Armchair Analyst: Turnovers and disappointment as USMNT lose to Colombia

Yes, I still visit BigSoccer:

That sentiment sums up the Jurgen Klinsmann Era of the US men's national team, and did so even before Friday night's 2-0 loss to Colombia. He has more players in top leagues and at top clubs, he has more players with Champions League experience, and he has more depth and versatility in his roster than any other manager in US history.

And yet they consistently fail to play as something more than the sum of their parts, or even something equal to the sum of their parts. DeAndre Yedlin is worse for the US than he is for Sunderland; Alejandro Bedoya is not as effective as he is for Nantes; Fabian Johnson is indomitable for Borussia Moenchangladbach, and invisible in Red, White & Blue.

The common denominator is Klinsmann. We celebrated before this match because he only played four players (Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes) out of position -- for continuity and chemistry's sake, that was a victory. It was the least crazy lineup Klinsmann has trotted out in some time.

On the other side of the field, all 10 Colombian players were in spots they play for their club teams (or maybe nine-and-a-half, since Edwin Cardona is often a pure playmaker for Monterrey rather than a winger).

Anyway, about that crazy lineup...


Still Crazy After All These Years

Ok, let's pick apart that lineup for a second. I still think it was close to the right call, and I still think the 4-3-3 best deploys the talent the team does have. The problem, however, is that this XI had never started together before. Soccer is a holistic game in which one player's talents can and should be magnified by the talents of the personnel around him or her. Two guys who rate a 7 out of 10 playing together long enough to form chemistry will likely give you better results than a pair of 8s who've never set foot on the same field at the same time.

As such, the US lacked the type of chemistry necessary to turn possession into penetration, and the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Michael Bradley often became isolated:

Ideally this is supposed to be Bradley (#4) deep with Jones (#13) and Bedoya (#11) distinctly ahead of him, and a little more central.

But that didn't happen. The first reason is the lack of reps those players have together, and the second is...


The Sound of Silence

The wingers, Wood and Zardes, created almost nothing. And because they tended to pinch in tight -- they're both natural center forwards, after all -- Jones and Bedoya were forced to split wide and offer additional defensive coverage for fullbacks Johnson and Yedlin. That messed up any chance to build a passing rhythm through the middle, and any chance to punish Colombia for defending too deep and compact.

Part of the reason Colombia are good is because they have guys like James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado. But another part of the reason is that those guys play together and thus know how to play together! It's tautological, but it's also common damn sense.

This is as much an issue on the defensive side of the ball as it is on the attacking side of the ball in the modern game. Transitions from defense to attack when the ball is turned over... that's the difference between a good team and a bad, and a team that's A) played together, and B) been drilled on how to play together, has an advantage over a team that just boasts "talent."

The US boasts talent, but they have no idea how to press as one unit. This particular play below was so disheartening, since it was a perfect spot to re-press and punish Colombia for their bravado playing out of the back:

That play crystallized it, but it was noticeable much earlier in the night:

The US, as usual, were not prepared to play as a unit.


Bridge Over Troubled Water

I still maintain that the US have more than enough talent to get out of this group -- man for man, we're more talented than either Paraguay or Costa Rica. But the team's best players have to actually play like it.

Bradley must be better. His turnover led to the handball call (which was correct) on the second goal. Geoff Cameron can not get beat so easily on a simple pick for the first goal. Yedlin has to keep his hand down, and has to be at least a little bit aggressive in pushing forward. The same can be said for Johnson, in spite of playing in the wrong spot.

That said, this game can serve as a bridge between what the US have been under Klinsmann and what they can become if given the time to develop into a unit. I obviously think some personnel changes are needed -- Dempsey can not start as a center forward again, and we need more of Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic in basically any spots out there -- but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Let's not tear the whole thing down and start anew, which is what Klinsmann seems to prefer time after time after time.

"Overall it was totally even, we didn't give them anything," Klinsmann said in the press conference afterward, and while this is very much due to game states, it's not entirely due to game states. "The message overall is positive to the players even if you're obviously disappointed that you didn't get the three points."

I don't entirely disagree with that! The US showed some things to build upon, and there needs to be some faith that the individuals who made killer mistakes -- Bradley, Yedlin and Cameron, all three veterans of the World Cup and of some of the best leagues in the world -- are good and smart enough pros to fix it the next time out.


A few more things to ponder...

4. Here it is, the high point of the game for US fans:

Cameron was actually pretty awesome from the run of play. It's a shame he fell asleep on the Christian Zapata goal, because that's all people will remember.

3. The US were so damn wasteful on set pieces in the first half. If there's a restart on the borderline between "I think I'll just put it into the mixer" and "I think I'll have a go directly at goal," we need to choose "Let's put it into the mixer!" If it's 25 out, give Clint the green light. If it's 35 yards out... come on, dude.

2. Jones looked lost and tired and left no impression upon the game. Given his form of late and his penchant for leaving a mark in these tournaments, I'm pretty shocked by that.

1. Folks on Twitter justifiably had a lot of fun with this touch from Zardes (who was actually pretty good at times):

And yeah... not great. But there are literally four guys along the same attacking axis, with a fifth (Zardes) and sixth (Bedoya) checking back into that same space.

No team that's actually been coached operates that way.

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