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What we learned from Wednesday’s stunning United States comeback win in Sarajevo

Aug 14, 2013, 5:11 PM EDT


The United States had one bad half Wednesday in Sarajevo – and then one that was just this side of stunning.

Even though it was just a friendly, the take-aways are important for Jurgen Klinsmann’s group, the confidence generated from a stirring comeback and from knowing that a difference making striker (Jozy Altidore, of course) is still on the case.

Here is what else we learned from Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The summer of Jozy Altidore lives on:

More on the fabulously in-form U.S. striker later at PST. But do know this: with Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, all backed by the shrewd, timely passing of Michael Bradley, there is reason to be excited about the United States’ attack next year in Brazil.

Klinsmann gets the tactical change right:

I suppose some might suggest that Joachim Low phoned in that useful U.S. tactical change at halftime, right? Because Klinsmann doesn’t know  his tactics, right? That was all his assistant’s work previously at Germany, right?

Clearly, that’s silly. Klinsmann’s forte is innovation and man management, but it’s not like he doesn’t know how many players to put on the field. The switch from a 4-3-3 into the 4-4-2 at halftime was critical Wednesday, getting Eddie Johnson into a far more comfortable spot. (Can we agree that he’s not a winger now? Please.)

That, along with Altidore’s ongoing sharp movement, unsettled the Bosnian back line. Yes, the home team’s substitutions made for diminished opposition, but credit the United States for taking advantage, and credit the tactical tweak for much of it.

(MORE: Jozy Altidore hat trick steers U.S. to comeback win)

Two successful U.S. debuts:

Center back John Brooks made his U.S. debut, just days after making his Bundesliga debut. Some week, eh?

The 20-year-old German American wasn’t perfect, relaxing momentarily late against Edin Dzeko and paying the price for it on Bosnia’s third goal. And the communication with Geoff Cameron was understandably shaky. But Brooks was otherwise dominant in the air and fine with the ball at his feet. Again, far from perfect, but promising for the youngster.

Iceland-raised striker Aron Johannsson had an active 30 minutes, demonstrating why the United States was excited about his switch. His energy was useful, his movement produced two good looks at goal and Johannsson’s passing was usually sharp.

Michael Bradley’s has a fabulous soccer brain:

But we knew that, didn’t we? Once again, we see that Bradley has a such a great instinct and feel for the game, knowing just when to play safe and when to lean in for something more assertive. Wonderfully weighted balls created two of the goals Wednesday.

The streak lives, for whatever that means: I have a sneaking suspicion that Klinsmann was secretly happy the United States took a punch in the nose in the first half Wednesday. Because Klinsmann has indicated the team’s 11-game winning streak was something of a tin man, a run built almost entirely at home, and all almost entirely against CONCACAF sides that are middling or worse.

Wednesday’s opponent was another level, and the United States needed a half to “get it.” Credit the team for finding the next level and overcoming a good team, one that is headed to the World Cup – the very type of team the United States will need to get by next year in Brazil.

As we always note, it’s just a friendly. But in this case, given the way it played out – a rally on the road from a two-goal deficit – you could argue that Wednesday’s achievement was one of the best moments of a highly profitable summer.

This is why Klinsmann needed a mix of young and old:

The United States was overrun in the midfield and exposed for some naiveté at times in the back in Sarajevo. I know there were some calls for running more of the young guys out there, but this is exactly why Klinsmann needed a young-old blend. Can you imagine what the result might have looked like if guys like Altidore, Bradley and Tim Howard weren’t around to provide some guidance and stability out there?

Left back remains a trouble spot:

You know how Edgar Castillo recently reminded us that he’s probably more effective as a left-sided midfielder than a defender?

And remember how DaMarcus Beasley keeps reminding us that he’s stretched as a defender, and therefore probably better as a midfielder?

Well, doggone if Fabian Johnson may not be better as a midfielder than a left back. Which would be OK … if only there was a solid solution for U.S. left back.

Johnson tends to make things happen when he gets into the opposition half — in a good way. Unfortunately, he can tend to make things happen in his own end — in not such a good way.

  1. NowWaitJustAMinute - Aug 14, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Quality write up. Was an exciting last 45. I’ll make a few points.

    Jozy’s confidence is sky high right now. That’s awesome news as he moves into EPL season and the September qualifiers. Carry the confidence through.

    I read the starting line up as a 4-5-1. Either way, it was very ineffective. The change at half was crucial and got the US pressing forward.

    MB’s game so markedly better when JJ came off. He had more vision and creativity (the long ball to Jozy and the flick into Jozy’s run) and was much more effective in both final thirds.

    • sa371916 - Aug 14, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      To your last point, I really would like to see more of Cameron and Bradley in the midfield together. I have seen enough JJ and MB, it is time to give GC a real shot.

      Some additional points: Fabian Johnson was terrific as a midfielder and struggled as a LB. Yet I don’t know how you can play Landon, Zusi and Johnson all in midfield at the same time. Thus I think one of them is the impact sub or FJ has to improve at LB (though I guess I am not that sold on Beasley either)

      The icelandic kid was great and will probably kick Wondo out of the squad.

      If I had to pick the best possible squad for Sept 6th, I think it would be Howard, D- FJ, Gonzo, Besler, Evans M-Zusi, Bradley, Cameron, Donovan F- Dempsey, Altidore.

      • mknow406a - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:29 AM

        Donovan plays much better on the right and Zusi is pedestrian at best on his off-side. LD tends to drift into the middle when on the left, which will impact the space Jozy has. FJ is a natural left foot and that one touch passing ability has paid off big, Zusi and LD bring free-kick ability that FJ lacks, but do you really need both of them on the pitch for set pieces (especially if Jozy is now in the mix)? I’d say the best pairing right now is LD and FJ on the flanks…

        Also lost in the mix was Mixx. His turn in the first half was stunning. He definitely should have drawn a pk. He did get “out muscled” on several occasions, but in most matches those instances would have been deemed what the lay folk call “fouls.” He is definitely one to watch going forward.

        Sorry to dash anybody’s dreams, but Cameron is simply NOT good enough at CB. There is no way he is displacing Huth or Shawcross at Stoke and if he does, they are not surviving the drop. His best chance is as a DM.

        And I know this is going to ruffle some feathers, but if Dempsey takes his foot off the gas Aron Johansson is going to step right in. He showed more individual creativity inside in 18 today than we have had from a forward for a long time (outside of Dempsey)… and don’t discount the chemistry he ALREADY has with Jozy. That pairing looked dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, Deuce is still a class above, but with Bradley, Donovan, Fab and Zusi all capable of finding players in dangerous positions with precision, Johansson would be getting the ball in places he could definitely make impact. All in all, he is not a bad “Plan B”. I mean, he’s no Wondo, but…

      • NowWaitJustAMinute - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:45 PM

        Agree on Cameron-MB combo. Needs to happen over the course of a few games to see if it works. JJ is too stifling to MB’s game.

        I think your point on Fabian is right on, but the loser is that is probably Zusi. LD slots back in on the right and FJ on the left. Not sure who the LB is in that scenario though bc you have Beasley, who’s been good, but shouldn’t be starting there next summer.

        Agree with AJ taking Wondo’s spot. He may be a super sub type player. When we need offense around the 60th minute, he comes in for whoever is playing the holding MF role.

      • schmutzdeck - Aug 17, 2013 at 12:54 PM


        To those of you certain about Dempsey being ousted by AJ based on 20 some odd minutes; when I saw Chandler’s first few complete games, I was 100% certain he was the best US fullback ever and would start for the US somewhere for the next eight years.

        I suspect I was not alone in thinking that.

        You see how that is working out.

  2. wwsiralexd - Aug 14, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Bradley reminds me of John O’Brien.

  3. boscoesworld - Aug 14, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    I would love to see Bradley have a better running mate than JJ. His play is too slow. MB started to shine when Sasha came on because he plays quickly and moves. There may be games where the team needs a brawler but off the bench please!

  4. godsholytrousers - Aug 14, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    My take away. Bradley very good. Altidore great. On a negative note. Remember in the Gold Cup when the defense could pass the ball to the keeper, and the team could keep possession? I wonder at what point Tim’s lack of ability with the ball at his feet becomes a bigger liability than anything he brings with the ball in his hands? I’m not joking about the Howard question. I really think that his inability to possess hurts the team. I feel the entire back line is unsettled because of his lack of technical ability on the ball.

    • mknow406a - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:51 AM

      Seriously? Is that why Castilla got benched? There is NO WAY a 5’9″ Rimando is getting a hand on that shot from Visca that a very quick 6’3″ Tim Howard was just able to claw away. The number one job of a keeper is to keep the ball out of the net, period. Being good with their feet is a bonus. Brad Friedel’s distribution was always underrated and was a contributing factor (along with his pk saves) in the US advancing in Korea. But I have never once heard that Cech, Buffon, Schmeichel, or Kahn are/were not world class keepers because they weren’t great with the ball at there feet on the back pass. Fess up, your a Rimando fan looking for an angle, any angle, for your guy to get a start. :-)

  5. tonyinquakeland - Aug 14, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    These write ups are great, but I really disagree with your comments about Klinsmann (here and on the Altidore post). There isn’t a doubt in the world that Low was making the tactical calls in Germany. And for the first year and half, Klinsmann’s tactics have been horrible. Even what he did here was a repeat of the change that Donovan suggested (apparently) to push into a 4-4-2 during the Guatemala game.

    JK has loosed the reins and the players clearly feel more confident attacking, a sharp contrast to the very hesitant, confused, conservative teams he trotted out earlier. It’s to his credit that he evolved, but it doesn’t erase history – or suggest that this game somehow argues that Low didn’t deserve the credit he’s been given.

    • joshev07 - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:24 PM

      I don’t think that Klinsmann evolved as much as the team itself has. Klinsmann came in and stirred the pot. He used his comments and his actions to push players out of their complacency, Altidore being a notable target, and he implemented a different style of play. We are now seeing those results play out in a very positive way. A common criticism of Klinsmann during this growing pain stage was that Low was responsible for the success with the German team and now we were stuck with a coach who wasn’t capable without his assistant. Not to take anything away from Low’s talents but its easy to say now that Klinsmann is doing better, since the results are better, but it took time for his plan to work. Can’t we give Klinsmann credit for his process and not just the results?

    • wwsiralexd - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      The earlier teams were confused because those teams were not good enough to play the style JK wanted them to play.

    • schmutzdeck - Aug 14, 2013 at 8:27 PM

      “a sharp contrast to the very hesitant, confused, conservative teams he trotted out earlier. It’s to his credit that he evolved, but it doesn’t erase history – or suggest that this game somehow argues that Low didn’t deserve the credit he’s been given.”

      JK has always been very generous with credit for Low to the point of insisting he succeed him.

      And why is history important?

      If I give you a job and you try a number of different approaches several of which do not work, before finally settling on the one that works best, please explain the value of holding the failed approaches against you? Especially when no harm has resulted from the experimental period.

      Qualification is practically assured after all.

      So Tony, when you try something new do you always get everything right the first time?
      Is that what you expect from every manager?

      • tonyinquakeland - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        No, I don’t.

        And history is important if it helps explain why something isn’t working.

        And the funny thing is that he actually does seem to be evolving (almost as if he read the Strauss article and decided to disprove it point by point). But rather than acknowledge the evolution (and you propose a reasonable model to describe it, althoughI I disagree) some JK defenders want to pretend there never were any problems. Well, there were. We were on the brink of disaster. Even the Mexico, Jamica, Costa Rica games were close to furthering that disaster.

        Now the tactics are different, the trust in the players is clearer, and the atomsohpere is better. Even selection criteria seems better – seen Danny Williams on the team lately? Understanding how it changed is our best gauge on whether or not it will continue, as well as whehter or not we will regress

      • schmutzdeck - Aug 17, 2013 at 12:29 PM


        “Even selection criteria seems better – seen Danny Williams on the team lately? ”

        Williams was hurt and was recovering lately.

        “Understanding how it changed is our best gauge on whether or not it will continue, as well as whehter or not we will regress”

        That is a misconception on your part and comes across as a rationalization for holding a grudge. So you are taking credit for forcing JK to improve?

        You are talking about the situation as if fans such as yourself and even the media were actually involved in the renovation of the USMNT. If you think JK was bothered by the negative article go back to the German media when JK ran Germany and Bayern. That was pressure from the media. Strauss’ article, by comparison, was nothing.

        The fans are not running the team. You are only privy to the end product.

        If you were actually running the team you would access to all the information that JK and his staff have on the players and the entire situation in general. And you don’t. Apparently, you did not know Williams was injured.

        JK has been far more transparent, to a fault, than BB ever was but that doesn’t mean we have enough information to take over running the team.

        Here is what fans do know:

        The team is getting better
        They appear to be committed to a more attractive attacking style
        They appear to be building up depth.

        Is that going to be good enough for a good run in the World Cup?

        No one knows, especially because we have not yet had the draw.

        It is hard to predict how well you will do in a fight if you don’t know who you are fighting.

    • wfjackson3 - Aug 14, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      I would point out that the team has gotten steadily better over time during the entirety of Klinsmanns tenure. If Klinsmann were to leave today, he would leave the program with TWICE the depth of talent as we had before. It’s not even close. He has led the players to challenge and improve themselves, and the results are starting to show on the field all over the place. To suggest that this is just the result of JK letting Landon Donovan pick the formation is absolutely ludicrous.

    • jsect - Aug 15, 2013 at 9:19 AM

      The townspeople are suddenly realizing that Dr Jurgen ‘Frankenstein’ Klinsmann has stiched together some kind of fearsome monster from supposedly-moribund American bodyparts.

      When asked about it, the good Dr. only replied- “It lives! IT LIVES! Ahahahahahahahahaha!”

  6. wiscman - Aug 14, 2013 at 6:52 PM

    If it wasn’t for the title of the publication, I wold have had no clue what sport was being discussed. I usually don’t have to search for the topic of discussion.

  7. jbq2 - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    Altidore thinks only of number one. Eddie Johnson works well with Landon. The “outlaw Jozy Whales” stinks in a team format.

    • joshev07 - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:35 PM

      Seriously? He scores goals. Period. I don’t mind a little selfishness from a goal scoring striker. In fact, that is exactly what American soccer has been lacking. A selfish, goal scoring striker. Someone who has the skill and confidence to demand the ball and proceed to put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis. I like Eddie Johnson for the most part but he wasn’t being much of a team player when he gave the ball up which led to the first goal. Teamwork is great, but goals and winning results are even better.

    • creek0512 - Aug 14, 2013 at 8:43 PM

      Yeah, Jozy looked real selfish on that assist of EJ’s goal.

    • mknow406a - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:02 AM

      1) “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
      2) Ruud Van Nistelrooy
      3) Christiano Rinaldo
      4) Shaqille O’Neil

      Successful scorers = Selfish tendencies. It’s just the way of the world in pretty much every sport. (And yes I know Gretzky had more assists than goals, but even he thought shot first!) I’d rather have a guy bagging 3 goals and missing a pass, than making 4 passes and getting no goals.

      • wwsiralexd - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        How about Arjen Robben? Dude is like a black hole. Ball comes to him and never comes out.

      • schmutzdeck - Aug 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM


        Robben is obnoxious but look at his resume.

        He must be doing something right.

  8. drewvt6 - Aug 14, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    I am usually a Castillo hater. Don’t see how he can manage against the quality of international speed we want to be beating. However, his tackling today was fantastic. Maybe I’m hating on him so much I forget to see those things?

    • mknow406a - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:07 AM

      Competition… after Beasley there is nobody solid (and that’s a very scary proposition!) Give JK props for bringing Castillo. After Cuba, I thought he was, and should be, done. But, the fact of the matter is, the USMNT needs to keep developing a second option in case Beasley goes down. It looks like Castillo won the war of attrition and is that second guy. Another possibility is that his skill set is better suited to these games where both teams are playing to win and not bunkering down like in the Gold Cup. He did look very good going forward today. He may be one of those players that needs to be making runs forward to get in his grove and play better in his own half.

  9. wfjackson3 - Aug 14, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    A few thoughts:

    I have been an ardent MB hater, but he showed his class again today. His passing vision can be fantastic at times, and today it was on. He still leaves lots to be desired when challenging a defender one on one, but I think that’s probably not going to change much.

    As far as Jermaine Jones goes, what is with all of you haters? The guy has one or two bad games after coming back from an injury and the off-season and you are ready to toss the baby out with the bath water? GC has had one good game for the US at DM and JJ has had many. JJ is still one of the best tacklers on the team and his range with the ball is fantastic. Calm down on him a little bit.

    • schmutzdeck - Aug 17, 2013 at 11:53 AM

      Mikey’s game isn’t really predicated on going one on one.

      Taking the time to go one on one tends to slow ball movement down and The Jersey Boy’s job has been to control tempo. And for JK’s style that tempo is usually as high as possible.

      It is possible to successfully boss the midfield without ever really challenging defenders one on one.

  10. dfstell - Aug 14, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    Can we agree that we should never play in anything other than a 4-4-2 again? Seriously…..maybe some of those other systems would work if we had real wingers, but we really don’t. I know 4-4-2s are boring, but they seem to work well for our players.

    And, how many countries (or even top clubs) have solid two-way play from their fullbacks? I’m as concerned as everyone else that we have these defensive frailities at LB, but I’m not sure that puts us in a position that is any different than most national teams. It seems like most teams are willing to settle for skill going forward and competence on defense.

    • mknow406a - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:19 AM

      At that point, shouldn’t you just look to a 3-5-2? Especially, if you concede that you don’t have a solid 4 in the back, but are loaded with midfielders?

      F. Johnson-Mixx-Bradley-Donovan
      Besler-Gozalez-Goodison(or Brooks)

      It’s certainly not traditional, but if the outside backs are as weak as you are suggesting (and let’s face it, the right ain’t much better than the left) shouldn’t you be playing to you strengths? Any of the 5 in the midfield are more than capable of providing the service needed to slice open the defense… just food for thought.

  11. konmtu - Aug 14, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    Funny how Jozy the “selfish” guy who can’t play in the team scored a hat trick when the formation changed to bring another forward alongside him. Maybe he’ll continue learning to be selfish like Diego Maradona or Cristiano Ronaldo.

    I thought Jermane Jones was terrible today. I know his game is an acquired taste, but he was constantly out of position, diving all over the field, and should have been taken off at halftime. He didn’t even have a hard foul or anything close to a yellow card type play that makes him effective.

    John Brooks is gonna be a good one if he continues to develop. Omar is gonna have to step it up to stay ahead of this guy in the future. Aron Johansson was awesome to watch. his energy was fun to watch.

  12. hildezero - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:10 AM


    That’s a normal thing. A lot teams do that. When a defense is in trouble they pass that ball back to the goalkeeper.

    • Matt Pham - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:32 AM

      Did you read his entire comment? He wasn’t bagging on the US for passing back to the keeper, but he was commenting on Tim Howard’s lack of ball control. With that in mind, your comment makes you look like a grade-a dou-che.

  13. mrb415 - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:52 AM

    There’s a lot of talk about the problems at LB but RB should be a bigger concern. If we think Brad Evans is our guy then we’re setting ourselves up for a rude awakening.

  14. rosangeladiniz - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Reblogged this on It's All About Soccer in U.S. and Abroad and commented:
    It’s hard for a team to come from behing 0-2 but reverse it an win after a terrible start up is nothing less but incredible.

  15. mfmaxpower - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    In response to some of your points:
    * Jozy is playing out of his mind right now. Will playing for Sunderland end his run of good form or will he prove that he’s truly taken his game to the next level?

    * Very excited about Johannson – his movement, touch, and vision were all exciting to see in someone on the USMNT not named Donovan.

    * Yes, EJ is not a winger. That said, how many wingers do we have that play that position better than him?

    * Bradley is a stud. If he could only increase his goal tally (we need more goals from central midfield) he’d be our clear top talent.

    * Left back is certainly an issue but are we so sure that that can’t be said for the entire defense, especially against the kind of talent we’ll see coming at us in the WC next summer?

  16. midtec2005 - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:49 AM

    Joe Corona impresses me. Was he MOTM? No, but he is a really solid player.

    Castillo has been looking pretty good recently, maybe he’s our RB?

    And Kljestan… I think that was the best I’ve seen him play for the national team in years. I would say ever, but didn’t he have a hat-trick like 4 years ago? He wasn’t the best player on the field, but he played well. The same can’t be said for some other recent performances.

  17. 77cjh77 - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    we also learned that it’s much easier to score goals when your opponent take off 6 players with a combined 226 caps and replaces them with a combined 70

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