USMNT: 5 Thoughts from U.S. – Slovenia

November 16, 2011

On Tuesday night, the United States Men’s National Team picked up its first win in Europe in three and a half years with its 3-2 victory over Slovenia. Jurgen Klinsmann’s record with the Nats now moves to 2-4-1. While the team scored more than one goal for the first time under Klinsmann’s reign, it also gave up more than one goal for the first time. Here are five thoughts from the match.

4-1-2-1-2 was much better than Klinsmann’s 4-1-3-1-1, but…

Much of the U.S.’s goal explosion on Tuesday can be attributed to Klinsmann abandoning his preferred 4-1-3-1-1 from his first six matches in charge. Playing against a Slovenian backline with a reputation for being stingy, the U.S., with three dedicated attackers, was able to apply much more pressure and rack up three goals.

However, the U.S. also gave up two goals and to be fair it could have been much worse with the Slovenians missing a number of very good chances. While it goes against his attacking philosophy and promise to bring more attractive football to the U.S. side, a formation with two holding midfielders (4-2-2-2 or 4-2-3-1 come to mind) still may be key to the team’s success.

For better, or for worse, the 4-1-2-1-2 opens up plenty of space on the flanks

The benefit of playing with a narrow midfield is the space that opens up on the flanks for the outside backs to move in to. Timothy Chandler did this repeatedly on the night, putting in two nice passes to pry open the Slovenian defense in the early going as well as a beautiful left footed service later in the game.

However, the space on the wings also exposed the U.S. defensively. With a narrow diamond midfield, the outside back has little defensive help because there are no true outside midfielders coming back. In addition, the space outside can encourage the outside backs to push too far forward exposing the backline to counter-attacks. The space out wide also pulls the outside backs out wide making it more difficult for them to support the two center backs, something that happened repeatedly to Chandler.

The other weakness of the 4-1-2-1-2 is that the outside back does not have an immediate outlet from pressure because there is no outside midfielder automatically available. Once the center midfielders and forwards get tired and stop working as hard to make thru balls and diagonal passes available, the outside back can be left with little support.

Klinsmann needs to stop putting Kyle Beckerman in a position to fail

It’s hard to get mad at Kyle Beckerman for his increasingly underwhelming performances in the national team jersey. As much as U.S. fans loved to hate Jonathan Bornstein, the man, like Beckerman, took his country and coach’s call to play for the team and did his best. It is easy to tell that Beckerman plays hard and with passion, but it is simply not good enough.

Beckerman was frequently out of position, was invisible for long stretches, lost possession and got beat defensively. A holding midfielder should be constantly involved, much like Michael Bradley is when he plays the position. On the other hand, Beckerman, anytime he is pressured, reverts to his MLS roots and blindly smashes the ball upfield. The contrast was glaring late in the match as Michael Bradley twice came back to get the ball from the defense and with his back to heavy pressure, found the outlet pass the U.S. needed to possess the ball up the field.

Most U.S. fans accept that these early games under Klinsmann are a time of experimentation, however, Beckerman has been given his chance, and more, to play himself off the field. Besides Bradley and Maurice Edu, the U.S. has other options for the position as well. Although he has certainly had some poor performances for the national team, Jermaine Jones is certainly a better player than Beckerman and Danny Williams, whose natural position is at holding midfielder, has yet to see the field for the U.S. at that spot.

Michael Bradley must start every game

If any player sent a message to Klinsmann on Tuesday, it was Michael Bradley. Compared to his regular starts under his father, under Klinsmann, Michael Bradley has been cast into the wilderness. In only his second start in seven games under Klinsmann, Bradley proved his value to the team.

His dead ball service was superb, providing the assist to Clint Dempsey and two other services which could have easily been goals. His calmness in possession was apparent, especially when the game looked to be getting away from the U.S. and his ability to chip in with the odd goal in well known to strong followers of the Nats.

The defense was shaky for long stretches

The Slovenians first goal could be attributed to a combination of errors, but the fact is it came from a simple thru ball, the crux of the U.S. defense over the past several years. Carlos Bocanegra, easily the best U.S. defender of late also made several uncharacteristic mistakes. Clarence Goodson had a few nervy moments as well, on top of being responsible for the goal against in Friday’s friendly against France.

Klinsmann’s unwillingness to play Orozco Fiscal in the November friendlies was a good sign as he has proved he is not the answer for the U.S. at center back, but his call-up to the team was a mistake. Even with a healthy Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra as the first choice pairing, the U.S. must find some more depth at the position as injuries are a part of the game. A healthy Zak Whitbread, Omar Gonzalez, or Michael Parkhurst could be the answer.

John D. Halloran

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