It's a Matter of Approach For The USMNT
The are some inevitabilities when watching the current United States Men's National team.
Jonathan Bornstein will be responsible for a goal every other game.
He will make one major mistake against an elite opponent, and 1-out-of-2 times it will be a goal.
He has a 0.5 goals against average.
There will be some who will make excuses or spread the blame around, but in the end, a goal will be the direct result of Jonathan Bornstein. It's best to come to terms with this now, not this summer.
It's not the only constant.
An important player is bound to get injured every other game as well.
A Bob Bradley team will attempt to play as one cohesive, defensive unit, hoping the whole will be better than the sums of its parts. It will drop back. It will not pressure the midfield, and its pressing in general will be suspect.
The defense will want to play as goalies.
The midfield will want to play as defenders.
The forwards will be lost in no-man's-land.
Creativity and an attacking philosophy will be an afterthought—no matter if it is the A or B team.
And all of this is what Bob Bradley wants. He said as much in his post-game interview:
“Certainly it was a good test for us and I think overall the team played well. The collective effort was pretty solid. There were moments where it needed to be sharper, quicker and better and we still need to raise the bar. Late in the game it was nice to see a good push. We had the ability to move the ball forward get people running off it and we created some good opportunities. We take a lot from the game.”
Whether or not Bradley is aware of his overriding philosophy, the Dutch game is how he expects his team to perform. Sure he would like his team to execute better on the few opportunities they had. But who doesn't want his team to score every time they get the chance?
Like it or not, the mentality of this American squad is to hang around like the hot girl's friend at the bar.
It's not pretty. There's not a lot of success in this approach, and in the end, it only takes one shot for the whole game-plan to crumble.
Such an approach is conservative.
It's the choice of most teams when playing what most consider a better opponent. It's good for an interim coach to utilize as it provides some continuity and stability, and in CONCACAF, it's a good possibility for positive results.
Against opposition that doesn't know what to expect from you, like Spain in the Confederations Cup, you can eke out a win.
But like slipping off to the bathroom and coming back to find your hot friend gone, there's a good chance you're going to be going home early.
The group game against Italy, the final against Brazil, and the Dutch friendly all reveal the problem with this strategy—not to mention the numerous games in the world's professional leagues when a bottom-table team tries to pack it in against title contenders.
Sure you can surprise a team.
Score a goal or two, but when a team can control the tempo of the game, keep possession and wait for the opportunities to develop, this approach tends to fall apart. The chances of holding off an elite team are minimal.
It's the poor man's version of Italy's catenaccio . Many teams have tried it. Bradley can't be faulted for his attempt, but like the others, it rarely produces the desired results.
There are too many variables for this to work. Beyond the defensive understanding (which Bradley has seemed to instill), the team needs the players...both defensively and offensively.
It could be argued that the U.S. doesn't even have the defensive players necessary for this plan. The backs are suspect, and the center of the midfield isn't even decided.
Next, the players need to have the offensive awareness, skill and technique to recognize opportunities for turnovers (jogging and allowing the other team to eat up chunks of space is not pressing successfully), in order to execute this stratagem.
Many people don't understand the importance of the offensive aspect of this gameplan. If players cannot possess the ball, make incisive passes, and take full advantage of their opportunities (i.e. score), then you get what fans saw against the Dutch: a team with few attacking opportunities that absorbed a lot of pressure for the first 45 minutes.
Bradley's plan is understandable. A similar style worked in 2002. Arena's team relied on a decisive counter-attack to surprise better opponents. But that team had relatively unknown individuals, so opponents didn't know what to expect, and it had a number of players that executed at the perfect moment.
Essentially, the stars aligned.
But this team isn't built like the 2002 team. Even though they may have more skill, opponents are much more aware of these athletes, are well prepared to handle a speedy counter-attack, and the U.S. is missing the key players in the right positions for this to work.
But what deceives many into believing this ploy will work is the subtext of the game.
Against Holland, there weren't many chances for the Dutch in the first half. Wesley Sneijder looked confused and frustrated. He ended up taking pot-shots from twenty-plus yards out, and the U.S. was glad to take it.
All of this looks like the U.S. was troubling Holland. It makes the observer believe that all the U.S. needs to do is be a little bit sharper , and it's in the game.
But all of that is an illusion because there's a second half to every game.
Unlike the other friendlies against European opponents, Jozy Altidore and even the ineffectual Robbie Findley forced the inconsistent, and some would say vulnerable, Dutch defense to play honest. They could not compress the space.
But they didn't need to.
Instead, Van Marwijk, Hollands coach, made the adjustments at halftime needed to unravel the U.S.'s gameplan.
His major change was introducing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Huntelaar ran across the front of a passive defense. Since Sneijder wasn't being pressed, he had all day to wait for holes to open up, and all he needed to do was deliver a decent pass.
And once a defensive team is down, it's difficult to come back.
Some will argue that's not the case with the United States since the team has scored late to steal wins and draws at the last minute. But how many times has that happened against the top teams in the world?
That's the problem with this mentality. Everything must go right to win, and if something goes wrong, it's hard to fix the mistake.
Just ask Jonathan Bornstein. I'm sure he'd love to make amends for his penalty.
Nevertheless, this is Bob Bradley's plan. This is his team, and this is how they're going to play.
It doesn't matter if he's playing a system rather than the personnel at his disposal. It doesn't matter how difficult this system is to master, and it doesn't matter if the odds are long that the United States will move beyond the second round.
Remember, America isn't expected to win anyway.
In the end, a fan will be upset or pleased with the progress of this team based on his or her personality.
The U.S. doesn't embarrass itself, and the team is known for over-performing. So this plan just might work. As long as the ball drops the right way, the referee is fair (highly unlikely), and the team executes on set plays (a key to a Bob Bradley team), then the U.S. has a chance.
There's a lot of if's in that game-plan.
On the other side are individuals that hate to sit back and let someone else control their destiny. They want to influence how a string of events turn out. It's better to throw everything you have at the opposition, and if you lose, at least you lose giving everything you've got, going after the other team.
That's not this U.S. team. It's not what they want to play.
And that's okay, because no approach is right or wrong. Sometimes You'll win, sometimes you'll lose.
It all depends on how you want to go about doing it.
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