Home Guard Beats Mexico, Qualifies USMNT for 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals
The American Home Guard, Major League Soccer players on the U.S. Men's National Team, stepped up big time in Tuesday night's Mexican cage match. The dos a cero score line would not have been possible without the Home Guard doing some very heavy lifting.
With the Americans missing Serie A midfielder Michael Bradley to a freak ankle sprain, and English Premier League players Jozy Altidore and Geoff Cameron plus 2012 MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler to yellow cards, the depth of the American team pool was tested with a fathom-long measuring stick.
Six of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's starting XI were members of the Home Guard and the measuring stick never hit bottom as they stood tall in the deep end of international soccer.
European-based players Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud also stepped in and made significant contributions to the final result. They too are evidence of the quality choices at Klinsmann's disposal.
In this edition of the Home Guard we'll look at the contributions made by MLS players in taking down El Tri.
All metrics courtesy of MLS soccer.
Boom! Boom! Firepower!
In a 2004 interview with U.S. Soccer, Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) referred to himself as a "grown-ass man." At the time he still had a lot of growing up to do.
Substituting for Jozy Altidore in the Americans' preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Johnson got the game winner and showed us how devastating GAM can be. Once only known for his pace, Johnson has reinvented himself into a commanding aerial threat.
Johnson completed 87 percent of his passes, won five headers putting two of them on frame including the game-winner, and only turned the ball over eight times.
One of the knocks on Johnson's game is his heavy first touch and penchant for turning the ball over. He avoided both on Tuesday and rose, literally, above the competition to send the USMNT to Brazil.
Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) and Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) are two of Klinsmann's top four players. The Nats needed a big game from their veteran stars and the pair responded.
If there is one thing you can count on with Donovan and Dempsey it's the 90-minute effort they put into every game. You can double team them, stomp on their feet, kick them in the back of the leg and throw elbows at their heads, but the next time you look up they're bearing down on you like an enraged bull.
Landon Donovan played this game with an eye infection that made him look like the Terminator, which is how he treated El Tri.
Donovan got the eighth assist of his four-month national team year when his corner kick found Eddie Johnson's head after Dempsey's near-post run cleared out the space.
The Americans' second goal came off a beautiful move by Mikkel Diskerud who made a clever turn, drove toward the end line and fired a hard cross through the six-yard box into the paths of the hard-charging Dempsey and Donovan. Dempsey just missed but Donovan made certain for his eighth goal of the year.
With that goal Donovan set an American record for most points scored (24) in a calendar year, a truncated year at that.
Donovan and Dempsey each completed 79 percent of their passes. Both players had double-digit turnovers, 11 for Donovan and 16 for Dempsey, which was largely a product of the tight, physical marking they received.
In the end, the Mexicans' physical tactics had the effect of a picador and simply enraged the bulls.
Holding Down the Fort
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) had the unenviable task of replacing Michael Bradley in the holding midfielder role.
Paired with Jermaine Jones the two continued Jurgen Klinsmann's preferred tactic of having his holding midfielders pivot off of each other rather than assigning one of them a defensive role and the other a more offensive role.
If you look at their "average position" on ESPNFC's tactical formation map, you will see that the two players spent an equal amount of time going forward into the hole and dropping back into the tank.
This demonstrated a lot of faith in Beckerman's ability to read the game and he responded with 11 defensive plays, completing 87 percent of his passes and only turning the ball over seven times. According to MLSsoccer.com's passing matrix, Beckerman spread his 46 completed passes all over the field.
The perennial MLS All-star and Real Salt lake captain had some ginormous shoes to fill on Tuesday night and fill them he did without having to stuff newspaper into the toes.
For the Defense
The Home Guard has a solid lock on Jurgen Klinsmann's central defense. Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) and Matt Besler (Sporting KC) continue to be the coach's first choice and Tuesday night Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquake) made his case for a place high up the depth chart.
Goodson continues to put in clutch performances for Klinsmann. The first came in a Rocky Mountain blizzard when the U.S. beat Costa Rica 1-0. Next came a string of good performances en route to a Gold Cup title.
Goodson was left off Klinsmann's initial World Cup qualifier roster. He was "on call" in case of some misfortune and after Besler's disqualification he got the call. On Tuesday night he answered the call.
The centerback pair completed 89 percent of their passes, made 31 defensive plays and only turned the ball over 11 times between them. They dominated El Tri in the air and did enough on the ground to limit Mexico to 10 long-range shots and three weak headers toward goal.
Geoff Cameron's versatility and steady play will likely earn him a spot on the final World Cup roster. Klinsmann will probably carry one more dedicated centerback and it looks like the competition is between Goodson and the young Bundasliga talent John Brooks.
No doubt Brooks will get some chances to play in the next six months, but Goodson is making it very difficult for Klinsmann to consider leaving him off the plane to Brazil.
Klinsmann's Home Guard
While Jurgen Klinsmann is clear that he considers Major League Soccer a step below the major European leagues, the coach consistently calls upon MLS players.
Over his two-year tenure as USMNT head coach Klinsmann has taken a personal approach to recruiting players and no rock is too small to turn over.
His staff tracks USMNT-eligible players all over the world and the coach uses text messages and phone calls to recruit and stay in touch with players in MLS and Liga-MX, Americans playing in both major and minor European leagues, and foreign-born Americans who haven't committed to a national team.
Aron Johannsson, a recent addition to the pool, specifically cites Klinsmann's personal approach for his decision to wear the U.S. kit.
MLS players know the coach will give them a fair evaluation of their skills, which is why Clarence Goodson came to MLS in the first place. He knew he could get plenty of first-team minutes and thus stay on Klinsmann's radar.
No one knows how many of the Home Guard will be on the final World Cup roster, but the players know that their coach values what they can contribute to the team.