Quick Thoughts on USA v. Mexico: Klinsmannia!

Los Eternos Rivales, eh?

It certainly started to look like it after about 30 minutes when the Mexico we’ve come to know and love started asserting is prickish best after looking in a different class for the first half hour. It’s been weird lately, watching Mexico play within themselves, so it came as something of a relief when their true colors started bleeding through. Not that they didn’t “win” the match before the waves of subs threw entropy into the mix, but this outing, as the scoreline indicated, presented a US that’s at least in the same neighborhood as our neighbors to the south.

Talking points?

  • Collective intelligence. The difference between the first XI’s seemed to me to be Mexico’s collective effort and intelligence both with and without the ball. Without, they pressed as a unit, rarely allowing exploitable gaps and tilting the field in their favor. With the ball, they moved for each other, always with runners ahead of the ball looking to shoot the gaps. By contrast, what little pressing the US enacted looked disjointed and ineffective, and far too often the only play with the ball was lateral or backwards. This changed as the US rode the emotional crest in the broken half-hour toward the end, with more willing runners getting after Mexico in possession and creating transition opportunities.

  • #10? First half I would have said of Donovan: “useful, but not the presence he should be unless cutting inside.” Early in the second I would have said, “flicks and tricks, poor decisions, cough, cough, ugh.” But the move to the middle with three young guys eating up ground around him in attack made him look a completely different player. Might it happen that he’s ready to be the #10 advertised on his jersey for the US? He certainly looked more effective and involved in the middle, with the added bonus of being willing to take on defenders1. If there’s a perfect spot for him going forward as he pushes past 30, you’d think it would be there. Donovan underneath Agudelo or Altidore with Shea and Dempsey wide?

  • Latinferno? I’m struggling to find an equivalent to “youthquake” in response to Klinsmann’s stated goal of incorporating more latino players, so we’ll go with “latinferno” for now. Evaluation? Not terrible, but not great. Orozco didn’t look like he’d be higher than 4th in a pretty weak center-back corps, and Castillo looked like Bornstein with slightly better touch. I wouldn’t dismiss either entirely, but nor would I be looking at them as starters. Torres, on the other hand, I’ve always been fond of, and he certainly had his moments, though I think he’s largely wasted out wide. I’d like to see him paired with a destroyer in central midfield behind Donovan2, though I’d also like to see Holden here when he returns.

  • Emotional response. That certainly was a spirited close to affairs, wasn’t it? Forget for a moment that the numerous subs made things a bit chaotic. I think what the take-away should be is that Klinsmann, for all my other suspicions about his qualities as a head-man, can be an emotional leader/catalyst in ways that Bob Bradley could never hope to be. It’s funny, isn’t it? For so long there have been calls for a high-level Euro or Latin boss who could get the best out of the US tactically with the hard work and energy being some native birthright of the players. But here comes a Euro-boss, and a German one to boot, that brings more energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration than tactical nous. That said, one game does not a trend make…

Quick hits?

  • Torrado should have walked for dragging down Rogers. Not that it would have made a difference with only a few minutes left, but seeing he and Marquez getting frustrated/animated was a pleasant change.

  • Buddle and Beckerman can safely return to the shallow end of the player pool. I’d send Orozco there as well and Castillo were it not for (a) the complete lack of left backs and (b) the depth issues at the back.

  • Having found Castillo wanting, it’s interesting as I think back that there were only a couple of decent Mexican moves coming down their right flank, a flank patrolled in turns by two players that gave us major troubles in the Gold Cup. Hmmm.

In the end, I think the biggest take-away message isn’t the formation shift3. Nor is it the Latin Invasion or giving young MLS wingers a chance. All of those have their role to play going forward, but what felt different was the shift in attitude. The starters seemed at first a little bit in awe of their opponents, perhaps still reeling from the Gold Cup final and lacking in confidence. But that changed as the game progressed, and all hell broke loose when Klinsmann unleashed the young guns up top and went with only one holding mid in the middle rather than three.

Not that I’m ready to declare a new dawn by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s certainly a slight lifting of this summer’s gloom. Costa Rica next month is probably too soon for Holden to be fully back in the mix, but I’d like to see…

Agudelo/Altidore up top. Donovan underneath with Shea and Dempsey out wide and a sub’s role for Adu. Bradley and Torres/Holden deeper in midfield. Castillo/Lichaj at left back, Cherundolo/Chandler on the right. Bocanegra and whoever is showing best of Ream/Gooch/Orozco/Goodson in the middle. Howard in net.

And you?

  1. Something loyal readers know has always been a bugaboo of mine when it comes to Donovan. ↩

  2. I assume, of course, that Klinsmann doesn’t intend to persist with three holding/defensive mids in the middle going forward. If the last twenty minutes or so showed him nothing, I hope he saw that. ↩

  3. Though it might be in the longer term. ↩


  1. 1. Agree with most of this, but thought Beckerman was the pick of the central midfielders (then Torres, then Bradley, and then Jones). Good positioning, distribution not bad (I remember one play in particular near the end where he salvaged a terrible ball with a quick -- but pretty unexpected -- pass into loads of space out on the left for ?Castillo?), much better tackling than Jones or especially Bradley. (How often do you see Bradley step up to make a defensive play, and the player with the ball takes a slight step and Bradley's momentum carries him past? Bradley is too slow laterally, and so he consistently either (a) backs off too much, giving opposing midfielders too much space or (b) takes himself out of plays by stepping up and getting beaten far too easily. I mind this less when he's playing further forward -- because getting beat when you're right next to the striker isn't nearly as bad as getting beat when you're deep in our half -- but it's still a problem.)

    I wouldn't mind seeing Torres/Beckerman as the 2 in a 4-2-3-1 in CONCACAF, especially against the lesser teams. Against more athletic teams, you've got to hope we can get Holden back in there. (And I think Bradley's lack of quickness is much less of an issue when he's paired with a quick, tenacious midfielder like Holden. I don't mind Bradley/Holden at all.)

    For what it's worth, I think Klinnsman described Beckerman as "exceptional" in the post-game. Guessing that means we'll be seeing more of him.

    2. Where did Shea and Rogers come from? I've seen Shea play like that in MLS, but it was impressive to see him do it internationally. And given how poor Rogers has usually been for the US, I was really impressed with his game last night. Good defensively, good passing, good movement, great speed (used productively, too). Easy to go overboard based on twenty minutes at the end of a friendly as the game pattern falls apart, but still quite promising.

  2. Beckerman was fine defensively (which, I suppose, is what you're looking for out of him), but there were a number of times he got caught dallying on the ball and seemed not to be playing to the pace of the game. Perhaps his brief was to slow things down a bit, but it just seemed like he wasn't "on" to me. Subjective, I suppose, and my opinion matters very little next to Klinsmann's (though he might also be playing a confidence game with Beckerman through the media).

    Bradley's in a funny spot here. If you're playing the central three, I think he's best as a holding link-man getting chances from late, bursting runs (like you said--not terrific defensively from a technical or tactical standpoint so not a great choice as a destroyer--and also not a mobile dribbler/playmaker best suited for the advanced role).

    Problem is that I think a healthy Holden can do that job better and Torres might be able to as well. Regular playing time at a club that wants him wouldn't hurt.

  3. Agree that Bradley is in a really funny spot -- easily one of our best eleven players, but when you start filling in spots, it becomes hard to say exactly where he fits. (And while I've never been one of the nepotism crowd, I do think Sr. was slow to recognize that.)

    I think this means he becomes a player you use when the match-ups (and other players' availability) are right, but not absolutely every game or every situation. The Holden problem is the big one, and it's exactly what you say -- they fit in the same spot, ideally, but Holden is better at it (or, at least, was pre-injury). (A battle with Torres is a little easier for Bradley, I think, because they clearly will play the second-of-three midfield role in very different ways, and would both get chances against different match-ups.)