Three Things: How close are the USMNT to being in World Cup form? | Armchair Analyst
Take a deep breath, count to five and repeat "It's only a friendly." All managers, good and bad, play these games to figure out what's right and what's wrong.
That's what Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT are doing right now. And while there were some worrying signs in defense - we'll get to that in a bit - there was also plenty positive to take away from the attack after that 2-1 win over Turkey.
So we'll start there:
1. Michael as maestro
I made an analogy on this week's March to the Match, comparing Michael Bradley to a quarterback who, beyond everything else, excels at reading his progressions and choosing the right one. "He doesn't see the genius pass nobody else saw, he's just instantly able to assess when the fifth option becomes the first option."
This is an example of what I'm talking about:
Bradley understood immediately where Fabian Johnson was going, and then executed at a World Cup level.
This is why any US fan should be a fan of the diamond midfield that pushes Bradley up into the final third, especially in the absence of Landon Donovan. He's the chance creator for this team, the one who can make sure the ball gets where it needs to go for everyone else to be dangerous.
I'm not sure there were enough moments like that one above today - both Bradley individually and the US as a whole were sloppy. It was especially sporadic in the second half as the US flattened out a bit and shifted to more of a flat 4-4-2.
Regardless, that play shows the promise of Bradley as a creator, and credit to Klinsmann for having the guts to make the switch so late in the cycle.
There are some problems with the diamond, however...
2. Unable to get the pin
The US had all kinds of trouble getting Turkey pinned against the sideline - either sideline - in this one. One of the diamond's strengths defensively is the ability to make the game compact, flood an individual area and force the opposition to either play backwards, or hopefully across the middle (at great risk).
So far, that hasn't happened for the US. Jermaine Jones, who started his second straight game as a No. 6, did a ton of running and pressing, but wasn't able to work with his shuttlers (Brad Davis and Graham Zusi) to funnel attacks into spots of strength.
I'm not going to blame any one player, because this is a team concept that demands a systemic answer. When Jones slides out to pressure or chase - and to be clear, he needs to be more selective about when he does that - the strong side shuttler needs to shepherd whoever is on the ball into Jones. At the same time, the backline needs to step up as a unit, while the weak side shuttler has to drop deep and central, suddenly an ad hoc defensive midfielder.
Lots of moving parts, right? That's why few teams play the diamond, and the ones who do take years to master it.
Instead of working as a unit, the US had to rely on individuals to put out fires.
Jones at defensive midfield doesn't work. He is on the wrong side of the ball in transition nearly every time.
— Devin Pleuler (@devinpleuler) June 1, 2014
Jones wants to "make a play." It's in his nature. CDM diamond role more holistic, functioning as a back 3 triangle. Tigers have stripes.
— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) June 1, 2014
When Jones couldn't make the play, or got bypassed through midfield, that left Matt Besler to step high into central midfield and try to win the ball. Usually he did, but when he didn't it was all scrambling and emergency defense for the US.
This was always the case when Turkey were able to dash diagonally across the backline, a tactical issue exacerbated by poor communication from the entire back four.
3. Chandler makes me nervous
Every single World Cup, there is one player on the backline who makes me hole my breath. This year the honors belong to Timmy Chandler.
Like Jones he can be hyper-aggressive defensively, stepping way out of position to try to make a play. To be fair to him, this is the kind of thing fullbacks should do when playing in a 4-2-3-1, or even a flat 4-4-2.
In the diamond? No. Fullbacks are there to support and funnel, and to be the second man in rather than the first. It's a different way of playing the same position, and Chandler is in the early stages of figuring that out.
Tim Chandler everywhere except where he needs to be. That experiment may not work.
— Janusz Michallik (@JanuszESPN) June 1, 2014
The #usmnt may have the lead via a terrific goal, but that was not a good half. Defensive holes all around. Chandler is not a LB
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) June 1, 2014
Chandler got too tucked in there, but Brooks needs to let him know too
— Seth Vertelney (@svertgoalcom) June 1, 2014
Timmy Chandler's got a really cool, experimental idea of what defending is.
— James Tyler (@JamesTylerESPN) June 1, 2014
To be fair, he improved pretty steadily from minutes 20-through-70, which... I mean, that's something, right?
But he was also the worst player in the game's last 20 minutes, and capped off an abysmal finish with the type of giveaway that would get punished at any level from college on up. This is of a piece with Chandler's previous performances in the US shirt. Whenever the temperature's above 60 degrees or so, he limps to the finish.
Can he play in Brazil? I think so - he should be very useful against Ghana. But he's unplayable in the heat of Manaus against Portugal, and has to be considered a risk against Germany in the third game as well.
One more thing...
I really want to like Julian Green. I really do.
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) June 1, 2014
We all do, Alex.