to play football, not to play trumpet
HOT. Jozy scored a scorcher, the team worked a beautiful goal, and Tim Howard was all but untroubled until Omar Gonzalez entered and the US flailed about ineptly with three central defenders. That was like the Panama game I love referencing except against a World Cup-quality outfit, the most recent African champions at nearly full strength. At the moment I'm not even mad about Landon Donovan. That's how good that was.
- The alternate universe. After a dismal performance from Brad Davis against Turkey I suggested that the alternate universe version of the USA lineup might forget all about having a nominal winger guy at left mid and just field ALL THE CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS because hey, why not. This happened, and it was terrific.
- And it had the opposite effect you might expect on the USA's width. They were able to cover the flanks much better in this game and because of that, the fullbacks—both fullbacks—were comfortable getting upfield. It's a lot easier to make that surge when you've got Beckerman and Jones looking for it and offering to cover instead of just one.
- Speaking of Jones…
Pictured: Jones, pre-Beckerman
Off the chain. Even if you don't appreciate the things Beckerman does himself, the fact that his addition lets Bradley and Jones range about the field pressuring opponents with their endurance and athleticism was a revelation and demands his inclusion going forward.
Jones felt like a wonderful player for most of this game. I have spent the last four years going "bleah" about him and demanding that he eat bench so that Bradley can be the offensive force the US needs him to be. But what if I told you Bradley was up the field and Jones was roaring around the field and it was all just fine? ESPN presents 30 for 30: Kyle Beckerman, The Man Who Didn't Move.
Jones did. Goddang he did move. There were multiple instances where he flew in at speed and removed a ball from Nigeria's possession. While his positioning as a pure holder is questionable, his defensive instincts and effort are top-notch, as he demonstrated after a dangerous Beckerman turnover when he recovered to clear a ball that would have been totally uncovered if this was the Turkey game. And then there was the 70-yard run to end a Nigeria break where Jones went from the potential target of a through ball just outside Nigeria's box to an interception on the edge of the USA's. Once you realized it was the same guy on both ends of that play it was… I be like dang.
The one-game turnaround from Davis/Chandler to Jones/Beasley was incredible. What happens on that turnover if Davis in in the game? It doesn't go out of bounds harmlessly, that's for sure.
There's a clear and large gap between Jones's ability going forward and Bradley's, but when freed up to go get the ball he was the bald eagle's equal. Two of those guys in one midfield suddenly seems tough to deal with, especially since both were going full blast 85 minutes into a friendly that had seen Nigeria wither.
Something weird: check. Poke a USA fan on the internet today and you'll get an exclamation about Jozy's second goal and then a comment about how the formation worked well. Everyone will tell you a different formation, though. MLSsoccer.com has back-to-back articles labeling it the "Christmas Tree" 1-2-3-4…
In USMNT's new "Chrismas tree" formation, Kyle Beckerman plays starring role
…and the diamond…
Three Things: USMNT commit to the diamond and it finally starts to shine
…while ESPN and various other people on the internet asserted it was Klinsmann's standard-ish 4-2-3-1. If you ask me that was… weird. Everyone's right, and everyone's wrong.
On defense the shape was generally the Christmas Tree that was briefly unpopular a couple years back: either Dempsey or Altidore was up top with the other withdrawn next to Bradley; behind that there was a line of Jones-Beckerman-Bedoya.
Except when it fell into a diamond for folks who wanted to advocate for diamondness.
Functionally, Bradley would apply high pressure while the back line of three provided shielding and covered for the backs when they advanced. The withdrawn forward very occasionally did some covering on the left, mostly when it was Jozy.
In possession it was hugely mutable and definitely asymmetric, with Bedoya ranging upfield as a winger and Bradley pulling centrally as the withdrawn forward pushed higher. Bedoya's upfield run put him in position to get the hockey assist on the first goal, with Johnson cutting inside of him. Approximate location chart in possession:
Beasley Beckerman Johnson
Jones did surge upfield from time to time anywhere on the left two-thirds of the field; generally he was more withdrawn.
Jones left, Bedoya right
So what is that? I've seen it described as just about anything; it felt like a 4-3-3*, but with one of the wingers flipped with Bradley on defense, so I guess a diamond, except not. Which is not something I've ever seen before. I will probably resort to calling it "Nigeria" in the event it lasts. Which it should, right?
*[Distinguishing characteristic of the 4-3-3: three central midfielders with one playing behind the other two.]
Spiritual formation. Forgetting the positions for a moment, the US featured:
- two offensive players with minimal defensive responsibilities, one of whom would link with the midfield
- two box to box midfielders
- one defensively-oriented right winger
- one holding mid
- a wide fullback
- an in-cutting fullback
- two central defenders
If you forced me to put a name on it I would call it an asymmetric 4-3-3. A slightly less weird version of that has historically been my preferred Football Manager formation, so obviously Klinsmann has found something here.
Rope a dope. The US soaked ineffectual pressure for about 20 minutes before finding its stride, and by ten minutes into the second half they were running rampant over an exhausted Nigerian squad. The US has twin advantages here with so many of their players based in MLS (or, in Beasley's case, Mexico): unlike Euro-based gentlemen, MLS players play in the summer, and play where it is hot. Also unlike Euro-based gentlemen they're coming off a recent opportunity to rest. Hopefully fitness will be a key advantage in the sweltering heat of Brazil.
Beas with ease. Even before the game, Klinsmann was telling reporters that "Beasley is the starter at left back" in response to questions about why Beasley over Chandler, and then that game happened. With a big assist from the relentless Jermaine Jones, here's both the key passes and crosses from the first 80 minutes (ie, until Gonzalez entered and the US lost its shape in an unfamiliar 3-5-2) mashed into one graph:
That is one pass that got to the box for a shot and one cross that even made it in, for 80 minutes. Fabian Johnson and Bedoya had a bit more trouble but only a bit—none of those crosses were completed and most of the things resembling danger were off corners.
Part of this is the fact that Nigeria's left winger, Victor Moses, is their best attacker, sure. Beasley and Jones completely shut off the US left wing of an offensively-oriented World Cup foe. Beasley's understanding with both Jones and Besler was a world apart from the acres of space Turkey was given.
Johannson T-shirt FTW.
Checking in with irritating striker confidence meme. Jozy had a great flick-on to Dempsey that passed without anyone saying anything about Altidore's confidence level. A few minutes later, he scored from two feet. A few minutes after that, he had another threatening flick-on to continue 180 straight minutes of being a handful and chance-generator up front; Twellman attributes it to the goal he just scored from two feet. Argh, argh.
Now, the second goal, that's a confidence booster, if you believe confidence has much to do with it.
Your eleven for Ghana. I wouldn't make a change. The only US player under threat is Bedoya since Zusi does have a skill set the rest of the roster does not, but Bedoya's corners were superior to a couple of weak Zusi efforts in the last game, and even though Bedoya's final ball wasn't quite there most of the day he did make a lot of correct decisions.
The problem comes if and when someone gets the hook because of card accumulation or injury. It's clear Klinsmann was not expecting to have both Beckerman and Jones on the field simulatneously; if that was the case then Maurice Edu would be on this roster. If someone does go out with injury he now seems like the most logical callup, but save chicanery and bad/good luck the US's options are like so if Beckerman goes out:
- Put Jones back on the chain.
- Move Cameron into the midfield and play either Brooks or Gonzalez on D.
Who loves those ideas? Nobody.
This doesn't really exacerbate things otherwise because Jones and Bradley are not replaceable in the pool. It does add another cog that can't get out of whack without damaging the machine.
Depth is an issue. Another Gonzalez appearance ends with the impression that if Gonzalez sees the field in the World Cup it's collar-tugging time, and that's the case around the field. Other than Zusi for Bedoya and possibly striker for tired striker, is there anywhere else a US substitution doesn't make you think "uh-oh?" Large chunks of the roster seem unplayable.
I guess I am still a little peeved about Donovan. I have no faith in Davis or Green to do anything positive if inserted, and that's one too many guys to not have confidence in. Meanwhile a couple others are awkward fits, like Diskerud. Diskerud is Bradley's injury cover, and that's necessary. Unfortunately he doesn't quite fit in any other spot on the field, so when you bring him in it's suboptimal.
Turnovers are another. The US is trying to play like a possession team and isn't quite good enough at it yet. They get caught out a bit too often. Beckerman had a couple of turnovers in bad spots, and the central defenders had issues in previous games. That looms as a potentially devastating issue. It's one the US has to risk, as they have to be able to retain possession better if they're ever going to progress to past the quarterfinal of a World Cup.
Jones is really good at putting out fires, at least.
LET'S GOOOOOOOOO. Let's go, man.
Elsewhere. The great Zonal Marking has started their tactical previews of the World Cup. Directly relevant teams haven't been posted yet, but you can get some schadenfreude from the Mexico analysis. SI on Jozy. Wahl thoughts. Analysis of Portugal-Mexico.
Brandon said, “We all think of every home Michigan football game like a miniature Super Bowl.”
I don’t know any Michigan fans who think that. Quite the opposite, they think Michigan football games are the antidote for the artificial excess of the Super Bowl.
Bacon has hit a nerve here—his server is imploding under the pressure.
The problem with Dave Brandon is that he is a mediocrity in a suit with one skill, which is wearing the suit. Unfortunately, this is who is in charge most places. But when Georgia fans, who were until recently saddled with one of our nation's greatest suited mediocrities in Michael Adams, are pointing at us and saying "it could be worse"… well, it ain't good.
At least we have the student government?
The move to general admission was fairly disastrous for Michigan last fall, and former student body president Michael Proppe launched a survey of students midway through the season.
“It was so overwhelmingly negative, we knew we had to come up with something,” Proppe said.
The first survey that had 6,000 respondents was taken after the fourth home game and responses — including 76 percent saying they did not approve of general admission — were shared with the athletic department.
“It just didn’t really work,” he said.
A second survey administered with the athletic department gave a better gauge of what students want. They were asked to rank what’s most important for their game-day experience, and No. 1 was being able to sit with friends. Interestingly, students said having Wi-Fi was the lowest priority.
“That is such a misconception that putting in Wi-Fi is going to get students to show up,” Proppe said.
Michael Proppe for AD. Seriously.
Also yes. Bo Pelini suggests doing away with Signing Day altogether, which I almost support for this reason:
"If somebody has offered a kid, let him sign, it's over," Pelini told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "That will stop some of the things that are happening -- people just throwing out offers, some of them with really no intention of taking a kid."
The "almost" part is that the kid should be able to get out of the LOI if the coach he committed to gets the axe. The best system would maintain the Signing Day hoopla but also feature a non-binding LOI that you could sign whenever that would 1) prevent coaches from contacting you, 2) prevent you from taking an official visit to another school, 3) let the coaches you signed with talk to you whenever they want, and 4) guarantee you a scholarship at school X.
you get better pictures from the Mars lander
Well that clears up everything. The Ann Arbor News has an in-depth investigation about whether Taylor Lewan was the guy who punched some Ohio State fans who were begging to get punched ("Munsch had been walking around with a megaphone … taunted U-M fans on the street and inside the Brown Jug") after last year's edition of The Game. They have video that clears nothing up and quotes that contradict each other from about a dozen different people.
My takeaway is that this is time that could have been better spent finding anything else out. It seems like this incident has gotten a ton of attention for some drunk bar punchin' such as happens just about everywhere most years.
The last time I mentioned a potential transfer coming in for a visit it worked out all right. West Virginia shooting guard Eron Harris will be on campus this weekend, and a commitment to someone should be forthcoming soon. Harris has already been at Purdue and Michigan State, his other two finalists.
Perhaps relevant: MSU just landed a commitment from 2015 OH SG Kyle Ahrens, a guy who was vaguely on Michigan's radar. Harris is effectively a 2015 SG, so that may be a signal MSU doesn't have a great vibe with him.
2016 IN PG Eron Gordon is also slated to be on campus this weekend, and then the Michigan elite camp will bring in all manner of 2016 gentlemen fighting for Michigan's love and vice-versa.
The new guy. MGoVideo has a supercut of every Ty Isaac touch from last year. Sorry, you'll have to go over there—no embedding. I'm a little torn—Isaac doesn't look particularly explosive but then he outruns defensive backs in that game against Cal. Maybe he's just one of those guys who don't look like they're moving at high speed but somehow are. Guys do tend to bounce off him; Isaac had some nice chunks of YAC and tends to fall forward when that's at all a possibility.
You cannot be seeeeeeeerious. The NCAA published a snippy little press release about the portion of the O'Bannon case that EA settled on that must be seen to be believed:
The NCAA did finally find someone in their office who had a dictionary and changed "benefactors" to "beneficiaries." Meanwhile, the NCAA claiming that the "real benefactors" are the lawyers, who have dared to make money off the backs of student-ath…
uh… this is a terrible idea
I know, but that's never stopped us before
…DARED TO MAKE MONEY OFF THE BACKS OF STUDENT-ATHLETES is just… wow, man.
And they're probably going to try to draw a line between athletes being compensated for the use of their likeness in a court case and being compensated for the use of their likeness legally. I set the over under on exploded heads at NCAA HQ in the next two years at 2.5.
None of this does anything. The hockey rules committee was looking at some notable changes including three-quarter shields and changes to overtime procedure. Those all went away. The most notable change they have suggested:
Faceoff Location – Offensive Scoring Opportunity: If the offensive team is attempting to score and the puck goes out of play – the faceoff will remain in the attacking zone.
Status quo. Jake Butt is still on track to return by week three:
"I don't think we know (exactly when he'll be back) yet, but I wouldn't expect him back until after week three," Hoke said. "He feels great, he thinks he's Superman. They all do at that age.
"But he feels good."
Hoke said the hope is to get Butt back to seeing live contact action after the week three game against Miami-Ohio -- at the earliest.
This will be interesting. The Ed O'Bannon case kicks off Monday. SI has a primer and the NCAA witness list, which consists of folks disproportionately relevant to you: both Brandon and Mary Sue Coleman are on it, as are MSU AD Mark Hollis and Jim Delany. It seems like bad news that one of the economists on the NCAA side has this quote in a book of his:
“The NCAA restricts competition in a number of important activities. To reduce bargaining power by student athletes, the NCAA creates and enforces rules regarding eligibility and terms of compensation.”
It'll be interesting, but not suspenseful. Claudia Wilken, the judge in the case, has already dismissed the word "amateurism" and ruled that the NCAA can't even mention non-revenue sports, leaving:
Her reasoning is that no one forces schools to sponsor teams that can't financially support themselves, so she considers the impact on those teams irrelevant in the eyes of the law. This doesn't leave much for the NCAA to argue except the pro-competitive aspects of its rules.
A pro-competitive aspect that anyone who's ever looked at a recruiting site knows doesn't exist and the SEC commissioner just said this about:
“I consider this period of time one of the historic moments that all of us are witnesses to — an evolutionary change where we put the student-athletes first and we build our philosophies on the student-athlete rather than the so-called level playing field,” Slive said.
The NCAA is gon' die. Their current arguments are straightforward descriptions of functioning markets.
"In those circumstances, it is basic economics that allowing cash payments for (name, image and likeness usage) for the first time will tilt the distribution of talent and success towards colleges and universities with more cash to spend."
Oh, and this one.
They are only in the stadium at all because their colleges and universities have agreed to let them play ... (Athletes) cannot own the right to broadcast their games when they need the same permission that broadcasters do to be in the stadium at all.
The only tension is in how fast the NCAA will get laughed out of court.
Etc.: Caris finds his way onto a list of the top 15 draft prospects already in school. If you have no idea about soccer here's a good place to start. Looking at next year's softball team. MVictors points out a Kickstarter for old-timey jerseys. B10 championship to stay in Indy; basketball tournament to still mostly rotate between Chicago and Indy. North Carolina's Rashad McCants says the school bit of his career was a total sham.
THE GOAL OF DRAFTAGEDDON
The goal of Draftageddon is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT DRAFTAGEDDON.
I'm hearing this is incorrect. I see. The goal of Draftageddon is to draft a team of Big Ten players that seems generally more impressive than that of your competitors. Along the way, we'll learn a lot of alarming things, like maybe Maryland is good? Full details are in the first post.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON
- Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
- Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
- Nothing terribly remarkable happens
- BISB takes all the guys I want
- A ridiculous amount of time is spent discussing the merits of one particular interior lineman from Rutgers
THE CURRENT SITUATION
ROUND 11 - PICK 2: Matt Robinson, OLB, Maryland
O: RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA), LG Kaleb Johnson (RU)
D: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DE/DT Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), OLB Matt Robinson (MD), CB Desmond King (IA)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
ACE: Yes, I'm becoming concerned with my own fascination with Maryland's front seven, but it really is a good front seven. Robinson, in particular, is an interesting case. He came to Maryland as a safety, started eight games there over three injury-plagued seasons—picking up a medical redshirt in the process—then moved to strongside linebacker in 2013, where he flourished: in 11 games, he recorded 73 tackles (43 solo), 10 TFLs, a sack, four pass breakups, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. According to CBSSports, he's the #10 OLB prospect in the 2015 class after just one season at the position, five spots behind Jake Ryan (BiSB's 4th-round pick) and 11 spots ahead of Taiwan Jones (Seth's 5th-rounder).
This is Round 11.
Robinson's solid production against the run proved a pleasant surprise; given his experience in the secondary, his excellent coverage skills much less so. Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's not there, and that's what happened to Maryland and their ability to cover the middle of the field when Robinson missed two games with a rotator cuff injury last season:
If you want more proof of Robinson's importance, just take a look at what happened in the Virginia game. Maryland nearly lost to a team that went 2-10, largely because Robinson was not there to cover tight end Jake McGee, who posted a season-best performance of eight catches for 114 yards. The other game Robinson missed? Wake Forest, where [slot] Mike Campanaro [caught] 11 passes for 122 yards without support from Robinson over the middle.
That comes from a Testudo Times (SBNation's Maryland blog) article making the case for Robinson as the team's defensive MVP; this section is also rather compelling:
But what if you can have a player who can do both [run support and coverage]? Someone who could, I don't know, provide nearly perfect coverage of slant routes and other plays over the middle while also containing the field from quarterback scrambles and draw plays, forcing turnovers and punts whenever third downs went his way?
Linebacker Marcus Whitfield and safety Sean Davis may have posted the gaudiest stats, but there was another player who came up with big plays when the Terps needed them and dominated every aspect of the defensive game -- Matt Robinson.
In addition to his physical ability, Robinson also acts as a coach on the field, according to the Washington Post:
Robinson was always studious ... and his class notebooks contained equal parts lecture points and X’s and O’s scribbled into the margins. He is quiet on the field, shying away from trash talk or even primal screams after big plays, but he studies enough film to call out certain offensive plays before they happen. Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, one of Robinson’s roommates, said it’s “kind of like having a coach or a graduate assistant on the field with you.”
He plans to be a coach when his playing career is over.
I've made a concerted effort to put together an experienced and versatile front seven, and Robinson fits that mold. He played safety at 6'3", 215-ish, bulked up to 240 pounds last year while maintaining his coverage skills, and went through this spring practice—the first for which he's been healthy since his freshman year—at 244 pounds; he'll fit in just fine on the strong side in a 4-3. With Marcus Whitfield and his nine sacks gone from Maryland's WLB spot, Robinson could factor in more as a pass-rusher this fall, and his size allows me to slide him inside in nickel situations, giving my defense excellent coverage over the middle with him and Ariguzo. While the injuries are admittedly a concern, Robinson is a steal here if he stays healthy.
ROUND 11 - PICK 3: Mike Hull, LB, Penn State
O: QB Devin Gardner (UM), WR Kenny Bell (Neb), WR Shane Wynn (IU), OT Donovan Smith (PSU), C Austin Blythe (Iowa)
D: DE Joey Bosa (OSU), DE Noah Spence (OSU), LB Jake Ryan (UM), LB Mike Hull (PSU) CB Sojourn Shelton (Wisky), S Kurtis Drummond (MSU),
BISB: How about a linebacker who recorded more tackles and more solo tackles than Matt Robinson, and in fewer games? Surely such a creature could not be found here in the depths of the 11th round. That is, unless the Big Ten houses something called 'Linebacker University.' Mike Hull registered 78 tackles (44 solo) in basically 9 games after missing much of the early part of the year with a leg injury. He averaged over 9 tackles per game in Big Ten play.
I share Seth's hatred of tautological analysis, but he's just a linebacker. When a guy is 6'0" and still the 12th highest linebacker on the aforementioned CBSSports OLB ratings, which always ALWAYS overemphasize measurables, you know the kid can play. He's probably a WILL in my scheme, but I may more Ryan to the MIKE and play him as a smaller SAM in an Over front.
Robinson may be only five spots behind my 4th-rounder Jake Ryan. But he's also 17 spots ahead of Chi Chi Ariguzo... who you took in the 4th round. With the pick after Jake Ryan. So let me ask you, Congressman: were you wrong then, or are you wrong now?
Also, I wish to point out the fallacy of saying "Robinson is valuable because a tight end torched Maryland in his absence." The wisdom of XKCD teaches us that sometimes your rock doesn't scare away tigers. Sometimes the tigers would have torched your secondary regardless. Wait, I think I bailed on the metaphor too early. Or too late. Alas.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Ace is outed as an expansion-lover. Also, WILDCARD, BITCHES]
This here Friday because not enough for Dear Diary.
What do you think of the transition to a 4-3 over? Who else is running it? Is it so much of a shift?
Ace: While I was skeptical at first—it felt like a bit like a panic move—I've started talking myself into this being a positive change. The main reason is that it should allow Michigan to generate more of a pass rush, and in less predictable ways. Seth pointed out the benefits for both Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer in his post—they slide into roles more suited to their abilities in a way that gets them on the field at the same time. Add in the ever-present threat of Jake Ryan blitzing up the middle and I think the pass-rush will be improved thanks to this switch.
|When you have Clark and Beyer (and Ojemudia and Taco etc.) available this isn't the best use of Jake Ryan [Fuller]|
The defense should also be better suited to go against spread attacks by keeping Ryan in the middle. He no longer has to worry about playing over slot receivers or being the primary defender against bubble screens, and when Michigan goes to a nickel, they'll most likely lift James Ross for a defensive back—adding coverage without losing much from the pass rush.
Keeping the linebackers clean against the run is also easier in a 4-3 over; Iowa's linebackers were very successful last year in part because their alignment allowed them to roam free sideline-to-sideline—I was dumb enough to confuse "DTs aren't making plays" for "DTs not doing their job" in that post, when it turned out Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Passat were really good at holding up against double teams while the Hitchens/Morris/Kirksey trio combined for 35.5 TFLs despite rarely blitzing. I highly doubt Greg Mattison's defense will be as passive as Iowa's, but the Hawkeyes still provide a solid blueprint for how to get better production from the linebackers.
That brings me to my biggest concern, however, which is the defensive tackles. I believe the Henry/Pipkins combo will hold up fine at the nose, but the lack of experience at 3-tech is worrisome. The good news is both Chris Wormley and Matt Godin—the likely rotation there, along with Ryan Glasgow—were tweener DE/DT recruits with large frames, solid strength at the point of attack, and some concern about their edge-rushing ability; the last part matters much less now, and as long as they're not ceding ground with regularity, the experienced linebackers should be able to work behind them (Northwestern's linebackers managed to stand out in their 4-3 over even though their DTs routinely let the seas part).
My other main concern is how Ryan will handle more offensive linemen releasing to block him at the second level, but I have the feeling he'll figure it out. It's clear the coaches have been planning this shift for a while—see: Noah Furbush, MLB recruit—and despite a few minor bumps along the road I still have a great deal of trust in Mattison. If, as advertised, this shift allows the defense to be more aggressive in general and more adaptable against spread attacks specifically, I'm on board.
[Jump: Brian and BiSB go over this more. HA!]
|WHAT||USA vs Nigeria
Send Off Series Friendly
|WHERE||Chad Henne Field
|WHEN||6 PM Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||I don't know man|
Super Eagles! via Vanity Fair
THE THEM: TEAM THAT FINALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ARMENIA
The US finally draws an opponent in the World Cup in their final open-door friendly. (They'll play Belgium in Brazil behind closed doors.) Nigeria's in group F with Argentina, Bosnia, and Iran. They're ranked 44th in the FIFA rankings and yes I hate World Cup draws, too.
Here is the part where I'd tell you where Nigeria falls in ESPN's Soccer Power Index, but it evaporated last week so I'm not entirely sure. This article ripping the World Cup draw process that I agree with so hard seems to have gotten them just before they disappeared, though, and it shows Nigeria 28th, approximately equal to the Greek squad Portugal just drew 0-0 with (albeit without Ronaldo) and in the vicinity of Costa Rica and Honduras.
In qualifying, Nigeria went 3-0-3 against a weak group of Malawi (122nd in the FIFA rankings), Kenya (102nd), and Namibia (120th) before defeating Ethiopia 4-1 (101st) in a two-legged playoff to claim their bid. In January they finished third in the African Nations Cup, losing the semifinal on penalties to Ghana after a 0-0 regulation; in recent World Cup friendlies they've drawn Mexico 0-0, Scotland 2-2, and Greece 0-0.
You may have figured out that this is a boring team that relies on its defense, and yes, yes they are. They had seven goals in their six group games despite playing some really bad teams, and you remember that USA-Scotland friendly. Nigeria omitted Seattle Sounders star Obafemi Martins in favor of unattached 32-year-olds with six caps and five goals for club over the past three years like Shola Ameobi, seemingly because the coach has a problem with him. So I guess it's not just Klinsmann.
Anyway. The Greece matchup was as dismal as you'd fear:
Defense and goalkeeping controlled the game in a 0-0 draw played in front of a largely pro-Greece crowd of 10,131 fans at the Chester stadium. Each team held the other in check throughout the game, preventing many quality scoring chances.
The teams managed just four shots on goal apiece.
But Klinsmann says Nigeria and Ghana play similar styles, so here they are.
Despite having an identical scoreline, the Mexico game was wide open and attacking:
So maybe the Greece thing is just Greece's ironhearted determination to be the least watchable football outfit on the planet.
Nigeria is threatening on the break and looks to counter; they are seemingly disorganized on set pieces, though: Mexico had four grade-A opportunities from dead balls.
While the lineup against Mexico was listed as a 4-4-2, it looked like a 4-3-3 for big chunks of the game; Liverpool-by-way-of-Chelsea forward Victor Moses is one of those striker/winger hybrids with Fenerbache's Emmanuel Emenike the main guy up top; Chelsea's John Obi Mikel is the heart of the midfield.
Like Ghana (and the US!), defense looks like it may be the Achilles' heel. A quick glance at the clubs of the players called up is enough to confirm that: the Nigerian defense includes two local players, a couple of guys in the English second tier, and just one player at anything resembling a big club: left back Eldereson Echiejile plays for French runners-up Monaco, and by "plays" I mean "mostly watches"—he had five appearances last year.
With limited exceptions, Nigeria is young and very athletic. They're likely to have one guy older than 27 start, that 33-year old captain Joseph Yobo, a central defender.
DEFENSIVE DEBACLE ON THE LEFT
Fancy soccer charting service Opta defines a "key pass" as the last pass before a shot attempt. The above is a chart of Turkish key passes against the USA. While the end point of the pass is not always the location the shot comes from*, it's a pretty good approximation when combined with your first-hand observations. The above chart amply demonstrates the debacle that combining Timmy Chandler and Brad Davis resulted in. The vast majority of chances originated on the USA's left flank; exactly one remotely threatening ball—the horizontal ball from #18 that ended up in the box—came in from the right side of the defense.
*[For instance, that super-long cross field pass from the Turkish side of midfield was the WTF ball that beat everyone and resulted in a shot from just outside the six-yard box.]
Crosses tell much the same story.
The Turks got in three crosses on the USA's right flank from the dangerous areas near the end line versus eight from the left. there were eight-ish more from moderately dangerous areas compared to three or four on the right. (The extremely deep crosses from 18 are almost harmless.) Whatever the US was doing on the left, it was not working.
While any soccer event has a thousand fathers, to my eye the chief blame was because of a mutual and profound cluelessness from both purportedly left-sided players. I noted some positional issues in the Turkey recap, where scoring chances came with Davis not even on the left half of the field; SI's Liviu Bird highlights another instance:
A taste of the U.S.'s poor defensive shape — in midfield and the back line — against Turkey. Should've been punished: pic.twitter.com/IrrGHYlzNf
— Liviu Bird (@liviubird) June 3, 2014
Bird also posted a stunning shot from just before the Chandler gift where Brooks is in fact outside of Chandler, because Chandler has once again inexplicably pulled up from the back four to no purpose.
Could this have been intentional? Is the US sliding its formation right, pretending that Turkey is Portugal and getting the ball off of Ronaldo's foot? It does not matter. Giving Portuguese right wing Nani the kind of time and space on the ball that the Turkish right was afforded in this game and Ronaldo's just raining in headers from Nani's pinpoint crosses.
So this is the thing that needs to get fixed.
GOALIE: Whoever, but I'd guess Guzan gets the start.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson/Yedlin.
Well, you know my opinion on how Chandler did. This is probably the last time I'll get to mention it, so let me just reiterate how unbelievably bad he was on the goal that he handed to the Turks: not only did he give the ball away like a six-year-old, not only did his bizarre positional error start the move, but when the guy with the ball got to the near post, Chandler ran away from him! Guzan and the Turk had a jerky dance-off, and then the guy used the epic amounts of room provided to plink one off of Cameron's hand.
And the above charts. My God man. Beasley's not perfect, but neither does he run around handing out goals. To favor Chandler over him after the last two performances from Timmah in a US shirt is pure eurosnobbery.
Brooks looked pretty good in his run-out in the last 45 minutes but made too many big errors (that last image from Bird is very much a WTF thing) to displace Besler. I would guess we see him again at some point; the two starters will keep starting in an effort to get some chemistry together.
Johnson is your starting right back; might be time to put him on the shelf to keep his legs fresh and avoid injury. If Johnson does start, Yedlin at halftime is highly likely.
MIDFIELD: Jones/Beckerman, Bradley, Bedoya, Zusi.
Bradley is the man; unlike Johnson he's still working out positional kinks and trying to find his passing boots more consistently. Meanwhile the holding mid war will likely continue in 45 minute increments.
Look for the US to adopt an approach closer to the one they deployed in the second half, with Bradley shuttling back and sometimes interchanging with the other central midfielder, then taking over when it's time to surge forward. This will allow the wingers to spread wider and hopefully prevent the same kind of exposure the left endured against the Turks.
On the wings, Bedoya and Zusi look like near-certainties. Zusi is by far the USA's best set piece option who isn't a defensive trainwreck; Bedoya has the speed and athleticism to help cover the USA's weaker flank. Even if he's not looking like much going forward, he's got to be it.
Diskerud should see more minutes as a sub, and I guess Davis.
Might they play together?
ALTERNATE UNVERSE: if the US is truly dedicated to the idea of a narrow diamond midfield, there's little need to pretend your right and left midfielders are anything that looks like a winger. Zusi remains mandatory because set pieces, but if you're going to tuck your guys in so extremely a setup featuring all three of Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones is feasible, with Jones your nominally left-sided midfielder.
That provides a ton more bite and defense on your weak flank without sacrificing much, if anything. It's clear Davis doesn't know WTF he should be doing; Jones is not going to be a downgrade there, and then his pressing, ball-winning ways come with another pure holder on the field. He can also cover for an advanced fullback reasonably well.
Squad depth then becomes a major concern, of course.
FORWARD: Altidore, Dempsey
Absent a drastic change in formation, Altidore is mandatory as the only holder. Dempsey is trying to learn how to work with him and Bradley; the US should value whatever chemistry they can acquire over the distant chance something goes awry. Johannsson and Wondo should both pop in, you'd think.
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, OTHER THAN EVERYTHING
Diamond versus 4-2-3-1, part III. The US tried to shut up shop a bit in the second half by withdrawing Bradley, and the pace of Turkish chances did slow somewhat. Clearly something has to change lest more ruthless teams than the Turks pile up the goals. The thing that makes the most sense is to go back to more of a flat midfield four with a designated holder who allows Bradley to maraud forward. The US were forced into something similar in their qualifier against Panama last year, when Cameron was the other central mid:
That game could easily have ended 5-0. Call it a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1; either way it seems like the best balance of defense and attack available.
Do we see something weird? See above about Jones and Beckerman on the field simultaneously. If the idea in the Turkey game was to overload the Ronaldo side of the field and force the ball away from it, I can see that being workable… but obviously not with Davis. Given the holes on the roster, some outside the box thinking might be in line.
Is there a way to get Diskerud or Johannsson on the field for a start? A corollary to the "something weird" question: will Klinsmann look at either of those guys for the Donovan-shaped hole at left mid? Is it completely crazy to consider a 4-3-3 with the three holders and something like Johannsson/Altidore/Dempsey up top? Probably! Almost certainly! I will do just about anything to displace the Landon-Donovan-shaped hole!
Can Yedlin force his way into the lineup? Johnson is locked in on the right for Portugal, you'd assume. But Yedlin showed very well against the Turks and it's not going to take that much for a Johnson-LB, Yedlin-RB lineup to seem like the best option in a non-Ronaldo world. I'm still guessing that Beasley has the edge unless there's a major issue with his play against Nigeria.
Can a forward score a real goal? Not just to shut Twellman up about it, because he's not entirely wrong. But, yeah, partially.
SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
From the man himself, it's official—USC running back transfer Ty Isaac is coming to Michigan:
I will be attending the University of Michigan this year
— Ty Isaac (@TyIsaac) June 5, 2014
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Ty Isaac's Twitter background is the album cover of Biggie's Ready To Die, making this transfer even more full of win than originally thought.
We still await word on whether Isaac will receive a hardship waiver that allows him to play this fall or if he'll have to sit out a year. Even though Michigan is outside the 100-mile radius that's the normal NCAA standard for granting a hardship, the reason Isaac transferred was so his mother—who's developed an ear condition that prevents her from flying—could drive to his games, something she can do from their Illinois home.
I thought I'd written a Hello post draft back in 2012, when Isaac was down to USC or Michigan in his recruitment. Turns out, the running back whose commitment post never saw the light of day was Bri'onte Dunn. An informative update is forthcoming.
5*, #7 RB,
5*, #4 RB,
4*, 83, #13 ATH,
4*, 95, #5 APB,
4*, #8 RB,
Coming out of high school, the recruiting services regarded Isaac as either one of the very best running backs in the country or a top-100-ish athlete. Naturally, ESPN ranks him the lowest despite an extremely positive scouting report (more on that below).
We don't have to take a guess as to his size; Isaac clocked in at 6'3", 225 pounds as a freshman last season at USC. He's a tall, upright back with the bulk to mash between the tackles and the height/hands combination to be a really dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield.
While Isaac had grabbed the attention of scouts as soon as he played on Joliet Catholic's varsity squad as a freshman, it's hard not to start this section with his record-shattering performance as a junior in the Illinois 5A state championship game, because GOOD GOD:
With 6 minutes and 40 seconds left in the first half, Isaac had already broken the Class 5A title record of 210 yards, set by Rock Island’s Alonzo Wise in 1997. With 48 seconds left until halftime, he had 376 yards, breaking a school record and the all-time IHSA rushing record for yards in a state title game regardless of class. Maine South’s Matt Perez had the previous mark in a Class 8A title game with 316 yards against Marist in 2009.
Isaac finished with 515 YARDS AND SIX TOUCHDOWNS ON 26 CARRIES, which definitely merits ALL-CAPS treatment. Search YouTube for "Ty Isaac state championship" and you get a series of clips like this, in which he makes one cut and then explodes past everybody for a touchdown:
Fits zone running scheme: check.
The massive amount of attention Isaac received for his performance didn't please him, however, as Joliet Catholic's defense collapsed and the team fell to Montini, 70-45:
"It wasn’t even something you could enjoy, it was something we needed," Isaac said. "We had to put points up. At the end of the day, it was really irrelevant."
Fits The Pattern™: check.
Aside from his eye-popping numbers, Isaac most impressed scouts with his combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability. Scout's profile listed his strengths as breakaway speed, change-of-direction, and hands—blocking was the sole area for improvement—accompanied by this scouting report:
Tall, good sized back with the speed to break long runs. Is very smooth, changes directions well and has deceptive elusiveness. Is an excellent route runner and receiver out of the backfield who occasionally can split out or play in the slot. Does a lot of running from the wingback position, so he'll likely have to get used to inside running and blitz pick-up from a more traditional tailback spot in college. - Allen Trieu
"There was some talk that maybe Ty would flash out to the wide receiver position in college because of his size," said Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt. "I definitely think his upside is at running back, but that attests to his abilities as a receiver.
"He is a natural pass catcher with soft hands and obviously the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He could flash out into the slot at times and create mismatches with linebackers and safeties."
That could make him a great complement to Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, both of whom are much more accomplished runners than receivers. That's not to say Isaac doesn't hold his own as a runner; Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated said there was "not much to critique" in the room for improvement area of this scouting report, while the positives were... quite positive ($):
A polished, fundamentally sound, shifty, explosive running back with excellent size, athleticism and an even-keeled demeanor on and off the football field. A long, explosive, gliding stride with excellent knee lift. Great vision and a find-the-hole, hit-the-hole mentality with the ability to anticipate where the next wave of tacklers is coming from and cut it back against the grain. Weaves through traffic with the greatest of ease.
A naturally instinctive running back. Has the unusual ability for a prep running back to hit the hole square, and then make cuts off a wide, balanced base. Has an explosive gear once the path to paydirt comes in his radar. Nice forward lean with the football. Appears to protect the football well.
Hi. I would like ALL OF THAT. Prister went on to compare Isaac to Eddie George, another big upright back whom you may remember winning the Heisman at Ohio State.
There were concerns coming out of college, given Isaac's film heavy on untouched bursts into the secondary—sorry for being so good, I guess—that he lacked between-the-tackles power or the willingness to run though contact. That's not what ESPN saw when they updated their scouting report for Signing Day 2013 ($):
More of a one-cut-and-get-north type of back, but his vision reading linebacker flow and balance going against the grain are impressive. Has lateral quicks to slip pursuit. He has good feet for his size and the patience needed to follow blocks and let the hole open up. Very good initial take off with a long stride burst to turn the corner. While he can exploit a crease and accelerate through the second level, he makes his mark on strength and will likely do so at the next level. This is a strong runner who can be a load to wrap up solidly, particularly high, when he gets square to the line and utilizes his good downhill burst. Needs to be conscious of pad level and improve lean, but shows good body balance at contact. He's a hard runner who can finish and get the tough yard. Has a sturdy frame with high toughness for multiple carries.
Isaac's stock dropped a little bit as a senior, though Scout's Allen Trieu chalked this up to nagging injuries and less-than-stellar competition when he ranked Isaac as the #2 Illinois prospect in his class behind (sigh) Laquon Treadwell ($):
Isaac had a lot to battle this year. He had to fight injury as well as a growing sentiment that he did not play great competition in high school. Maybe those folks forgot about what he did as a junior, or his six touchdowns in the state title game against a good Montini team. He has good size, speed, and a smooth running style that has him compared with some of the USC greats that he now inherits the mantle from. He's also a great receiver out of the backfield, another asset he will bring to SoCal.
So that gets us through his high school career. Isaac's college career got off to a slow start, as he received just ten carries through the first nine games in a crowded backfield. After a breakout performance against Cal (11 carries, 87 yards, 2 TDs) in the tenth game, he mentioned one of the primary reasons it took him a while to get into gear:
Arriving on campus this summer after a storied high school career in which he rushed for a total of 5,305 yards out of a prolific double-wing attack, Isaac had some difficulties early on as he made the switch from wingback to tailback in USC’s intricate pro-style scheme.
“It was a shock to the system,” Isaac said. “I ran about five plays in high school, and now I’ve got five different reads on one play, so that was definitely something that I had to adjust to.”
Even though he must switch systems once again, it'll be far less of a transition than going from a very simple high school offense that utilized him as a wingback to a complicated pro-style attack with him as a traditional tailback.
Programs to offer Isaac out of high school included Arizona, Auburn, Clemson, Illinois, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
If you're really curious, you can read a remarkably extensive history of Joliet Catholic football here.
As a high school junior, Isaac rushed for 2629 yards and 42 touchdowns on 203 carries, posting a ridiculous 13 yards per carry, while adding 360 yards and seven more TDs on 16 receptions (22.5 ypc). I can't find senior stats more specific than 1500 yards and 22 touchdowns on an unknown number of rushes—still not bad for an injury-plagued year.
At USC, he toted the rock 40 times for 236 yards (5.9 ypc) and two TDs, and chipped in four receptions for 57 yards.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.45. I can't find the source of the time, so I'll give it four FAKEs out of five. That would be very impressive for a back of that size, and while Isaac shows off solid top-end speed, he's not a pure burner.
Junior highlights, featuring a whole lot of that state title game:
While Cal's defense was, well, bad, you're still going to want to check out his second touchdown run in that game:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
A lot of this depends on the status of Isaac's redshirt. If he receives his NCAA waiver and is allowed to play right away, he should factor in immediately to Michigan's running back rotation—he has a size/skill combination, especially when it comes to receiving, that no other U-M back can boast.
If he doesn't get the waiver, that might actually work out best for U-M, as it would put Isaac a year of eligibility behind Green and Smith and give him a clear shot at the full-time starting gig in a few years. Of course, he may very well earn that role before Green and Smith graduate; there's a lot of unknown when it comes to the running backs given the state of the offensive line. No matter what, he should see the field whenever he's allowed to.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
This is where the NCAA waiver really comes into play. If Isaac redshirts this season, the need to land an elite back in the 2015 class is somewhat alleviated. If he doesn't, getting a back who will be ready to start in a few years will still be very important. Michigan should take a back regardless, but a potential extra year of Isaac on the roster would soften the blow of possibly missing out on both Damien Harris and Mike Weber.