June 12, 2010


World Cup 2010: USA will need speed and discipline to beat England: Expect Bob Bradley to keep things tight in the first half tonight, while he looks for weaknesses in Fabio Capello's side (Matthew Tomaszewicz, 12 June 2010, The Guardian))

Amazingly, the catalyst of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea remains the most identifiable figure on the team today. With that said, the way in which Landon Donovan plays the game – reliant on the skill and guile of others to make his own game shine – embodies the manner in which the USA play as a team ... on most days. Lacking any soccer equivalent to Michael Jordan, the USA focus on team play and cohesion. Will unity, and a resolve not to make mistakes, be enough to break down one of powerhouses of the international game?

Kick-off is set for 2.30pm Eastern Time in the States and up until the line-ups are revealed Bob Bradley's strategy will remain the same as always. Predictability was a trait closely associated with Coach Bradley through qualifying that has changed through the tune-up phase. What hasn't changed is the knukles-down approach of Bradley who can be heard during practices barking at his troops to take the intensity up.

"C'mon move!" "Be sharper!"

Bradley's teams can best described through the traits his son Michael, one of the team's central midfielders, exhibits on the pitch. "Junior" Bradley is a relentless ball-hawker in central midfield who abounds with energy from the opening whistle to the close. He tackles hard, moves the ball quickly – though sometimes off-target – and rarely gives up on a play. Skilled in possession or an offensive tactician he is not.

You could say the same about the Yanks' game. Perhaps the only advantage the Yanks' have – beyond an individual moment of brilliance from Fulham's Clint Dempsey – is speed, specifically speed on the counter.

The great conundrum facing Bradley, and every media hound attempting to predict how Bradley will deploy his team, is when to unleash Donovan with Robbie Findley – a poor man's Jermain Defoe – in front of him. Will Bradley start the game with the pacey combination of Findley-Donovan-Steve Cherundolo on the right of the pitch or will he wait to bring that grouping together until after England has tired? [...]

Expect Bradley to attempt to "steal" the game. It is rather academic to talk about the US "going for a draw" or "seeking a win". The strategy will be dictated by by game circumstance more than anything else. If the US is up 2-0 and they were playing for the draw, well, then what?

Perhaps a better thing to focus on is the USA's style of play, and you just need to look at three pivotal recent games to see an identifiable pattern. Against the Mexicans in August, the Hondurans in October and the Dutch – in a friendly – in March, Bob's playbook was a tale of two halves.

The first halves of these games were case studies in "defend, resist, and capitalise if opportunities somehow present themselves". The game against Mexico at the Azteca was the onlyone where the USA knocked in a first-half goal and the play was both extraordinary and brilliant, but not indicative of the gameplan that half. Donovan took a pass in traffic and slipped it through perfectly to Charlie Davies, who just beat the offside flag.

That's it – the USA's only first-half goal in any of these matches. For a solid majority of the time, Bradley elected to camp back, defend his goal and only take opportunities that didn't require his team to lose their shape.

Expect more of the same against England. It's why you won't see a Jose Torres deployed in the first half. It's also why Bradley commented in his press conference last week that the front line, in essence, should have been "sharper" with its chances against Turkey – though possessions provided the only scripted offence for the half. You can be sure that Jozy Altidore was one player Coach Bradley was talking about in that statement because his theoretical ability to maintain possession. Altidore is certainly a player that Bradley didn't want to see missing pitch time this week.

...that the team really only shines when circumstances force Coach Bradley to move Dempsey forward into the attack. We just don't hold possession well enough to play as defensively as he'd like. It's why we blew leads against Mexico in qualifying and to win the Confederations Cup against Brazil. Our best defense is to always be going forward and to trust the central defense, central midfielders and goalie to provide the cover. It seems fair to say that the two most important factors in today's game are the health of Gooch Onyewu and that we not score an early goal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2010 8:01 AM
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