USMNT at Denmark: Beyond the score / by Matthias Kullowatz

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

These three statistics help tell the story behind the latest USMNT result, and look beyond for big trends.

+7, -10. Those numbers represent the USMNT’s goal differential since the World Cup, split up by the first half and second half, respectively. A dominant first half has typically been followed by a more tragic second half coming out of the locker room. It’s well noted that the USMNT second-half defense is being criticized, but did you know that Johannsson’s second half goal against Denmark was the first goal the US team has scored in the second half since the World Cup? The late slump is not just a defensive concern.

Part of the issue could be that Klinsmann is playing less experienced players in the second half. That is somewhat true. Players who were on the World Cup roster have played 75 percent of all of the first half minutes. That number drops to 62 percent in the second half. But that overall percentage isn’t as experimental as it seems. The World Cup players have a strong presence, regardless of the half.

20.4%. The USMNT only squeezed off four shots against Denmark but managed to score on two of them. That extreme efficiency has been the trend more recently, and the World Cup players specifically have been blistering since July. Led by Jozy Altidore and his 44-percent finishing rate, the players on the World Cup roster have scored on 20.4 percent of the shots taken since the big tournament. Compare that to the 4.3 percent finishing rate of the new players on the team.

60%. (We’ll get to what this number stands for in a bit) I’m sorta kinda from New Jersey, and so is Alejandro Bedoya, so I’m probably supposed to root for him. But his persistent presence on the pitch for the USMNT continues to bother me. First, let’s talk about what I appreciate from Bedoya, and it’s well documented. His work rate is exceptional and his positioning is first rate. He’s a defensive minded midfielder that will do the dirty work and doesn’t look for the limelight. His defensive work against Denmark was critical in the first half as he sat deep enough to assist an otherwise sloppy back four. My trouble with him is that, from a playmaking point of view, he offers very little. And the US can’t afford to have players like Alejandro Bedoya play in the World Cup. For me, Bedoya is a stark reminder of the limitations of the team. As long as he is playing, I worry the US is not progressing as much as they need to during this cycle. The US struggled mightily to generate offense on the wings in the World Cup, and they simply have to upgrade that area to be a global force.

Bedoya is third on the team in minutes played since the World Cup with 409 minutes, behind only Mix Diskerud and Jozy Altidore. In the recent match against Denmark he was moved to the center of the midfield, where he typically plays at Nantes and where his lack of playmaking can be better hidden. So where does the 60 percent number come from?  That was the percent of Bedoya’s passes that were backward in the match. A typical team will pass 20-25 percent of their passes backward over the course of the game, and for a deep lying player 60 percent is way too much. Tack on the fact that the US was ceding possession and would have benefited from a more direct approach, and Bedoya’s backwards passing tendency becomes more of a glaring issue. Sorry my Jersey breathren, I’m looking for more in Russia.

To sum it up: The USMNT comes out extremely red hot in the first half, and somehow flips to an even more extreme cold in the second half, and that is what has everyone concerned. Experimentation is part of the problem, but protecting leads should be the key focus until it gets fixed. The players who played in the World Cup are very efficient right now in scoring goals, converting over 20 percent of their shots, while the newcomers are struggling in front of the net. I’ve also got my eye on Bedoya and I’m looking to see who is going to pass him on the depth chart, either on the wing or now at central midfield.