Tempo-Free Soccer: How does USMNT's style differ across competitions? | Gold Cup

In a previous piece we looked at how the USMNT attack has changed and not changed under Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann wanted the US to play possessive, attacking, attractive soccer and at times they have. And a lot of how they look depends on their opposition.

For example, the US put on an attacking clinic in a 6-0 rout this past weekend in the Gold Cup; but how much does that mean coming against an undermanned Cuban squad? Furthermore, although the US brought a strong squad to this continental championship that is certainly not always the case in international play. Because of these factors we decided to look at how Klinsmann's USMNT style might differ from more competitive matches to less important ones.

A good measure of a team's passing style is the number of passes per possession they attempt. Generally the higher the number, the better a team is at retaining possession.

For purposes of this analysis we are only considering "competitive" matches as the CONCACAF hexagonal round of World Cup Qualifying and the World Cup. All friendlies were included but the other international matches (Gold Cup 2013 and early round WCQ) were excluded because the US did not always bring their "A" team.

The chart below shows how the US' passes per possession compare to the level of their opponent as measured by their ELO rank. Unsurprisingly, there is a relationship between the two. Additionally, we have highlighted the competitive matches in red.

USMNT Passes Per Possession

The US has a fairly different passing style from friendly matches to competitive matches, despite the overall level of their opponents being roughly equal. Most likely, this is the result of teams playing a less physical/pressing style of defense in friendlies than in competitive matches.

USMNT Passing Styles
Type Avg. Opponenent ELO Rank Passes Per Possession Goals/Game
Competititive Matches 36.7 3.64 1.50
Friendlies 35.6 4.02 1.62

There is no better example of this friendly/competitive style disparity than how the US has fared against Klinsmann's home country, Germany. The US national team has actually won two of the three meetings against the world champions, but the passing style with which they played -- or Germany allowed them to play -- was starkly different. Determining if Klinsmann can translate these friendly victories into a deep run in an international tournament remains to be seen.

USMNT vs. Germany
Date Type Opponent Result US Passes Per Possession
6/2/13 Friendly Germany 4-3 W 4.95
6/26/14 World Cup Germany 0-1 L 2.85
6/10/15 Friendly Germany 2-1 W 3.40

Against Jamaica on Wednesday (6 pm ET; FoxSports 1 | UniMas | Sportsnet World) the US will once again face a team against which they've had some struggles under Klinsmann. The teams split two games in World Cup qualifying back in 2012, followed by a closer-than-it-looks sweep by the US in the 2013 Hexagonal. In both of those 2013 games, the US needed late goals to get the result they wanted.

When the match matters, possessions get shorter and the margin for error gets smaller.

Five Finals. Five Stories.

Two CONCACAF teams dominate the Gold Cup: the United States and Mexico. Read our interactive presentation about five matches that helped shaped soccer in the region.