June 12, 2016


USA's Copa América has been revived by their glorious, bloody defense (Aaron Timms, 12 June 2016, The Guardian)

It's hard to shake the sense that Klinsmann remains a tactically naive manager, but momentum often matters more than tactics in tournament football, and there's little doubt the US now have momentum on their side. Besides, the German got his tactics right last night: he made Bobby Wood the fulcrum of the attack - a logical formation change in light of the Hamburg-bound striker's demonstration against Costa Rica of how lethal he can be when playing centrally - and tucked Clint Dempsey in behind, with Gyasi Zardes and Alejandro Bedoya encouraged to get wide and run fast.

Paraguay, needing a win to survive in the tournament, had promised to attack and take chances in the first half, and attack they did. But this was a plan that played directly into the home team's hands, because it allowed the US to settle into the rapid, counter-attacking pattern that fits them best. Dempsey's goal - created by lightning work down the left flank by Zardes - exemplified the merits of this approach going forward, but it wouldn't have worked without a solid defensive shield.

And Saturday night, if anything, was about the defense. The pivotal moment of the contest was not Zardes's assist, neat as it was, but John Brooks's block on Miguel Almiron after the Paraguayans, in the 10th minute, broke with three men against two. Brooks celebrated the block like a goalkeeper celebrating a penalty save, and with good reason: it set the tempo for the match, a minor classic of the defensive genre whose defining feature was not what got created in the final third, but what got snuffed out. Too often football observers, in their rush to be wowed by the artistry of players further up the pitch, overlook the talents of defenders. Let not these arch-miserabilists, these professional rejecters whose contributions are measured in the negative (shots blocked, passes intercepted, chances killed), be overlooked. Last night the US's were magnificent.

Protecting a slim lead, the US needed discipline in the second half. Instead, they got a man sent off. In a sense this made life simpler for the home team, because it allowed them to jettison whatever ambition they might have had to extend their lead and focus, instead, on pure, bloody defense.

With his job on the line he's jettisoned all the nonsense about playing a style that ill suits us and reverted to the defense and counter-attack that exploits our spirit, size, speed and fitness advantages. He's become Bob Bradley.

Posted by at June 12, 2016 11:34 AM