USMNT - My thoughts after 2-2 Draw with Mexico / by Andrew Olsen

If you're like me you were pretty impressed with the first half Wednesday evening as Jurgen Klinsmann deployed a Diamond 4-4-2 in the truest sense - narrow and focused down the middle with the intent to manage the wings by channeling things to the middle. It worked really well in the first half. To give you a comparison on how well it went, here's a table on their Possession with Purpose (six steps in Attack) in the first half compared to that of the second half with the average for MLS Teams in 2013.

But before offering the here's a link to what PWP is all about in case you've missed it before.

Team Possession Percentage Passing Accuracy Percentage Penetration Percentage Creation of Shots Taken based upon Penetration Percentage Shots on Goal compared to Shots Taken Percentage Goals Scored compared to Shots on Goal Percentage
USMNT 1st Half          59%           85%           13%            14%           80%           50%
USMNT 2nd Half          41%           80%           18%            25%           14%            0%
Mexico 1st Half          41%          75%           21%             5%            0%            0%
Mexico 2nd Half          59%          80%           23%           35%          44%          25%
MLS 2013 Average for Comparison          50%          76%           22%           20%          34%          30%

Observations:

I won't offer up anything new here that I didn't already offer on twitter during the match but in case you missed some of those streaming thoughts here they are without limiting my words to the format of twitter.

Bradley and Beckerman needed to be the fulcrum between the defending side of the pitch and the attacking side of the pitch if that Diamond 4-4-2 is to be successful - I'd offer that most would agree they were (at least in the first half).

In considering I had never seen Michael Parkhurst in a left fullback position I opined that the way this team lined up some good chances would come down the right side with Beltran running overlaps or supporting Zusi in deep penetration on the wings.

I'd offer that was also the case in the first half - nothing better as an example than the goal Wondolowski had working from the Zusi cross that Bradley flicked on for Wondolowski to poke home.

What was surprising to me (a very welcome surprise) was how effective Michael Parkhurst was in the first half working the left side with his own mix of penetration combined with Davis --- I really did enjoy seeing that Wednesday evening and support like that from Michael reinforces his ball handlling skills - and - In my view makes him a very credible selection to start at Centerback along with Matt Besler.

If you didn't already know Michael Parkhurst was my PWP Defender of the Week #1 and here's that article supporting that analysis.

I'm not sure why I've never rated Omar Gonzalez highly but I don't - maybe it's his defensive positioning that makes me nervous but I'm a defensive minded guy in football and while there are good points in having a CB who can attack the box on set-pieces my view is that they are first and foremost on the pitch to (STOP) the opponent from scoring - all else is a bonus after that.

As for the goals against in the second half - other pundits have already offered up the Capt. Obvious here that Gonzalez was directly accountable for both goals scored by Mexico - so I ask (rhetorically) did he really add value to this squad in that game in his primary role and if not - who's better?

That's not a question for me to answer but I think it is a question Jurgen Klinsmann needs to ask himself and his new staff...

Like many things in life, I'm not particularly fond of folks who offer up a problem (be it real or perceived) without also coming up with a solution/recommendation to that problem.  So with that here are my options knowing that some players are simply not going to get selected that haven't already played under Jurgen recently.

Goodson - Not sure here either - I personally have not seen him enough to offer a view that (in my view) has merit - he does well for San Jose but he didn't get particularly good minutes overseas with what I feel and think is a top rated club.  More information needed.

Parkhurst - I have seen him probably as little as I have seen Goodsen but in those few short games (and his impressive showing to me on Wednesday evening) it is clear he has the pace to cope with the wings and also has the passing accuracy and understanding of a broader role in positional play to make an very effective CB (starting CB) provided he can handle the more physical side of the game when teams include a more traditional #9 who plays more with his back to goal than trying to run on to through balls.

Cameron - His time overseas is seeing the game as a right back for Stoke - is that mix the right mix to settle in alongside Besler - and how is that chemistry going to take shape?  He has positional awareness of how positional play works down the wings so that adds great value - just like that in seeing Parkhurst play the left side Wednesday evening.

For me Parkhurst is a first option to pair with Besler but my view is limited - call it a gut instinct - but do folks really expect a CB who has played as long as Gonzalez to say in passing he needs to be more dominant in his role as a CB in protecting the box?  Wow - I hope not.  That is something a CB should KNOW and understand from day 1...  oh my...

Perhaps a more compelling question is how long has this weakness (lack of being switched-on to the true purpose of a CB) been or not been recognized by the USMNT staff?

And then to throw a teammate under the bus - bollocks - it just reinforces my own views that Gonzalez is not the right choice to represent the USMNT as a starting CB in the World Cup.

A winning World Cup team must be linked in and switched-on to roles and responsibilities for 90+ minutes for at least 3 games in 8 days??? in order to advance - and then it just gets tougher and tougher... that speaks to having resilience in a squad and throwing a teammate under the bus is not an example of resilience - it represents a shirking of responsibility.

As for Green - as noted in my finishing tweets for the match - in my view Green is still green - that was worthy and notable of Klinsmann to put him in as a way to begin his trail of caps - but as an option going forward now?  Unless his attitude is so positive and infectious for others I just don't see him having any role of substance this World Cup - the hype is what it is - hype...

Tough question here for those who've been around footy for some time.  If a real stud, do you really think Green would miss an opportunity to play for Germany in a World Cup or European Championship in the very near term?

The pedigree with the German side is simply to strong to even think for a second that (if a starter there) he would ditch that opportunity to be a starter here).  Like it or not the USMNT's progress has not made it that far in being that good...  if you think they have your emotions are overwhelming your senses.  Bringing Green into the side is more about 2018 than 2014; and for that I tip my hat to Klinsmann...

In closing...

A welcome sight to see the USMNT open in a diamond 4-4-2 and the pieces to that puzzle looked pretty good when considering who started and who didn't.  I would offer that style of play speaks to some of the stronger styles we see in MLS - is that the intent of Klinsmann - to stamp a particular style of play that suits the stronger and more possession oriented sides in the MLS who are also known for closing down and giving the opponent very little space and time to work with?

I think so - and yes - width is critical to manage when working a narrow approach and the right pieces need to be there to do that.  Evidence of that was very clear Wednesday evening - as the second half opened and the subs began to rotate for the USMNT the Mexican side went from offering up just 8 crosses in the first half to a total of 23 crosses for the second half.

Clearly the change in players on both sides, to include complacency and fatigue of the USMNT, directly impacted and influenced the team attacking style of Mexico.

In looking towards the final selection Klinsmann has some issues to wrestle with - how does he balance the chemistry of the "MLS Players" playing together versus those guys who play abroad - how does Altidore fit into a Diamond 4-4-2? 

He's been laboring with Sunderland this year and I'm not familiar enough with that team to know what system they operate - but given their position in the League Table it would appear they are not very good in scoring goals - which for me tends to indicate their midfield isn't that strong.  To paraphrase Harrison on this one - Jozy doesn't have the right complimentary pieces to go with his skill set...

And with a trend of American players returning stateside might we see Jozy make a transfer move similar to Bradley and Dempsey this summer?  Hard to say now but if the USMNT chemistry continues to mature, using a majority of players from MLS, it just might mean the most effective move for him is a return to America.

Before signing off I have one final postulate for consideration.  In seeing how the game went Wednesday evening - has anyone considered that - given it was a friendly - the intent of the second half might have also included studying how Mexico may adjust, in pitch activity, to the Diamond 4-4-2, in order for Klinsmann to gather data on how other opponents might adjust (real time) in the World Cup?

This also provides Klinsmann some real data to evaluate on ways he might counter the opponents counter...  I wouldn't put it past him - especially since the game wasn't a real win or lose game of consequence...

That's all for me for now... More to follow on twitter as I join the crowd at Providence Park for the Cascadia clash between Seattle and Portland.