Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some flash post-Slovenia thoughts

First off, I didn't see Koman Coulibaly (neé The Heartbreaker From Mali) anywhere. So, good for… everyone supporting red white and blue. The game was played in the midst of a bizarre fog bank that bathed the broadcast in an eerie white sheen, and the visible breath condensation in the knife blade-cold air sort of gave off the kind of bitter, November non-WC qualifying game this would turn out to be. There were moments when Tim Howard could scarcely see clean across to the midfield stripe let alone to the other net.

It's almost as though the hue and cry over chance creation permeated the locker room for the 1,000th time and the players had finally heard enough. It's all we've heard, and that undoubtedly trickles through. Then this...

Two goals in nine hours. Three in 43 minutes.

Klinsmann's departure from the 4-3-3 in favor of the 4-4-2 was an interesting development made more interesting by its success. I thought Buddle was dangerous in spurts and Altidore was given more license to drift wider and further back with a forward pegged up top. I'd love to see the 4-3-3 integrated properly into this side, but a part of me still sees the value in having a pair of target strikers. At the very least, this can be used as a splint while the three-man front line congeals a bit more. In any case, if you think we make too much out of formations and not enough of the men who play in them, there was enough to take in here to be encouraged. At least offensively. The back line was a different story.

Chievo Verona has clearly done Bradley well. I thought he was tidy on possession and didn't get caught out in the trap he usually sets for himself going forward. Bradley has often masqueraded as a true box-to-box midfielder when his best strength is in support play and build-up. When teamed with the leather-legged Beckerman (who I still don't favor) Bradley had some freedom to roam forward but rarely was caught doing too much, a hallmark of his play under his pops. He can still crop up in dangerous positions, but he seems to be gradually understanding the limitations of his role, which is a positive thing. I liked what Fabian Johnson brought, but would love to see him be more consistent in bringing it. Thus is youth, though, and his lovely ground-bound cross to Jozy in the 11th minute - a clear goal of which Jozy made an absolute hash - illustrated his ability to get into the box and upset the order. It also illustrated Jozy's ever-present hit-or-miss quality in front of goal. Bizarrely, he seems to hit on the sublime and miss on the routine for country far more often than for club. I have yet to fully understand this phenomenon, of which we have exhibit A:

And B:

The US had been averaging 0.8 goals per game this year, their lowest average since 1988, before bagging three in the first half, all of which combined more dangerous moves than I think I've seen in any 90 under Klinsmann thus far. Dempsey's header goal came as a result of first-half set pieces that came like a machine gun spitting bullets one after another. Jozy's penalty seemed like a mere eventuality at that point. In the halftime show, Lalas predicted that old USA bunker-style counterattack, and I don't think we were disappointed... or we were, but he wasn't wrong. Brek Shea's 30 minutes were quiet, with the odd cross or forward pass generally redirected or wayward. Equally little to say about Maurice Edu. Which I suppose brings us to that back line. Oh, the back line.

Woof. Sloppy, disorganized and routinely caught out blinking and unaware. It's just this team's makeup that as soon as we see chance creation we get the worst defensive performance under Klinsmann and certainly the ugliest since the Gold Cup final. This was obviously a pre-instituted design, but they played awfully loose with the high offside line. Slovenia punctured this uneven, broken Maginot Line with some frequency. Timmy Chandler sprung a wide open goal scoring chance by lagging behind the trap about 20 minutes in, and he was burned on it in the 26th on Matavz's goal. He turned Chandler and swept inside inside, and while he was a step offside, that's the scalding pot you shake with lines like those.

It's abundantly clear that Chandler is a tornado going forward, but it's somewhat troubling to me that he looked so much more comfortable in Slovenia's half than he did in his own. On giveaways, which came way too easily, he was woefully out of position. Scrambling back only poked more holes in a back line that struggled to hold together in the face of Slovenia's confusion up front. And even in the opponent's half, Chandler seems too eager to go for the knockout cross or the perfect pass rather than keeping possession and tucking in neat passes within the triangle. When you're 40 yards off your line, which is struggling mightily, there is little room for ill-timed fancy maneuvers.

We know plenty about the Boca-Goodson pairing in the middle; that it's a stopgap measure, that it isn't supposed to last through qualifying, that it is hopefully a placeholder while the injured return to form (Gooch) or while the pups turn into men (Gonzo? John?). Until then, this is what we've got. A converted club fullback and a gangly, weak center back with a scowl that would make a schoolgirl giggle. Do I feel great about it? No. But both are competent on their best days, and while this was surely not one of them, they are capable of more. That will have to suffice as solace while we await some high-horsed defensive savior. Not that I'm altogether optimistic.

Anyway, good things. This is a win and it shows progress. However you'd like to dice that fact up, this is forward motion and it's always been the attack on the chopping block, right? Well these onions taste pretty good. And can we all agree on how ridiculous this ESPN "Soccer Power Index" is? According to these stat gurus, the USA has a 54 percent chance of qualifying for Brazil 2014 out of CONCACAF. Honduras, with all its might, is at 56 percent. Uh... what?

- Will Parchman


jon said...

Speaking of Goodson and his weak scowl, did you see his little hand flap gesture towards the ref after he almost gave up a goal scoring opportunity à la Loïc Rémy and thought he shoulda got a foul call? It was the kind of thing even C. Ronaldo might have been embarrassed to do.

Will Parchman said...

I did. Every time he propositions the ref for a foul he looks like he's passing a gall stone with that odd mix of pain, confusion and shame.

Joshua said...

Will, I have a question for you. Hopefully it isn't too late for you to answer. Do you think the goals/better play were a product of the two forward system, or a product of the diamond midfield we used, or a little of both? I gotta say that I enjoyed this formation more for the diamond than for the two forwards.

I actually think the diamond is the way to go from here on out because we don't really have any GREAT wingers (almost there with Shea/Donovan but their more hybrid wing/forwards), but we do have a lot of real quality CMs such as Johnson, Jones, Bradley, Holden, Williams, Beckerman and eventually Holden/Torres. So the diamond seems to suit us more than a 433 midfield or even a 442 midfield. I've been wrong before, but it all makes sense to me.

Just a random musing. Let me know what you think.

Will Parchman said...

This may not be the answer you're trawling for, but it's all relative. I think one of the toughest things about coaching, something that gets swept under the rug too easily, is that much like atoms careening in random directions in an ordered system, players react differently to different teammates and the formation is just a loose guide.

I do think a lot of it had to do with having two forwards. That's a place of comfort for this team. I do question how deep we really are at CM. Too many holding players, not enough creativity. This is changing but it's a slow process. Landon's best spot is still parked out wide, and Dempsey has never been comfortable up top, so something has to give there. Personally, I think the front constellation of Donovan-Altidore-Dempsey can be a terrifying vision if it ever gets set that way. In short, I'm pulling for the 4-3-3 but I'm not married to it.

SPA2TACU5 said...

@ Greg,

What are your thoughts on Klinsmann so far? And more specifically his switch to 4-4-2?