well that's just, like, your opinion, man
Maybe we can split him in half
AJC reporter Jeff Sentell appeared on the DawgNation podcast (DawgNation appears to be an AJC silo for Georgia athletics content) to talk recruiting, and naturally struck on GA DT Aubrey Solomon. Sentell talked to both Solomon and mom and came away saying that "from listening to [Solomon's] mother, that's 100% committed right there" and that he would be "stunned if Aubrey Solomon went anywhere but the University of Michigan." Sentell further reports that Solomon ducked out of the visit for a moment, claiming he had to go to the bathroom, so he could call his mom and get her blessing to pull the trigger. That's the opposite of a high-pressure pitch that might backfire as time goes by.
So of course the Georgia 247 site is reporting that Solomon will visit Georgia in July. This isn't as bad as it sounds: the visit was planned in advance of the sudden turn in Solomon's recruitment. It's common for guys to follow through on their word when coaches ask them to. I wouldn't be worried about that visit; any subsequent ones would be game on.
FWIW, that article contains a number of positive quotes about Georgia from Solomon's mother that were gathered before the trip to Ann Arbor. While I don't doubt Georgia is at least some threat the article gives off a bit of a whiff of saving face amongst subscribers—Sentell appears to have the latest, and he's considerably more neutral than a team site.
Give 'em the clamps, Holmes
CA CB Deommodore "Clamp Clampington" Lenoir hasn't drawn much mention around these parts since he first popped up on the radar, but Brandon Brown catches up with him and discovers he is planning an official, ideally when CA CB Darnay Holmes comes in. That would be all right. Argh Dave Brandon, part MCMXI:
"I really wanted to go to Michigan against Michigan State or Ohio State but those are both away."
Nebraska and Oregon are the other officials he's certain of. [UPDATE: Lenoir committed to Oregon yesterday. Nevermind.]
Speaking of Holmes, it looks like David Long's presence in Ann Arbor means at least a little something:
— Darnay Holmes (@DarnayHolmes) June 22, 2016
Holmes also has three officials he knows he'll take: Nebraska, OSU, and Michigan. The date for the M visit is also up in the air; he'll go to Columbus for the Game. UCLA's also involved heavily.
I see that eyebrow, but don't scoff at the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is doing some work in California this year. They've got two commits from Holmes's teammates, both four stars.
On Wednesday I mentioned that Steve Lorenz had fired off a crystal ball for FL WR Mike Harley to Michigan. Yesterday Brandon Brown interviewed Harley, who says Michigan is his #1 and he will be pulling the trigger "either this weekend or next weekend," which gives other schools vanishingly little time to catch up.
Despite our KJ Hamler-related garment-rending, Harley looks like a solid pickup should he follow through. His stock is on the rise after an excellent Five Star Challenge…
— Mike Harley Jr. Ⓜ️ (@harleyxvi) June 22, 2016
…and whatever spurred 247 to put him on the ol' rankings rocket:
Blue is 247, green the composite. (That line is also an excellent demonstration of the usual pattern for recruits: get ranked, drop slowly as more dudes get slotted in front of you, big change only when you get re-evaluated.)
Baylor recruits released
Per Texas sources, Baylor's released five of the seven players who wanted out. The main guys of interest to Michigan fans in the aftermath of the Devery Hamilton are the two offensive linemen; Barking Carnival believes that TX OL Patrick Hudson will head to Texas and that TX OL JP Urquidez is a possibility "depending on mutual interest and swiftly tightening [scholarship] numbers." Urquidez is a 6'6" tackle and composite four-star who Michigan did have some early contact with. Longshot, obviously.
AL OL Toryque Bateman named Michigan and Tennessee leaders. He'll announce a top eight shortly, one that presumably includes those two schools. CA OL Chuck Filiaga has no top list but definitely wants to visit. Moving to Texas this fall so distance probably not much of a factor.
On the other hand, Lorenz moved UT DT Jay Tufele up on 247's listing of Michigan's prospect as he is "far and away" the DT Michigan would most like to pair with Solomon. An OSU/M battle could be on the way; Michigan has a Polynesian edge in that case.
MI S Jaylen Kelly-Powell on Jourdan Lewis:
"He's a great player, a phenomenal person," Kelly-Powell said of Lewis. "He's humble, he's a great person just to be around. ... I watch him a lot and try to be just like him, try to be as good as him."
Kelly-Powell remains the lockiest lock on the board.
OH DE James Hudson reports back from his visit over the weekend, telling Brice Marich it was a "ten of ten". Hudson also provided some clarity on what spot Michigan is recruiting him for:
"I fit right into their defense because of my size. It means a lot (hearing about early playing time) and I feel like I could be a dominant 3-tech for them. They do a lot of the things that I do at my high school.”
Hudson's already 280 so that makes sense. If Hudson is a DT prospect for Michigan then you can fit a guy like CA DE DJ Johnson in the class relatively easily.
A Rivals reporter caught up with TX LB Baron Browning after his trips to Michigan and Notre Dame last weekend. Browning doesn't tip his hand at all, but making those trips with his brother and former Harbaugh player Barry can't hurt. Baron on Barry on Harbaugh:
“…he said ‘One thing I will say about Coach Harbaugh is that he is going to get the best out of you. He said that Harbaugh is really competitive. … He said that Coach Tolbert would definitely have me right and ready to compete."
A second planned unofficial to OSU next month is off. No indication where he's leaning or even where he might visit officially. Dude is one of the mystery recruits of the cycle.
Josh Henschke reports from Michigan's NorCal camp, which appears to be one of the more loaded camps they've had. CA DT Popo Aumave, CA DE DJ Johnson, CA TE Josh Falo and CA OL Aaron Banks all say they will take visits; CA RB Najee Harris also attended and worked out.
Johnson told Rivals that Michigan is "around his top schools" in part because Michigan will let him wear #1. I can get behind a DE with 1 on his jersey. Aumave says he'll officially visit M, USC, and probably Oregon.
So here's this guy
Also in dramatic smokebomb recruit entrances: GA LB Dennis Bell tells Maize and Blue News that he was on the verge of committing to Michigan:
Working at the U-M’s Shine Time Camp this week, he impressed the coaching staff enough to receive a scholarship offer from the Maize and Blue on Thursday. That was significant for Bell, who originally planned on committing the instant the offer came through, describing Michigan as his dream school. Ultimately though, cooler heads pulled him back from making the early decision.
“I was going to announce it today on Twitter, but then my coach was like ‘don’t do it yet,’” Bell said of his plan to commit. “He said wait until later in the summer. I think it will probably be the week before we go back to school.”
Bell, a former teammate of Elysee Mbem-Bosse, is a two-star only ranked by two sites and only has Georgia State and Miami (Not That Miami) offers per 247. His composite ranking is around 1700.
I'm dubious that this is actually a thing. Michigan appears to be "offering" people for PR purposes. For example, there was recently a farcical exchange between various sites about an offer to NC QB Jackson Gibbs, who is 1) a 2017 QB and 2) the grandson of Joe Gibbs. Gibbs reported an offer; various reporters said this was not a thing; Rivals got quotes that insisted it was a full offer, not a PWO; Rivals then clarified that this offer was not in fact committable. Soooooo… yeah. The destruction of the English language for marketing purposes continues apace.
Anyway, I don't expect anything to come out of either recruitment.
Happy trails to CA OL Wyatt Davis, who announces today. Nobody expects it to be Michigan; OSU appears to be it.
In the Kindle Edition of HTTV for this year (oh by the way that exists) I added a sidebar/article on Michigan State's defense and different ways to attack it. With Quarters coming back into vogue to combat the spread, and Quarters teams getting super-aggressive against the run, offenses have been pulling the old Spurrier trips-and-triangle stuff to attack it. But Quarters is not new, and there are some other good answers out there for an overzealous defense from the two-back offenses that dominated the '80s and '90s.
Here's an oldie but a goodie, the Tunnel (or Jailbreak) Screen to a running back:
A-Train motioned out to the flat, essentially becoming a receiver. Chris Floyd stayed in as an Ace back, then he drifted out the other way to draw people away from where Thomas is going. DeBord caught the Buckeyes in one of TENUTA!!!!'s crazy blitzes that overloaded the backside. The running backs flying out horizontally pulled the linebackers out of the middle. Then Thomas cut back in, and by the time the outside guys can react to that there's an A-Train a-comin' with a lead blocker. It's a race between him and the flat defender for ALL the yards. Flat guy won.
(And Tuman got away with a hold).
This play never went away; they run tunnel screens out of spreads all the time with receivers coming in. Whereas bubble screens attack the defense in the space outside, tunnel screens get the defense moving hard one way to defend the edge, then pass it to a good athlete coming the opposite direction. Like a cutback run, if the screen target can accelerate downfield before the defenders can reverse momentum and converge, it could be a huge gain.
DeBord brought that out in '97 because OSU was blitzing guys off the edge. In 2011 vs MSU Borges (unsuccessfully since he didn't have the personnel) tried to make it a hot read to Vincent Smith. It's particularly good to run against a defense that's getting upfield too aggressively and dropping other guys back, since it attacks the space between them. As you might have guessed, if you catch the linebackers blitzing too that space could be huge, which is why this is fun to run on passing downs.
* [Moore was technically a free safety in '97 but the way OSU played twins this game was to have the CBs follow their receivers and leave Moore the strong side overhang DB.]
[After the jump: Harbaugh's version]
Previously: Last year's profiles. S Josh Metellus, S Khaleke Hudson, CB David Long, CB Lavert Hill, LB Elysee Mbem-Bosse, LB Devin Bush Jr., LB Devin Gil, LB Josh Uche, DE Ron Johnson, DT Michael Dwumfour, DT Rashan Gary, DE Carlo Kemp, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Michael Owenu, OL Stephen Spanellis, TE Nick Eubanks.
|Dudley, MA – 6'5", 240|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#34 TE, #2 MA
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#23 TE-Y, #2 MA
|24/7||3*, #1253 overall
#61 TE, #3 MA
|Other Suitors||VT, BC, Syracuse, UConn, Harvard|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
Sean McKeon has virtually no recruiting accolades. On the other hand…
…Harbaugh's earned some trust when it comes to plucking tight ends from obscurity. This comparison may not be entirely unprompted. Drevno:
Sean is a guy that can really bend, has great flexibility and great ball skills with a good catch radius. He can be a complete tight end as a run blocker and pass receiver. He is a big athletic guy, kind of reminds me of a Coby Fleener-type; has that same type of athleticism.
And it seems clear that their interest in McKeon is much stronger than that profile would suggest. David Reese—a linebacker who signed with Florida—decommitted largely because M did not have an early enroll spot for Reese. They had one for McKeon. Various other low-rated commits were outright jettisoned; there was never a whisper that McKeon could end up in that same boat. While I'm not particularly happy with how Michigan dealt with the guys they no longer wanted, the silver lining is that you know Michigan doesn't have buyer's remorse about the guys who did sign.
There are other positive indicators for McKeon. His frame is paired with some pretty impressive athleticism:
...elite athlete for a player his size, holding the fastest verified 40-time of any tight end in the country at 4.65 and also the highest vertical jump (36.2 inches).
That was from a Nike event and was only current as of his commitment in mid-June last year. Some some dudes may have passed him; if so it was not many. McKeon's ability to go recurs frequently in his scouting reports; so does Drevno's assertion that he can "really bend". ("Bending" is being able to play football in a compact stance instead of standing straight up; it is a major factor as players try to achieve the all-important good pad level.)
Allen Trieu liked him at Michigan's camp (like, camp-camp, on campus camp) last year, naming him the #2 player in attendance, just behind future four-star MSU commit Trishton Jackson and ahead of David Reese, Corey Malone-Hatcher, and a then even more completely obscure "Benjamin St John"*:
Loved how he could bend for his size. Very naturally athletic and catches the ball well. Lean frame with the room to grow.
Excellent height with just adequate bulk. …Doesn't look to play quite as fast as he may test, but displays above-average top-end speed … enough speed to make the occasional play down the seam. Between height and leaping ability can be a factor in jump ball situations. …doesn't display much burst out of breaks. … physical tools to be a productive receiver and with continued development can be an effective blocker as well.
…intriguing prospect because of his combination of size, speed and athleticism. …releases well off the line of scrimmage and gets into his routes well. He high-points the ball in traffic and is also tough to bring down after the catch. When blocking, the intent and desire is there, but he needs to get stronger to stay on and finish the block.
"Blocking ability" and "strength" are the areas for improvement; those are easily improved.
"…really good athlete, you can see that on film. … great frame and size for the next level."
…good acceleration …. will be able to get separation from linebackers with that initial speed burst…. can catch the ball with his hands outside the frame of his body….willing blocker who shows some pretty solid technique, and he has the feet and the hips to be effective in the run game.
…comfortable being attached to the offensive line as a blocker. …reliable hands and does a nice job sitting in open spots and showing the quarterback his numbers so he can be seen. … straight line speed and ability to threaten the seam. McKeon can extend and pluck the ball when it's in the air but shows some stiffness when he has to turn and adjust his body.
The bolded section from Brewster is something that pops out on film. He looks like a capable receiver downfield. He does not look like Jake Butt, who has a certain je ne sais quoi to his movements. I suppose coaches would call that fluidity. It doesn't seem like McKeon has that ability to change direction that allows Butt to win matchups against safeties and even occasionally corners.
Even so you may be asking yourself how a tight end prospect with those measurables gets ignored by the scouting services. There are a few reasons. The state of Massachusetts is a football wasteland scouted about as heavily as Liberia. McKeon's camp career appeared to begin and end after one or two that got him a suite of East Coast offers he was content with before Michigan leapt in. And his high school was one of those that tends to run run run:
"You can't tell his routes and catching because there's not a whole lot of film on that. The bit of film there is at tight end is mostly blocking. You know he's willing to mix it up, and he can move guys off the line."
He led his team with 19 catches as a junior; second place wasn't close. A tight end playing bad competition and running few routes who doesn't show at camps is destined for shruggie rankings.
McKeon has impressed coaches since his arrival. While I didn't notice him at Ford Field or the spring game—I was too busy going DANG at Ty Wheatley Jr—every month or so Steve Lorenz bangs the drum that he's got a good shot to play this fall:
We have been told on numerous occasions that McKeon is a player capable of playing in his first year depending on how his camp/off-season goes.
Don't rule out Sean McKeon as a year-one contributor at tight end. Physically, he's already there outside of building some weight.
I listed that Harvard offer above for a reason, as it implies McKeon will have little trouble imbibing a college offense and making it a part of his brain. Jay Harbaugh emphasized that in his take:
…Sean is a very intelligent, hard-working guy who is nowhere near reaching his potential as a football player … above average explosiveness and is an outstanding bender for his size. What he has done in the classroom in high school proves that Sean is willing to study and be a complete football player and student.
One of my main takeaways from watching Harbaugh's Stanford teams was that he put a ton of mental burden on his blocky/catchy types, who were expected to move willy-nilly about the field and make on-the-fly adjustments, especially when the Cardinal ran power. This applied moreso to FB/H-back types than inline players; the sheer number of formations and motions was still kind of boggling.
I'd be inclined to redshirt McKeon all the same. Michigan has Butt, Bunting, Wheatley, and (more or less) Hill ready to go this fall and will almost certainly play Devin Asiasi, about whom more in a couple days. I'm also guessing that Ben Bredeson gets a bunch of run as a sixth OL. Michigan plays a lot of tight ends. They don't play enough to absolutely need McKeon, either this year or next.
*[This would be current CB commit Benjamin St Juste. Trieu did well to get the name of a complete unknown almost correct; I mention it just to re-emphasize how out of nowhere St Juste came from.]
Etc.: Super-advanced wolverine drawing technique:
The gentleman scholar also wants to be a computer engineer if football doesn't work out. Don Brown was interested him as a DE(!) when he was recruiting McKeon to BC.
Why Kevin Koger? Koger was a guy with solid-to-good size who could threaten down the seam with surprising speed. Frames are pretty comparable, with Koger entering at 235 and leaving at 260. Recruiting rankings were not; Koger was the #6 TE in the country per the composite. Koger may have been a bit overrated since he was as likely to drop an easy ball as make a spectacular one-handed stab. And he wasn't open like Butt is open.
I thought about Mike Massey here but his MGoBlue page had him at 231 pounds as a redshirt senior, which is bonkers. Can't imagine Harbaugh's running anyone that size out there at TE unless he's a Eubanks walking mismatch type. Butt is another potential comparison, though one we dismissed above; have to roll sixes there.
Guru Reliability: Low for the reasons detailed above. I get why their skepticism is warranted. I don't think it hold much weight.
Variance: Moderate. Does have to add some weight, could be a mirage because he doesn't play good competition. On the other hand, could have gone to Harvard and already drawing praise after early enrollment.
Ceiling: High. Big frame and ability to move it. Blocking upside seems good as well.
General Excitement Level: High-minus. McKeon just about got sleeper of the year status. I already issued that to Josh Uche and have another gentleman in mind for a second slot; I don't want to go to three. If I did, McKeon would be the pick. Repeated insistence from inside the Michigan program that McKeon is a high upside guy who could easily play this year is a major plus.
Projection: He'll probably get scattered snaps as a frustrating burned redshirt. Next year it's similarly tough to find playing time with all of the aforementioned names save Butt ahead of him and Zach Gentry coming online. In year three he should be bulked up to 250 or 260 and will be a candidate for serious run.
With the pile of tight ends Michigan will have available your guess is as good as mine who emerges from the melee. McKeon is a very good bet to be a contributor and guy who gets complicated blocking assignments right.
Ace is on vacation! This post is already long! I'm posting it today!
On the Solomon commitment
Solomon and Reese [Sam Webb]
These days, the flood of "he won't stick" assertions in the aftermath of an unexpected commit from a far-flung high school prospect is inevitable. They certainly rolled in for GA DT Aubrey Solomon, both from the Michigan and SEC ends. Just like "offers" and OFFERS there are "commitments" and COMMITMENTS. The concern with Solomon is that he's issued the former.
Despite the fact that there's no evidence behind this assertion, people thinking this are not crazy. Michigan's already seen a GA commit peace out once the big local teams came in. But outright pessimism is unwarranted. Reasons Solomon will stick:
- Solomon already has big time offers and just visited Alabama and Georgia, who were previously thought to be the main contenders. He's seen what his leaders have to offer already and it's not like a bigger school than Bama or UGA can throw their hat in the ring.
- Michigan also picked up a commit from 2018 LB/S Otis Reese, a teammate. Reese had Michigan way out in front; he'll be there until Signing Day.
- Michigan's depth chart is attractive for a nose tackle. They have three-star Michael Dwumfour in the class ahead of him and not much else. Meanwhile the prospect of playing with Rashan Gary, even for just a couple years, is appealing.
Reasons it won't:
- The glow of the visit might not last.
- Parents might not be such a big fan of the decision.
Michigan's benefited from the latter a few times—Lawrence Marshall was an OSU commit for ten seconds before his parents put the brakes on—and suffered from it a few times. Solomon did talk to his mom on the phone before pulling the trigger:
“At first she was a little shocked because she’s never heard me trying to commit somewhere just like that,” Solomon said. “So she said I must be in love with the school and I told her that academically I would be good there."
Rusty Mansell, a reporter at the Georgia 247 site, has a skeptical take after talking to mom:
Solomon's mother was in Louisiana for a business trip at the time and told Dawgs247 the commitment caught her off-guard. She twice deemed the decision a "soft commitment," and mentioned that it is pending research. Again, her thoughts on the Georgia program were very high, and she said she is waiting to see what the outcome is in his recruitment.
Trying to figure out what Solomon will do through two separate lenses, one of them extremely red-tinted, is difficult. That doesn't sound great on the mom front.
FWIW, doesn't seem like Michigan put on a full court press. TomVH caught up with Lee County assistant coach Kevin Pych:
“The Michigan coaches are professionals,” Pych said. “They’re not sitting here blowing these kids’ phones up and they’re not pressuring them. That’s what sold these guys, that they care about making them into men.”
FL OL Kai-Leon Herbert reiterated that: Michigan coaches are amongst the lower-pressure ones out there. Sam Webb has an extensive article in the News about both Georgia commits in which Solomon tells it from his perspective:
"I was just thinking, ‘They want what's best for me, so let me call my mom.’ I'm a big momma's boy (so) I called her and talked to her about it. She was like, 'Is this really what you want to do?' and I told her, ‘Yeah, I can see myself playing here.’ Then she was like, 'Well, do what you've got do, baby. I love you,' and I said, 'I love you,' and went in there and said, 'I will commit here.'"
Whether that's good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. Hopefully mom can get on campus when Solomon takes his official.
What about Reese? While he is in a somewhat similar situation in his case a brother at Central Michigan and the fact that his commit was not off the cuff but something he'd been seriously thinking about should mean he's 90%+ to stick.
[After THE JUMP: more visit weekend fallout, new names dropping in via helicopter, Ace gets angry about KJ Hamler again despite being on vacation]
This tweet would seem to confirm the fact that Dytarious Johnson won't be enrolling at Michigan this fall:
— Dytarious Johnson (@Dytarious__) June 19, 2016
That doesn't come as much of a surprise. Johnson didn't sign a LOI for what he described as a "transcript issue" on Signing Day. I'm not aware that LOIs have any academic restrictions—SEC schools will still sign-and-place guys who have little shot at qualifying—so that's a little odd. It seemed unlikely a player who did not sign had much of a shot at arriving on campus, especially since Michigan signed a couple of other guys who were rumored to have some work to do.
Michigan might circle back around to Johnson after a prep semester or year. Their 2017 linebacker recruiting implies that they won't; we'll see. We'd been assuming that Johnson would not be a member of the 2016 class so this doesn't change our projected 2017 class size or 2016 roster.
Last time out. Facing the suspension of Deandre Yedlin, Klinsmann flipped Fabian Johnson to the right and brought in Matt Besler as a left-back-type-substance. This looked weird on the surface. When soccer folk attempt to describe an overall tactical approach with a formation those formations are invariably symmetrical and identical in attack and on defense; neither of these things are true in practice. Besler barely ventured forward when the US had the ball; Fabian Johnson bombed up the right sideline all game. Both of these decisions were suited to their play, and the US played their best first half of the tournament. It was predictable but it put people in roles they were good at.
Things went nuts in the second half after red cards to each team. Jermaine Jones put a fist in the vicinity of an Ecuador player to even things up after Antonio Valencia got a second yellow card, turning what should have been a comfortable exercise in seeing out a game a man and a goal up into a frenetic finish. Klinsmann left Clint Dempsey on the field an inordinately long time, leaving the US with just seven guys trying to defend. This paid off with a goal, and then bit the US when Dempsey continued afterwards. Klinsmann also left on a number of US players on yellow cards and got his just desserts for doing so when an exhausted Alejandro Bedoya pulled an opponent back after getting beaten. He was issued a yellow that suspends him for this game. Steve Birnbaum would come on in the 93rd minute as a middle finger to common sense.
But they're here, in a semi-final against Argentina. This is an opportunity for history.
This dude 1) scores 2/3rds of a goal per game in the EPL, 2) comes off Argentina's bench
So… Argentina. The problem is that they're not just Messi. Throw a rock at the attacking players on Argentina's team and you will hit a cornerstone of one of the elite clubs in the world. A dude with 102 goals in 150 appearances for Manchester City comes off their bench. FIFA rankings blah blah blah; #1 does mean something.
After years of frustration they've finally figured out how to deploy Messi in the context of the national team: they tell him to do whatever he wants and try to run into useful places. Messi roams from sideline to sideline, from front to back, and is extremely difficult to mark out of a game as a result.
Their defense looks elite but is part a creation of their possession; they had a shaky period against Venezuela where the Rio Tinto outside backs were bombing forward and unsettling the D's organization. Venezuela hit a post, missed a penalty, and forced a couple excellent saves out of the Argentina keeper.
Argentina's back four is not to the standard of the rest of the team. They start Gabriel Mercado, a 29-year-old Liga MX player with just six caps, at one outside back spot. The other outside back spot is a Man U player who has trouble getting league appearances; Everton center back Ramio Funes Mori has been a bit iffy in this tournament. This is still Argentina we're talking about here but they're not overwhelming back to front like a Germany is. Those center backs are generally regarded as the weak links of the team, and a quick counter attack or successful overload could stake the US to a lead. Argentina is vulnerable to the kind of goals the US scored against Ecuador. The US can have a period of similar productivity, and maybe they have better luck.
Just one problem.
Wood is the man, and he's on the bench. Wood is a brutal loss since he's been maybe the USA's best player in this tournament not named John Brooks—he is capable of runs behind the defense and hold-up play, a complete forward the US hasn't seen since the brief moment when Charlie Davies was reaching his peak. While it came to little, Wood's tenacity and speed were most apparent on a run early in the Ecuador game that had no business turning into a shot but did nonetheless:
That is a guy who puts the fear of God into center backs.
Woods had two hockey assists in that game as his runs drove the opposition back to the mouth of their own goal and opened up space for crosses against a defense that had already spent a center back chasing him.* Davies was the last US forward to threaten like this. His activity became so integral to the USA's gameplan under Bob Bradley that Bradley not only brought but started Robbie Findley during the 2010 World Cup. Since Findley was a version of Davies with cement blocks for feet this was a mistake; it demonstrates just how dangerous and difficult to find a guy like Wood is for the US. (Except they've got another one playing in Seattle, but that's another post.)
Everyone assumes that the US will slide Zardes up top and try to get the same production. Zardes does match Wood's speed and endurance but Wood is super productive at finding space, something Zardes is erratic at. His first touch has been discussed to death for good reason; he's not likely to replicate Wood's production. The US is hoping he has a moment or two where it works out and he can apply his physical gifts. The other option is Chris Wondolowski, which: no.
*[Fancy talk for this is "running the channels." To execute this a center forward runs diagonally to the edge of the field, usually when the outside back is up the field. A center back generally gets pulled into an uncomfortable spot and the defense has to rotate to cover. Just like in basketball, a rotating defense is a vulnerable one. The second goal is a quintessential example of that activity.]
What now? Wood, Jones, and Bedoya are suspended for the semifinal. Losing the two central midfielders at the same time is rough but survivable since there are reasonable replacements; losing Wood is probably fatal for the USA's chances in a game where they don't figure to have much of the ball.
I'm operating under the following assumptions:
- The US will continue using Dempsey as a second forward under a true #9
- They will not be averse to asymmetry in the formation
- Darlington Nagbe made fun of Klinsmann's hair
Klinsmann has gone with all the old guys for his substitutions so far, frustratingly. Continuing that would be a major mistake. The Argentina back line had a lot of trouble with Venezuela's outside speed. Beckerman has just about reached his expiration date. I'd rather roll with a more athletic player there.
I would stick with the unbalanced formation the US used against Ecuador and slide Fabian Johnson up. You're going to need a moment of brilliance or two and Johnson is one of the likeliest candidates to provide that if he's allowed to play on the wing. It could look like this:
You could flip Pusilic in for Zusi but the chances of that seem very low.
FWIW, this is the formation most of the USA internet has arrived at. It lets Yedlin fly up the wing like Fabian Johnson did in the previous game and puts Johnson back at the spot that he excelled in this season for Gladbach. With Argentina down Angel Di Maria and Nicholas Gaitan they don't have a ton of width. Their outside backs don't get forward much; they don't do a whole lot of crossing. They had only 12 in the Venezuela game, and one of those was the ridiculous Messi assist from 40 yards out. All this means the US would do well to replicate their gameplan against Spain in the Confederations Cup: load up the middle and clear the crosses.
The gameplan with Beckerman looks something like this:
Nagbe has been more effective in the center of midfield in the last couple years of MLS play but this would be more or less fine. Other exotic options include dumping Dempsey for a 100% bunker, bringing in DM Perry Kitchen, and deploying Pusilic. None of these seem at all likely, but Klinsmann might Klinsmann.
Nagbe is critical because he is the USA's best bet to relieve pressure and get more of the ball. His exclusion has been somewhat reasonable to date; leaving him out in this game means both Zusi and Beckerman are playing and means the US is playing to survive a 90 minute onslaught and hope for the best in penalties. Given the situation Nagbe is a better defensive player than Beckerman. He would not fare as well in a defensive mid role but he doesn't have to play it, and Nagbe is a huge upgrade in both athleticism and ability to possess the ball.
This tournament is already a success. It's hard to imagine that the continual changes in both personnel and formation will persist going forward. The back five are just about set. Wood and Dempsey are your first choice forward pairing. Jones, Bedoya, Zardes, and Nagbe will battle for midfield spots. There's one slot in the first-choice 11 that is up for grabs based on performance (Zardes) and two that may have to be revisited due to age or continued problems with red mist (Dempsey and Jones). For a team that didn't start the same center back pairing since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand until the run up to this tournament that's a quantum leap forward.
Most of the questions concern backup spots now and even a couple of those (Jordan Morris, for one) have reasonable answers going forward. Outside back, as always, is the main area of concern.
Klinsmann still behaves like a man who's petrified people will see through the emperor's new clothes and is replacement-level at best, but… hey, replacement level! I can dig that!