Thursday, August 11, 2011

1-1 Draw vs Mex in Klinsmann's US debut

A poor first half where we gave up an early goal, then an energetic come from behind attack in the 2nd half - sure sounds just like the same familiar story as always, doesn't it?  Except, this time, Klinsmann's debut gave our team a completely different feel and look.  Just as he is fond of saying these days, I am also in a learning and understanding mode, so I will not pretend to know what formations or which personnel are best for the US.  However, here are some of my observations anyway, pouring out from my entrenched and probably incorrect traditional assumptions.

Random Observations:

- Three defensive minded CMs does not work.  Bob Bradley actually tried Jones, Bradley and Edu at the same time before and it was horrible.  This time, Klinsmann started out with Beckerman and Jones shielding the backline with Bradley centrally above them.  It is no wonder we were on our heels early in the first half.  Essentially, we only had 3 offensive minded players to start the game - Donovan, Torres and Buddle.

- Speaking of defensive center mids, I thought Beckerman was a step slow to the ball and was very slow on the ball.  Klinsmann and many other experts seem to love his performance last night, so maybe I have to go review the match, but I thought he got beat to loose balls time after time and he was ineffective in his passing when he had it.  I'd rather we start Jones and Bradley back there and place 4 offensive attackers in front.
(Edit 8/12 - after rewatching the match, I must concede that Beckerman played much better than I thought.  Knowing that Klinsmann wanted to build possession from the back, Beckerman clearly outplayed Jones in terms of distributing and making the quick, simple pass.)

- Castillo was no worse than Bornstein.  He also left us slightly vulnerable at times and needed his speed to recover back, but did he have a hand in giving up 3 goals?  nope.  However, we need to keep trying out other options.

- In fact, though we did not possess or attack well for most of the first half, our defense did not give Mexico many good chances at all.  Their goal was just a moment of luck.  True, Chicharito and Dos Santos were not in and its clear that Cherundolo starting for us made a huge difference.

- Michael Orozco, whom Bradley would probably never have called up, was not exposed and didn't lose his temper, even when things got chippy between Cherundolo and Guardado.

- Shea and Rogers were very effective running at the defense and may be suited to this kind of substitute energy role when we need it.  Shea especially was aggressive and threatening.

- Torres was not effective early but became more so when more attacking players entered to play alongside him.  He is best deployed centrally but not defensively.  It will be very interesting to see how Klinsmann wants to deploy him.  I would think a deep-lying playmaker alongside a defensive bulldog, like a Pirlo next to Gattuso, as the two central midfielders in front of the backline would be ideal.  But our backline would have to be solid first.

- I am now much more willing to see Edu, or perhaps Clark if absolutely necessary, at CB.  I think having slow CBs is a huge liability against fast strikers.  Speed and strong aerial ability are the two most important factors now.  For me, Clark has no business playing in a Klinsmann-coached midfield.

- Our forwards still need work.  Buddle was noneffective, which is possibly due to a lack of midfield service early on, while Agudelo spent too much time on the ball.  I get the feeling that Klinsmann wants fewer touches and more movement off the ball. Agudelo did feed Shea for the assist before the assist, and his ball over the top to Rogers should have resulted in the winning goal.

- We should have won last night.  Bocanegra's 2nd half header was stopped only on an extraordinary Ochoa save, Donovan should have had a penalty while weaving through their defense in the box, Rogers would have been 1 on 1 vs Ochoa had it not been for Torrado's obvious red card worthy NFL tackle, and Torres and Clark both sailed good chances to score from distance late.

- How will Dempsey, Adu, Feilhaber or Holden be incorporated into Klinsmann's plan?

From what I see right now, these are our best attacking players:
Altidore, Agudelo, Dempsey, Donovan, Torres, Holden, Adu, Shea and I guess Rogers (only because of his goal last night).  (Feilhaber, Bedoya, Kljestan and Beasley possibly as well.)  Of these 9, I'm thinking at least 5 need to start against inferior teams in Concacaf and at least 4 need to start against the Spains and Brazils of the world.


Klinsmann's postgame remarks were extremely interesting as well.  I think he will be giving a lot more useful information in interviews for fans to understand how the team is developing and improving than Bradley ever did.

- Players were instructed to play out the back, instead of just hoofing it downfield when pressure came.  They were to try to win their one-on-one battles or situations.

- Mexico's goal "was more like a coincidence than a real goal, they didn't really have real chances."  Haha.

- Landon, Brek and Rogers were the 3 players he picked out as having the ability to go one-on-one.

- In terms of biggest area of necessary improvement, he said that a team's backbone is the back four and that eventually, they need to be more comfortable with moving further up and connecting with midfielders.  They will need to be comfortable with the ball in a higher pace of play instead of just launching long balls up front, as we've been apt to do.

- He instituted the nameless jerseys and 1-11 numbering for starters so that they know "it's a fight going on for those numbers".  Nice.  Although my #17 Jozy shirt is no good anymore though...

- In terms of who will be called up for future national team games: "I made that clear to the players that we expect them in camp every time because they have to defend or fight for their spot. We’d like to double the positions so there’s always a challenger behind each established player, whoever occupies that position."  This is very interesting, considering I was expecting to go to Home Depot Center on Sept 2nd to see a bunch of C team players from the MLS vs Costa Rica.  But I'll believe it when I see Howard and Dempsey on the pitch that night.

The last two points signify one of the major departures from the Bradley era, a change that perhaps only a coaching change can really bring.  This is perhaps the biggest argument for changing national team coaches every WC cycle.  Klinsmann is saying that there will no longer be entrenched and untouchable starting spots for anyone and that everything is open for competition.

That said, I believe that after he takes this year to look at a wide selection of players, by the time WC qualifying comes along next summer, he will settle on his own favorites and use them fairly heavily in preparation for WC 2014.

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