Thursday, March 1, 2012

Some flashy flash post-Italy (1-0!) thoughts

You damn sly dog, you
Klinsmann haters, who are gon' hate, will have to face some sort of music featuring loud, Wagner-influenced horns blasting malicious German rebukes at the furor over his management style here. If this is a results-based business (yes, even in games that don't technically count), then he needs to be lauded for doing something no other manager in US history has ever done. He is also beginning to tap into the type of serum that has won and will always win games for American sides, that being the ability to out-hustle and generally out-work more technically proficient sides. This will (likely) morph into a prettier capsule over time, a more candy-coated shell that goes down better and, however slightly, increases the winning percentage. But let's not act like this is a pool drawing from scores of little tykes snapping off rabonas on uneven concrete blanketed by shards of broken glass in downtown cityscapes. As is, we need workmanlike wins against world powers to continue jamming that foot in the door to the exclusive, hoity-toity parties thrown by the world's top 10's.

Welcome to the world of increasing returns, Jurgi. It only gets tougher from here.

- The formation was the first thing that caught my eye. Saying nothing of Italy's, Klinsmann made no bones about his ability to skew as far away from the 4-3-3 as he pleases, and the 4-2-3-1 was certainly a departure. Turned out that dropping Edu and Bradley into the bottom of the bucket, something both are intimately familiar with on the international level, was a necessary (and shrewd) move to keep the heat off Boca and Goodson, both of whom we'll get to in a minute. Allow me here to touch on Bradley's night. I don't know what it is about Verona that's imbued him with... whatever... but he's has never been this assured. We've always gotten a workhorse, but never before has he had a silky scarf to drape over the 300-horsepower engine block. That seems to have changed. There is a gentleness to his touch (eeeasy) on possession that allows him to both hold up play as needed as well as fuel breaks with understated flourishes. Of course he can still stamp his heel on the gas pedal, but that and his box-to-box ethos aren't "it" as far as his game is concerned anymore. If Bradley had a brief moment post-nepotism craze following his father's exit when people thought he'd fade out, he's done away with that now. He's an easy first XI choice for me every time. Edu looked good too, although he seems to have the same hangups going forward that he's always had. Much, much more serviceable breaking up attacks, which he did well.

- Clint Dempsey... whoa. We've seen him in fine form before, but never like this. There was a saying about Chris Carter when he played for the Vikings, once used pejoratively... All he does is catch touchdowns. I used to view Clint like this, that all he did was score. A valuable skill set, but the natural implication being his off-ball motor needed work. He started turning this view of mine on its head in spurts during last year's Gold Cup, but I'd like to think this "new" Clint is the one we'll see from now on. No more sulking off possession, a lot more skillful acrobatics and well-positioned maneuvers. I like it.

- A quick word on the new kit selection: awesome. Loved it. The understated, slightly darker blue sash, the white sleeves, the gray numerals, the high red, white and blue collar. Solid. Damn solid.

- Ian Darke continues to be a godsend for historically horrifically-called USMNT games. Taylor Twellman continues to be... Taylor Twellman.

- The defense. Out of position or not, Fabian Johnson had a good day. He was quick to the point, fluid tracking back and dangerous stalking forward. The one obvious flaw were the gaps he created by drifting too far forward without cover, but I assume that if he gets more time back there at Hoffenheim, that spacial awareness will come. He's certainly athletic enough to do it, he just needs that mindset. I don't think he's displaced Chandler, but he opened up the competition a little wider. As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as a locked-down USMNT left back anymore. He doesn't exist.

I know I shouldn't harp much on a defense that just shut out a team that ravaged the Euro qualis, but Clarence Goodson continues to be a big bowl of meh. He's utterly lost on high, well-driven through balls, so it was unfortunate that he had to gaze at Giovinco's back all night while he galloped onto pin-perfect balls from Pirlo, who pens poems with his feet. The thing he's starting to come around on is the offside trap, which, as you'll remember from the Slovenia game last year, has been an issue in the past. The fact that Boca has paired with seemingly every CB Klinsmann has ever heard of and still remains a stalwart is pretty remarkable. Dolo was Dolo and Jonathan Spector turned into a human brick wall during his brief shift. Impressive, but I'd like to see him do it outside again over 90 minutes.

- I've already said a lot about Jozy that I don't need to rehash (see Slovenia link), but something I noticed: In the 20th minute, Jozy dropped back in the early architecture of the build-up and fed Bradley, who was diving toward the end line on the right side. Bradley, looking up, saw two players in the box: Dempsey short and Shea long. Jozy, having fallen back to facilitate, was nowhere to be seen. The play fizzles. About five minutes later, Dempsey led a promising break and fed Jozy, who was calmly bumped off possession near the edge of the box to kill it, something that shouldn't necessarily be happening when you've got the frame to hold it up. Illustrative moments, these, but not wholly comprehensive. The troublesome thing about analyzing Jozy is that he picks his moments carefully. He won't look great on every touch, or even most of them, but every now and then he'll rip off the shirt to reveal a Superman S, and you're left wondering why it wasn't there all along (Dempsey assist). But that's just it with Jozy. Until he becomes more dominant, this is the guy we'll go to war with, so it's better to understand his makeup than belittle him for something he's not and has never been. I'll leave that up to the advancement of time. If he never gets there, he never gets there. But it makes me feel better to assume he will, so there it is.

- I was puzzled as to why Klinsmann didn't use more subs and use them earlier. Now, I understand I just praised him for legging out a win, and now I'm questioning why he didn't take off more first-tier guys. But I wouldn't have ravaged him had they drawn, or even lost late. I'm more interested in development as it is. So the Kljestan sub seemed like a disinterested hand wave in his direction, considering Sacha was all but wasted by being marooned off to the side of play. Would it really have hurt to bring off Clint and slide Sacha underneath Boyd? Sacha is bound to get some failing grades from the pundits, but my car would surely stall if you put a boat motor in it. Did that make sense? I'm not sure. We'll go with it.

- I was particularly interested in Brek Shea's night on the left. He had the unfortunate task of following up Dempsey on that flank, which means he'll draw some comparisons one way or the other. On Wednesday night, they weren't necessarily favorable. Seeing him live, and therefore seeing his off-ball movement, Shea has a very natural tendency to play everybody's position. He wants to do everything. This is obviously a bad thing. While that's been reined in over the past few years, he still has a propensity to get too intricate and trust is one-on-one skills a tad too much. So instead of playing one-two's, he takes on defenders heads up and, more often than not, fails. He's young, and I can chalk some of this up to hubris and impetuousness, but not for much longer. Shea is the only player to play in all of Klinsmann's games, and judging by his performance on Wednesday, I'm not 100 percent sure that streak continues. I say move Fabian up to LM and get Timmy in at LB with Spector and Lichaj providing depth/competition.

- In the Klinsmann era, this game is really only directly comparable to the Belgium and France contests in terms of the stature of the opponent, and this game obviously matches up favorably. And without Donovan, no less. As there has been for some time, there is progress here. Hallelujah.

- Will Parchman


UnitedDemon said...

I agree.

Two things that stood out.

1) Danny Williams doesn't have a truly offensive bone in his body. He's great at the bunker game, but he's a dmid or a fullback. Period. That said, Donovan would have taken his place probably.

2) Johnson should be our left back rather than Chandler. Showed tremendous potential, and Chandler should be using his right foot.

Here's the thing, though. How many times did we see Shea dropping back as if to say, "You're better at this position, you do it." I can't shake the feeling that Shea should be tried there. It happened several times tonight.

jon said...

I wasn't initially a fan of the new kit (when I saw the online leak or a snapshot of it in a shop window), but seeing it in action really changed my mind. However, I thought the white sleeve with white long sleeve underneath looked stupid.

Goodson may be improving with the offside trap, but he got bailed out a couple times by a generous linesman -- granted Timmy came up with the saves on those calls anyway.

I also prefer Johnson over Chandler at LB, but maybe that's just the "what have you done for me lately" talking.

And while Danny Williams wasn't remotely effective on the right, at least he bought into the position, hugged the sideline and tried to take people on...that's gotta count for something, heh.

jon said...

Oh and speaking of melding American work ethic with increasing skill, how about them U-23s tonight?

dikranovich said...

perry kitchen, what a versitile player. and smart too. doesnt look smart, looks like josh gros, but he is much much better.

mix disk was fabulous tonight, what a game. did anyone else think about juniors game, while watching mix?

what i really saw tonight, after watching both games, was a triangle of central midfielders, working together, more so in the u/23 game. this was a threshold the usa crossed today.

Matt said...

And, Freddy, talk about ball control. If only he could stay involved for an entire game. For about 20 minutes in the second half the entire game ran through him. We don't have another player on the national team, on any level, that can create space for himself like Freddy.

Anatoly M said...

I loved results of both games of course. Well deserved

1. Lalas was a bit too gleeful in his observation that we got a better result when Klinsmann adjusted back to the schemes that used to work for USMNT before. But I think that's right. We can't be a Barcelona - we don't have the skill set. But we can have more of it sprinkled in and used when appropriate.

2. I think Shea did a good job covering in defense. He was there when needed. He is a workhorse and a smart one (at least occasionally smart one).

3. Fabian Johnson impressed me the most. I have high standards for Dempsey already, I expect him to impress. But Johnson - I only heard that he is good, and in previous appearances seen glimpses of that. Now it was on the full display. Loved it. Good find, good fit.

4. Italian press must be livid with offsides. Granted, some of them were so close that another official could have called them differently. But you come to play and you see how it's been officiated very quickly. On this level you supposed to be able to adjust. 9 offsides (?) I can feel for Italians.

5. Back to the Barcelona model. With opponents like Italy we must do what we did - frustrate their effort and find some holes to squeeze in. What is interesting is to see if Klinsmann will continue his teaching efforts against much weaker regional opponents. I would love him to. With the old style we were not able to dominate them as we should.

sean said...

I'm sorry, but I can't stand Jozy Altidore. He'll do about 3-4 good things in a game, but he other 20-25 times he gets the ball, he loses it or takes a dive. I'm done with him. Put my grandma up top.

TH said...

On the other hand, if Jozy got the type of service the Italian forwards got all night, we would've won 10-0.

sean said...

95% of the time Altidore has the touch of a trampoline. Service is not his problem with the national team. Service is not his problem with AZ.

TH said...

Service not a problem with the National team? Please. How many times was he put in a true position to score? How many balls did he get to run on to? We have no creation in the US squad, which is why he's asked to hold up the ball for someone else. He makes his own chances when he can. Ask Chiellini's yellow card.

And yes, he gets service with AZ. And he scores with AZ.

He has different jobs for both teams. We just beat one of the best teams in the world with his assist and you're still complaining. How was his touch with his assist? Perfect when it mattered most, yes?

AWF08 said...

The problem with Jozy is development and consistency. What I mean by that is, he's developing at a slower pace than we'd all like. This is best seen by how inconsistent he is. Some of his development issues are due to his playing situation over the years, but more due to poor training habits--which have created his playing situation.
In fact, it's even shown up this year. Again. His club coach doesn't want to play him and has been reduced to stamping his feet and flatly refusing unless he has no other choice (injury). For the second time in less than one season he has been forced to send Jozy messages through playing time, the media, etc. All because Jozy can't be bothered to show up, train hard, and act like a professional. In fact, Klinsman just stepped in and said the same thing before the Italy game--that Jozy needs to get the message. It seems, he's already wearing out his welcome with two coaches who've been dealing with him for less than 12 months.
All of this leads to slow development and inconsistency. Jozy's gettin' it. He's developing. We can see it in his game. In glimpses. And, those glimpses are mouth watering--the two goals this past week. The assist last night. These are the things that keep him around.
It's the other 89 minutes of bad touches, laziness, "where the f is he going runs (if he makes a run at all)," that are infuriating to watch. And, I'm sure, infuriating to coach and play with. In fact, if you watch some of his games from Holland--even his teammates are left scratching their heads and signaling "where are you?" after many broken down attacks. In a league based on movement, darting runs, quick touches--Jozy still often thinks standing still and putting a hand up is a run. His AZ teammates just pass to some else and keep going.
I guess my point is, we'll see if he ever "gets it." I have major doubts because he's been a professional for a long time and still plays basically the same way he did when he started. His natural ability has taken him this far--it'll be his head and heart that take him the rest of the way. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, the Jozy we see now is the Jozy we'll have 5, 6, 7 years from now. At this pace, he'll be the player he should be now by the time he hits 30. Just in time to have a couple good years before he retires.

sean said...

We'll have to agree to disagree. Is Altidore a bad player? No. But does he have a lot to work on? Heck yes. He does good things, but I think he has more bad touches and takes more dives than anyone else on the U.S. squad. Look at his professional career, up and down. His managers often have lots of complaints about him. 1 goal for Hull City, 1 goal for Villareal, 0 games for Xerex. I admit, he's done good things at AZ but he's so inconsistent.

And the service to him on that goal was pretty good.

Jacob Klinger said...

@AWF08 This legend of Jozy being some kind of clueless bum is a little overblown, sure there's some truth to it, but to say he's not making progress overall, even becoming a smarter player is just looking at him with whatever the opposite of rose is-tinted.

The improvements he's made since joining AZ have been huge. People are clamoring for him to start, not hoping Benschop stays healthy as you suggested. Verbeek's known as a bit of a headcase, worldwide, this isn't Jozy being a bum, this is a coach playing head games. Jozy took his chance well last weekend and played well enough yesterday.

I'll leave you with this. Would the Jozy of yesteryear laid the ball off as neatly as he did yesterday to set up Deuce's goal?

AWF08 said...

I never said Jozy was clueless or a bum. Respectfully, read what I wrote again. He is what he is--which is, no where near the player he should be after having spent so many years playing in some of Europe's top leagues. Yes, the fans are clamoring for him--I said the coach will only play him if Benschop is injured--so are the fans here in the US. Fans see what we all see--loads of potential. Coaches--Klinsman, Verbeek, multiples at Valencia, Hull, Xeres--see what we do not. His training habits. His unwillingness, confusion, inability to put into the games what they've asked of him in training.
Has Jozy improved? Yes, I stated that he has. Has he improved in multiple seasons in Europe as much as Stuart Holden did in one season with Bolton? No. Or as steadily as Dempsey has over his time in England? Think about Dempsey's improvement in his first three seasons at Fulham (not to mention since). Has Jozy come anywhere near that level of improvement during an even longer stretch? No. No where close. I could go on--Sasha, Mix, Bradley, etc., etc.
My point is that Jozy is a good player. Way better than average, physically--below average in soccer IQ for his level. He's inconsistent overall and even within games. He frustrates his coaches to the point that, in multiple cases, they've chosen to bench him or pay him millions to sit in street clothes, rather than pay him. That's not legend--that's truth. Valencia spent $10 million to give him less than a half seasons worth of action. Why? Because they didn't see the improvement they expected. The improvement they've come to expect in working with young prospects. The improvement they've built their club on. The improvement another young American has shown with them by showing up and working his tail off--Rossi. What they saw is a player unwilling or unable to make the commitment to the work it would take to make the improvements their $ suggested he should be making.
Is Jozy a bum? No, not even close. Is he the player his physical gifts and the coaches he's had available to him would suggest? No, not even close.
Do I hope he turns it around? Yes--he's one of the key players who can take us to the next level. Would I bet anything more than a dollar that the light goes off and he comes good on his talent? All historical evidence tells me to buy a lottery ticket instead.
But, with all sincerity as a fan of Jozy's, and the US, and now AZ's, I hope I'm wrong and get to eat crow for years to come.

Jacob Klinger said...

Alright, I did group you in with some of the more ludicrous criticisms of Jozy. You know what I'm talking about.

Still, Jozy's 22 and for the first time since he was with the Red Bulls, he's getting consistent playing time with a club that has a vested interested in his development. I'll give you that he wasn't ready for Villarreal, but after that at Xerez, Hull and Bursaspor - where he was OK - he was a tossed out there as a loanee. That's a tough spot to succeed in for a young striker, especially one that's being globetrotted short on confidence. Sure, a world beater makes and makes it work, and Jozy wasn't that guy.

My biggest issue was your projections. This year's Jozy is noticeably improved from last year and while he wasn't stunning yesterday I thought he was more than serviceable. Yeah, the guy's got yet unfulfilled potential, but his former status as future savior gets him some undue criticism.

dikranovich said...

wasnt jozy a great young striker with tons of up side when he was 17? not every player that goes to europe is going to hook up with a coach like whats his face at bolton. holden was lucky because he followed a manager from one team to a better team. are there any good coaches in europe with hatian decent. that might help a little also.

the club xerox debacle, that was a rough situation, with a team that was in turmoil. probably not to much different than the adu to monacco loan. i blame the agents. american players need better representation when they are going abroad.

how much has luakaka done with chelsea. even when he has gotten minutes he has looked so so. jozy might just be coming into his own and the little bits of greatness that we have seen from him here and there, they are going to start occuring with greater frequency.

Jacob Klinger said...

The problem with Xerex was not that they were in crisis, to the contrary. They were winning. They were all but assured of promotion and refused to mess with a winning formula - can't totally blame them.

AWF08 said...

Fair enough. I hope you're right and I'm wrong. That would mean we've got a legit world class forward for the next 8-10 years.
God knows, when I was 22...

dikranovich said...

jacob, xerox was in first and went up to la liga and came right back down, but the point is that they were in financial crisis and the owners were involoved in gun charges and who the hell knows what else. but it was not a stable situation.

i know im not into conspricy theory, but wasnt it funny that spain sent jozy to a second division team where he did not get playing time and then he scores the game winner against the spain national team that summer.

Jacob Klinger said...

@AWF08 I'd settle for a solid international, but I'll take world class too.

@dikranovich I think it probably had more to do with him wanting to win a soccer game. Still, I like the idea of enforcing his own kharma on an entire nation. Good thinking Jozy!