6/1/2014 – USA 2, Turkey 1
Got damn. The best soccer goals come with a kind of low OHAAAAWWWWWW from the crowd. That particular noise comes when half the crowd is cheering normally while the other half goes "OHHHHHH" because they've just seen something about as difficult as the moon landing in person. Bradley to Fabian Johnson was a moon landing of a goal.
Clint Dempsey's was not, but they all count.
Paging World Cup horrors past. That ref had better not approach a USA game that counts. Whether he was ignoring a zillion clear fouls on Altidore or elbowing a Turk in the face when he should have been 90 feet closer to the Turkish net in case Dempsey had earned a penalty, this game was an exercise in frustration similar to Slovenia 2010 or Ghana 2006.
Jozy is fine. I generally like Taylor Twellman but his incessant harping on Jozy Altidore not putting a ball in the net (despite putting a ball in the net that was disallowed by a shaky and definitely irrelevant foul) drove me nuts in this game.
Twellman waxed to his worst on second-half "opportunity" he didn't hear whistled down but everyone watching ESPN did, and it seemed like Altidore and the Turks also mostly did. Altidore put a shot off the keeper and Twellman went into his usual refrain about confidence and mystical fairies and all that stuff that people who haven't thought about how brains work always do. Sometimes things happen, random things. Especially when you're Jozy Altidore and you've seen about six quality scoring opportunities since your goal drought started.
It got worse. A few minutes later, Twellman praised Altidore for blasting a shot off a charging keeper that would have been a simple tap-in for Bradley if Altidore had laid it off. Altidore did well to create the chance, but if there was a problem with Altidore's game in this one it was not his lack of ruthlessness but that pressing for goal that caused him to make a wrong decision.
Not that he was the only US player with that issue. After the Davis handball play saw Graham Zusi run on to a ball at the back post, this was a shot:
A tap-in for Jozy if Zusi gets it right. Does that make him a better player in this game?
This was not a problem for the Dutch in the first five minutes against future US foe Ghana. Faced with a similar opportunity, Arjen Robben laid it off for Robin Van Persie, who passed it into the back of the open net. Robben proceeded to blow an absolute sitter and a couple other grade-A chances, but because he's not part of a culture that yells at LeBron James for kicking it to a wide-open Donyell Marshall for a game-winning three* that he happens to miss, no one's going "blah blah blah confidence strikers blah."
Take the shot when it's the move; pass when it's the move. Heroball is garbage. San Antonio Spurs, you know?
*[Dated reference but the perfect one.]
RIGHT: JOZY IS FINE. I know I said he wasn't a hold up guy and never will be but he's really trying. He does lack that flick-on and isn't technical enough to be great in that role, but he's the only one with anything resembling that skillset. It's clear now that the US is going to need it from time to time, and he's trying.
As much as they would like to be a possession side there are going to be times where the US does have to blerg it upfield. Jozy's going to be the guy who turns that into anything. Unless you think Johannsson can do that there's no substitute.
Chandler is not fine. For some reason the USMNT internet has been desperately trying to replace DaMarcus Beasley since he became the USA's starting left back by default. I acknowledge he is not world-class but for Christ's sake he's gone three years without anything near as bad as two different things Tim Chandler pulled in the Turkey match. There was the pathetic turnover that led to the Turkey goal and the alarming 50-yard ball that led to a quality Guzan save on which Chandler and Davis were both vastly out of position. The same thing led to a corner in the first half.
Meanwhile, Chandler is right footed, so it is awkward pairing him with an in-cutting left midfielder like Bedoya. Chandler should be at the back of the bus now. Beasley and Johnson are your starting outside backs and if one of them is unavailable I'd rather see Brooks (with Cameron sliding outside) or Yedlin than Chandler.
Also not fine: Brad Davis. If you're going to play a diamond your outside midfielders need to be defensive presences. They end up narrow, usually, and need to track back because the second central midfielder ends up way up the pitch as a third dedicated attacker. In this game the US had to pull Bradley back in the second half because neither outside midfielder had any interest, really, in tracking back. Zusi was at least positioned in a place where he could do something most of the time; Davis was not. Turkey spent the day destroying the USA's left flank.
The first truly dangerous Turkey chance came off a corner kick that got reset; Chandler was asked to defend two guys.
left side of your screenshot—two Turks, one USA guy
I know it looks like Jermaine Jones was available to deal with this but he is not; he ends up having to apply emergency pressure on a Turkish player who ends up cutting it back to the shooter. Davis is at the top of the 18; he heads a ball forward, sees it turned over, and walks the rest of the play instead of tracking back to the position he's vacated. His guy puts one off the post. (Fabian Johnson is out of position as well, but overall his flank was way less threatened.)
Another Turkish scoring chance came because Davis vacated the entire left side of the field.
While the diamond midfielders do tend to pack in tight, Davis was generally a lot narrower than Zusi, leading to attack after attack down the left flank on which Chandler was asked to shut down acres of space; a primary reason that the US was conceding huge chunks of space was Davis's failure to exist without the ball. He had neither the pace nor the interest to show up.
Zusi is at the bottom; look how wide he is compared to Davis despite the ball being to Davis's wing.
You'd think the guy obviously on the roster because Landon is not would show on defense. I found myself missing Herculez Gomez in this game.
In the second half, Bradley was withdrawn when the US was without the ball and the chances stopped coming so fast and furious, and maybe that's how it has to be. Someone's going to have to cover a pile of space in the World Cup. Brad Davis clearly isn't. Bradley is going to have to be that guy, with Dempsey dropping to provide a link from defense to attack.
So don't judge Jones too badly. The post I just linked prefers Beckerman to Jones but I don't think they make a particularly convincing case. Jones was given too much to do in the first half since neither US winger made any defensive impact; Beckerman came on at the same time the US started dropping Bradley to provide more cover. Notably, the turnover they approvingly note Beckerman caused came as Bradley pressured a guy in a similar position to the guy with acres of space above.
It would have been just as bad in the first half with Beckerman, because Chandler cannot replicate himself.
I don't want to toot the ol' horn too much, but the second half setup is something I suggested would be the USA's best look:
I would prefer something like the 4-4-2 diamond they tried out in a recent friendly, with Bradley dropping back when faced with opponent possession and Dempsey moving under Altidore to provide an outlet and link to Altidore up top.
This game showed both that the US does need Bradley's defensive abilities and cannot spare him from attack. It's going to be a long, tiring WC for Bradley, but that's how it has to be.
The Shin Guardian does have an instance where the midfield's general cluelessness is an issue, and Jones is one of the problems:
This gets played square away from all four midfielders; Jones ends up going upfield at the guy, and Turkey is on a break off what initially looked like an innocuous play. Bad decisions all around here; TSG is right that Jones's instincts to attack rather than hold were dangerous to the US at times here.
Green: nope. He won't play at the World Cup.
Brooks: maybe. But Brooks overcame some nervous moments early to put in an impressive performance that demonstrated he has a pretty rare combination of agility and aerial ability. He has been playing well for his club of late, in contrast with Green, and at the position he's being asked to play here, in contrast with Chandler. With Gonzalez in something of a funk he might be your third option at center back.
- Davis and Zusi cannot play together. They're very similar players; the US needs more defense from the wing. IMO, Davis just disqualified himself from the first two games of the group stage. He is a disaster waiting to happen against Ayew or Nani, and his service is only marginally better than Zusi's.
- Viva Beasley. He's a little malformed but he's ours, and if he gets run over that's life. At least he'll be in the right spot, not making an utter hash of things.
- The diamond cannot be on defense unless Bedoya works like a donkey. While the idea—get Bradley upfield—is the right idea, leaving him upfield is only tenable if you're able to apply smart, high pressure consistently. The US doesn't have the wingers or forwards to do this, so against teams who aren't bunkered in Bradley will have to shuttle back or it's going to be a lot of what we saw against Turkey. Bedoya's presumed start against Nigeria will be the most interesting thing about that game.
- I'm agnostic on Jones or Beckerman. Seems obvious that it will be Jones, but that seems like a 50/50 battle as to whether that's the right decision.
- Leaving Donovan off this roster looks pretty bad right now. Whatever his flaws, Donovan has been a committed defender throughout his USA career and provides something other than "Graham Zusi but left-footed."