Nov 16, 2011

Slovenia 2:3 U.S. MNT--Oh Bradley, Michael Bradley. Wherefore art thou Michael Bradley

Jurgen Klinsmann broke out of his 4-3-3 mold and went all Bob Bradley/Bruce Arena on us and sent out a USMNT squad boasting an asymmetric 4-4-2 that did the trick for the U.S. goal scorers and made for an entertaining game.  Sure three goals, include a smoking header by Clint Dempsey, makes the heart beat faster (along with a few defensive lapses and the brilliance of the saves by the woodwork).  The entertainment factor was high even if you couldn't see the ball half the time.

Klinsmann's tactical set up (if it was intended) boasted an asymmetric midfield comprised of Kyle Beckerman in is now familiar role of a defensive midfielder, Clint Dempsey playing the hole behind the two strikers, newcomer Fabian Johnson on the left flank and Michael Bradley nominally playing on the right flank but more often that not, looking like he was playing between Dempsey and Beckerman.    When I first started looking at the match, I thought it interesting the Bradely was pinched so far inside, even on the attack.  Was Bradley so used to playing the middle that he just naturally drifted there?  Was Bradley not following Klinsmann's instructions?  Or was Bradley playing in that area based on a tactical decision by Klinsmann.  As the first half progressed and Bradley's effectiveness and impact on the attack became apparent, it was clear that Bradley was playing as instructed.

The tactical set up used Bradley's skills to maximum effectiveness on the attack.  How many times have we seen Michael Bradley make a late run to pop up in a dangerous place seemingly out of nowhere?  He was making those late runs well yesterday, moving into the attack quickly when Altidore, Buddle or Dempsey were holding the ball, giving the attacking trio a quick outlet to keep the attack developing.  But Bradley's defensive skills were also well utilized allowing him and Beckerman to quickly snuff out the Slovenian counter attack at times.  

But the asymmetry did a couple of other, more negative, things that put pressure on the U.S. back line.  Klinsmann will need to address these matters if he continues with an asymmetrical formation.  First, with Bradley so far inside, the only way to get width on the right flank was through an overlapping Cherundolo, which on attack is fine.  Cherundolo is quick enough and skilled enough to take the ball down the flank and whip in a good cross, which was happening regularly.  But the tactics also put a lot of pressure on Cherundolo and the centerbacks, particularly Clarence Goodson.    The great big hole on the right flank allowed for Slovenia, a very good counterattacking team, to generate attacks from that hole.  Cherundolo is effective and can handle the pressure and delay an attack from Slovenia, but against better sides, I am not sure that would be the case.  Bradley of course, got back well and would double up, but if the attack crosses the ball quickly, there is a hole in central defense that was created.

Credit to Slovenia for recognizing the set up and exploiting it effectively.  With Cherundolo so far advanced, Goodson has to slide to the right to cover, leaving Carlos Bocanegra exposed in the middle, particularly since left back Timmy Chandler was often out of position in his effort to get forward.  Slovenia was able to exploit the right (their left) flank hole.  Perhaps the better solution tactically would have been to shift Beckerman a little to the right to provide a little more cover, but that is neither here nor there.

But the system that Klinsmann used made effective use of Bradley.  Having been largely absent from Klinsmann's squads in recent games, I think people were beginning to wonder if Michael Bradley was really a nepotism selection by his father.  Yesterday proved, that Michael Bradley still has as much to offer Jurgen Klinsmann as he did his father.  

Quick Free Kicks
Five goals is still not a lot for the U.S., but with Edson Buddle's success yesterday, could there be a call up for Hercules Gomez on the horizon?  

Could the penalty kick goal for Altidore be the confidence boost he needs to get scoring for his country?  Who knows, but it was nice to see his name on the score sheet.

I have to say that the 100 Jersey that Slovenia gave to Carlos Bocanegra on the occasion of his 100th cap for the United States was a pure class act.  Well done to Slovenia for that.  

Brek Shea/Fabian Johnson.  Yesterday Max Bretos tweeted that the shine might be coming off Brek Shea in light of Fabian Johnson's performance.  I think Shea is tired and it has showed.  But Shea is still quality and the competion will make both young men better players.

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