What I want to see at some point is movement. There has to be the chance of out-smarting teams since we have renounced our dedication to out-running them and are not yet at the point where we can out-skill them.
Beyond anything else, movement is what wins soccer games. Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the history of the sport, and it's not just because of his otherworldly individual skills. It's because his club team has coached and bred and identified and developed players and a style that prioritizes and encourages movement, and the power of that movement is multiplied by Messi's on-the-ball brilliance. He is in an environment where movement is king.
This game all starts with guys working together on and off the ball. Passing and dribbling are individual skills; movement is a team skill.
And neither the US U-23s nor their Brazilian counterparts evinced much of that in Brazil's 2-1 win on Wednesday evening.
I'm going to throw up a few bullet points rather than giving the whole analytical treatment:
• Coordinated movement is important on both sides of the ball. Watch as Khiry Shelton and Gedion Zelalem fail to coordinate their pressure, and the US back line comes unglued:
GOAL, Brazil! Gabriel runs through the U.S. defense and slots home to give Brazil a 1-0 lead over the US U-23s. https://t.co/2UHEeH5BJK— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 11, 2015
Lots of guys working only as individuals in one short clip, which is very disappointing.
• Shelton was played out of position as a No. 9. He's big and tall, which may fool some folks, but he is by no means a center forward. He doesn't receive the ball well with his back to goal, he struggles to understand his defensvie role in cutting down distribution angles, and he's not a natural goal-scorer.
Shelton's future is on the wing. Hopefully Andi Herzog is done playing him out of position.
• At some point "back to goal skill" became code for "unskilled clod," which is lamentable. Great back-to-goal forwards can create chances for their attacking teammates and can also relieve pressure from swamped midfield.
Barcelona went out and got Luis Suarez for a reason, after all. Even the world's most skilled team felt they needed a guy who could occupy opposing central defenses.
Hopefully Maki Tall gets a look in that role next week, and hopefully LA Galaxy's Jose Villarreal (a very inventive back-to-goal player) also gets a look.
• Zelalem is not a savior. He's a wonderful talent, but there are some basic things he's currently missing from his game:
He turns 19 in two months, and I don't think it's too early to start worrying a bit about his motor. The most successful No. 8s in US history -- guys like Claudio Reyna, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones -- always brought/bring energy.
Zelalem will need to add that to his game to be effective.
• Jerome Kiesewetter continues to be an encouraging attacker, thanks largely to his motor and fearlessness. If the full national team goes to a 4-3-3, he could very well find a home on the flank.
My concern, though, is that he turns 23 soon and is mostly playing in the third tier of German soccer. This isn't a prospect like Zelalem, this is a grown man who has been a pro for half a decade.
If the breakthrough with Stuttgart doesn't come soon, I truly hope he looks for a loan (how about the Eredivisie?) in January, because I think he can be a useful part of this next cycle.
• Julian Green, on the other flank, seemed to lack most of what Kiesewetter brings to the table.
Like Zelalem, he is still more prospect than product, so he needs time. Yet I find it hard to imagine he'll ever be anywhere near capable of playing significant minutes for Bayern Munich's first team.
• At every level the US have a bad defensive habit of dropping our line too deep, all the way into the 18. Look at how easy it is for Brazil to receive passes in the final third here:
GOAL, Brazil! Luan doubles the hosts' lead over the US U-23s with a beautiful, curling strike. 2-0. WATCH https://t.co/Jekeur5VLy— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 12, 2015
I'm comfortable with calling that "bunkering," and it's endemic.
This is both an individual skill and a team skill -- it's not easy to defend when there's space in behind. Figuring that out is a big step for any central defender, and not one they all necessarily take.
The frustrating thing is that John Brooks can be absolutely wonderful at this kind of defense when he's locked in and sync'd with the guys around him. That didn't happen for the US in this one.
• The US finished the game desperately searching for an equalizer. Their plan? Push Brooks up top and launch long-balls at his head for the game's final 12 minutes or so.
That is not progress, and it is not a solution. If the US are going to get to Brazil next summer, they'll need a real plan.
I've yet to see one.