Saturday, June 21, 2014

USA-Portugal - attacking options

There have been discussions about who to use to replace Jozy Altidore in the lineup for the USA game against Portugal, and while I have already given my two cents with a 4-2-3-1 and Graham Zusi playing opposite Bedoya on the wings, I figure it was worth a little more discussion.

Let me start by giving an example, but in a fit of intellectual honesty, know that it is also a scar for me. Busan, South Korea. June, 2002. USA v. Germany. We had so many chances, we played so well. But our finishing - especially one Landon Dononvan - was lacking and we lost.

In part, Jurgen Klinsmann at the time blamed Landon Donovan's lack of polish because of his experience in MLS. I can remember one breakaway late in the second half where Donovan was in one on one with Kahn. Donovan shoots low to the far corner coming across the goal, Kahn saves it. It was a brilliant save. Maybe this is unfair, but I remember thinking that if he had been able to stick it out in Germany, he would know that such a finish would almost always beat an MLS goalkeeper, but something more would be needed against Kahn. And we've seen that Donovan has that shot in him.

What to take from that? Take that I am wary of both Johannsson and Wondolowski - players who aren't used to competing as regularly against the kinds of defenders that they will face tomorrow.

Even Altidore hasn't had consistent success against the EPL opponents he has faced. But he does do a lot of the hard work that neither of those other options have the body type for. And his role simply can't be replaced. (The rumblings about Eddie Johnson... sorry, don't see it.)

I haven't heard a lot of this in conversation, but to look at all options, let's also look at Mix and Davis. The Houston midfielder is a winger with a great cross, but seems to be strong as a late attacking option rather than someone who can work both directions. In MLS, he isn't exactly known for his defending. Then again, who knows what efforts he has made to work on that in camp, and his talent and athletic ability is obvious.

Diskerud, on the other hand, is more of a playmaker, and frankly strikes me as someone either centrally or even moreso not fit to do the dirty work that will be required tomorrow.

And make no mistake, there will be a LOT of dirty work to be done. Anyone moaning about how the US played against Ghana, don't expect to see a Clockwork Orange on Sunday. In fact, tomorrow may be one of the most defensive games the US has played since they played Brazil on July 4, 1994. The difference, though, will be in the times the US attacks. In those moments, we will need to execute well, which is why two way players are required.

Graham Zusi may not be known first and foremost for his defense, but because he would fit into an organizational system that will work well against Portugal, and because of the options, he can play the most defense while being a quality option in attack, he is the guy I peg for the spot.

All of that being said, let me remind you of my deference to a coaching staff. As I mentioned in Emergence of a Footballing Nation - USA v. Portugal 2002, I have seen a number of instances where player fitness, healthy and ability have more of an impact on availability and tactics than we can see from the outside, so anything is possible.

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