as we walked to the pier, he proclaimed, “I will catch a shark today”, and yes, you guessed it-he caught a foot-and-a-half young shark that day.
Time to call your goal against Portugal young man.
> Mr. Gonzalez. Mr. Omar Gonzalez please tie a string around your finger and remember to step up when your fullback is beat. It’s coming together for Gonzalez, but he needs to have a flawless game. I’ll punt on the distribution for now if the team defense is there.
11 At The Whistle:
In summary: The most telling selection here and biggest tactical question for Jurgen will be his fullback pairing.
It will speak to exactly how offensive minded the German will be on Wednesday. It all leads with the placement of the Columbus Crew’s captain Michael Parkhurst. With DaMarcus Beasley not granted leave by Puebla and Brad Evans excused due to injury, Klinsmann has a single true tested fullback in Parkhurst–whose been manning the central defense in MLS–to deploy.
With Tony Beltran, a rightback, selected late, it could be a sign that Parkhurst goes split out to the left. This would damage the possession plan on that side as Parkhurst–who played there versus Scotland late last year has virtually no ability to overlap on his left.
G: Nick Rimando
The skinny: Rimando–solid to spectacular to open the season in Salt Lake–is obviously your starter. Klinsmann’s selections of Hamid and Johnson are curious within his merit-based system. If you recall, Hamid was a first call of Klinsmann in his first match in charge–against El Tri in August of 2011 in Philadelphia. It’s a curious selection to continue to call the youngster without taking other looks around or if only to make him earn it.
DEF: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Michael Parkhurst
The skinny: Yedlin gets the rightback nod by default.
Klinsmann is a sequencing guy in that if the first choice selection is unavailable it’s merely down one rung to the back-up. Yedlin was the back-up here and Klinsmann likely figured to let Evans go about 80′ or so and have the youngster step in. No reason–especially given his solid club form this year–that he shouldn’t get the nod in Phoenix.
Parkhurst brings his special brand of right peg football to the left flank. The Crew man is a sharp defender, but he never compromises his positioning for attack (except when pushed to… USA at Jamaica, September 2012).
CDM: Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu
The skinny: This isn’t a snub for Beckerman and in all honesty given the passage above Klinsmann likely snugly configures the on-form RSL man right behind Bradley in the set-up and away we go.
That said, there is little time to figure out whether Edu can be of value in a few months. Beckerman is a known quantity. The decision on the Salt Lake captain will be one of foot speed and need with all other boxes checked.
Edu is a World Cup veteran who is so thoroughly dominating MLS competition that he thinks nothing of getting pulled a little bit out of shape because he can coast back in–make that “swoop”–and clean up any mess in the midfield.
Have to give a look here early if you’re Klinsmann–or why else call him in? For practice time? A 10-min sub when El Tri’s C team is on the field?
And remember that Zavala comment from before. SCOTLANDER!
MID: Graham Zusi, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan.
The skinny: Easy pickings here for Team TSG. Dempsey’s case has already been stated. Landon is Landon, undervalue him at your own peril. (Insert bad Cambodia joke.) Zusi coming of a raging start to the season.
FWD: Eddie Johnson
The skinny: They need to invent a guaranteed contract for professional sports players that is un-guaranteed if you have two weeks of yawning performances. I know that’s ludicrous, but if they had that contract instrument, Eddie Johnson would be still be in the Premiership.