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.