The Back Four – USA v. Mexico

So it’s taken me a bit longer than I’d hoped to get my thoughts on this matchup condensed to four major talking points. There are tons of variables still for the game, namely lineups for both teams. As such, I’m taking these factors into consideration when I give you my predicted starting lineup for the US:

  • The Houston Dynamo boys played lated Sunday night, almost all going the full 90 in some nasty heat. One of the things Coach Bradley does really well is monitor fatigue levels for his players, and typically has a great handle on which of the players can play on short rest, etc. As such, I wouldn’t expect Ching or Clark to start (and Holden wouldn’t start if not fatigued anyways).
  • Steve Cherundolo isn’t 100% back to form, and even then I’m not sure he’s a better option on the right or left than what we currently have in Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector.

The lineup should be this, my best guess:

Altidore      Davies

Donovan                             Dempsey

Feilhaber   Bradley

Bocanegra                                               Spector

DeMerit  Onyewu

Howard

This lineup was brilliant against Spain and Egypt, so I see no reason why it’ll change. If Clark were not coming off a late-night Sunday game, then he might get the nod, but Feilhaber has been brilliant for Aarhus so far this season.

That being said, here’s what to watch for tomorrow afternoon:

  1. First and foremost, how do our wings come out? Are Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey playing hard-nosed defense and tracking the shifty Mexican wings deep in the back third?
    Donovan and Dempsey are going to be largely responsible for tracking the likes of Gio dos Santos, Nery Castillo, and Andres Guardado across the field. All 3 are creative, quick, and fast, using their low center of gravity well to keep defenders on their toes. Limiting their effectiveness will be the biggest key to a US victory at Azteca.
  2. What kind of pressure does Coach Bradley start with?
    This Mexican team thrives on the ability to pass and create, and the low-pressure approach in the Gold Cup was the undoing of the US squad. The lack of intense pressure across the pitch allowed the Mexican midfielders and defenders entirely too much time on the ball, and they were able to pick our defense apart with the acres of space they were given.
    Hopefully, we see a high-pressure approach early on, with Charlie Davies‘ speed likely to be a big disruptive force up front. The pressure from Davies played a large role in killing Spain’s ability to develop plays from the back, something the Mexicans are also fond of doing.
    If Davies is disruptive and nuisance to the Mexicans early, their frustration will be evident and something for the US team to take advantage of.
  3. How do our outside backs perform?
    There is some worry that the tiny, agile wings of El Tri will cause some problems for the more physical, tactical Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector. I’m not worried about their defensive performance, as both are quality defenders that use timing, physicality, and textbook tackling well.
    However, their decisions and style of play coming forward will help determine the pace of the game and the effectiveness of the US counter attack. Spector and Bocanegra are both sound fundamentally and use their technical skills well to play out of the back, rather than resort to long clearances. It’s this poise and ability to calmly maneuver from defense to attack that will allow the US to make the most of a counter attack.
  4. How well does Coach Bradley manage the game?
    Not only does Bradley need to make the right tactical decisions – lineup, formation, pressure, etc. – from the start, but it’s time for him to start showing the ability to impact the game from the sidelines. Too often we see him waiting too late to make subs and making subs that make little to no sense.
    This is a game where one goal either way will not end the game, and tactics and personnel decisions will determine the outcome. If someone like Davies is playing well, subbing him out in favor of Ching or Casey just for the sake of change is not a good sign. Making sound decisions is more important to this game than just subbing for the sake of making a change.
    Bradley’s decisions in the second half about when and who to sub will play a large part in our ability to either overcome a deficit or protect a lead.
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2 Responses

  1. C’mon, Ryan. We know the answer to #4. We saw it in Confederations Cup. We saw it before with our disastrous qualifier results.

    We are a nation with the talent to run with the better sides on the planet (we may not win, but goddamit we can throw our punches). We are a side coached by a man who is stuck in the ideology of his predecessors. He understands how to work with less, but cannot manage multiple talents (because he is not used to having them).

  2. 1. I’d love to see Feilhaber in the midfield but I have feeling we’ll see Clark. Dempsey + Benny + LD is a lot of offense for a BB team and I expect we’ll see his conservative side.

    2. The LD/Dempsey problem is interesting: we need them to be defensive-minded but, with all the issues regarding fitness (altitude, smog, etc), is relying on a counter-attacking approach smart considering it requires phenomenal energy output?

    3. Speaking of fitness, will we become a long-ball team as the game progresses? We need our midfield to be a strong, cohesive unit for this game.

    4. How do we balance new youth with experience? This isn’t a neutral site game, obviously; having some experienced guys on the field who can remain settled is crucial, especially should Mexico go up first. Do we start players who’ve played this fixture before (e.g., Dolo) for players who are now competing for those positions (Spector)?

    5. I’m not expecting much from B Bradley. If ever there appears to be game in which timing with subs seems important, it’s this one.

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