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Revisiting Friday’s U.S. loss: tactics and personnel

Sep 9, 2012, 12:02 PM EDT

United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

Tactics are frequently misunderstood as a starting point for dissecting wins, losses and longer season fortunes.

That’s why I almost often join the camp that says “tactics schmatics” when critical analysis starts there. It’s not that tactics aren’t important; rather, it’s because tactical discussion are too often conducted in a vacuum.

As in: “The 4-2-3-1 is better / worse / superior / inferior to the 4-4-2.” Those discussions leave me wanting to change the channel or go sit at the next table.

Now, choosing the best personnel to fit a system and the optimal game-day arrangement of the correct personnel is certainly a discussion worth biting into – even if we don’t always get it right. This is all more art than science, of course, and always highly subjective.

The prescient tactical choices serve to illuminate players rather than bathing them in dimming shadows.

Of course, having the right personnel is the bedrock starting point.

For instance, give me a couple of difference makers in a match where the opponent misses the same, and even my mushy-pea brain stands a reasonable chance of arranging a limited set of tactics that can carry the day. It’s really about assigning players to comfortable roles and then drilling home the importance of dodging collective booboos. From there, you just let the game-changers do their doggone thing.

Now, about Friday:

Again, missing Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley in the midfield, and having Clint Dempsey at a clearly under-inflated tire pressure was simply too much to overcome. That’s how I saw the setback in Kingston.

As for the finer points, this read from Shinguardian is a great tactical breakdown of Friday’s result. It’s smart analysis of where tactics and personnel just didn’t line up to maximum effect.

Good points not to be missed from the article:

  • How the choice of playing a deeply recessed back line didn’t mesh with Kyle Beckerman’s abilities. (For me, the defensive plan was far from a fiasco, considering Jamaica put very little pressure on goalkeeper Tim Howard in open play. The only defensive demerit came in the fouling – which did prove quite damaging.)
  • How Clint Dempsey’s assigned role just does not suit him. It never will. I made the same point here in a post that dropped just after Friday’s match.
  • How Graham Zusi could have helped sooth the burn of missing Bradley and Donovan. I’m not sure I agree with that one – but see my comment above regarding subjectivity.

There’s plenty more in the article to agree or disagree with.

  1. footballer4ever - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    “tactics schmatics”, my sentiments exactly.

    Tactics mean nothing when performance does not back them up. Keeping possession of the ball, having a variety game plan in place in case tactics don’t go as planned and being bold to try different offensive plays is the most simple, yet difficult thing to come up with.

  2. jerryade - Sep 9, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    Anybody able to deliver the right through balls for service would have been good, like in the first 36 seconds. What happened to the dangerous crosses from overlapping runs by the fullbacks? Think it only happened once and Dempsey had another opportunity. Playing three defensive mids with very liittle creativity, and two of whom created fouls in dangerous free kick areas. There were other free kicks given, which were all silly, especially the first one by Beckerman. There were several U.S. defenders to clean up the run on that play and he should have known he was clearly beaten. The Jamaicans’ dangerous chances and goals were off free kicks, not the run of play, like you mentioned in another article.

    • Steve Davis - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      I don’t disagree with the comment about overlapping outside backs. I WILL SAY this … That’s where the US sorely miss the far more experienced Steve Cherundolo on the right. As I said in other pieces, Michael Parkhurst wasn’t bad in defense, but he’s not really a right back, and he just didn’t fill the bill in terms of adding effective width or, generally, adding much to the attack.

      • matthewsf - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:52 AM

        Agreed Steve.

        You could tell that Jamaica was pushing the US back on the States’ left flank. Please excuse the link, but if you look at the heat map on Rodolp Austin who essentially was the free man in the midfield with the US outmanned there, you can see he’s right center in the attack for Jamaica:

        http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2012-09-07-jam-v-usa/chalkboard

        If you’re picking your poison and you see Parkhurst, you are ok with him in possession. The US had 12 crosses, all from the right flank in the match, 0 from the left.

        Given that Jozy Altidore is not a stronger header of the ball and Dempsey was more available at the top of the box, forcing a Parkhurst dribble or cross is a great option to defend if you’re Jamaica.

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