Monday, June 4, 2012

Malaise-induced thoughts post-Canada

USA-Canada: As exciting as this picture suggests.
I will toot my own horn by saying I predicted a lifeless 0-0 draw on Twitter on Saturday when, especially after the USMNT had 11 shared goals in two games, I knew this was the only game of theirs I'd see live this week. Bah friggin humbug. Merry Christmas to me.
“@WillParchman: I missed #USMNT live in a 5-1 win and a 4-1 loss. Odds on the first one I see this week being a lifeless 0-0 draw? 80-90%, probs.”
Moribund, boring, whatever. Not so fun until the last two minutes, this game.

A great public show has been made this week over Jurgen's comments about nastiness and grit and bare knuckles coated in broken glass and whatever else those tropes entail, so I think it only appropriate to start there. In the pregame, Kyle Martino asked Clint Dempsey what it meant to the guys, Klinsmann's recent comments regarding gamesmanship. His answer was laced with sporting cliches and hems and haws, saying something without saying much like so many professional athletes have done since time immemorial. It was clear that Dempsey didn't have much clue as to what Klinsmann wanted exactly (I don't necessarily think "getting stuck in" as a rule has much to do with it), and I can only speculate that his teammates either aren't sure either or are disenfranchised enough with the idea that they don't outwardly acknowledge it. Being told that the way you play, that the way you were raised to play, isn't quite the winning model isn't necessarily going to be met by a locker room enthused minds.

The lead shining example put forth has been Jermaine Jones, who fittingly picked up a yellow on Sunday. The illustrative point that I think gets at Klinsmann's point better than anything, something Greg alluded to yesterday, was the foul Jones drew on Andre Hainault that drew yellow on a flight down the right flank in Canada's third in the second half. Jones made a move outside and cut free of Hainault, who in response extended a hand and sashayed his hips outward. Down went Jones. It's not that Jones shouldn't have gone to ground. He merely made it easy for the ref to choose. Watching the replay, Jones maybe could have made provisions to fall with more difficulty, but he was going down anyway. Better to make sure the ref sees it than cling to some shadow notion of chivalry that does not exist. That we are Americans and we only go down by hammers and chisels or whatever. Whether the ref pulls a card or not isn't up to Jones, but it was clear by the conviction with which Jones fell that he knew what to do all along. As the player most versed in the European model of the game, this isn't surprising. Some may disagree, and that's okay, but I think Jones represents the vanguard attitude here.

As for the good, not much to speak of. I've heard it said that Clarence Goodson was the only player who personally raised his stock on Sunday, and I think it's about right. And you know that's saying something when I come out with it, because I'm not a huge Goodson guy. The most mentioned name Sunday was left back Edgar Castillo, who came on just before the opening whistle when Fabian Johnson became a late scratch through injury. Castillo did what he does, whipping up dirt in the opponent's third and generally looking suspect in defense. His unbelievably stupid back pass in traffic led to a Canadian goal that was graciously wiped off by a shin tap that the side linesman couldn't explain later to a miffed DeRo. Castillo has fast feet and gets snow blind in defense. Hot news, no? Other than that, a nibble of info that wasn't unknown, we learned little.

The 4-3-3 is always on this intense uber-watch (is THAT a 4-3-3??? What about THAT????), but it is clear Klinsmann cares much more about the non-formations created by enthusiastic interchanging of positions. It makes formation bird-watching near impossible (I think we went from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4 to a 2-6-2… maybe?), but it's also organic to a fault. For me, the primary reason the formation is so fluid is Dempsey. He's never anywhere for any lengthy period of time. For moments, he played in between Gomez high left and Donovan, who looked tentative pressing forward and way way too quiet on the right. At other times, Dempsey dropped back behind both Bradley and Jones to facilitate an attack that blinked in and out of dangerous positions. He's a true wild card. I will put neither a positive or negative designator on this fact, only to say that it is so.

The defensive structure was intriguing, not because of how it was laid out but because of how it settled once the boys got comfy. Both Castillo and Dolo lived on the other side of the halfway line while Goodson and Boca spread out a little wider in central defense to compensate. Bradley and Jones alternated turns playing almost a true sweeper role in front while the other went box to box.
Late in the first half, Arlo White made a point about Bradley's use, that he thought he was being wasted by kneeling down in front of the back line to collect and generate, almost as a fifth defender. I saw a number of comments to the affirmative on Twitter. I see that, but I view it differently. Bradley is more or less Klinsmann's store of malleable modeling clay. He's by far the most versatile piece available to Klinsmann on the field at any given time, and I think Bradley knows it. Canada's three-man midfield gave the team tons of unexpected trouble and, sensing this, Bradley was in better position by dropping back and breaking up tackles instead of pressing high and creating gaps in the rearguard. Why Klinsmann decided to play two central midfielders in the first place is anyone's guess, but Bradley made his mental adjustment and the USMNT avoided conceding goals.

I brought up something to this effect on a recent Central Winger article on MLSsoccer.com. I'll reproduce here my response to Devin Pleuler's well constructed article, which you can find here. Pleuler's thesis was that Bradley was being employed in a certain fashion by Klinsmann that was contrary to ways we'd previously seen the midfielder. My response presents a different idea. 

I'm fascinated by studies like these, but I'm constantly left wondering how much of this has actually been scripted by Klinsmann himself and how much is a product of free will exercised within a loose construct. It is indeed interesting that Bradley tends to slip out wide. It also tends to benefit the side. But can it be assumed that this is a rigid design of Klinsmann's scheme? Or rather has the freedom given to Bradley, who was hinged into place in his father's empty bucket, finally released him to play in areas in which he is more comfortable?

One of the things I've always gathered is that Klinsmann has a plan, but he's not willing to tamp it down the throat if the player can take the basic framework of the ideal and make it his own. Indeed, I see that to be one of the very enticing things about the guy. He eliminates the robot. This all may be moot conjecture or a chicken-egg scenario as it were, since Klinsmann's laissez-faire tactics may have brought this about in the first place. But if that's the case, I think Bradley needs to receive more plaudits than Klinsmann.

The reason why I believe Bradley has been given the freedom to do things like this, to read and react as it goes, is based on Klinsmann's comments on Dempsey after halftime. Martino adroitly asked whether Dempsey's propensity to drift deep like the snows of Kilimanjaro had anything to do with Klinsmann's design. He swatted the idea down fairly quickly, passing off the tactic onto Dempsey's lack of recent games and his desire to get injected into the flow. He also wasn't entirely displeased. It also didn't seem like he'd made any great speech to the Nacogdoches Ninja at halftime. This confirmed to me that Klinsmann isn't into tinkering. I can reinforce that idea through Bradley's actions, which are telling. Once Edu came on, Bradley was released to go forward not as much because Klinsmann told Bradley to go forward (this may have happened, though I very much doubt it), but because Bradley knew what gaining a holding player like Edu meant. I applaud Bradley in these situations because he is much more adept at reading the game than most give him credit for. The guy is a read-and-adapt player of the highest order. Nobody on this team is more versatile and more consistent.

Lastly, Arlo White's favorite word: Live wire. And Martino seems to think Donovan and Dempsey are akin to D-Wade and LeBron. Okay? Okay.

- Will Parchman

5 comments:

Brian B said...

Well, I tried.

My wife despises my obsession with football- USMNT, yanks abroad, my thursday night games, all of it.

I took her to last night's game. While she DID enjoy the atmosphere in the USA supporters section, she overwhelming lack of interest from the players actually playing the game (Hey Landon) didn't do much in the way of winning her over.

I tried. So I will be forced to go with a bunch of my boys to the next one. Tragic... ;)


By the way, for those of you who watched it on TV, were the US fans as loud as they seemed?? Really nice turnout, lots of passion in the satnds.

Jacob Klinger said...

Loud enough to make me think you guys were miked.

LReszetar said...

Tactical question - what is the USMNT's solution for dealing with teams applying a high-pressure midfield? Canada was playing a 4-4-2 correct? And it seemed that their wing play was very aggressive, right? So how should the US break it down? Do the wingers from the attacking side then shift more to the middle and allow the forwards to play wide?

Will Parchman said...

What follows is all my opinion, so take it for what it is.

It all comes down to personnel. Playing Bradley and Jones in central midfield is fine, but they need outlets. The reason why I'm off the 4-4-2 (which is how the US started formationally) is because Dempsey is too much of a wild card to be in the middle consistently enough to break high presses. Sometimes he drops deeper, sometimes he doesn't, but he's guided by whim more often than a lot give credit for. More than that, having a lagging Donovan and a guy in Torres who needs a certain number of conditions to be successful on either wings isn't a recipe for success.

Bradley is the linchpin to all this. He's great when he's getting forward, but if he's not able to do it because the defense needs him 90% of the time, the process buckles. This gets fixed by changes in initial formation and personnel. One of the most puzzling things to me about Klinsmann is his itchy feet when it comes to settling on a formation. He's hilariously noncommittal.

dikranovich said...

im not saying exhibition soccer is the same as pre season football, but i know exhibition soccer is not the same as world cup qualifing soccer.

really it is like going from the preseason, right into the playoffs. its kind of weird actually. we will surely have a better feel about this team after the next two qualifiers, and it would be nice to be sitting on six points as well. i mean, can i get a witness!!!