Friday, November 2, 2012

MLS Wildcard Playoff – LA Galaxy (2) – Vancouver (1)

The Galaxy fight back after an early Darren Mattocks goal and advance to take on San Jose. Vancouver is left fuming after a questionable penalty sets up the winning Galaxy goal after putting in a spirited defensive effort.
Galaxy Setup
     Bruce Arena was able to fit all of his attacking players on the pitch in a 4-4-2 alignment. Tommy Meyer, Omar Gonzalez started at center back with Hector Jimenez and Todd Dunivant playing right and left back. In the middle, Juninho was relied upon to prevent any Whitecaps counter attacks. David Beckham also played in the center but focused on drifting to the right side where he found space to get on the ball and pick out long diagonal passes. The wide players, Landon Donovan and Mike Magee tended to drift inside. Robbie Keane played up top alongside Edson Buddle; Buddle tended to stay up high looking for crosses while Keane tended to drift into the wide zones and drop deep and play with the ball at his feet.

Whitecaps Setup
     Martin Rennie came into the match looking to play a defensive style. His side stayed compact with two banks of four. In front of these lines were Barry Robson and Darren Mattocks. The issue with this counter attacking setup was the lack of linkup play between Mattocks and Robson. As a result, Vancouver struggled to find any relief of the pressure as LA kept pushing numbers forward.

Barry Robson cannot get on the ball. 

     Nevertheless, the defensive performance was solid. Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien showed why having two veteran center backs can benefit a team in the playoffs. They dealt with all of the Galaxy crosses and kept their lines tight and organized. Lee Young-Pyo and Jordan Harvey occupied the fullback slots. In midfield, Alain Rochat, John Thorrington, Gershon Koffie and Matt Watson acted as a four man shield in front of the defense. The 4-4-1-1 shape was well drilled into the side and was almost enough to spring the upset.

Fast Start Perfectly Suits Vancouver
     The visitors were in dreamland after three minutes. Matt Watson flew past Hector Jimenez down the left side and squared a ball to Darren Mattocks who cleverly guided his first time strike off the far post woodwork and in. Mattocks’ astute run away from goal opened up space for himself to receive the pass and put his side ahead.
     The early lead gave Vancouver zero impetus to push forward and all the inspiration to defend what they had. Immediately, they dropped very deep into their own half and put ten or eleven players behind the ball at all times.
     While this strategy was effective for the first 70 minutes of the match, it was always likely that LA was going to score. Vancouver conceded too much space in their own half. This allowed the Galaxy to dominate possession on the right side. Beckham and Donovan, along with Jimenez overloaded the right side of the pitch. This led to the Galaxy having 74% of the possession in the first half.

Beckham and Donovancontrolling the right side. 

     However, the Caps were able to limit the number of chances the Galaxy were creating. Most of this was due to the number of interventions won by DeMerit and O’Brien as seen in this chalkboard.

Frantic Stretch Decides the Match
     Bruce Arena went to the bench to tweak his setup. Strangely, he brought on Marcelo Sarvas, normally a central midfielder in place of right back Jimenez. This brought another player on the right side and more domination for the Galaxy on this side of the pitch.
     But, Sarvas is not a right back and was caught out of position in the 68th minute, when Thorrington launched a counter to Watson. Watson carried the ball down the left played a one-two with Kenny Miller and forced a terrific save by Saunders. The rebound shot by Miller was off target and Robson had the third chance but was blocked.
     The Caps would rue this missed oppurtunity once LA equalized a minute later. The Galaxy switched up their style and played a short corner to Donovan who found Mike Magee unmarked at the penalty spot to first time volley the opener from LA. Key in this exchange was an injury to Jay DeMerit who had to leave and Martin Bonjour came in. Bonjour would give away a penalty a minute later as Donovan tried to run past but was impeded by Bonjour’s raised arm. There was definitely contact but the decision seemed quite harsh.
     After defending so fiercely, Vancouver lacked the energy to push for an equalizer and never threatened.

Can LA beat San Jose?
     For the two legged affair against the Quakes, Bruce Arena will have to tweak his lineup. He should consider removing Edson Buddle and starting Sarvas to sure up the midfield. With Beckham tending to drift wide, Juninho will need a partner to help control San Jose; a team with a much more attacking approach than Vancouver. Playing with Robbie Keane alone up front will help Magee and Donovan find space when they make forward diagonal runs from the outside.
     Defensively, Sean Franklin will be critical. If he is still injured, then Jimenez will have to start. He does not have a lot of speed and would concede tons of crosses for Gordon, Wondo and Lenhart to latch onto. Also, Josh Saunders will have to be confident and aggressive in the air. If he is caught flapping at a cross, the ball will end up in the net.
     San Jose should be heavy favorites and the tie should be extremely intense and competitive. After the last matchup resulted in a war of words, the Galaxy will be ready to kill the Western Conference giants.  

Thoughts on the Match? Can LA beat San Jose?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

MLS Wildcard Playoffs - Chicago Fire (1) v Houston Dynamo (2)

The Dynamo invaded Toyota Park and left with an impressive road win. Houston advances to face Sporting KC after Will Bruin’s brace.

Houston Setup
     Dominic Kinnear elected to field a 4-4-2 on the road. Will Bruin and Calen Carr started up front with Brad Davis wide left and Boniek Garcia on the right. Especially in the first half, Davis stayed wide to swing in crosses while Boniek was free to drift inside to try and find space between the Fire’s lines. In the center, Adam Moffat played as a holding player which allowed Ricardo Clark to play a battling role in the center. Clark was instructed to play higher up the pitch to try and pressure Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo and make the Fire’s attempts to build attacks more difficult. Defensively, Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie were the fullbacks. They saw a lot of the ball, but were cautious going forward not wanting to leave the center backs (Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor) exposed.

Chicago Setup
     Frank Klopas went with a 4-2-3-1. Sherjill MacDonald was the lone striker up front with Chris Rolfe the number ten behind him. On the right was Alvaro Fernandez and Patrick Nyarko played on the left. The two holding players were Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo. In defense, Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry and Gonzalo Segares played from right to left. The tactics from Klopas were not overly profound, but built around the creative skill of Rolfe, Nyarko and Fernandez. Unfortunately for Chicago, these three players struggled to consistently trouble the Houston back four.

Houston Set Pieces
     The visitors have been renowned for producing on set pieces; Brad Davis has 27 set piece assists since 2009. Even before the opening goal in the 12th minute, Sean Johnson had some troubles dealing with crosses. Houston won a corner and Davis’ curled left footed ball into the near post was met by Will Bruin and went in off of a slight Anibaba deflection. Anibaba was the man responsible for marking Bruin but he slipped tracking the big forward.

Key Midfield Battle
     With an early lead, Houston turned to a defensive approach while Chicago had to push numbers forward to equalize. While only having two central midfielders, Houston got the better of the play in the center. The key role was Ricardo Clark playing almost a rover type central role. He had the freedom to venture up the pitch and from side to side. His goal was to win the ball back and make life difficult for Pause and Pardo. He finished the match with five ball recoveries, five clearances and two interceptions.

Ricardo Clark's role higher up the pitch, winning the ball & distributing.

   This role of Clark negated the impact of Chris Rolfe on the game. The Fire turned to Nyarko and Fernandez out wide to create but were unable to link up with Rolfe in the center. Rolfe has had a standout season, but on the night, he was quieted. When he was able to receive the ball, Houston forced him to play the ball wide instead of towards the goal, as seen in the graphic below. Furthermore, the Dynamo played a high line in the first half and MacDonald was frequently caught offside.

Rolfe's attacking third passes were forced wide by Houston. 

Chicago Chasing the Game in the Second Half
     Down a goal at the break and struggling to threaten the goal, Klopas brought off Pause and brought on Alex. The shift resulted in a 4-1-4-1. However, the team talk went out the window when Will Bruin doubled the lead one minute after the break. Clark won the ball off of Segares, which fell to Calen Carr who set up Bruin through on goal to finish far post. The center backs Berry and Friedrich were spread out wide and unable to recover from the poor giveaway.
     Now down two goals, Klopas brought on Oduro for  Pardo, moving to a 4-4-2. Oduro and Alex brought life to the match, but were unable to threaten goal until ten minutes to go when Alex pulled a goal back.

How Far Can Houston Go?
     The Dynamo will be a tough opponent for Sporting KC. The number one seed from the east has had a great season defensively but has struggled to break down defensive teams. Houston will be comfortable in playing a defensive system in the away tie in the second match, so Kansas City will have to earn a good result on the road.
     The key player for Houston will be Boniek Garcia. He will have to step his game up for Houston to win. They need him to take players on and dribble past them. A dynamic counter attack will at times be open for the Dynamo if Sporting are chasing a match. At times, Espinoza will drift too far forward opening up a huge space in the center. Boniek has the speed and the technical ability to exploit this space if his Honduran compatriot has a lapse in concentration. A third method of attack, through Boniek, will add another dimension for Kansas City to defend.
     Finally, Houston is a dangerous team on set pieces, which can bode well in any two legged tie. Sporting will have to be wary about giving away free kicks in their defensive half and unnecessary corner kicks. A slight edge should go to Kansas City for their solid regular season, but Houston has key traits in teams that can win knockout rounds so the tie should be tightly contested. 

Thoughts on the match?
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

USA v Jamaica (1-2) (1-0) – The Difference was Simply Home & Away?

After worrying Yank’s supporters with a poor showing and a loss in Kingston, the squad rebounded in Columbus, playing a fluid passing style in their Tuesday night victory.
     Each section of the article will focus on a tactical point and compare how the teams played in the two matches.

The Lineups
     On Friday, the US played a 4-3-1-2, which resulted in a very narrow approach. They struggled to connect passes and build attacks. In response, Klinsmann benched Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, Kyle Beckerman, Jozy Altidore and Maurice Edu and brought in Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jose Torres, Graham Zusi and Danny Williams. He reverted to a 4-4-1-1, Dempsey played in behind the lone striker Gomez. Williams played as the holding midfielder and Jermaine Jones had a license to get forward with Torres and Zusi out wide. In the back four, Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron played the full 180 minutes, putting in two good performances and cementing permanent roles in the team.

Controlling the Run of Play
     In Friday’s match, the US struggled to keep the ball when they managed to wrestle it off a Jamaican attacker. The center of the midfield (Edu, Jones & Beckerman) did a poor job distributing to start up a counter attack. Thus, the midfield three and forward three (Altidore, Dempsey & Gomez) became two separated units instead of a fluid one.
     Tuesday night, the Yanks dominated possession from the opening whistle. Part of the reason was the deep lying defense of Jamaica. Manager Theodore Whitmore clearly set up his team in a defense style to try and earn a road point.
     However, the true test for the Klinsmann regime will be to play proactively on the road and in the 2014 World Cup. It is easy for the team to keep the ball with short passes and move it from side to side against a side that are sits deep and concedes possession. The Klinsmann impact will be seen if we can play in this manner against a team that also wants the ball and is willing to pressure to win it back. If the US then resorts to long balls up field then not much has changed from the Bob Bradley days. 

USA Width
     It is not a very bold statement to say the US formation in “The Office” was illogical. He played three central midfield players, an attacking midfielder and two strikers. This forced Altidore and Gomez to operate as wide strikers to maintain any sort of width. Playing wide negated the best qualities of each player. Altidore can play with his back to goal and also link up centrally with Dempsey. For Gomez, he likes to operate off the shoulder of the central defense and get through balls in behind.
     On Tuesday, the formation was balanced. Graham Zusi and Jose Torres, although not true wingers, did an excellent job at maintaining the shape. Williams and Jones won the midfield battle and distributed the ball effectively to the players further forward.

USA Fullbacks Getting Forward
     The change in style of play from Friday to Tuesday was greatly seen in the play of the fullbacks. Michael Parkhurst is more of a steady right back who can get forward at times but wants to sure up his defensive duties. Steve Cherundolo plays with more speed down the right side and is aggressive in taking chances at getting forward. With Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson, the US has two forward thinking fullbacks who have pace to pin back opposition wingers.
     Also, the Yanks were able to keep the ball on Tuesday long enough to enable the fullbacks to push forward. In Kingston, Johnson and Parkhurst were constantly pinned in their own half because the midfield kept giving the ball away. But, in Columbus, Johnson and Cherundolo could bomb forward because the US controlled the balance of possession. 

 Notice in the two pictures below, that Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams would play deeper roles to provide cover for the two fullbacks. Klinsmann used the two central players to stamp out counter attacks, which allowed the fullbacks more freedom.

 Jamaica Getting Numbers Forward
     Roughly, Jamaica played the same formation in both games. The drastic change in their style of play cannot be analyzed by their setup, but by their aggressiveness. Coach Whitmore wanted his team to pressure the US and frustrate them in Kingston. Once they picked up the three points at home, he set his side out to defend deep and try and get a nil-nil. It was surprising Whitmore did not play a third central midfielder; he opted to defend with one holding player and one box to box midfielder. If he played a midfield three, he could have clogged up middle and shut down the American’s central distribution.
     This ultra defensive approach should be questioned. Coach Whitmore should have at least tried to hit the Yanks out on the counter attack. He could have given a start to Dane Richards to form a three man attack with Luton Shelton and Omar Cummings. These three players have great speed and could quickly steal a goal on the road. Instead, the defense and midfield were quick to just clear the ball away long and try and give Ryan Johnson a chance to win the ball in the air.
     On Friday, Jamaica controlled the run of play, but struggled to create chances from open play. Their two goals came from set pieces. The crossing into the box was very poor and their shots from distance were off target. Coach Whitmore should be concerned about this lack of prowess from open play.

     For all the dominance that Jamaica had on Friday and the US had on Tuesday, only one goal was scored from open play in the two matches. The Yanks created a barrel load of chances in the first half but were unable to find the back of the net. On the other side, Jamaica struggled to create chances and test Tim Howard, a problem that could plague them in upcoming qualifiers.
     The performance is very encouraging for Klinsmann and the fans. He needs to instill this style of play in every match his side will play, instead of in home matches. The Stars and Stripes have to perform with more consistency in matches against proactive teams; if this happens the team will be poised to qualify and play well in the 2014 World Cup.

Side Note - I attended the match last night. It was the first time I have been to a US match and it was amazing. The Nordecke & American Outlaws were rowdy. The rest of the stadium was lively and creating a lot of noise. The pictures in the article were taken by me, it is great to see the entire pitch and all the movement off the ball. 

Will this proactive style of play continue for the Yanks?
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mexico v USA (0-1) - Unlikely Goal Scorer Gives US an Unprecedented Win in Azteca

     Juergen Klinsmann's side achieved their first ever victory in Azteca Stadium after a 1-0 win over Mexico on Wednesday. Although only a friendly, the historic victory was celebrated by Americans as a landmark moment against our eternal rivals, particularly considering the experimental lineup employed by the Yanks.

USA Lineup
     In front of Tim Howard, Klinsmann placed Fabian Johnson, Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron and Edgar Castillo. With such an inexperienced quartet, and Edu being played out of his normal central midfield position, the manager deployed two holding midfielders (Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones) to help protect his defense. Herculez Gomez started as the lone striker with Jose Torres, Danny Williams and Landon Donovan as the three supporting players behind him rounding out a defensive 4-5-1 setup. 

Mexico Lineup
     Similar to the system manager José Manuel de la Torre used in the 2011 Gold Cup Final (link), Mexico lined up in a 4-2-3-1, but was focused on playing down the flanks, especially in the first half. Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardado were the wide men and central playmaker Angel Reyna was keen to overload the wide zones to try and dominate the flanks. Considering his small size, Javier Hernandez is very good in the air, but Cameron and Edu were effective at neutralizing the crosses. Furthermore, Reyna was nowhere near as effective as Giovanni Dos Santos was at overloading the wide areas in that 2011 match and creating chances. The first 55 minutes of the match went by without either side testing the opposing keeper.

Friendly Pace
     The match began and continued at a friendly canter for the opening hour of the match. Even the Azteca seemed about 60% full which was surprising. The Americans focused on maintaining the status quo by holding a deep defensive line and usher the ball out wide. Beckerman and Jones sat very deep and rarely ventured forward in the first half. This six man block frustrated Mexico, who controlled the ball and the possession advantage but could not threaten. ESPN broadcaster John Sutcliffe mentioned  de la Torre  was upset with the play of Barrera on the right side, who put in several poor crosses and was unable to take on Edgar Castillo and dribble past him. 
     Going forward, the US offered nothing. This was largely due to the wide players not actually being effective on the wings. On the right side, Danny Williams showed why he normally plays as a central midfielder; he was hesitant to take on players one v one and never broke forward with pace. On the left, Torres and Donovan took turns while one of the two played centrally. The Yanks did not threaten on the counter because they broke too slowly and were never able to string enough passes together to have a numbers advantage. 

Changes for the Second Half
      José Manuel de la Torre made two straight swaps, bringing on Elias Hernandez and Lugo for Barrera and Viniegra. Elias had a strong showing, providing two exceptional crosses to Chicharito; one header was missed and the other cross was thwarted by Cameron at the last second. Lugo had a poor match in midfield, considering his job was to distribute and his service was errant far too often. In the final 45 minutes Mexico varied their style by playing through balls to Hernandez more often, but he was either offside or the pass was not weighted perfectly.
     Klinsmann decided to switch to a 4-2-2-2 similar to former manager Bob Bradley's system, bringing on Terrance Boyd and Demarcus Beasley for Donovan and Torres. While the changes were positive in theory, the second half played out in a similar fashion to the first. The only exception was the US began to tire and Mexico started to create chances once gaps in the defense were more effectively exploited. 
     Ten minutes into the half, Lugo had an unmarked header but missed the target, which was followed up by an excellent header by Cameron and a few minutes later a last ditch clearance by Fabian Johnson saved the Yanks after Chicharito and Reyna combined to slip through the middle. 
     Four minutes before the only goal of the night, Chicharito missed the target on an open header after a perfect cross from Elias. Klinsmann went to the bench to bring on Brek Shea to see if his fresh legs could provide a much needed spark. The struggling FC Dallas winger did just that after receiving a pass from Beckerman and skipping by his mark and sliding a cross to Boyd who back heeled the ball to Mexican League defender Michael Orozco Fical who slid his effort into the corner of the net. The lead was undeserved but well earned after the Americans were able to defend well for the opening eighty minutes. 
     Mexico pushed hard for the equalizer but Tim Howard earned his man of the match award by keeping Chicharito out twice; once from a deflected volley in which Howard had to change directions quickly and once from a point blank header that the Everton keeper palmed away with his left hand. The veteran presence in net proved his value for the US with not only  two great saves but also for guiding a young defense through a difficult away match.

     While the landmark result should be celebrated by all US supporters, the performance should not lead to conclusions that we are ahead of Mexico. Rather, we should focus on the belief showed by the players and the belief that Klinsmann has instilled in his side (also seen in the victory in Italy) that the US can compete with anyone in the world. With that being said, the team will have to show more going forward in next month's qualifiers. It is also worth mentioning that we should have more attacking options available, like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.

5 things we learned from the match

1. Brek Shea is a vital talent for the US and needs to swing his poor Dallas form, especially considering our lack of wide options.
2. Edgar Castillo looked comfortable playing against familiar Mexican composition, now we need to see it versus other teams.
3. Danny Williams is not an effective wing player and should not play out wide.
4. Kyle Beckerman can compete at the international level, even though many knock him for only playing in MLS.
5. Mo Edu and Geoff Cameron might play as defensive midfielders at club level this season, but the US needs them at center back and maybe they can perform for country at this position. 

We love hearing from fellow American soccer fans. 

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Seattle v Colorado (2-1) – Sounders Break Winless Streak

 Rapid’s comeback falls short in Steve Zakuani’s return to the pitch after being injured against Colorado 15 months ago.

Sounder’s Setup
     Sigi Schmid decided to place Freddie Montero on the bench and start Eddie Johnson as a lone striker. This resulted in a very fluid midfield five behind Johnson. Osvaldo Alonso was the holding midfielder and Andy Rose played as a box to box shuttling player working hard in the center of the pitch. Alex Caskey started on the right with Alvaro Fernandez on the left and Mauro Rosales as the playmaker between the Rapids lines.
Rapid’s Setup
     Oscar Pareja countered with a 4-1-4-1. Without Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz operated as the lone holding player with Jaime Castrillon as a midfielder in front of him. Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith played on the flanks with Martin Rivero tucked in behind Conor Casey up front.

                  Seattle Starts Fast
    The Sounders midfield five combined well and had a fluid style of play from the outset of the match. Fernandez and Rosales were getting forward to feed the ball to Johnson who was working the right side of the pitch and finding space between Moor and Zapata. Rose was effective in helping Alonso recover the ball and also spring attacks, mostly by distributing the ball out wide.

Rose Interceptions & Distribution


       For the opening half hour, Colorado had a broken formation consisting of an attacking five and a defensive five. Larentowicz was the only midfielder helping protect the back four while the fullbacks struggled to get up the pitch to provide crosses for Casey. Smith and Mullan struggled out wide taking on defenders and supplying crosses to Casey. This lack of penetration from the flanks allowed the Sounders to squeeze the space in the middle to nullify Rivero and Castrillon. Pareja adjusted his formation by moving Castrillon deeper to play more as a box to box player which helped, but he was less effective than Rose at recovering the ball.

Castrillon Drops Deep to Help but Not as Effective Defending


      Martin Rivero operated as the playmaker but he could not find a way to influence the game. Alonso cut off his supply line. When he managed to find the ball most of his passes forward were intercepted and resorted to playing the ball wide or backwards.

Rivero Not Creating Enough Chances

     While dominating the run of play, Seattle was unable to take the lead in the opening half. Fernandez had a chance saved from Pickens after Eddie Johnson played a cross field ball from the right touchline and later Johnson put a volley wide after Birch played an inch perfect early cross. The crowd was growing a bit restless and Seattle panicked a little and lost patience in the final third. Instead of trying to pass their way through the defense, they opted for earlier balls in behind which were ineffective. Colorado almost took the lead after a misplaced Alonso was taken by Casey who found Rivero who hit the side netting.

Second Half Goals Open up the Match
     Seattle finally broke through in the 51st minute from a set piece. Rosales sent in a swinging near post corner kick which was headed in by unmarked Fernandez. The DP has taken heat recently, and was even challenged by his head coach and responded with a goal. Three minutes later Johnson sent Fernandez through on goal and the Uruguayan sent his chip over Pickens but wide of the target. The Sounders were bursting with confidence after the opening goal and nearly won a penalty after Eddie Johnson skipped between two defenders and was taken down in the area, but the official ruled Zapata took the ball fairly. Finally, Seattle added a second after Rosales planted a perfect cross into the back post which was headed back across goal by Eddie Johnson from six yards out.
     Down two goals and looking defeated, Pareja brought on Omar Cummings and Edu for Conor Casey and Jamie Smith. The change ignited the Rapids. Adding to this was the lack of initiative by the Sounders after earning a two goal lead. Instead of maintaining their style of play, the home side dropped deeper, deemphasized possession and allowed the Rapids to find a way back into the game. We often see teams take a lead and employ this strategy and it often comes back to hurt them. Well, the Sounders almost threw away the lead after Zapata swung in a perfect cross to the back post and Cummings lost Ianni and finished past Meredith. Cummings actually added a second via a lovely back heel, but was ruled offside. Rivero had a 90th minute chance to equalize but put his effort over the bar after a nice layoff by Edu.
     Obviously, the introduction of Steve Zakuani back onto the pitch is the story of the week. It was fitting he returned against the Rapids after being injured in Colorado 15 months ago. He traded shirts with Brian Mullan afterwards marking a nice moment of closure and hopefully Zakuani can return to his old dynamic form.
     It will be interesting to see if Sigi continues to play with one striker. Eddie Johnson put in a fantastic performance and linked up well with the midfield. The starting XI looked comfortable playing with each other and everyone maintained proper spacing and movement.
     The Rapids will have to reconsider their approach. Oscar Pareja should be looking to add a flying winger to his lineup to offer a second approach to attacking. Colorado struggled to find to link up and pass through the Sounders defense.
     A final thought is on artificial turf and soccer. Playing on turf hinders the ability to play through balls over the top or on the ground past a high defensive line. The ball picks up speed allowing the keeper to play as a sweeper. I know turf will continue to be present in several MLS stadiums, but the Sounders could have scored a couple of more if they were playing on grass.

Seattle Through Balls Negated by the Turf

 Thoughts on the match or on the All Star selections? Or opinions on turf? 
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Real Salt Lake v LA Galaxy (2-3) – Galaxy Rally from Two Down with the Help of RSL Mistakes

For the first time in club history, Salt Lake lost a home match when they had a two goal lead.

Los Angeles Setup
     With Edson Buddle out injured and Robbie Keane returning from the European Championship, Bruce Arena elected to start Landon Donovan as a lone striker. The Galaxy played a 4-5-1 and looked to attack on the counter. The move would typically start with David Beckham or Juninho hitting a long ball to Donovan or Mike Magee, who played on the left wing.
     The visitors from California had an unusual shape to their 4-5-1. Juninho played as the lone holding midfielder and Beckham played slightly in front of him and to the right. Sarvas played in the middle and struggled to get on the ball or close enough to Donovan to provide attacking support. On the wings, Bryan Jordan played more defensively on the right and Mike Magee was used as the secondary threat towards goal down the left side. Interestingly, the fullbacks Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant only combined for one cross. Usually, the fullbacks are relied upon to get forward when a team operates with one striker and two deep lying midfielders.
Salt Lake Setup
     Jason Kreis is known for setting his side out in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Kyle Beckerman protected the back four. Will Johnson played on the left and Ned Grabavoy and Johnny Steele interchanged between a narrow right position and a central attacking position. Without a right sided player giving the side width, Fabian Espindola drifted out to the right flank which provided a one v one matchup with Todd Dunivant that produced the opening two goals.
Real Start Fast
     The matched started with the Galaxy willing to sit back and concede possession and Real looking to control the tempo and get the fullbacks forward. Nine minutes in, Chris Wingert switched the ball from the left to the right side to Espindola. Espindola was given space by Dunivant to reach the endline and play a low ball across the six yard box to Kyle Beckerman who made a clever near post run and slotted home the opening goal.
     Opting to play in a defensive and counter attacking style, going behind in the first ten minutes was not the end of the match for Los Angeles. Salt Lake continued to pour forward and push for a second which opened up space to counter.
     The Galaxy responded when Donovan got in behind the defense but Nick Rimando collected quickly off his line. Then the Galaxy threatened from the set piece on two occasions but failed to test the keeper. Although the Galaxy retorted well, they would find themselves two goals behind in the 29th minute. Johnny Steele laid the ball off to Espindola who had room to cross from the right side. His ball was directed toward Alvaro Saborio whose (intentional/fortuitous) touch directed the ball into the far corner.
How Each Side Attacked
     Salt Lake were at their best when they pressed the Galaxy back four and forced long kicks up field. Applying pressure for 90 minutes is too taxing, so the home side pressured in spurts. Also, the understanding between the Saborio and Espindola troubled the Galaxy defense. Espindola’s runs out wide started to draw the attention of one of the center backs which allowed Saborio a one on one matchup the produced chances but not goals.
     The Galaxy were dangerous when Donovan had the ball running at the back four with an option to pass or shoot. He was able to setup Magee and Sarvas at the end of the half but the finishing was poor. Hopefully when Keane returns, Arena will use this formation and play Donovan in Sarvas’ central role where he would have the ball at his feet more and be the creator for Los Angeles.
A Two Goal Lead is the Most Dangerous in Soccer
     Trailing by two goals, the Galaxy looked bereft of comeback ideas. However, the home side gifted a lifeline to Los Angeles five minutes after taking a two goal lead. Tony Beltran played a lackadaisical back pass towards Rimando which was picked off by Landon Donovan who rounded Rimando and put his team on the board.
     Just after halftime, Olave was carelessly caught in possession by Mike Magee who had space on the left side and finished with his left foot into the far post. The Galaxy were now level after two Salt Lake gaffes. With Real pushing to try and retake the lead, the Galaxy almost scored on the counter. Beckham hit a beautiful ball to the left to Donovan whose first time volley went wide.
     Jason Kreis made two changes around the hour mark to try and win the match. Javier Morales came on for Johnny Steele in a like for like swap and Luis Gil replaced Jamison Olave. Will Johnson moved to left back and Chris Wingert to central defense. Bringing on two attacking and creative midfielders made sense but Salt Lake struggled to craft any chances in the last half hour. Since Gil played in the Morales role last season, the two players occupied similar areas on the pitch which made the side easier to defend.
     Bruce Arena made a key change bringing off Sarvas for Michael Stephens and moving Mike Magee into the middle. This switch setup the winning goal five minutes later. The Galaxy setup the counter attack after with Magee making a run to the left touchline opening up space down the middle for Donovan to run past Nat Borchers, who was caught to high upfield. Donovan received the pass from Magee and Rimando was unable to tackle the ball away allowing Donovan to score his brace with a simple pass into the net. After the goal, Real struggled to create for an equalizer and LA hung on to steal the three points.
     Suddenly, the Galaxy are showing life after taking six points from the last two matches. Although the result was great, LA were the poorer side during the 90 minutes and were economical in taking advantage of two horrible Salt Lake defensive errors. Real will be furious at throwing away a two goal lead at home in front of a sold out crowd but Jason Kreis will use the poor result as motivation in future matches.

Thoughts on last night’s MLS action or on the Euro’s?
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Friday, June 15, 2012

US v Antigua & Barbuda (3-1) v Guatemala (1-1)

The Yanks make a solid start with four points from their first two World Cup Qualifying matches.

US v Antigua & Barbuda
     The USMNT began a two year road to Brazil 2014 with a Friday night affair against Antigua & Barbuda. The tiny island side was clearly over matched but had continuity with most of the side playing for the Antigua Barracudas who are coached by the national team manager.
     Thus, the away side played a very organized and disciplined match for the first 43 minutes. They pressed early on but then dropped off after ten minutes. The Yanks controlled the ball early even though the conditions were wet. Carlos Bocanegra got the US off to a great start in the seventh minute after bundling home a rebound at the back post after Herculez Gomez’s header was saved from a corner kick.
     The American were at their best when Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were close enough to link up with each other. They were able to combine and use pace to setup chances as seen in the 15th minute which led to a shot that was blocked. Also, Michael Bradley was instrumental at starting the Yanks attacks from deep in midfield after winning possession. Antigua & Barbuda were playing long balls in behind which were dealt with well by Bocanegra and Goodson and quickly played forward to Bradley who would propel the US forward.
     Herculez Gomez played the lone striker role well in Klinsmann’s 4-3-3 system. He made clever runs in behind all night. His movement caused confusion for the back four which opened up pockets of space for Dempsey and Donovan. Two minutes before halftime, Bradley won the ball back and quickly played a pass up to Donovan. Down the left channel, Donovan and Dempsey combined opening up Donovan in behind the defense. He was taken down from behind with the referee awarding a penalty which was converted by Clint Dempsey. The positioning of Gomez on the right side was instrumental in occupying a defender which opened up the pitch for Dempsey and Donovan.
     With a two goal advantage, the Yanks continued to create chances in the second half but the intensity winning the ball back allowed Antigua & Barbuda more space. After Jose Torres went off injured, Bocanegra and Donovan combined excellently down the left wing to set up Gomez to rattle the cross bar.
     With the islanders losing their defensive shape as the match wore on, the US was creating chances through balls over the top or pockets between the fullbacks and center backs. Yet, the Americans failed to add a third and were pegged back in the 65th minute. Cherundolo was slow to get back and allowed Ledgerwood in behind. He played Byers in who skipped past an unnecessary Onyewu lunge and was through on goal and finished over Tim Howard. The hulking central defender was off the pace of the game but he is still returning from injury and had just come onto the pitch.
     The goal from the islanders woke up the American attack up with Dempsey, Bradley and Gomez testing the keeper. Finally, the Yanks added a third when Gomez pounced off a fortuitous deflection and finished into an empty net. In the end, three points was the goal but the Yanks were far from emphatic in their performance.

US v Guatemala
     A much stiffer test was awaiting the USMNT in Guatemala City. The home side was keen on disrupting the flow of the match and making the game ugly. Constantly, the match was stopped due to consistent fouling and from the ball going out of play. Guatemala attacked by launching long balls to the two forwards, Carlos Ruiz and Mario Rodriguez. This strategy was as effective as trying to get rich through winning the lottery as Goodson and Bocanegra were solid in the air.
     The Yanks were very disappointing going forward. Since I refused to shell out $30 to line the pockets of the greedy Traffic Sports executives, I watched the match on a dodgy internet stream. Thus it was hard to make out the Guatemalan formation.
     Regardless of the defense, the Americans passing and movement in midfield was poor. They often lost patience and resorted to hopeful long balls which were not effective. It was almost as if they adopted Guatemala’s tactics themselves, like in youth soccer when one team keeps kicking long and the other team gets frustrated and does the same.
     Guatemala nearly opened the scoring before halftime with a through ball down the right. Fabian Johnson got turned around and Guatemala was free but the shot came from a narrow angle and was saved by Howard instead of squaring the ball to Mario Rodriguez who was all alone. One minute later, Fabian Johnson stormed down the left and cut inside and found Dempsey at the top of the box. Dempsey who skipped past two defenders (leaving one on his backside) and shot with his right foot into the left corner.
     The halftime lead forced Guatemala coach Hugo Almeida into making three changes. He went out to  attack with Marco Pappa, Manuel Leon and Dwight Pezzarossi to try and level the match. Wisely, Klinsmann did not allow a possible incompetent CONCACAF refereeing decision reduce his side to ten and he brought on Geoff Cameron for Clarence Goodson, who was carrying a yellow card.
     Guatemala was much improved in the second half. Pappa was drifting into wide areas to create an overload and get crosses into the two strikers. However, the Yanks continued to defend well and after Carlos Ruiz blasted a rebound over the bar, it looked like they could pick up three points. But, Marco Pappa leveled the match with seven minutes to go by expertly bending a free kick over the wall. The US failed to kill the match off by adding a second goal and controlling possession (the ref did not play advantage when Altidore had a clear chance called back for a Guatemala foul).

Three Points to Contemplate as We Move Towards the Summer of 2014.        

1. The talent pool is deeper than ever and more players will emerge as they stand out for their respective clubs. After looking up the team sheets from 2010 World Cup qualifying, various players were selected 1.5 to 2 years before the tournament that did not make the trip to South Africa. Players like Davy Arnaud, Conor Casey, Brian Ching, Pablo Mastroeni, Kenny Cooper, John Thorrington, Danny Califf, Heath Pearce and Marvell Wynne helped the US qualify but were not even considered to be in the World Cup squad.
          This summer’s squad should look much different than the squad in two years. Injuries, aging and rising young players will change the landscape of the team. Hopefully Klinsmann will have a hard time picking a 23 man squad because of how much player pool depth there is.  

2. The US needs to pick XI players to fit in a cohesive formation and setup instead of just picking the best XI players available. I think Jose Torres and Jermaine Jones are excellent players. However, it is hard to fit so many central midfield players into one team. Playing a 4-3-3 with two narrow wide players congests the field too much and the US needs to develop at least one winger to open up the center of the pitch for Dempsey, Bradley and Donovan to make runs. Dempsey is at his best when he plays in the center which allows him to best link up with Donovan. Whether that true winger is Josh Gatt, Joe Corona, Brek Shea or some else remains to be seen.

3. Even after five matches, most of the positions are wide open. At striker, Herculez Gomez impressed with his movement and energy. At times he was physically out matched and his finishing was average. Jozy Altidore had a great season in Holland but after suffering a late season injury, he did not see much time in any of the matches. Terrance Boyd’s move to Rapid Vienna should help his development as he looks raw but talented. With these three not cementing places in the squad, the position remains open for players like Teal Bunbury or CJ Sapong to make their way into the team in the future.
     In defense, the US needs some more young depth. Geoff Cameron played well and should continue to improve after moving to the position later in his career. However, there is a lack of quality center backs in the pool. Fabian Johnson has seemed to lock down a spot at left back after great performances. At right back, the position should be wide open. Steve Cherundolo is aging and looked vulnerable against Brazil and did not get forward as much as he did in South Africa. His place in the starting XI looks fairly secure since Eric Lichaj has barely played at Aston Villa and Michael Parkhurst looking more suitable as a central defender.

Which young players will emerge? Do the older players need to be phased out? What formation and system should Klinsmann play?
I would love to hear your thoughts either in the comments, via twitter @kpngacleansheet or on the KaCSFacebook page.

Also, I am live tweeting the Euro matches and posting short thoughts on each Euro match on Facebook so get involved!