By Jacob Klinger
The U.S. came up short against Brazil Wednesday night.
Yes, they were rather unlucky, but Brazil was the better team, making the plays it needed to when it needed to. For the 3-1 stretch of the game, it looked like Klinsmann's side might just claw back into it, still, Brazil never looked uncomfortable. Maybe that's just Brazil though.
Regardless, the U.S. showed it can play some very decent ball of its own against some of the world's best. Yet there are three things they could have done differently to turn a somewhat encouraging performance into a result.
Where the width at?
Strikers like Herculez Gomez - more on that department later - earn their keep by masterfully exploiting space. But when the only chalk on Landon Donovan's feet comes from the center cirlce, that space is unnecessarily limited.
"Pull the ball wide, play him in behind" is just one of many common sense cliches in soccer. That doesn't make it any less true. Torres was OK in his 55-minute peformance, but he is not comfortable manning wide positions in a game as quick as this. And while Fabian Johnson provided some much-needed width on that flank, the U.S. simply cannot depend on its fullbacks for service. In fact, Klinsmann was fortunate not to see Brazil exploit the space left by Johnson's runs more. Credit is due to Michael Bradley and co. for clogging those passing lanes, but when playing with fire you are only asking to get burned.
Someday Donovan will be a fine second striker for the U.S. Today though, he is best played on the wing. If he tucks in here and there swapping with another attacking mid, fine, but for one of the fastest players, best crossers and all-around best attackers ever to don an American jersey to be stuck in central midfield traffic is tragically wasteful. Again, Cherundolo helped out, aside from him though, it was Jermaine Jones proving why he is only a viable right mid against the likes of Scotland.
The American talent pool only has so much going for it, but speed, crossing and the ability to create off of balls played in from out wide are among the country's bread and butter. Unfortunately, the U.S. limited itself Wednedsay night by playing far, far too narrow of a game.
A healthy Clint Dempsey or Eric Lichaj, allowing Johnson to scoot up to left midfield, could really help this situation in the future, but the men that made up Klinsmann's team against Brazil did not.
Two is better than one
There are some days when the U.S. can and should play with a lone striker supported by two attacking midfielders. Wednesday did not prove to be one of them.
You can't fault Klinsmann much at all here. The team played great posession soccer over the weekend in the aforementioned setup and he needed to see if it could work at the next level. But it didn't.
It's true that Brazil held a two-goal lead when Terrence Boyd came in to partner Gomez up top. The result was not settled however, and they nearly reversed it. Something about having a physical specimen partnering a clinical offside trap-buster just works. The two forwards primarily open up space for each other while giving the team's wingers further space to run into. Ultimately that space should result in better service to more goal-getters and eventually, more goals.
The U.S. had no such luck in Landover, but the switch made Michael Parkhurst more of an attacking threat than he's ever been. It also forced Donovan wider where he found more of the ball that he struck for some late and delicious crosses.
Klinsmann was rightfully ticked at AZ Alkmaar for keeping Jozy Altidore out of camp until Monday. He certainly would have benefitted from the team's collective skillset. Next time.
Until an abundance of natural in-form wingers - think Brek Shea 2011 - make themselves available the quasi-4-3-3 can't work against a team that can match the U.S. in pace in addition to its obscene talent in all other things soccer.
Maurice Edu had a bit of a clunker and he's still a very useful piece of the national team, but he easily could have been sacrificed for another striker. Even if it meant forcing Torres to play as a true left midfielder, this is a team that needs that extra bit of space to play and create in. Throwing another man up top does just that in addition to forcing the team to play to its strengths on the wings.
Not to state the obvious, but the U.S. is not Spain. The talent is not there to play inch-perfect passes through a crowded midifeld. Klinsmann knows this and will continue to stress offensive spacing as the team moves forward. There will be matches when the team's best bet is to find that space in a 4-3-2-1 or some other formation.
Bradley, Edu and Jones did a pretty good job of clogging up midfield in such a formation. Yet any two of them could have covered that ground fairly capably. Having a wide midfield option to outlet to once the opposing attack is sufficiently stopped does wonders for everyone.
When that opponent is Brazil, both famous and notorious for its attacking fullbacks, the decision to switch to a 4-4-2 becomes pure logic. Marcelo especially could have been had by a well-armed wide midfielder on Wednesday, but there was nobody there to do the taking.
The strikeforce would benefit as would the defense. So long as Klinsmann believes he has two capable fullbacks and two aerially savvy center backs, the team works best against the likes of Brazil in a simple 4-4-2. Bradley and Jones would shoulder more creative weight in that classic formation, but Bradley especially has shown he can handle it.
The U.S. should have learned plenty about itself against Brazil. In short, the team can be right there with the big boys of world soccer. Just a few simple changes can inch them that little bit closer into the dizzying heights of international soccer. There, you make your own luck.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Was the U.S. just outclassed or is there something more to it? You ready for Gomez to be THE guy going into qualifying or is he just keep Jozy's spot warm for now? Is Donovan back for good? And just what is going to happen in Toronto this weekend? You have internet, use it and speak your mind in the Facebook comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at email@example.com.
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