BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The United States played to a disappointing 1-1 draw against Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier which concluded a five game series of games.
The US began these games with a terrific performance against Scotland in a 5-1 win. Since then, however, their performances have been mostly mediocre. In large part, their offense was unable to create many opportunities and the team only played well in brief stretches. It is clear the team needs consistency.
But those are broad terms. Here are the specific areas of concern that need to be addressed by Jurgen Klinsmann going forward.
Central midfield trio of Bradley, Edu, and Jones
Against Guatemala, Klinsmann elected to start three central midfielders in Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu.
It is very clear that all three are solid players and have impressive club resumes. That being said, these three do not work well together and they do not play up to the sum of their parts. They all play similar roles and neither of the three are possession oriented players.
With these three players, the US looks sharp defensively in central midfield but when they move into the attack, they seem out of ideas in the final third.
The US needs better passing out of the central midfield and that likely means that one of these three will need to sit in favor of an attacking minded player or a winger. It remains to be seen who would fill this void. Jose Torres is a good player but he prefers to sit deep. It is uncertain whether or not Stuart Holden will recover from his injury and Joe Corona is still untested.
Either way, the best thing would be for the US to use any friendlies or meaningless qualifiers (after qualification to the "Hex" is secure) to try more options instead of trying to work with the existing trio.
Lack of wide players is a major problem
Perhaps the most significant problem facing the US team right now is the lack of wide attacking options.
Fabian Johnson's return from injury was a welcome surprise against Guatemala and he assisted on the US team's only goal. Still, that's not enough. With Landon Donovan having an off night, the US was forced to go down the middle and this was easy to defend.
This was very similar to the problems the US U-23 team faced in its failed bid to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. Brek Shea had an off week and as a result, there was nothing the US could do out wide. Opponents were easily able to defend the middle.
With this senior US team, everything has to go down the middle and when that responsibility lies with the trio of Bradley, Edu, and Jones, it is unlikely to be effective.
To Klinsmann's credit, he has tried Robbie Rogers and Brek Shea out wide and neither were that effective. Still, Shea is showing signs that he is breaking out of a slump with FC Dallas and that would be very welcome news for the US team. Shea still has a lot to learn but being able to play wide is a very valuable asset.
Fabian Johnson has been a revelation to the US team since deciding to file his one-time switch and leave the German program for the US national team.
As a left back, he has been terrific for both Hoffenheim and the United States. That position has been the Achilles Heel of the US national team and Johnson maybe the fix for that seemingly constant problem.
Despite that, Johnson is far more needed in the midfield because he addresses so many weaknesses there.
The first is that he is primarily offensive minded. He was terrific setting up Clint Dempsey's goal but he also was caught out of position on defense. If he moves to the midfield, he can focus on his strengths in moving forward.
The second is that he is a great wide option and that is an area the team lacks. He is naturally right footed but is also very strong with his left. As a result, he can play either wing. He can also pinch into the middle and play an attacking position centrally.
Johnson is so valuable because he gives the US team so much of what they are lacking: left back, wings, or creativity in the middle. With Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj also a capable left back, Klinsmann should get Johnson into the midfield to fix the problems there.
Distribution from central defenders
This has been a problem for the US team for awhile and that appears to still be the case.
Right now, the passing from the central defense is significantly hurting the US possession game. As it stands now, the US central defense far too frequently boots the ball upfield when under pressure. This often concedes possession back to the opponents. Also as a result, the midfield has to play further back closer to the defense.
Geoff Cameron has shown promise in improving the backline's ball handling and this is also a strength for Tim Ream. Clarence Goodson is still a good player but he struggled at times with Brondby this season and he will be 32 by the next World Cup.
Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu have occupied starting spots in the back for years but it is important to gradually move towards defenders who can move the ball forward effectively.
Bocanegra is still the leader of the US team but it is important to integrate over time a new style of central defense with players who are focused on playing the ball. For too long the American focus of this position has been on physical players who are "hard men." That aspect of the game is useful at times but without sharp passing, it can hurt the offense as well.