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United States-Russia: What we learned from Wednesday’s draw

Nov 14, 2012, 12:25 PM EDT

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A 2-2 draw might slightly flatter Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, but a road draw against a quality European team is always a good result for the United States.

Tim Howard and Michael Bradley were the stars of this one, which went all kinds of sideways in the feeble first 30 minutes. But the U.S. gamely regrouped, providing room for Bradley to hit a fabulous equalizer and later for late sub Mix Diskerud to claim a late leveler once the Americans had slipped behind again.

Here are the important, early elements we can take away from Wednesday’s draw with Russia in Krasnodar.

(MORE: Man of the Match, Michael Bradley)

This is not Guatemala or Antigua or …

We have all spent so much time over the last few months analyzing matches, dissecting the collective performance and the individual abilities in varying situations. But here’s the rub:

The games are getting more difficult. So are the choices.

The lesser CONCACAF teams have been dispatched. The opposition in World Cup qualifiers ahead will be closer to Russian in terms of collective ability. And they will ruthlessly punish mistakes – just like Wednesday.

Young Danny Williams, for instance, seems to have taken hold of the central, holding midfield position. And he has previously performed those duties adequately against … Guatemala and against Antigua and Barbuda, etc.  But these are better players, faster, stronger, more tactically astute. And under the guidance of better managers. Fabio Capello may not have gotten it done for England, but he’s certainly got something between his soccer ears.

Wednesday, the young midfielder looked overwhelmed.

Here’s another good “for instance:” We saw Eddie Johnson excel in a wide role, roughly the same role where Herculez Gomez failed to make an imprint in the first-half Wednesday. But we simply cannot make too much of Johnson’s performance against such unequal competition.

In some ways, we can take a lot of what we learned in the last qualifying round and toss it out. The stakes are rising – and so is the quality of opposition.

Center backs. We are still talking about center backs …

Geoff Cameron did enough in his latest start centrally. We can nitpick here and there – a few too many “thump aways” that needed be controlled and spun into attacker starters, for instance. But generally, Cameron was solid against a quality bunch.

Past that? Just not good enough – to the point of being alarming

The midfield shape and performance left the American back line with lots to do, admittedly. (More on that below.) Still …

Carlos Bocanegra started but soon left injured. Coming in cold was no easy assignment for Clarence Goodson, but he was still erring late in the match, after plenty of time to warm up, adjust and take control.

Rather, he gave the ball away too much, sometimes too casually, lost his position too often and gave away a potentially devastating penalty kick (at a moment when Howard seemed to have the situation covered).

Is Goodson still the U.S. third choice center back? That’s probably the bigger question. Omar Gonzalez, not available for this one due to MLS playoffs, cannot get back into the U.S. fold quickly enough.

The three-man midfield still a work in progress.

Results have been mixed, at best, when Jurgen Klinsmann deploys some version of a 4-3-3, using three across the middle who are more or less defensive-minded. It seems to work at home when Bradley’s starting positions are slightly more advanced, where he can perform a little more as a playmaker and linker, a little less as a redundant defensive screener.

(Actually, the three man midfield probably isn’t going to work at all , in any form or alignment lean, if Bradley isn’t in the mix. Again, I say, he’s the most important U.S. man these days, not Clint Dempsey, not Landon Donovan and not Howard.)

(MORE: Video of Bradley’s breakthrough goal)

But on the road, when all three midfielders are saddled with heavy defensive duty, it tends to fall apart. As we saw in some of the qualifiers, the shape and organization can get shoddy. Where is the pressure and where is the support? Who is tracking whom? Who is organizing?

Williams, for his talent and potential, may not be the commanding presence to hold things together and ask teammates to be accountable. And we can ask questions about whether he gets too timid in the 50-50 challenges.

Distribution out of the back looks untidy — but some of that is down to midfield shape, where outlets seem less available than they should be. It seems to be all improvisation, less plan and pattern.

Important point here: Maurice Edu certainly has his flaws as a midfielder. But the moment he replaced Williams in the second half, things began to look more settled and organized. He wasn’t getting drawn out of position as Williams was.

He looked like the leader that Williams, 23, isn’t quite ready to be.

(MORE to come from ProSoccerTalk, including thoughts on Josh Gatt, who earned his first U.S. cap Wednesday)

  1. whordy - Nov 14, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    A Bradley – Jones – Williams midfield simply does not work and we need to stop trying it. We looked best with WIlliams – Bradley in the middle and it’s a shame we didnt give that another run out.
    But Jones, Jones is a problem. He is the worst. He is basically like Altidore, playing great for his club but his NT performances are iffy at best. But unlike Altidore, Jones actively harms us by killing attacks, making bad decisions, and lying on the ground more often than not.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 14, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      I generally agree about Jones,and have said so repeatedly. That said, I have to say that he was pretty good in the second half today.

      • wfjackson3 - Nov 14, 2012 at 1:30 PM

        I agree with Jones having a good second half. Actually, I was really surprised how well he did making runs down the left side of the field. When you play a 4-3-3, you usually want to get some crosses going, but nobody was really doing it until Jones started. It was something I totally didn’t expect out of him.

        As for Bradley, I thought he was totally absent in the first half. At one point, I noticed him and thought to myself “oh, did Bradley start?” It was a poor start for him for sure.

  2. speedsterofbeantown - Nov 14, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Interesting that you didn’t mention Jozy Altidore. I don’t know about you Mr. Davis, but I don’t know if Altidore can be a lone striker at the top of a 4-3-3. I think, eventually, Klinnsman needs to put someone next to him, whether it’s Hercules Gomez, Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, or even Clint Dempsey. Thoughts?

  3. Southern Philly - Nov 14, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    This was the game to start Sacha Kljestan. We know that Williams, Bradley and Jones as a trio can’t consistently get anything going offensively. When Kljestan has played, the offense has looked much better. But instead we get another game with an impotent midfield. What was there to lose? Nothing. The outcome didn’t matter, but the process did and Klinsmann’s process is so flawed and so frustrating.

  4. footballer4ever - Nov 14, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    I managed to catch glimpses here and there of the game while at work, but not enough to appreciate or even talk about the game. I was pleased to see the US was able to salvage not losing this game when it looked like it was going to be a loss. These road games in no man’s land will test this teams character and comfort level. Good job, USMNT!

  5. danielofthedale - Nov 14, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    I agree that the midfield of Bradley-Jones-Williams does not work. Mostly becuase it muddles up the role of our best player Michale Bradley. Jones and Bradley both have the same strenghts and when Jones goes forward it means Bradley can’t or is already and we have less cover. I also think this trio does not offer much creativity going forward.

    I say Jones is the odd man out. Play with just one box-to-box mid, which is The General and give a player like Mix or Sacha a shot to start provide some creative ideas. This always Michael to better play his game, stay back when he needs to and make the killer run when he can.

    And Williams can keep getting experince and playing time in the holding/def. role. Yes today was bad, but all the guys out there have had nights like this its not time to give up on him yet.

  6. mvktr2 - Nov 15, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    Given our players and Klinsmann’s tendency to play a couple of holding and defensive mids alongside Bradley I think a 4-3-3 could work with those players if their roles were changed. Essentially play Danny Williams/Maurice Edu as a sweeper, entirely defensive responsibilities, chiefly a 3rd center back. Then have Bradley and whomever he’s paired with Kleistan/Shea/Gatt/Jones work off of one another… I know I’m describing something along the lines of a 4-1-2-3 or 4-1-3-2. It’s just a thought, otherwise I’m in agreement it just isn’t working/probably isn’t going to in the future.

    General thoughts are, yep… we’re still discussing centerbacks… sadly! A lot of people are counting the Omar Gonzalez chicks before they’ve hatched, we’ve not seen even a hint of what he’s going to do in CONCACAF let alone elite competition. I think he’ll work out and it would be a great development to see he and Cameron capably man the CB positions together. However if Chandler is ‘all in’ the wing back spots are nailed down with a pretty good 2-deep on each side.

    J Jones is an enigma, he was rather nice in the 2nd half and has stretches like that combined with boneheaded handballs in the middle of the pitch (please no more set piece service from him… MB is a MUCH better option). As for his gritty take no crap physical play I think it’s one thing that keeps him on the pitch more than some might like…. the team needs some of that mentality. It’s effects were on full display against Brazil when they were being down right dirty, Jones cleaned up Neymar = message sent. The rest of the game was played FAR more honestly by the Brazilians. Do you get away with that in a WC, probably not but he’s one of the few guys on the team willing to step on toes/achilles and stand around with elbows and shoulders prone for contact… the little nasty things that say we’re not here to be shoved around which all world class teams use to one extent or another.

    I think the promise of this team is in the future/young players. If the CB positions and set piece lapses can be cured there is enough midfield-attacking young talent being developed to carry this team through the next 6 years. Add in powerhouse players like Bradley, Dempsey, and Landon … voila pretty dang good prospects of top form play. I agree with others however Klinsmann’s reign has been frustrating because you hear/conceptualize what he’s trying to do, but then what’s seen on the pitch doesn’t speak to it at all. His ability to send messages essentially sloughing off Altidore while finding a place for hard workers like Beckerman is paying off I believe (no KB won’t be going to the world cup but has a useful part to play in forming this team… Danny Williams for instance could learn something about toughness and stick-to-itness from him).

    Lastly (boy is this LONG – sorry) Agudelo looked in a word BAD all year long and I was surprised he made the bench, not so much that he got the call up. Obviously he’s a step quicker than other forwards in the pool not named Eddie Johnson (others are debatable as well), and I suspect that’s something Klinsmann wanted to evaluate within the approach. However I was VERY surprised at his attacking runs and direct role in securing the tie. In terms of literal impact on the game from a forward position he probably had the greatest impact unless you count Boyd’s headed down ball that Mix scored on. Hopefully if his club form continues to lag, and who’s wouldn’t in the cesspool that is Chivas USA, he’ll turn out to be our… oh I’ve forgotten the German player’s name that was always midland-pretty good for club but killed it on the national team.

    I got more… but this is too much already!

  7. footballer4ever - Nov 15, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    “I got more… but this is too much already!”

    Definitely! It should be 140 characters, not 14000. :D

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