Argentina 4 USA 0: An Autopsy

My tweets before and after the lineup for the US vs Argentina semi-final:

“If we see Nagbe and/or Pulisic in lineup, you know we’re rolling the dice & trying for a win and if you don’t, playing for penalties.”

“and there it is, the dreaded b.s. playing for penalties lineup. Jurgen shows no courage, NONE, in his first XI.”

“W/this lineup the US will have ZERO possession, and be outchanced by a ratio of 5-8 to 1. It’s horrific. Expecting us to be annihilated…..”

And my tweet midway through the first half down 1-0. Note that I was already logging the game as a loss:

“what’s frustrating isn’t the loss, we had a 10-15% chance, what’s frustrating is that Klinsy’s lineup showed he wasn’t even trying.”

Post Game Thoughts:

Pundits have taken many tacks on the crushing defeat for the US from the uninformed, to the underinformed, to the homers (3 of 4 Fox pre-game mediots picking the US to win, when the US were +845 underdogs in the US (and much worse abroad), to the legit, but for me, the basic write up on the game was fairly simple to put together. Without Jermaine Jones the center of the midfield would lack athletic bite and there wouldn’t be an effective replacement for him on the roster, without Bobby Wood, there were no forward options left with speed other than young wunderkind Christian Pulisic who has played more of a winger role for Dortmund and central midfield role with the US U-17 World Cup Team, with Klinsy having inexplicably left Jordan Morris at home, and with alejandro Bedoya unavailable, the temptation to start an unathletic, ponderous, technically lacking Zusi would be almost impossible for Klinsmann to resist. Were there any ways to effectively solve these issues? Yes and no. There was no way to effectively replace Jones as no such player was available on the roster and the same problem eliminated a like for like sub for Wood, however in the latter case Pulsici could have been an effective replacement, while the loss of Jones could have been addressed by moving Bradley into his spot, and Nagbe into Bradley’s former spot. The key would have been to utilize Nagbe in the playmaking role, Pulisic as a winger, and move Bradley and Cameron in front of the defense to clog argentina’s attempts to attack through the middle.

As predicted, however, a coach who claimed the players needed to “go for it,” preceeded to choose a lineup that most of us in the know, realized was a catastrophic mistake. Preferring veteran two way responsibility to technical prowess and comfort on the ball, Klinsmann went with 30+ year old MLS lifers Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi, two players noone would ever confuse with the technically gifted, andt hen just to triple down on the foolishness, he inserted World Cup GOAT and MLS poacher extraordinaire Chris Wondolowski, as Clint Dempsey’s strike partner. It is impossible to overstate how foolish, and poorly thoughout these choices were, and I’ll explain briefly just how bad.

1.Starting Wondo up top over Pulisic, and over a potential 4-5-1 lineup made zero sense for many reasons but probably the two clearest were first: Wondo’s effectiveness depends on quality service from crosses into the box providing goal poaching opportunities, and with no pace or technical ability coming from the wins, or the midfield, no such crosses, or opportunities would be available. Secondly, Argentina’s sole weakness today is a pedestrian defense long on  solidity, and short on athleticism and pace, the way to challenge them is with pace, and technique, the two clearest weaknesses in Wondo’s game.

2.Klinsy supposedly chose Zusi and Wondo (and beckerman) because of their veteran know how and two way reliability as opposed to the youth and raw unreliability of Dortmund’s Pulisic and Nagbe, however the problem with these decisions was simple. First: it presumed that Zusi could actually defend effectively against the world class Argentine midfield and secondly: that Wondo’s defending could provide any help whatsoever and thirdly, that Beckerman’s “Get Stuck in” approach had any hope in hell of keeping up with the lightning pace, and water bug technical skill of the Argentine midfield. Any one with an ounce of sense knew the chances of these choices having any deleterious effect on the Argentine midfield were nil, and with so many players out on yellow’s and a red card, defensive organization would be lacking because of all the new players on the field. This defensive disorganization was exactly what undermined the US from the opening whistle, but it’s only part of the reason the lineup choices were so catastrophically bad.

3. Perhaps the single biggest reason the lineup was so predictably bad was the concept of possession. In order to play for penalties effectively a team needs to be able to mount a comprehensively organized defensive approach premised on comfort on the ball under pressure, and comfort with one another. While our first choice backline was in place, our midfield was anything but, built around a variety of players that lacked comfort on the ball, technical skill, and familiarity with the backline. As such, playing for penalties was an idiotic strategy. In order to have any hope of winning the US needed to clutter up the midfield with as many technically sound players as possible to limit bad give aways and to insure the attack could actually receive some service from players comfortable with the ball at their feet, and the way to do this was either to start a 4 man midfield featuring Pulisic, Nagbe, Bradley and Johnson, or a five man midfield featuring Cameron, Bradley, Nagbe, Pulisic, and Johnson. In either case, the US would be able to manage some possession, and in the latter five man midfield, there’d be far less room for the likes of Messi and Mascherano to operate.

The End Result: Alas it wasn’t to be, Klinsman went with paint by numbers veteran know how, hoping defensive two way responsibility, and reliability could trump technical ability, and sensible formation and tactical approach and as a result, my tweets and the consensus at bigsoccer were prophetic: the US completely ceded possession, lacked composure on the ball, had little organization, served up zero crosses to wondo rendering him irrelevant to the proceedings until his cynical foul after an egregious giveaway lead to Messi’s record breaking gorgeous free kick (elegantly lifted into the top right upper ninety, just out of the reach of Guzan) , and were totally overrun in the midfield and annihilated and my prediction that we would be outchanced by a ratio of 5 to 8 to 1 proved nearly spot on with Argentina outshooting the us 10-0.

What does it mean?

The US were annihilated for a variety of reasons, probably most prominent of those being the 3 unavailable players, the squad selection, and the lineup and tactical approach. To be sure, Argentina were heavy favorites for a reason, they are if not the best  team in the world today, they’re close, and were almost certainly a lock to win in regulation (basically 85% chance), however that doesn’t excuse a coach making decisions that would guarantee failure and that’s exactly what klinsmann did. Anyone can win a one off match, and it’s a coaches job to put his players in the best possible position to win and/or pull of such a miracle, however unlikely the odds as in a match like this. Klinsmann failed to do that.

At this stage the US will go back to qualifying, and should make it to the hex without much further trouble. At this stage Gulati has to seriously consider whether Klinsy is the right man for the jobs he currently holds. He’s done a good job restructuring the US system to emphasize development, if not in his coach selection which has been ghastly (the terrible choices w/regards to coaches for the U-17 and U-20 and U-23 programs have played a key role in the sides failing to make any noteworthy accomplishments in the last years of bradley, and now under Klinsmann. After playing a key role in funneling talent to the US National team from ’97 to ’03, the US youth teams since 2005 has largely been ghastly other than the brilliant Bradley-Adu-Altidore U-20 squad which was a whisker away from a run to the semifinals of the 2007 Cup. While Klinsmann has addressed some of the issues ,he ‘s failed to address the coaching problems endemic in the youth ranks playing a key role in the failures of the US to make the Olympics in ’12 or ’16, and the failure to accomplish anything of note at the youth world cups since 2007 until the U-20’s were knocked out on penalties in the quarterfinals a year ago.

However the USMNT has stalled out completely under Klinsmann and if yesterday is predictive of anything, it’s that it’s never a good idea to give a coach too much power, or a contract extension for a second WC run as just like Arena in ’05-’06, Klinsy has become more conservative instead of less, over time, and it’s hurt the program. Regardless we appear to be stuck with him for the next two years, the net benefit being perhaps some more Germericans, and better development and organization at the youth level. If nothing else, it’s crucial right now thatt he young kids in the US programs, the 17-24 year olds, need to find their way to the senior squad. It’s been a terrible two years for young former starlets like Julian Green, and Terrence Boyd, and its crucial that other youngsters like Carter-vickers, Miazga, Zelalem, Hyndman, Wright, Flores, Pulisic et all must find a way to the senior side for good. Youth development has largely failed from 2008-2013, it’s crucial that these kids make up for the deficits from that lost half decade if the US is to be taken seriously.






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