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USA-Germany Epic Preview

The group stage is nearing conclusion. We have already learned 6 of the 8 Round of 16 matchups. The others will be learned today.

Before I dig into my preview of the matchup between the two nations with the highest page views on this site, let’s look at the Table of Contents (or, in German, Inhaltsverzeichnis):

Background – what you need to know. It includes Germerican facts.

Scenarios – what needs to happen for each country to go through.

How will Germany play? – Taktik der Deutsch-Nationalmannschaft.

How will the US play? – tactics of the US national team. (Note: I do not talk about the goalkeepers in this. Both Manuel Neuer and Tim Howard are very solid players and guaranteed starters.)

Prediction – my totally un-biased predictions.

Background

-These teams have played each other 9 times. Germany has won 6, the US has won 3, and none have ended in draws.

-The last time they played in the World Cup was in 2002, in the quarterfinals. Germany won 1-0, but they shouldn’t have. THAT WAS A HANDBALL!!!!

-The last time they played was last year, a friendly in Washington, DC. The US won 4-3, but many of Germany’s top players were not there. This was the game where the currently-injured Jozy Altidore broke a very long scoreless streak for the US.

-One of the biggest stories leading into this game is the German influence in the US team. Of the 23 US players, 5 grew up mostly in Germany (they all have a parent who was stationed there in the military). I’ll give a run-down of the Germericans:

Jermaine Jones – the 32-year-old has been the best US player for the World Cup. He’s been doing great. Even not counting the incredible goal (which was the 2300th World Cup goal ever–not sure why Wikipedia tracks that, but it’s interesting) his play has been incredible so far. A big portion of the central midfielders’ success is the insertion of Kyle Beckerman alongside him, which gives Jones, currently a Besiktas player, more freedom to roam. And he’s done a lot of high-quality roaming. If you don’t think that Jones has done good, then you don’t understand this sport.

Fabian Johnson – the 26-year old wide-player can play in midfield or defense; right-back has been his position this World Cup. He and Jones are the only two Germericans who start, and his quality play for club and country combined with the fact that Germany don’t have that many full-backs means that some Germans now think that he’d be good enough for Die Mannschaft. Too bad, he’s cap-tied to the US. The soon-to-be Borussia Monchengladbach man is good in both attack and defense, although he is far from perfect in the latter.

John Brooks – the 21-year-old’s performance so far might be the most memorable; it was his winning goal that sent the US past Ghana. The tall, left-footed centerback has already been getting serious minutes in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin, although he isn’t yet a starter for the US. Matt Besler is the favorite at left-center-back.

Timothy Chandler – the full-back has been good in the Bundesliga, yet he hasn’t really impressed in the US national team set-up. In fact, you could say that he’s done the opposite of impressing; commitment issues compounded by injury meant that he was basically exiled from the team for 15-months before Klinsmann called him back in for this World Cup. He hasn’t played yet, but considering that he’s 24 he should still be in the picture for 2018.

Julian Green – he’s 19. As I’ve said, there is no way that he should be in the team ahead of Landon Donovan. But he is. He hasn’t played yet, and he won’t play unless Germany is already up 4-0 and it doesn’t matter. Playing with him is like voluntarily going a man down. You think I’m being harsh? That he’s just a kid? No he isn’t, he’s a World Cup player. He needs to be held to that standard.

Jürgen Klinsmann – the most famous Germerican is the coach. He used to be the Deutsch Nationaltrainer (German national team manager), and after that he had a stint with Bayern Munich. Ever heard of the term “varying success?” That kind of explains Klinsmann’s managerial reign in Germany. He played as well, scoring 47 goals in 108 appearances for West Germany or Germany. He’s lived in California since his retirement.

I’ve been critical of a lot of his decisions, and I remain critical of one of them (Green), but as I’ve said before none of that stuff matters. It’s based on cold, hard results. And so far, the US has beat Ghana and played well enough to beat Portugal. Klinsmann’s team was either a sloppy mistake early on or a late equalizer away from qualifying out of the Group of Certain Death with a game to spare. You can’t argue with how the team has played.

When Klinsmann was the Germany coach, his assistant was Joachim Löw, who currently coaches Die Mannschaft.

For all of you cynics, this is what Klinsmann says about facing Germany: “there is no game I would like to win more.”

Scenarios

This game will happen simultaneously to the Ghana-Portugal game. This is what the table looks like now:

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……4………+4

USA……………4………+1

Ghana……….1………-1

Portugal…….1………-4

The group winner will probably face Algeria or Russia. The second-place team will probably face Belgium, while the third- and fourth-place teams will be eliminated. If you are new to the sport than you need to know that the winner will get 3 points, the loser gets 0, and if it’s a draw both teams will get 1 point.

There are several different things that can happen. Let’s go through them:

Germany-USA Draw

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……5………+4

USA……………5………+1

Ghana……….1……….-1

Portugal…….1………-4

I’m not even going to fill in the results for Ghana or Portugal, because it won’t matter. Neither of them can get to 5 points. In the case of a draw, Germany beats the US on goal difference, which is the first tiebreaker. The US would still join Germany in advancing from the group, which would make it a successful World Cup for Klinsmann’s team.

Ghana-Portugal Draw

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Ghana……….2………-1

Portugal…….2………-4

No matter which team loses the US-Germany game, they will be safe if the Ghana and Portugal can’t find a winner. Considering that those two teams are 3 points behind the top two, they will need a win to get out of the group.

Germany win, Ghana win

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Ghana……….4……….0

Portugal…….1………-5

Best-case scenario for the US if Germany and Ghana both win is to be tied with Ghana on goal difference, and that would happen if both games end in one-goal margins. Goals scored is the next tiebreaker. Currently, the US has scored 4 goals in the tournament, while Ghana has scored 3, so something like a 1-0 or margin in each game, or a 2-1 margin in each game, would see the US advance in the next tiebreaker: head-to-head. The US would win that one. However, the likelihood that it goes to that is slim. If both Germany and Ghana win, they’ll probably be the teams going through.

Germany win, Portugal win

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Portugal…….4………-3

Ghana……….0………-2

If the US lose while Ghana do as well, that’s a good thing for the team unless Portugal can overtake the US in goal difference, not something that’s likely thanks to Germany’s 4-0 win over CR7’s team. The sum of the margin of victory would have to be 5 to take it to goals scored.

So, if Portugal wins by 4 and the US loses by 1, or if Portugal wins by 1 and the US loses by 4, or, say, Portugal wins by 3 and the US lose by 2, it goes to goals scored; right now the US leads Portugal in that, 4 to 2.  A big win by Portugal would probably bring it to even.

If Portugal beat Ghana 2-0, and Germany beat the US 3-0, or some other combination where the total margin is 5, the European teams win, and Portugal scores 2 more than the US, then it would go to head-to-head (the two teams drew, so that tiebreaker goes nowhere) and it will then go to a drawing of lots. A drawing of lots!

USA win, Ghana win

USA……………7………+2

Germany……4………+3

Ghana……….4………..0

Portugal…….1………-5

There is a slim chance that Germany will get eliminated. Very, very slim. But still a chance. Germany would need to lose for it to happen, and the winner of the other game would need to overtake them on Tordifferenz (goal difference). That would most likely be Ghana, because Portugal trail Germany in goal difference by 8.

How will Germany play?

Die Mannschaft have lined up the same way in both of their games so far. While I would switch around a few things, I’m obviously not the German coach and Löw probably won’t change it. By the way, wouldn’t it be funny if I was the German coach? A German coaching the US against an American coaching Germany?

This German team is an efficient machine of playing good soccer. I call them the German soccer machine, or, in German, the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine.

Anyway, this is how they’ve played:

Possible Germany vs. US formation

That’s a very good team. Now for the details:

Attackers

They play in a 4-3-3, and unlike other 4-3-3s in which there is a well-defined striker and the wingers drop back to make it a virtual 4-5-1, the German front 3 is interchangeable. Müller is the center-forward if anyone is, but he often changes positions with Götze and Özil.

Only one player is listed as a “forward,” and that’s Miroslav Klose. He hasn’t started yet, although considering that he scored last game, tying the record for most World Cup goals ever, I expect to see him play, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him start. I doubt he will, but I wouldn’t be too surprised. Klose is an expert in scoring goals.

Another forward, one who can play more centrally or on the left, is Lukas Podolski. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andre Schürrle or even the young Julian Draxler come off the bench to play.

Of the three whom I expect to start, Müller, Özil, and Götze, all three of them are talented players who can easily inflict damage on the US. Thomas Müller has played in 8 World Cup games. He has scored 8 World Cup goals, already in the top 30 of all-time. He’s scored as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona and he’s only 24. Read that sentence again. This guy can score goals.

Mesut Özil is a master of chance creation. In his club season, his first with Arsenal, he was a bit shaky at times, but he still had 2.9 key passes per game. That number is at 2.5 for his World Cup play so far. Mario Götze was one of only 7 Bundesliga players with at least 8 goals and at least 8 assists, and he was also in the top 7 in dribbles per game in the Bundesliga.

These players will shift around and basically do everything humanly possible to score goals for Germany. The US backline should be very afraid.

Midfield

The central three for Germany has been made stronger by Pep Guardiola’s decision to play Philipp Lahm, Germany’s captain and arguably best player, as a defensive midfielder. Yes, I am sure that Löw wouldn’t have played him there if Lahm wouldn’t have just played a full season in the midfield.

Alongside Lahm has been Sami Khedira, who just won the Champions League, and Toni Kroos, another member of Bayern Munich in this German side (the Bundesliga champs have 7 players on the squad: Lahm, Müller, Götze, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, and goalkeeper Neuer).

Bastian Schweinsteiger was just recently cleared from injury, and he played 20 minutes against Ghana. While he hasn’t gotten a start yet, I would assume that he would be a sure-fire starter if/when healthy.

Defense

The weakness of the German team is their defense. Yes, most other teams in the world would love to have Germany’s defense, especially if you throw in Philipp Lahm, but compared to their front 6 their back 4 is lacking.

Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker are the two centerbacks. Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes are also center-backs, but Löw decides to play them at full-back. Boateng, on the right, is certainly capable of being a right-back. Höwedes, on the left, is good enough to start at left-back for almost every other team, but on this team he’s probably the weakest link.

Why don’t they just move Lahm, arguably the best full-back on planet earth, to left-back, and then have Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Khedira in midfield? Perhaps Schweinsteiger still has fitness issues, but going forward I think that Lahm should move to left-back.

Other options in defense include Erik Durm, a speedy left-back, Borussia Dortmund right-back Kevin Großkreutz, Matthias Ginter, a young center-back, and Sampdoria center-back/right-back Shkodran Mustafi, who has gotten a substitute appearance in each of Germany’s games.

Isn’t it amazing how many good players Germany have? They’ve used the same 11 starters in each game. This is what their team would look like not counting those 11:

Germany B

This is their B team. How good would this team be if they were in the World Cup separately? They’d make it out of most groups.

How will the US play?

What is Jürgen Klinsmann going to do to get a result against the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine? Well, his formation will be one of these:

Possible US vs. Germany Formations

Most likely he will do the 4-2-3-1 again. Lots of people think that that worked well, and that the US played a much more attacking style against Portugal. This isn’t true. The US scored really early against Ghana, and then they sat back, while Ghana tried to attack the game. Portugal scored really early in match #2, so the US tried to chase the game while Portugal sat back. They had the exact same game plan. I personally thought that a lot of the time the US needed more numbers in the box, and I especially thought that Michael Bradley was pushed too far forward.

Am I just criticizing the 4-2-3-1 because I want to see Wondo?

Never mind that. I made valid points. Look at my valid points instead of speculating on ulterior motives.

Attackers

The US has 3 legitimate forwards. Neither Chris Wondolowski nor Aron Jóhannsson have ever gotten a World Cup start, and one of them could find their first alongside Clint Dempsey. Or we could just see Dempsey alone up top.

Clint Dempsey has played well in this World Cup. Only 7 players have scored a goal in every game they’ve played in: Robin van Persie, Memphis Depay, Tim Cahill, James Rodriguez, Andre Ayew, Lionel Messi, and Clint Dempsey.

Wingers

In the squishy diamond we’ll see one winger, and in the 4-2-3-1 we’ll see two wingers. The possible wingers are Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and Brad Davis. I already mentioned multiple times that Julian Green won’t see any playing time, much less starting.

Davis hasn’t played a minute in this tournament, so I doubt that he will start in this. Alejandro Bedoya has started both games, so that means that he’ll either start this one as well, or he’ll be rested.

Central Midfield

As I said before, Jermaine Jones has been the US’s best player. He can certainly prove to be a thorn in the side of the team that rejected him. I expect another man of the match level performance from Jones.

Kyle Beckerman, as I’ve said many times before, stays in the same position, ahead of the center-backs. He allows Jermaine Jones to run around destroying stuff, and he also allows Michael Bradley to theoretically push forward and create.

Michael Bradley is normally the US’s best player. I have no idea what’s gotten into him. Is he hurt? Is he over-confident (either because Klinsmann has been pumping him up, or because everyone’s been saying that he’s the best, or because he’s the star in Toronto)? Is he under-confident, for whatever reason?

Something is wrong with Michael Bradley. He’s not playing as terrible as some think, but he is playing poorly for his standards. What is normally the team’s biggest strength has somehow become almost a weakness. Yeah, part of it is because opposing teams target him, and part of it is because he’s playing out of position (he’s playing as an attacking midfielder, he’s normally a box-to-box midfielder) but not all of it can be explained by that. Something is wrong with Michael Bradley, and Jürgen Klinsmann needs to find out what it is and fix it now!

Oh, and Bradley cannot be benched. Neither Zusi or Bedoya or Davis would work centrally for this team, and Diskerud isn’t nearly as good as Bradley is defensively.

Defense

If all of these players remain healthy, I can’t see any other starting combination instead of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson.

Yeah, Beasley hasn’t been perfect. But he’s been a bit overwhelmed because Jermaine Jones, who plays on the left side of the squishy diamond, while he does everything else, he doesn’t have time to support Beasley as much as a true left-midfielder. Also, does anyone think that Chandler would do better? And no, DeAndre Yedlin isn’t a left-sided player, so don’t give me that.

Last game, Besler was solid. He normally is, and he’s a must-start. Geoff Cameron has been a little shaky, but do you really want to see Omar Gonzalez in the form that he’s been in? I didn’t think so. Also, we probably won’t see Besler-Brooks. Both of them are left-footed, and Klinsmann hasn’t played anything other than a lefty-righty center-back combination since this roster was announced. He has, however, surprised me in the past.

Fabian Johnson is a must-start as well because of what he gives the team going forward. Sure, he makes some mistakes defensively, but the other players you could start there (Chandler and Yedlin) are not perfect going back either. Plus, I’m sure that Johnson would have a chip on his shoulder against Germany, he wants to make them regret not selecting him.

Prediction

Ignoring the fact that I was way off on the goal-scorers, I didn’t do that poorly in my US-Portugal prediction. I said 3-2 for the US, and I was thus a Ricardo Costa block/Michael Bradley miss away from getting it exactly.

USA 1-1 Germany

Both teams will be cautious. The US can’t seem to keep a clean sheet, which is why it won’t be 0-0.

The Deutsch Fußball-Maschine will score first, fairly early, and then considering that there is no difference between a win and a draw, they will sit back a bit, the US will thus attack a lot (Klinsmann will be heavily praised for his “attacking style”) and Clint Dempsey will score a goal in the 76th minute. Both teams will be tired, and they will both cautiously sit back.

14’ Müller (Özil)

76’ Deuce (Diskerud)

 

Any thoughts? Questions? Requests? Threats? I’ll make some nice posts for the knockout stage. Stay tuned to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.

USA-Portugal Epic Preview

Note: I’m a bit late. It was supposed to be Saturday night, but oh well, I couldn’t do it by then. Yeah, I had a while, but I wasn’t able to get it done. Knowing me, it’s a good thing I completed it at all.

Are you excited for this game? You totally should be. Here’s a complete rundown of the compelling clash:

Contents:

Watch This – why you need to watch this.

Top 5 Storylines – a run-down of basically everything everyone will be talking about before the game.

Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal – a scenario breakdown.

On Julian Green – will the over-hyped youngster play? (Spoiler alert: no.)

It’s Unrealistic – me not talking about Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments.

How will Portugal play? – I delve into the tactics of the US’s Iberian foes.

How will the US play? – I delve DEEP into the tactics of Portugal’s American foes.

Prediction – totally unbiased.

Watch This

Let me give you a possible advertisement of this game:

“USA. Portugal. Jungle. 5:30 ET on ESPN.”

If you aren’t super-excited to watch it right now, then you aren’t a human.

Top 5 Storylines

5. What will the effects of Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest, do? (It’s all very unusual and not the optimal conditions–just like CONCACAF. I think it will hurt Portugal more than it will hurt the US.)

4. How will the US replace Jozy Altidore?

3. Can Cristiano Ronaldo score a World Cup goal against a team that’s actually good? Will he even play well at all, or is his injury too bad?

2. Can Portugal stay alive?

1. Can the US clinch, or at least make it hard not to clinch, a knockout round berth from the Group of Certain Death?

Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal

Considering that Germany and Ghana drew, there are three different ways that the table can line up after this game:

(Note: the goal difference, that second number, assumes that the winner of the US-Portugal game wins by 1 goal. All the rest will definitely be accurate if the stated result happens.)

If the US beat Portugal:

USA…………6…+2

Germany…4…+4

Ghana……..1…-1

Portugal….0…-5

This means that US advancement would be clinched, while Portuguese elimination would also be clinched. A draw against Germany would mean that the US would win the group and thus wouldn’t have to play the Group H winner (probably Belgium).

If Portugal beat the US:

Germany…4…+4

USA…………3….0

Portugal….3…-3

Ghana……..1…-1

In this case, the US would need to beat Germany, or get a draw and hope that multiple other things happen, to advance. A loss against Germany would mean certain elimination if there’s a loss against Portugal. The US can’t lose both games and still advance, while a loss against Portugal would cut the US’s chances in less than half.

-In this scenario, the US would need: a win vs. Germany OR a draw vs. Germany and a Ghana win and goal difference OR a draw vs. Germany and a Portugal-Ghana draw and goal difference.

-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana OR a draw vs. Ghana and a Germany win OR a draw vs. Ghana and goal difference.

If the US and Portugal draw:

Germany…4…+4

USA…………4…+1

Ghana……..1…-1

Portugal….1…-4

This would mean that the US and Germany would be in a game to see who wins the group. In this scenario, if neither of the final matches end in draws, the second spot would be decided on goal difference between the winner of the USA-Germany game and the loser of the Ghana-Portugal game.

-In this scenario, the US would need: a draw vs. Germany OR a Portugal-Ghana draw OR goal difference.

-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana and a US-Germany non-draw and goal difference.

Observations from the scenarios:

-It is very important for the US to not lose. Yeah, anything can happen, but counting on a result against Germany is like counting on a St. Bernard to manually land a spacecraft on the moon.

-It is very important for Portugal to win. They need a bunch of stuff to happen to qualify if they get a draw, and if they lose, they’re out.

-Goal difference is very important. That’s why Thomas Muller, who put 3 past Portugal, might be the US’s most important player this World Cup. Portugal have a huge goal difference hole to climb out of. It’s a very hard group, with four teams that could each advance out of most groups, so big margins don’t come easily. This means that Portugal probably won’t climb out of their goal difference hole, which means that the US can get a draw in this game and have a very good chance to advance.

On Julian Green

Looking at my website’s stats, I can see who has found my website from different search terms. Someone found it by inquiring if Julian Green will start vs. Portugal. Answer? Not a chance.

In fact, I very, very highly doubt that Green will play a single minute, and if he does it’s in garbage time when the US is already probably 3 goals up or down, probably against his beloved Germany so that he can have his special moment. I’m sorry if that last bit sounded bitter. It didn’t? Well, it was meant to sound bitter, and I’m sorry for it.

As I said in my epic post about Green and Donovan, he doesn’t belong in the World Cup. He’s been terrible, and he has no experience above the German 4th division. And yes, I totally understand the German league system, with the Regionalliga and all. That’s not good enough for the US national team.

And on the part where I said “he’s been terrible,” you might say that I’m being too hard on him. No, I’m not. But, but, he’s just a kid! No, he isn’t. He’s a World Cup player. This isn’t a U-20 tournament. This isn’t a friendly camp. It’s the World Cup. If he’s selected for the World Cup, either the coach is delusional or he really is at World Cup level, in which case he must be held up to that standard. I’m not saying that he’s a bad person or that he won’t be good in the future, in fact he seems like a good kid and a promising talent, but he just isn’t good enough.

I watch MLS, and I will tell you that Diego Fagundez seems to be a much better player than Green. Fagundez plays for the New England Revolution, he’s only a few months older than Green, and if he had US eligibility (he’s working on it) I’d say he deserves to go to the World Cup more than Julian Green.

But for better or worse, Julian Green is on the World Cup squad. I seriously doubt he’ll get any minutes.

Don’t believe me? Well, if he was going to get playing time at the World Cup, don’t you think they would’ve played him for more than 27 minutes in the friendlies? Only the third-string goalkeeper played less than Green! Aron Jóhannsson was the only other outfield player to not play at least 45 minutes in the friendlies, and that was because of fitness issues. John Brooks, who wasn’t originally intended to even play, was the only player to play in the Ghana game without at least 100 minutes of playing time in the three warm-up games.

This is a guarantee: Julian Green will not play any meaningful minutes in this World Cup.

It’s Unrealistic

I had something written up basically detailing why the US will more than likely not win the World Cup, why that is okay (we don’t have nearly as good players as the better teams), why I’m not communist, and why everyone is making such a big deal out of Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments (if he says that the US will win the World Cup, then he’s setting himself up for failure).

I deleted all of that because everyone who follows soccer knows that the US probably won’t win the World Cup, that that’s okay (for now, at least), that I’m not a communist for thinking that, and that people like to make really big deals out of people’s comments.

How Will Portugal Play?

Probably like this:

Portugal vs. US Expected

There are a few lineup questions:

-Is goalkeeper Rui Patricio healthy? If not, they’ll go with Eduardo or Beto. The former has more experience with Portugal’s team, while the latter just won the Europa League. Tim Howard is better than all three. I’d even say that Brad Guzan is better than at least one or two of them, if not all three.

-Will the striker be Eder or Helder Postiga? Probably Eder, based mainly on the fact that he came on for Hugo Almeida when he got injured last game.

-Will Vieirinha make a surprise start in place of Nani?

-Will perhaps the youngster William Carvalho start ahead of Miguel Veloso?

-Will Luis Neto indeed start at center-back, or will we see Ricardo Costa, who is 7 years older than Neto?

And here are a few points about their players:

-Cristiano Ronaldo is the star for Portugal. No question. He’s had some injury problems, but he should still carry the team. He was mostly ineffective against Germany, and while some of that is due to his health, a lot of that is probably because Germany are one of the best teams in the world. Ronaldo doesn’t stay on the left. He will solidly make life miserable for everyone on the opponents’ defense.

-Warning: I often call Cristiano Ronaldo “CR7.” Why? because “Ronaldo” makes it sound like I’m talking about the Brazilian, “Cristiano” sounds like I know the guy, and I don’t want to say “Cristiano Ronaldo,” which has more syllables than World Cups Portugal has played in, ten times every paragraph.

-#8 Joao Moutinho is the playmaker. He’s the guy that runs the show from central midfield.

-Raul Meireles, #16 with the interesting beard, hair, and tattoos, is a box-to-box midfielder. He’s good at a lot of things, not really great at anything, but he’s a useful player both ways. Especially defensively.

-The other guy they play, probably #4 Miguel Veloso, will be the defensive midfielder. This will be the player who Michael Bradley will need to evade. They might play William Carvalho in this position.

-They’re normally especially good on the left side with the all-Real Madrid pairing of Fabio Coentrao and CR7. With Coentrao out for the tournament, it will be interesting to see how #19 Andre Almeida will do.

-Not only is Coentrao out, but their Real Madrid center-back Pepe is suspended due to a red card (typical Pepe stuff, nothing to see here). Half of their backline, and maybe their goalkeeper, will be new, so their teamwork will be vital.

-This Portugal team likes to attack down the wings, and they’re deadly on the counter. America’s weakness defensively seems to be down the wings, so they should change that. Also, they can’t send too many numbers forward. Even 75% CR7 can crush a team on the counter.

-Another thing: Portugal seem, to me anyways, like they can easily get frustrated. They don’t seem to have a good “team spirit,” shall we say. Cristiano Ronaldo is the captain, Pepe is the best defender, and that kind of tells you everything you need to know about the Portuguese team.

-So, they get frustrated easily and they’re great on the counter? Then the US should sit back and force Portugal to try and break them down.

How Will the US Play?

The team has normally played in a Squishy Diamond that is authoritatively called a 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-2-2-2, or a 4-2-3-1 depending on who it is. Yeah, it’s weird how everyone is so sure about what formation it is, yet they all say different things. But they’re all right. It’s all of those formations. It’s a Squishy Diamond. It morphs into these different formations as the game goes on, because it’s squishy. In the last game, against Ghana, we saw Michael Bradley drop back and make it a flat 4-4-2 at times.

I’ll get to the Altidore thing. Be patient. First, I’d like to discuss the simplest thing about how the US will play: the formation.

Will they stick with the Squishy Diamond? It retains the back four of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson, or their backups, with Beckerman in the calm defensive role, Jones in the DESTROYEVERYTHING!!! role, Bedoya/Zusi as the right winger, Bradley as the box-to-box playmaker, and then Dempsey and someone else at striker. I’ll show the formations, but first I’ll get to the other options. After that I’ll talk personnel.

Do they play a 4-2-3-1, with Dempsey as the lone striker, Bradley in a #10 role, and then two wingers? Behind them would be the back six (defenders + Jones and Beckerman) as per usual.

Here’s my idea: the Stretchy Diamond. I’ll display these formations in pictures before I tell you what that is:

Possible US vs. Portugal Formations
I took this one with my camera that I take bigfoot pictures with.

The Stretchy Diamond is like the diamond, except it’s stretched. It’s like a 4-4-2, with an attacking central midfielder, a defensive central midfielder, and defensive wingers. You can also call it a 4-3-1-2.

The most interesting thing is the personnel I’ve listed. I’ll get to that now.

The idea of my Stretchy Diamond is to close down the wings. Portugal attack through the wings. DaMarcus Beasley was isolated a lot against Ghana. What happens if Cristiano Ronaldo gets isolated against a US full-back? I’m not saying he’ll definitely score, but if it happens, say, 5 times, I doubt the scoreline won’t be affected.

So I have a defensive right winger. Sure, Bedoya and Zusi can defend well, but inserting someone who’s basically another full-back means that the real full-back won’t have many chances to mess up (lots of goals that the team have conceded have come off of errors from the full-backs–like Johnson’s error against Ghana). I also move over Jones as a defensive left-midfielder, as opposed to a left defensive-midfielder, if that makes any sense.

Fabian Johnson is a must-start because he’s good defensively and vital offensively. But he makes errors defensively. Now, again, I said he’s a must-start so don’t say that I hate him. I don’t. But he makes errors defensively. If there was basically a second full-back alongside him, then he wouldn’t be isolated.

You can do lots of things to create this formation:

-Add John Brooks to the starting line-up, pair him with Besler, move Geoff Cameron to right-back, and Johnson to right midfielder.

-Same as above, but with Omar Gonzalez at center-back. This keeps it lefty-righty, and we’ve seen Gonzalez’s best performances alongside Besler, but the very idea of Gonzalez starting gives me shivers, considering the fact that his club and more importantly national team form over the last several months has been bad. Like, open the windows bad.

-Add DeAndre Yedlin, the speedy yet inexperienced Seattle right-back, to right midfield.

-If you want to rest Jones or Beckerman, you can have the guy you aren’t resting at central defensive midfield, have Fabian Johnson at left-midfielder, insert Yedlin at right-midfield, move Cameron to right-back, and then doing either Besler-Brooks or (gulp) Besler-Gonzalez at centerback.

None of this will probably happen, though. So I’ll talk about real personnel decisions, going from back to front:

Besler, Brooks, or Both?

Matt Besler is considered the rock in the defense. Most people agree that if he’s healthy he plays. But, is he healthy? He came off at halftime vs. Ghana. He’ll be officially okay for the Portugal game, but I’m not convinced that he really will be able to play.

Keeping the team’s best defender on the bench might be made easier by John Brooks. In addition to scoring the goal, in the 90 minutes he’s played in the last 4 games he’s looked fairly solid. Not without errors, but a couple minor mistakes won’t cause as much damage as aggravating Besler’s injury and having to burn a sub after 10 minutes Costa-style would cause.

Could they do both? Playing them both would be either to rest Cameron, who was apparently sick for the Ghana game, or to move Cameron out to right-back, where he plays for Stoke. Moving Cameron to right-back would be either to rest Johnson, or to move Johnson to left-back (to rest Beasley) or to move Johnson to the midfield (to create a defensive formation similar to my Stretchy Diamond).

Why am I pretty sure that only one of them will start? Because Jürgen Klinsmann hasn’t played two center-backs with the same preferred foot since the second half vs. Mexico back in April. Besler and Brooks are both left-footed (Cameron and Gonzalez are both right-footed) so I doubt that either of them would play without a right-footed partner. I’m pretty sure that Klinsmann’s reasoning for that is so that they can take up the full-back positions if needed, so that the full-backs can go forward more.

Zusi, Bedoya, or…Davis?

If Klinsmann goes with the Squishy Diamond, only one of these guys will play, and it will be one of the right-sided ones, Zusi or Bedoya. If he only plays one striker in a 4-2-3-1, two of these guys will play.

Alejandro Bedoya has seemed to be the favorite on the right side, starting the last friendly (first game with the Squishy Diamond) and the game against Ghana. But Zusi has also seen a lot of time under Klinsmann, and with him getting the assist on the winner, plus Bedoya with seeming to be cramping up last game, I could certainly see the Nantes midfielder being rested in favor of the one from Sporting Kansas City.

In a 4-2-3-1, or in an attacking diamond, we could see Zusi on the right and Bedoya on the left, like what we saw against Azerbaijan, but then again we could also see Brad Davis. He’s a set piece and service master, and while he’s not that good athletically or speed-wise, he plays in Houston, which is probably the closest thing in the US, or at least in MLS, that you can get to Manaus.

There’s a lot to criticize about Brad Davis’s ability, which is magnified due to the omission of Landon Donovan, but they’re different players (Klinsmann was always going to call in a left-footed winger, Davis beat out Shea and Torres, not Donovan) and there’s also a lot to praise about Brad Davis, namely his magical left foot. Is that enough?

What about Mix?

The Norwegian-American Mix Diskerud, a fan favorite, is a quality player. He wears the number 10, and it’s accurate: he’s the closest thing Klinsmann has to a central midfield playmaker. He’s one of the few players on this team who can relatively-consistently play that magical pass; that ball sent in that takes several defenders out of the play and sets up a fairly easy chance to score.

He rarely starts, however, and for good reason. He isn’t the best defensively, so playing him behind two forwards would be poor unless it’s against a weak bus-parking team, and playing him any other way would require only one true striker.

Mix, to me, totally seems like someone who will come off the bench in the 60th minute, and break down the Portuguese defense. Have you heard that this game is being played in Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest? Players will get very tired, and I think that giving the creative Diskerud 30 minutes at 100% to break down the tired Portuguese would be more effective than him spending the first 60 minutes tiring out with them.

Michael Bradley?

No question he starts, but how good will he be?

Bradley had a poor game against Ghana, at least in the attack, but I think that that fact makes it more likely that he’ll play great going forward. As I said in my last post, he’s gotten all his mistakes out of the way. Ballon d’Or performances from here on out, everyone.

How do you Replace Jozy Altidore?

You can’t. His hold up play is like no one else in the team.

Please don’t mention Landon Donovan. He can’t do hold-up play. Green’s role was the one that Donovan would’ve been in. But Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson are probably the 2nd and 3rd best players at Altidore’s role, and neither of them made the 23. EJ didn’t even make the 30.

So, does that mean that the US just plays with 10 against Portugal? No, of course not. There are three options, basically:

-Chris Wondolowski

Pros: this is the player I would choose. He can score goals. Pepe is out with a red card suspension, so Portugal will have an inexperienced center-back partnership. They will probably make mistakes. Wondo is the perfect player on this team to capitalize on mistakes.

Cons: I can’t think of many. Sure, he lacks physicality, but so does Jóhannsson. And sure, he lacks speed in comparison to Jóhannsson, but he isn’t slow. You can also say that Wondo doesn’t offer much outside of goal-scoring, but did you watch the Ghana game? Jóhannsson didn’t do all that great.

Yeah, every “con” has a qualifier. Can you blame me? I want Wondo to start.

-Aron Jóhannsson

Pros: he’s been scoring goals like crazy in the Eredivisie. He’s supposedly full of confidence. He’s young. He looks like Kevin Bacon.

Cons: he was non-existent against Ghana. And yeah, I know that he hadn’t warmed up, and that Bradley, the link between defense and offense, was poor in distribution, and that Ghana closed down on the US midfield, but still. Only 1 shot the entire game. Also, they don’t play defense in the Eredivisie. I doubt that he can play as the lone striker in the World Cup. He’s said himself that he prefers to play behind the main forward.

-Clint Dempsey as the #9 in a 4-2-3-1

Pros: moving Deuce from floating 9.5 up front allows for another midfielder. He’s the best goalscorer on the team. No arguments, he is.

Cons: I hate the idea of playing him central. I much prefer Dempsey as the second striker; floating around, combining with the midfield, getting into goalscoring positions by running in behind the main striker. And you can say “play him as a false 9” all day, but you need to be a possession team to play with a false 9. Let Deuce be Deuce and play Wondo up top.

Well, okay, I clearly have my mind made up. I’ll go all the way:

Play Wondo

Prediction

USA 3-2 Portugal.

22’ WONDO (Zusi)

43’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)

62’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)

73’ WONDO (Diskerud)

90’ Deuce (Diskerud)

 

That’s it. Any thoughts? Predictions? Questions? Threats? I’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming soon.

 

 

World Cup 2014: Part 9: USA-Nigeria Review

CONCACAF Champions the USA. African Champions Nigeria. Jacksonville, Florida.

US of Bradley Lineup: Tim Howard; DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson; Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones; Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya; Jozy Altidore

This formation is insane. Two D-mids? Bradley as #10? Deuce on the wing? Tim Howard’s 100th cap. More experimentation for Klinsmann. I’m not too fond of all this tinkering, considering how little time the team has and that teamwork is vital, but whatever.

Nigel “Nige” Geria Lineup: Vincent Enyema; Juwon Oshaniwa, Godfrey Oboabona, Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose; Ramon Azeez, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi; Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses; Shola Ameobi

Albert “Al” Geria’s brother Nige is in what you could call a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1.

1’ – The game has begun.

6’ – Shaky defensing by Besler and Cameron. This back 4 still doesn’t have an understanding of each other.

7’ – Beasley to Bradley to Bedoya, corner kick.

17’ – Sorry for not updating for 10 minutes. Oh well. I’m not sure if Bradley is in a box-to-box role, a #10 role, a winger, or what. But he seems to be the focal point of the team.

19’ – Dempsey to Beasley on the over-lap, but he can’t get the cross to Altidore.

23’ – Bedoya to Jones to Dempsey, nice lay-off from Deuce to Bradley, Bradley dribbles, shoots! Save! Terrific play by the US. Attacks need to work like that with great regularity for the US to get out of the group.

26’ – Efe Ambrose seems hurt. The handiwork of Jermaine Jones, right there. He’s okay, though.

31’ – USA bench seating order, as if that mattered: Guzan, Rimando, Omar, Zusi, Davis, Wondo, Brooks, Green, Yedlin, Chandler, Jóhannsson, Diskerud. With the exception of Yedlin in with the Germans (?) it’s MLS guys with each other, Germericans with each other, and Scandinaviamericans (that’s probably the longest word I’ve invented) with each other as well.

31’ – Cameron to Jones, Jones forward for Bedoya down the flank, Bedoya in to FJ on the under-lap, JOHNSON TO ALTIDORE, GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

32’ – That’s Altidore’s first goal since December. In recent games he’s been doing everything else well, and now that he’s scored it could open the floodgates. He’s a streaky player; last year he scored 8 goals for the US in about as many games, and for the two years before that he only had 1 goal, a penalty kick. Even though his goal was just a tap-in, it’s still valuable for a striker to see the ball hit the back of the net.

35’ – Jermaine Jones has been moving around much more freely with Beckerman.

44’ – I wish that people would stop criticizing zonal marking. As I’ve said before, I think that hybrids are best. And if I have to choose one or the other it’s man marking. But zonal marking to some degree totally has a place. See, no one would use any type of zonal marking if there was no value to it.

45+1’ – Terrific pass over the Nigerian defense by Altidore to Dempsey, and the Seattle forward gets off a long shot.

45+1’ – End of the first half. We’ve seen solid defending, counter-attacking, and a Jozy goal. This is exciting, man! I’m excited! COME ON, GHANA! WE’RE READY! Well…I hope.

46’ – Beginning of the second half. Nigeria had 58% possession in the first half. That’s a good thing. As I believe I’ve said before, possession is not a measure of how good a team is playing, but rather a measure of playing style. If a team is comfortable with the ball, they’re going to play a possession style. Good teams are normally talented, and talented players are normally comfortable with the ball, so therefore good teams generally have lots of possession, but I think that when two teams are at a similar level, the team playing the counter-attacking style has a better chance to score.

53’ – Dempsey gets the ball, runs forward, finds Bedoya in space, but the Nantes midfielder can’t hit Dempsey on the return pass.

59’ – Clint Dempsey is taken out by Oboabona. The trainer comes on. I hope he’s okay.

60’ – Graham Zusi is coming on for Alejandro Bedoya. Deuce is okay.

61’ – US substitute predictions: Davis, Jóhannsson, Diskerud, Yedlin, and Wondo. Not necessarily in that order. Klinsmann wants to keep his back 4 together, he wants to test his key subs (the Iceman, Mix, and to a lesser extent Davis and Wondo), and he’ll put on Yedlin for 10 minutes to rest FJ.

62’ – Nifty attack by the US. I don’t think that the Group G teams will be as messy as Nigeria is being in possession. And I mean “messy,” not “Messi.”

65’ – Johnson to Dempsey, to Bradley, to Dempsey in tons of space, Dempsey shoots! Saved! Altidore was open, but Dempsey is one of the top all-time USMNT goal-scorers.  So he can take shots if he wants to. Jozy’s already gotten his goal anyways.

68’ – Wonderful ball by Bradley to Altidore, Altidore controls the ball well around the defender, SHOOTS, GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!! BRACE BY JOZY ALTIDORE!!!!!

69’ – Who said that the flood-gates would be open? M to the E, me! That call was live, by the way, not added in later. I’m a GENIUS.

72’ – Mix Diskerud comes on for Kyle Beckerman. Bradley slots into a more reserved role, with Mix as the #10, both tactically and on his jersey.

75’ – Here comes Timmy Chandler for DaMarcus Beasley. Well, there goes my sub predictions. I was thinking that because Chandler played all 90 last game, plus 45 in the first game, while all Beasley has gotten was 45 in game one, that Klinsmann would let Beasley go 90. I guess I was wrong.

80’ – Here comes Omar Gonzalez for Jozy Altidore. You can retract the “genius” bit from 10 minutes ago. And you can hear the applause for Altidore.

81’ – My initial reaction was that Gonzalez would slot in at right center-back, Cameron would move to right-back, while Fabian Johnson moves to left-wing and Dempsey moves to striker, but no, it’s a 3-man central defense with Besler, Gonzalez, and Cameron, with FJ and Chandler at wing-back. Interesting.

83’ – Terrific save by Tim Howard on Emmanuel Emineke. More poor defending, though.

85’ – Matt Besler commits a foul in the box!!! PENALTY!!! Poor defending on the team in that one. You can’t really blame Besler, but people certainly will.

86’ – PK: Victor Moses to take…GOAL!!! SUPER EAGLES!!!

87’ – You know what? The 3-man/5-man backline apparently doesn’t work. Wondolowski on for Dempsey.

90+4’ – Final whistle! The US beats Nigeria 2-0 with a 4-man backline, and then Nigeria wins 1-0 when the US switched to a 5-man backline. Hmmm…

The team looked better than in the last game. But they weren’t tested in defense as much as they will be in the World Cup, while they also got more chances than they will get in the World Cup.

I’ll get further in to what formation they were playing later (was it a diamond? a 4-2-3-1? I really don’t know), along with other takeaways.

Player Ratings

Legend:

0-2: Hide the women and children (horrifying).

2-4: Open the windows (bad).

4-6: Average.

6-8: You get a cookie (good)!

8-10: You get a whole cake (superb)!

Note: 5 is the averagest of them all, as I’ve discarded the traditional method of 6 as the average.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. That can kind of be applied to my whole blog. And life.)

6.0 Tim Howard – he almost got a clean sheet in his 100th cap, but didn’t. He made a few good saves, and the late penalty, which was no fault of his own, was the only goal he let in.

5.5 Matt Besler – the SKC captain has been widely criticized for his weak play in these friendlies, and while he did better in this game the penalty will certainly increase the worries, even though it wasn’t really his fault.

5.5 Geoff Cameron – I thought he did well. All of the US defenders struggled when Klinsmann switched to a 5-man backline. Nigeria didn’t test the defense as much as I would’ve wanted to see, though.

7.0 Fabian Johnson – yeah, he’s not necessarily the best the US has defensively, but there aren’t many who are better. And he’s elite in the attack, as he proved with an assist to Jozy Altidore.

7.0 DaMarcus Beasley – I’ve got to say, he’s done a really good job at left-back. Amazing considering that he’s played his entire career–including 3 World Cups–at left-midfielder.

7.0 Kyle Beckerman – he never does anything that makes people go “wow,” but it’s the little things that he does, the simple passes to retain possession, the perfect position to force the attackers to go a different way, all that stuff, that makes him very useful. Other players play better when he’s on the team. He’s been the best player for RSL, and he allows the USMNT’s stars to shine brighter.

8.0 Jermaine Jones – quality game in his best position: destroyer. He’s a destruction machine, and that’s very helpful to the US. But he can’t go around wreaking havoc when he’s supposed to be the #6, so when he does that in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Bradley, Bradley ends up having to be the #6, staying in a stable position and defending, as opposed to going back and forth. But, with Beckerman as #6, both Jones and Bradley were given freedom to roam. And boy, did it pay dividends. Great send-off series, overall, by Jones.

9.0 Michael Bradley – another very good game from THE GENERAL. And yes, it does have to be all-caps. As I’ve said, he’s the best non-goalkeeper player the US has and the closest thing to Yaya Toure on the team. He can defend, pass from deep, create chances, and even score from deep runs if the game allows him to (he got 15 goals in the Dutch league once). Him doing those first three things (the fourth would be a nice bonus, I guess) is crucial for the US to get out of the group. He’s figuring out to play in the #10 position in a way that suits him best. He’s had a better performance than the last in each send-off-series game, and so has the team as a whole. Coincidence? Absolutely not. The team goes as Michael Bradley goes.

6.5 Alejandro Bedoya – if there were any weaknesses in the team vs. Nigeria, it was in attack or in defense. But they were as solid as can be in midfield. While Bedoya was a bit shaky going forward, he put in solid work. That’s crucial playing on the right side of the diamond, or at right-midfield in any formation in the Group of Certain Death (there are three groups of death–B, D, and G–but Group G is the only one with four really good teams).

5.5 Clint Dempsey – it wasn’t really the Clint Dempsey we want to see–scoring goals, making the right decisions, etc. –but he did give the Nigeria defense a few problems. Hopefully he’ll be a little sharper by the Ghana game, because a flubbed chance by the US in that game means we’re all dead.

8.5 Jozy Altidore – he’s been doing everything but score for the last couple of games, and now we’re seeing the finishing product. Strikers play good or bad, but their goal-scoring, which isn’t necessarily connected to how good they play, is streaky. Jozy Altidore especially has streaky goal-scoring. When he’s playing well, which he has been for the US as I said, he might still be in a bad streak as far as goal-scoring, but a brace is towards the top of the list for opening the floodgates exactly like he did last summer.

Subs:

I won’t rate the subs. I’m too lazy busy for things like that.

A Few Takeaways

I used to call it “5 or so Takeaways,” but then I determined that I’d rarely make it to 4, much less 5. Here we go:

What formation was that?

Depending on what time of the game it was, it looked like one of these things:

US What Formation

It’s interesting how there could be so many different conclusions for a formation from the same game, but it’s true. How can that be? Well, watching on TV you can’t see all the action all the time. Also, the formation changed.

Formations generally change slightly throughout the game, but this one is built to be flexible. It has many moving parts that are all different. Whatever the players “position” was, you couldn’t argue against the fact that there were defined roles for all the non-defenders:

Altidore: target forward.

Dempsey: second forward who sometimes goes down the left.

Bradley: box-to-box playmaker.

Bedoya: tucked in, two-way right winger.

Jones: destroyer.

Beckerman: calm, stable, central defensive midfielder who, as always, didn’t seem to do much himself but in reality opened up the game for Bradley and Jones to dominate.

See? They may not have stayed in one positional role, and it wasn’t a pure diamond or Christmas tree or 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or anything like that, but they did have set jobs. It was a Squishy Diamond. It looked like this:

Squishy Diamond

What the heck is that? It’s Klinsmann’s creation. He’s a mad scientist. In this case, his project seems promising.

The US cannot play with a 5-man backline

Late in the game, Jürgen Klinsmann took off Jozy Altidore for Omar Gonzalez.

That cost the team a goal.

The super-tall Galaxy defender is one of the best defenders the US has when he’s on the top of his game. He was MLS defender of the year not too long ago, and the best player when the US played Mexico at the Estadio Azteca last year. That seems like a very distant past.

See, in recent months for club and country, Omar Gonzalez has been shaky at best in defense. He’s rightly lost his starting spot. I’m not sure if it was because of his new DP contract or his marriage, or just a bad slump, but he’s been poor for the US, and it showed vs. Nigeria, even though he only played about 10 minutes.

But it goes deeper than that. Klinsmann did a lot of experimentation. If I had more time (i.e. was better at not wasting time) I would list all the little things he did, but it was a lot. And even though I’m not too fond of the idea of experimentation, you know, right before a World Cup next week, the soccer nerd in me (i.e. me) salivates at that.

(Note: I used “i.e.” twice in that paragraph. What does that say about me?)

One of Klinsmann’s experiments was when he added Gonzalez, the extra defender. The team switched from the Squishy Diamond to this:

USMNT 5-4-1

The diamond is still squishy, with Bradley having moved to the Beckerman role and Diskerud in the Bradley role (note: this is a fire-drill by Klinsmann; we will see Beckerman out for Diskerud if the US needs a goal–a likely scenario to occur at least once in this group), but the three central defenders is what makes it so much different, and why the US got crushed in the last 10 minutes.

An overlooked aspect of defending, and why it’s far different than attacking, is that players need experience with each other.

It all stems from the basic difference of defenders and attackers: a defender can be great for 89 minutes and bad for 1 minute and they did bad, while an attacker can be bad for 89 minutes and good for 1 minute and they did good. Understand that and you understand all the differences between those two position groups.

Including why teamwork matters much more to defenders. You need to learn your teammates, so that you know what you need to do to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. A new attacking player runs in the wrong direction because of a miscommunication with his teammate and doesn’t receive the pass? No big deal, it’s just a chance for a chance wasted. Happens all the time. A new defending player doesn’t know he’s supposed to mark a specific player? We’re all dead.

A defender needs to be comfortable with the teammates and comfortable with the system. This is why Timmy Chandler has been underwhelming, and why the back-5 failed.

True, the 5-man backline may not be needed at the World Cup, but how many ways are there for the US to park the bus if ahead? Add another D-mid? If both Jones and Beckerman are playing, there are no more D-mids except Cameron, who is starting at center-back. So the only way to move Cameron to D-mid would include 1) playing Omar Gonzalez and 2) changing the defensive personnel. If you’ve read this section at all, you know how bad both of those things would be.

So what does the US do to seal a victory? I don’t know. And in the group that the US has, we may not have to find out.

Jozy Altidore is opening the floodgates

On June 14th, 2011, Jozy Altidore scored the lone National Team goal against Guadeloupe. Bob Bradley was the coach back then. It took Jozy two almost two years, June 2nd, 2013 vs. Germany, to score another goal from open play (he scored a penalty kick in late 2011 against Slovenia).

Starting with that goal against Germany, he scored 7 goals in a 5-game span.

Jozy Altidore is a streaky player. In these friendlies, he’s played quite well (you can write off his mediocre performance vs. Azerbaijan to the facts that: 1) everyone was mediocre and 2) he was playing with an unfamiliar strike partner in Chris Wondolowski). But already-widespread criticism was growing louder when he failed to score vs. Azerbaijan and Turkey. Now he’s added two goals to his nifty play in what is basically World Cup preseason, and he could very well be starting another streak at the best possible time.

See, Altidore did poorly at Sunderland, a situation that few players could’ve done well in. An American playing for a bad team in the best league in the world. A very, very hard scenario to succeed in. And he didn’t. Not that any other US player would succeed there (Aron Jóhannsson, who many people falsely thought should supplant Altidore–wouldn’t work, different styles of play–has been doing well in the Dutch Eredivisie, but that’s exactly what Altidore did the year before).

With Altidore more than anyone else, Alexi Lalas’s words ring true: form is fallacy. In that almost two year span where he didn’t score a goal in open play for the USMNT, do you know what he did at club level? Scored 39 goals in 67 games (that’s very good) for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. My point is that his club form and national team form rarely ever correlate at all. So getting freaked out over him doing poorly in the EPL is ridiculous.

Now, I’m not saying that he will score a bunch of goals in the World Cup. I’m not even saying he needs to. But a double is certainly a good start.

Kyle Beckerman is the key to the US making it out of the group stage

Read my “player ratings” on Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones again. Having Michael Bradley in his full Michael Bradley-ness alongside a destroyer is very useful, but it only works with Beckerman. Being in the middle of the field, the midfield is enormously important. If Klinsmann has cracked the midfield code with this one, the team’s chances to advance will certainly be boosted, especially if Altidore can keep scoring. That defense, though…

 

Unless I splurge and do something else (no promises) this is my last post before I set off for…right exactly where I am right now. And talk more about the World Cup itself, as opposed to just friendlies. Look for my next post to drop on Wednesday, it’s a preview of Group A, Brazil-Croatia, and the first edition of the Totally Inaccurate World Cup Power Rankings. After that I’ll be doing a World Cup report each and every day. Stay tuned, and tell your friends. You’ve been warned.

World Cup 2014: Part 2: USMNT Roster Breakdown + US-Azerbaijan Preview

Greetings, readers. Here I am, in my new location. Because I am not good friends with Warren Buffet, keeping up the self-hosting thing wasn’t much of an option. This is part 2 of my World Cup reports. Part 1 is also on here, but I couldn’t separate the time by that much. Sorry.

This will be two parts: first my roster analysis and then me trying to fill something worthy of a section on Azerbaijan, and why the heck the US is playing them. I’ll talk about the Donovan Double (getting left off the US team AND breaking the all-time MLS goal-scoring record) later. Too much to cover with too little time.

Roster Analysis

First of all, I want to tell you that Jürgen Klinsmann, the USMNT head coach, is a mad scientist. Second of all, I want to tell you that he’s mad. In both ways. He’s mad at Landon Donovan for existing, mad at Michael Parkhurst for not being German, and mad at the cruel world for sending Jozy Altidore to Sunderland. He’s also mad in that I would not be surprised if he comes out of retirement and starts himself as an inverted left-winger/ninja, all the time saying “take that, Cristiano!” while throwing stuff at people.

I’ve determined that of the 20 non-goalkeepers (FIFA rules mandate that you must have 3 goalkeepers in the 23-man roster) each of them have a main position on this team, and there are two players for each position. Sure, there’s rotation and players who can play at different positions, but it’s basically like this (age=age at start of World Cup, caps=US national team appearances):

–Strikers

Jozy Altidore
Club: Sunderland, Age: 24, Caps: 67, Goals: 21

He’s been in poor form, but he’s been at Sunderland. It was a hard situation for several reasons: hardest league in the world, relatively bad team, new club, harder league than before, et cetera.

He’s a hold-up play guy. He’s the only guy on the US team that can do “hold-up play” (Terrence Boyd was cut). Pass it to his feet, and he’ll lay it off to Dempsey or Jóhannsson or someone like that with his back to goal.

Chris Wondolowski
Club: San Jose Earthquakes, Age: 31, Caps: 19, Goals: 9

Wondo is a living club legend with the San Jose Earthquakes, and he’s been arguably the best goalscorer in MLS for the last four and a half years. Since his first national team goal last June, he’s led the team in scoring. He has a great story: from division two in college to reserve league in MLS to MVP to the World Cup. Make a documentary just so that I can see “Wondo” on my TV guide.

He’s a poacher. He can do other stuff, but mainly he just stands around and scores goals. He’s often criminally under-appreciated, but scoring goals is important last I checked and he’s really, really good at it.

–Second-Strikers

Clint Dempsey
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 31, Caps: 103, Goals: 36

The Sounders designated player (DP) was uneventful in his first half-season with Seattle, but this year he’s been elite, arguably the league MVP considering his somewhat limited minutes.

He can play as a winger or striker, but for most of the last round of North American (CONCACAF) World Cup Qualifying (aka the Hex) Clint Dempsey played as a second-striker/attacking midfielder behind Altidore, in my opinion his most effective position. This is almost surely where the US captain will start in Brazil.

Aron Jóhannsson
Club: AZ Alkmaar, Age: 23, Caps: 7, Goals: 1

The Alabama-born Jóhannsson grew up in Iceland, and now plays in the Netherlands. He chose to play for the US last year. Oh, and he looks like Kevin Bacon.

He plays as a striker in the Dutch league (the Eredivisie) but that’s mainly because they don’t really play defense there. He’s not as good at hold-up play as Altidore, so he can’t play as the lone striker. Any minutes he get will most likely be behind or in partnership with Altidore, and because that’s Dempsey’s role, he will most likely start on the bench. I think he’ll be the super-sub; the guy to call on when the team needs a goal with about 30 minutes left.

–Left Midfielders

Brad Davis
Club: Houston Dynamo, Age: 32, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The Dynamo captain, MLS-veteran Davis has a similar story to his former teammate Wondolowski, in that he’s entering his first World Cup.

He’s left-footed, and I think that that got him the spot. Many people are saying that he took Landon Donovan’s spot, but I think that he didn’t. Klinsmann wanted a left-footer to play at left-midfield, so there was no way he was going to call up both Donovan and Green for the left-midfield spots, as they are both right-footed. Davis was competing with Brek Shea and Jose Torres, neither of whom made the 23-man roster. Davis is a set piece specialist, although many agree, including myself, that he isn’t good enough for the World Cup. I will gladly eat crow on this.

Julian Green
Club: Bayern Munich, Age: 19, Caps: 1, Goals: 0

Green hasn’t played a single game with Bayern Munich’s first team, outside of a small 5-minute cameo at the end of a meaningless Champions League game. His only play for the US was about 30 minutes in the friendly against Mexico. From what I judged, he did okay for an 18-year-old (his birthday is within a couple weeks) but he isn’t nearly ready for the World Cup.

Some people say that young Green, born in Tampa but raised in Germany, who plays in the 4th division of German soccer (which is, like, really bad), was bribed a World Cup spot, but I have my doubts. If he was, even if it was necessary to get him to play for the US (he was eligible for Germany before he filed his one-time switch), it’s scandalous. I think that Klinsmann just wanted to bring this kid to the World Cup, even if it’s at the expense of Landon Donovan, who as I said I’ll talk a lot about later.

Green has a good chance to become a star. But if he doesn’t, I’m declaring war on Germany.

–Right Midfielders

Graham Zusi
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 20, Goals: 3

Zusi scored the goal that ended up eliminating Panama from the World Cup, and allowed Mexico to qualify. See, Mexico, the US’s arch-Rivals, couldn’t qualify on their own. They needed an American to help them. De nada, Mexico.

When Zusi was first drafted to Kansas City, he moved into the home of Matt Besler’s family. Both are now going to a World Cup. This team has to lead the tournament in feel-good stories, right?
Zusi can play anywhere in the attacking midfield, but he does best for the US at right-midfield.

Alejandro Bedoya
Club: FC Nantes, Age: 27, Caps: 26, Goals: 1

Alejandro Bedoya, of Colombian descent, born in New Jersey, grew up in Miami. He previously played in Sweden, before making a move last summer to France’s Ligue 1.

Both he and Zusi are tremendously talented soccer players. I think Bedoya might actually be a better player, talent-wise. Bedoya normally plays right-midfield for the US, but he’s played all over the place at Nantes (left, right, center, underground) and I’d like to see him start at left-midfield. HEAR ME KLINSMANN!?!?!?

–Central Midfielders

Michael Bradley
Club: Toronto FC, Age: 26, Caps: 83, Goals: 12

The son of former USMNT coach Bob Bradley used to play at Roma before making the move to Toronto before this season, and now he’s prepared to enter his second World Cup, this time as one of the teams’ biggest stars.

Michael Bradley can do anything. He can play as a true defensive midfielder (he often needs to when paired with Jermaine Jones), as a box-to-box midfielder (his best position, in my opinion), as an attacking midfielder (he played at the tip of the diamond vs. Mexico–one goal, one assist), or as a Frank Lampard/Carli Loyd/Adam Moffat type third-run goalscorer (he bagged 15 one year in the Netherlands).

Michael Bradley is the best non-goalkeeper on the team.

Mix Diskerud
Club: Rosenborg, Age: 23, Caps: 17, Goals: 2

As he says, he’s half Norwegian, half American: a Mix! He chose to play for the US, and doesn’t regret the decision. He still plays in Norway, for one of their biggest clubs.

He’s a young talent who will be better with more experience, but he can still be effective right now. He can come off the bench, and play an attacking midfield role to try and use his creativity to break down the opponent. Benny Feilhaber had a similar role in 2010.

–Defensive Midfielders

Jermaine Jones
Club: Besiktas, Age: 32, Caps: 39, Goals: 2

The German-born Jones is on loan from Schalke to the Turkish club Besiktas. He’s a Klinsmann favorite, but he was recruited by Bob Bradley, unlike the other German-Americans who are Klinsmann recruits.

He’s a hard-tackling defensive midfielder. I think he’s a better individual player than Beckerman, but he goes forward too much, meaning that Michael Bradley needs to stay back. When Michael Bradley can’t go forward, bad things happen. Considering that Klinsmann probably won’t not start Jones, hopefully he can rein him in so that he plays a true #6 role.

Kyle Beckerman
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 32, Caps: 35, Goals: 1

The dreadlocked MLS veteran is making his first World Cup. Klinsmann kept playing him despite poor play early on, and it’s worked out; he was a key member of the Gold Cup winning team. And now he’s achieving his childhood dream when he thought he was never going to do so.

He’s a solid defensive midfielder. He’s a shield in front of the back four. He’s not nearly as athletic as Jones, but he’s a brilliant player; he doesn’t do the crazy amazing emergency defending stuff because he doesn’t need to; he’s already in the right place. He’s also a brilliant passer. And while some people (read: everyone including me) have some doubts that he will translate his MLS play to the World Cup, I think that the fact that he doesn’t bomb forward is good, as it gives Michael Bradley the freedom to do whatever he wants to, and have the team run through him.

Michael Bradley is better than everyone on this team sans Howard and probably Guzan, so I think that’s a good idea.

–Left Full-Backs

Fabian Johnson
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach, Age: 26, Caps: 19, Goals: 0

The German-American Johnson is a really good player. He just recently moves from Hoffenheim to ‘Gladbach.

He provides brilliant service with both feet, and is good defensively. He can play either wide midfield spot, and either fullback spot. He needs to start, in my opinion.

DaMarcus Beasley
Club: Puebla, Age: 32, Caps: 114, Goals: 17

Beasley has had a great career with the US, in MLS, in Europe, and now Mexico, and now he’s coming back for a fourth World Cup. The future US Soccer Hall-of-Famer was transfer listed by Puebla, so he could return to MLS, but for now his focus is on the World Cup.

For most of his career he’s played as a left midfielder, but in a career renaissance of sorts last year Jürgen Klinsmann played him as a left-back in most of the Hex games and in the Gold Cup, where he captained the team to victory (Landon Donovan was the tourney’s best player, but Beasley wore the armband).

–Right Full-Backs

Timothy Chandler
Club: Nuremburg, Age: 24, Caps: 10, Goals: 0

The German-born Chandler was put in the dog-house by Klinsmann for a lack of commitment issues, but now he’s back, and I think he’s the best right-back in the pool. His club team Nuremburg were relegated through no fault of his own, so he will most likely move to another Bundesliga club.

Chandler can play as an attacking full-back, mainly on the right side but also on the left. He’s a solid defender who can get forward. If he’s fully behind the team, he should be big for the US in Brazil.

DeAndre Yedlin
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 20, Caps: 2, Goals: 0

I don’t really get this one. He’s very young, a great prospect, but not ready yet. His hairdos should provide some interesting conversation, if anything.

I seriously doubt he’ll play. I would’ve preferred to see Michael Parkhurst, a solid defender who can play anywhere on the backline, or even Brad Evans, Yedlin’s club teammate who helped the US through the Hex. But no, we got Yedlin. See, Yedlin is fast, good in the attack, and a wonderful prospect. But he can’t defend. If he learns how to, he’ll be the next Cherundolo. But if he doesn’t, well, at least he probably inspired some hair stylists.

–Lefty Center-Backs

Matt Besler
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

No matter what British people say, his name is pronounced “BEE-zler.” He’s the current captain of Sporting Kansas City, reigning MLS Cup champions.

He’s got a nice left foot, and is arguably the best defender in MLS. He and Omar Gonzalez were the centerback paring of choice in the Hex, and they did quite well. If Besler doesn’t start, I’ll bring the pitchforks.

John Brooks
Club: Hertha BSC, Age: 21, Caps: 3, Goals: 0

I’d MUCH rather see Tim Ream or (right-footed, like that matters) Clarence Goodson, but Brooks plays in the Bundesliga so whatever. In Brooks’ last cap, against Ukraine, he was bad. Like, open the windows bad.

He’s tall. He’s supposed to be fast (he’s young, so he’s fast, right?). He’s promising (I mean, he was in and out of a starting lineup in the Bundesliga, for crying out loud). He’s also undeveloped (again, remember, open the windows).
Unless he does well in the friendlies, I’m hoping he doesn’t see a minute. Too raw. He’ll be money in 2018, though.

–Righty Center-Backs

Geoff Cameron
Club: Stoke City, Age: 28, Caps: 24, Goals: 1

THIS IS AN AMERICAN WHO ISN’T A GOALKEEPER AND HE IS A STARTER IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE!?!?!?

Yes. Yes it is. MLS product (Houston Dynamo) who went to Stoke, and is so far the only American in this bizarre Americans Going to Stoke Revolution to get serious playing time (poor Maurice Edu and Brek Shea).

Cameron can play right-back (where he is at Stoke) or defensive-midfielder, but Jürgen Klinsmann sees him as a center-back. I think that in each position he’s the best the US has, but he can only play in one. Center-back is the right choice, I think.

Omar Gonzalez
Club: LA Galaxy, Age: 25, Caps: 18, Goals: 0

He was really good for the US in the Hex last year, and he’s been good for the Galaxy. But recently he’s been quite shaky.

He’s tall, talented, and a set-piece threat, but he’s also error-prone. I’d much rather see Besler-Cameron as the center-back paring, but Klinsmann might go with the paring that got the US there: Besler-Gonzalez. That would be stupid, unless Gonzalez plays well in the friendlies.

–Goalkeepers

Tim Howard
Club: Everton, Age: 35, Caps: 97, Goals: 0

Best US player in the world right now. He’s a starter and club legend to be at Everton, and he just logged an amazing season there at the blue side of Liverpool, even though the Toffees missed out on a Champions League spot.

He’s the guaranteed starter at goalkeeper.

Brad Guzan
Club: Aston Villa, Age: 29, Caps: 24, Goals: 0

In my opinion he’s the second best US player (#3 is Bradley, #4 is on-form Dempsey). And he won’t start. Because only one goalkeeper can play, as you know if you know anything about soccer. He’s one of the better players in the Birmingham team of Aston Villa, historically one of the best in England (“historically” as in like “pre-world-war-two”).

As I said, he’s a back-up. But he’ll most likely be the starter in 2018.

Nick Rimando
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 34, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The FIFA-required #3 goalkeeper is in MLS, and probably European quality. He’s won two MLS Cups and almost won a third last year (they lost to SKC on penalties; he’s normally good on penalties, by the way). He’s good with his feet, and the best goalkeeper in MLS.

US-Azerbaijan Preview

Azerbaijan is a country located in the Caucasus region; it borders Russia, Georgia (the country, not the state), Armenia, Iran, and the Caspian Sea. Their tourism board sponsors Atletico Madrid, La Liga winners and UEFA Champions League runners-up. On the Atletico shirts, it says Azerbaijan: Land of Fire, which sounds like a movie I want to go watch right now!

So…why the heck is the US playing Azerbaijan, the 85th-ranked country in the World? Because their coach, Berti Vogts, is a friend of Jürgen Klinsmann and some kind of “special consultant.” See, with Vogts, we have intelligence on all possible US opponents:

Group stage opponents:

Ghana: the US has played Ghana in the last two World Cups. They also play Nigeria, who play a style similar to Ghana (I don’t quite buy that actually–just because they’re from the same continent doesn’t mean they play the same way; I mean, Scotland is nothing like Spain).

Portugal: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Portugal.

Germany: Klinsmann and Vogts are from Germany.

Likely Round of 16 Opponents:

Belgium: the US played a friendly against them last year, and will play another one against them June the 12th.

Russia: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Russia.

Does Azerbaijan have any chance of beating the US? No. Anything other than a multi-goal win is basically a loss. Predictions to come.

Players Under Pressure

These players all need to perform in this game:

–Omar Gonzalez
One could say that he has a starting job to lose based on the fact that the starting job was his during the Hex. You can sum up Omar Gonzalez in two games: his wonderful performance @ Mexico in the 0-0 draw last year, and his terrible performance against Mexico, where he was at fault, at least partially, for both goals. Whether he’s the starter or not, he’ll most definitely get some serious playing time in these friendlies.

–John Brooks
You want to see a bad defensive performance? Look no further than Brooks vs. Ukraine. He probably won’t start, but more bad performances will certainly make it where he’d need other players to get injured to see the field.

–Timothy Chandler
He apparently has commitment issues, and thus he’s been in exile from the US team since the beginning of the Hex early last year. If he can do well, the large contingent of people who still despise him might change their mind, or at least quiet down. It will certainly impress Klinsmann as well. Fabian Johnson can play right-back, so DaMarcus Beasley can play at left-back leaving Chandler on the bench. Chandler wants to start.

–Brad Davis
A lot of people are blaming Brad Davis for taking Landon Donovan’s spot. As I said, there was going to be at least one left-footed left-midfielder, meaning that the other people in contention for Davis’ spot were Brek Shea and Jose Torres. Outside of fan opinion, Davis can greatly improve his playing time if he can put in some good performances.

–Julian Green
Green in reality took Landon Donovan’s spot as right-footed left-midfielder. He probably won’t play much, but some good performances can get him playing time as well as respect. Basically, he needs to do more than fall down from a bizarre shoulder injury. I mean, I could do that. Not that I do. Not that often, anyways.

–Jozy Altidore
Altidore had a terrible season in the Premier League. As I said, the EPL is a very, very, very, very, very hard league to play in. Sorry for forgetting a few verys (veries? Spellcheck doesn’t recognize either. Whatever.) He did well for the US last year, and if he can keep doing that all doubts for the US would go away.

Prediction

US win 4-0.

Goals: Altidore, Dempsey with 2, Wondo

Assists: Altidore, Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi

Azerbaijan won’t get past Tim Howard.

 

After the game, I’ll give a recap along with match ratings and 5 or so takeaways. Stay tuned, and come back often to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.