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Monday Morning Midfield Maestro

May 30, 2010

Bob Bradley granted my wish, but it felt more like a curse than a blessing. You know, sort of like when you’re granted three wishes in a fairy tale, and you make what you think are kick ass wishes only for them all to back fire and leave you feeling like an ass. So here I am to offer some thoughts on what went wrong (and what went right) with our tactics tonight.

First Half

Where to start? I think the biggest part of what went wrong with Bob Bradley’s tactics in the first half has to do with Clint Dempsey. ESPN showed the formation as a 4-4-1-1, though it should have played more like a 4-2-3-1 with the personnel, and ended up playing more like a 4-4-2. Dempsey played far too high up on the pitch, playing in a position equal to Jozy Altidore and pressing the center backs, rather than dropping deeper into midfield. This left Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark outnumbered in the middle of the pitch, with Tuncay dropping into the midfield to join Emre and Selcuk Inan in more of a central role. This left Bradley and Clark chasing the ball with a man always open for the Turks to find. When Benny Feilhaber tucked in to try and help, he simply did a poor job of it, rarely helping us regain possession. This left the US without the width to stop the fullbacks from coming up the pitch and again win a numerical advantage on the wings. This might have been okay if Turkey had been content to hit crosses into the box, considering our height at center back, but they instead played the ball on the ground. This was okay when Feilhaber was on the left and Bocanegra was defending them, but when Feilhaber switched to the right side it left Spector to be exposed. This also left a large gap between the defense and the midfield for Tuncay to exploit as Bradley and Clark chased the ball further up the pitch, allowing Tuncay to run at the defense while DeMerit and Goodson couldn’t seem to get their marking right, and were both pulled out of position by Colin Kazin-Richards’ runs. This more or less sums up our below par performance in the first half.

Second Half

In the second half, Bob Bradley made some genius substitutions. By switching Cherundolo for Spector, Bradley retained the attacking instinct down the right flank but gained a better positional sense on both offense and defense. Turan seemed like less of a threat because Cherundolo was more aware of him. Bringing on Onyewu seemed to settle the back considerably. He and Jay DeMerit seem to have a very good understanding with one another, an understanding that seemed lacking in the DeMerit-Goodson partnership. Jose Torres took up a similar role to Clark, but with a different skill set. Torres is a better passer, and functioned more as a Xabi Alonso figure for the team, making passes from a deeper position and allowing Bradley more freedom to make runs into Turkey’s box. It also helps that Torres was more assertive and quick into the tackle. And that brings us to Robbie Findley. I can honestly say I didn’t think Findley would be such an asset when Bradley put him on, but his direct running helped stretch Turkey’s defense and open them up some. He also showed a beautiful touch with his chip to Donovan, although it would have been nice to see him hold the ball up more and make intelligent passes, rather than running straight to, and then over, the touchline. But the other thing that greatly helped us was the fact that Altidore and Findley seemed to take turns dropping into midfield while we were defending. This helped balance up our numbers in midfield and let us get possession back. With Donovan playing on the right and Dempsey playing on the left, we were essentially fielding inverted wingers (meaning a right footed player on the left and a left footed player on the right). This gave the Donovan and Dempsey great chances to cut inside on their stronger feet, looking for shots. All in all, the performance was much more cohesive with this set of players and with this formation.

In all, I still think a 4-2-3-1 would work well for our team, especially with someone other than Benny Feilhaber playing on the left wing and with Dempsey playing deeper in the midfield (or with Donovan playing off of Altidore, which I think is a slightly better option). But I am extremely happy with how the 4-4-2 worked tonight, and I am starting to believe (something I had a hard time doing after our encounter with the Czechs). I’m looking forward to our friendly with Australia, to see how we measure up against an actual World Cup finalist.

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