Thoughts on USA v. Poland

Given the length of look he had at them, I'm guessing that this is the team Bradley wants to build from going forward into the next cycle. The exception being, of course, Donovan in place of Feilhaber on the left flank. So where do the immediate issues lie? Bocanegra may play left back for his club, but he's going to get torched at a higher level, particularly without significant help from a flank midfielder. Do we have any real alternatives though? Secondarily, we're going to be playing hamstrung until Onyewu and Altidore start getting significant minutes of game action with their clubs. And finally, Edu probably deserves to be on the pitch, but not as a centerback.

But what of the match? Two phrases spring to mind: too narrow and too casual.


Playing Holden and Feilhaber on the flanks pretty much guaranteed that the attacking portion of midfield would fold in on itself, requiring overlapping fullbacks to provide width. Cherundolo did so successfully, while Bocanegra, never the most effective going forward anyway, was far too occupied with his defensive duties. This might have been alleviated somewhat with a strong left winger (Donovan?) forcing the Polish right flank to defend more, or, as happened in the second half when Bradley went 4-4-1-1 with Dempsey on the left flank, by giving him some significant midfield help.

A secondary problem caused by both wide men drifting to the middle was that they were choking the space that the dynamic Jones and Bradley wanted to exploit in alternating runs from deep in midfield and that Dempsey wanted to drop into underneath Altidore. Speaking of the central midfield pair, I'm not convinced of their ability to play together yet. They took about half an hour to figure things out, when Jones started playmaking from a deeper position, allowing Bradley his runs forward. But Jones wasn't providing the same type of defensive bite or clogging the passing lanes as Edu or the much-maligned Rico Clark would have. We shall see if time proves the pairing an effective one. I wouldn't dismiss it given just one test.


But the bigger (biggest?) problem was the casual play, particularly in midfield. In the first instance, you can point directly to Holden and Jones as the starting point of the Polish goals. Holden's wild clearance, and Jones getting caught in possession led, within a touch or two, directly to the goals. But those were isolated examples of a larger problem.

Consider the inability to maintain possession in that long stretch after the US opening goal: the giveaways, the inability to get to second balls, the ball-watching on defense, the long clearances to nowhere, the lax tracking of runners. All were symptomatic of a team that lost focus and commitment, that took their foot off the pedal. We can't leave Poland entirely out of the equation because they're not a useless side, and I would have expected patches of play where Poland gained control. But for them to have as much domination for as long as they did is inexcusable and a problem that needs to be fixed.

Going Forward

It will be interesting to see what lessons Bradley takes from this match. For me, the primary considerations are: (1) Dempsey is more effective with space to operate on the flank, (2) the left back spot desperately needs to be addressed, as it has for some time now, (3) does the Bradley-Jones pairing provide enough defensive cover in the middle of the park?

With the full squad, I'd be tempted to try Altidore up top; Dempsey and Donovan on the flanks with license to be mobile, Donovan pushed very high; Holden and Bradley central ahead of Jones, the latter given a brief to sit deep and pick out passes; Cherundolo and Pearce on the defensive flanks outside Bocanegra and Onyewu, with an eye to giving Gonzalez, Marshall, and Goodson significant chances to try and displace Bocanegra. Though that's what I'd want to try, I'm far from happy with big chunks of it.

Et tu?


  1. This is a formation I've long waited to see the USA in; I think it suits our preference for pressing while still giving us a shape we can be a little more unpredictable in. After last night, though, the 433 you're picturing might be a better solution.

    A LOT of the change is necessitated by Jones not playing quite the way I'd imagined. I always picture Jones as more of an anchor man in midfield - last night he was much more offensive. Mike Bradley seemed surprised to see the big man forward of him early in the game, too. Could it all be down to communication problems?

    That said, a thoroughly enjoyable friendly, if not the comprehensive performance we'd hoped for. Poland came to play and showed more than the last few times we've played them, the atmosphere was fantastic, the weather sublime ... good times.

  2. Agreed about Jones, though in retrospect, my fleeting glimpses of his club career in Germany (mostly the early stuff with Frankfurt) usually showed him playing box-to-box, so I don't know why I had that anchor-man impression. Probably the insistence of the internet mob that "if only we had a rugged destroyer like Jones, all would be right with our midfield." ;-)

  3. Heh - that and the fact that he's always awesome in that role in Football Manager. hahahhaaaaaa!

  4. I thought Jones was impressive in that he created pressure much further upfield defensively (had some very nice takeaways)and made some nice passes (not to mention his ability to frustrate a few of the Polish players and draw fouls). His tackling will of course make him part of our regular yellow card/red card midfield crew (Bradley and Clark); but once we figure out how to include Jones, Bradley, Holden, Donovan and Dempsey on the same field, then we might have something.

    Holden, in particular, is growing by leaps and bounds (much as Dempsey did after the 2006 WC) and should now be considered a full-timer. What remains to be seen is how Edu, Clark, Torres and Bedoya will mature - but that's a nice problem to have.

    The real issue is how we rebuild our backline - not just on the wings but in the middle as well. Onyewu is now a benchwarmer on his club and let's face it - the club got him on a free transfer and kept him because he's foregoing his salary for a year. That doesn't spell highly prized player to me and his recent stints for the US don't create the impression that he is the rock that he used to be.
    Gonzalez and a few other MLSers will need some long looks and time to develop.

    Cherudholo is as good as ever, but there's no guarantee his form will last through the next cycle. Spector's development seems to have stalled. Maybe Lichaj can grow into the role, but he's still a benchwarmer at this point too; so we'll need to explore some other players there as well. Bocanegra at left back is stop gap measure. We still need someone to come along and own that position for years to come and not many people seem to be within shouting distance of that prize. Bornstein, Pearce and Castillo? I hope they can get better.

    Finally, we still need some forwards and I'm not sure where they will come from. Jozy needs to be pushed, particularly when he reverts to MLS quality shots (wide open looks that go wide from three feet in front of the goal). Where are those guys going to come from?

  5. Forget the aging defense, at least the aging midfield has some decent youngsters/new players to look at. Holden, Edu, Jones and maybe Torres deserve to be in the mix for starting midfield slots for the start of the next cycle. Dempsey will be 31 at the next cup, while Donovan and Jones will be 32. All three are great players, but it is very possible they will have been replaced by younger players in the next four years. These other players need games together and time to grow like only Altidore, Bornstein (or not grow) and Bradley seem to have gotten last cycle. Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan need to be given time off and we need to see how the team looks without each.

    Play Edu with Jones. Try Bedoya and Shea on the wings. Try Holden and Torres in the middle with Jones and/or Edu and on the wings. I am not asking for all of these at the same time, but it is time to try out some new blood. If they struggle fine, but at least give them a look.