Granted, these early matches under the Klinsmann regime are all about assessing players and introducing the new boss’s style, so it’s not yet time to go overboard with complaints about players who don’t belong, defensive disorganization, and lack of chances created. Sadly, my suspicion is that we’re going to have plenty of chances to file those complaints down the road.
Instead, let’s begin with what went well…
The opening 30 minutes were played in an excellent, quick style, with high pressure to retain possession and almost no worries on defense. Indeed, if Donovan finishes the golden chance the Torres-Shea-Altidore combination set him up for, I can see us singing a very different tune this morning. With a tangible reward to show for their excellent early play, the US may have built on that platform and Costa Rica might not have gained the confidence to come back into things.
Castillo’s play in those opening 30 minutes suggested that maybe he might stake a claim to be the answer at left back. Unfortunately, there were another 60 minutes to play, and in those minutes he was miserable in both possession and defense. His quality on the ball promises much, but his defensive weakness makes him little more than Bornstein-plus at this point. Still no answers…
The forwards. Altidore looked really impressive holding the ball up and playing quick combinations as the lone striker, asserting himself physically. Regular minutes and gaining confidence in a similar system at AZ should lead to better play for the US. I’m sure there will be some rumbling that Agudelo’s livewire substitute appearance argues either for him seriously pushing Altidore for starting minutes or for a two-man strike force, but given the inadequacies on the wings, I wonder if starting Agudelo on the wing, where he can threaten with the ball at his feet, might be a better option.
Torres demonstrated pretty much everything I love about him as a player, and I can see him thriving in this system. He has vision and imagination, holds the ball well, and can hit scorchers from distance. Of all the players set to thrive with the Bradley-shackles off, he’s the biggest beneficiary. There might be an issue when Holden returns to full fitness as I see them fulfilling essentially the same role in Klinsmann’s current system. It might prove difficult to get both on the field as Holden, despite being a great crosser, isn’t an ideal fit as a winger, and Torres isn’t as effective either wide or pushed in the higher Donovan-role.
And some things to work on…
The crossing was abysmal. I mean flat out awful. Indeed, the flank play in general was pretty lacking. The wingers all too often slowed play and cut inside rather than taking on defenders and getting to the byline for crosses. Shea had his moments and should still be in the picture (though more often as a substitute for now), but Rogers looked largely out of place, his movement and thinking just too slow and too tentative for the match. Additionally, I wonder why all of the corners seemed to be taken as out-swingers. Dead balls in general are where Holden’s return will prove particularly effective.
Defensive organization against the counter was poor. When the ball was comfortably in front of them, the gaps were clogged and the defense looked solid. But on the break, things fell apart. Both fullbacks looked shaky1, Orozco was often sucked out of position, and Edu was a mess, either pushed too high, leaving a gap in front of the back line, or chasing rather than anticipating movement. Orozco’s long distribution was a welcome addition at times, but I’m not sold in general.
Chances. For all of the possession, the US created very little in the way of clear chances on goal. There was that one early one that really should have set them on their way, but precious little thereafter. With a target like Altidore, Donovan ghosting in from deep, and Torres following up with that ability to strike from distance, more direct play from the wingers (beating their man and getting the crosses in) and fullbacks (making more decisive overlapping runs) probably would have created more chances. Maybe it’s not as pretty or possession-centric, but the tools at hand would seem to suggest such an approach. Then again, given the quality of the crossing (see my point above), maybe not. Still, the constant slowing of play and cutting inside, both by wingers and fullbacks, into an already congested middle resulted in little threat.
The fluidity of the front three (wings swapping, Altidore pulling onto the flank as Shea moved inside) didn’t really accomplish much. Shea looked lost on the right, Rogers looked lost everywhere, and the Costa Rican defense didn’t seem to be troubled. Maybe more darting runs from deeper-lying midfielders trying to exploit any potential gaps would have created more discomfort?
How does Kljestan keep getting into camp? Is he sneaking in? Throwing him on when chasing the game is the equivalent of punting. Let’s formalize that, shall we? I hereby dub him Sacha “White Flag” Kljestan. Ugh. I understand wanting to see Agudelo function as the sole striker in the new system in a match that really doesn’t matter, but maybe having a look at a “real” two-striker set (i.e. not Shea pushing up top) when chasing a result might have been useful too…
So let’s finish by running through things line by line, shall we?
Howard and Bocanegra were solid as usual at the back. Both fullbacks had moments getting forward (Castillo more so than Chandler), but both were found lacking in the crossing department and in their defensive positioning (again, Castillo more so than Chandler). Orozco has some useful qualities, but I would still rate Ream and Goodson ahead of him and a rejuvenated Onyewu would be as well. It will be interesting to see who starts against Belgium2.
In midfield, I wasn’t impressed with Edu, who seemed to be chasing more than clogging channels. Torres, on the other hand, was excellent. Donovan drifted in and out. I do like him playing underneath a lone striker, and the times he went missing most were when he played high as a second forward or dropped very deep. I still think he fits best into this system centrally, but wouldn’t be too surprised if the return of Holden saw him move onto the flank again, particularly as our options there don’t seem like finished products yet3.
Up top, Altidore and Agudelo both threatened without ever actually providing any moments of real danger, and the flanks were nowhere near as effective as they should have been. It’s going to take a while before Shea completes the step up to this level, but you can see him getting there. Rogers, on the other hand, has all the makings of a Bob Bradley-style Bornstein/Kljestan special.
And that seems about as good a place as any to wrap things up. In the end, this felt like a very “Bob” outing. Control of possession without chances (either quality or quantity), much bustle with little reward, reliance upon set pieces, solid against all but the counter, and Sacha “White Flag” Kljestan. Arguments can be made, I suppose, that it’s only logical for this to be the case in a time of transition, and that’s what we’ll have to hope is happening.
There’s little doubt that Klinsmann is trying different pieces and a different style, but if the end result is the same, is progress being made? The complaints we’re hearing from Germany about a lack of tactical nous will start to get worrying if there’s no improvement over the coming months.
Chandler in particular disappointed. I had thought that the combination of Lichaj and Chandler would push the aging Cherundolo out of the starting lineup, if not the first choice 18 altogether, but Lichaj’s injury and Chandler’s lukewarm outing suggest that Dolo still needs to be in the mix. ↩
Klinsmann’s stated goal of adding more of a Latin element to the US is the right move, but not in every circumstance, I would argue. ↩
Dempsey excepted, of course. ↩