|You damn sly dog, you|
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