Posted November 15, 2013

Sluggish in Scotland: Three thoughts on the USA’s 0-0 friendly draw

Clint Dempsey, International Soccer, Jozy Altidore, Jurgen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, MLS, U.S. men's national team, U.S. Soccer
U.S. forward Aron Johannsson

Aron Johannsson (9) provided a spark off the bench for the United States, but he couldn’t provide a goal in Friday’s 0-0 draw with Scotland. (Scott Heppell/AP)

There were a few decent scoring chances, two hand balls that went unsanctioned by the referee and, well, that was about it during Friday’s dreary 0-0 tie between the U.S. and Scotland in Glasgow.

Missing several key contributors and playing without the urgency that’s come to define the program under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. opened with one of its worst halves in recent memory before mounting a bit of a charge after intermission at Hampden Park. It wasn’t enough, however, to avoid being shut out for the first time in 18 games.

Klinsmann very well may have learned something about a few of his players that will prove valuable heading into Tuesday’s friendly in Austria and the January camp. But that didn’t make it easier to watch.

Here are three thoughts on the draw:

U.S. lacked difference makers – Without Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson – players who bring creativity and a bit of daring to the attack – the Americans looked slow and pedestrian.

For all the good work Klinsmann has done building the squad’s depth and creating competition for several positions, there’s no substitute for skill and initiative. On Friday, the U.S. was lacking both against a well-organized host, and as a result striker Jozy Altidore was left isolated in Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Americans’ collective inability to combine in the offensive half or beat Scottish defenders one-on-one left them relying on the safe passing option far too often. That option almost always was Michael Bradley. His composure and vision are superb, but he wasn’t likely to jumpstart the attack when receiving the ball under so much pressure. Still, he played several proactive passes in the first half that underscored his versatility and value.

The visitors needed someone who could stretch the field a bit and pull defenders out of position. Unfortunately, the usual suspects were unavailable.

AS IT HAPPENED: Scotland 0, USA 0

Comfort zones – Klinsmann has said over and over that he wants to test his players and take them out of their comfort zones. Three of Friday’s starters, Sacha Kljestan, Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson, looked a bit too uncomfortable.

It may not be a coincidence that both Evans and Johnson just finished off long, disappointing MLS seasons in Seattle (Omar Gonzalez was the only other MLS starter). Neither looked up to the challenge on Friday, and neither was playing in his natural spot. Although Evans, typically a midfielder, has done well at right back against CONCACAF opposition, he was caught out of position multiple times against Scotland. The U.S. was fortunate not to go behind in the 35th minute when Craig Conway shanked an open look wide of the left post. Evans had drifted inside and left Conway open.

Johnson, playing on the left wing instead of closer to goal, appeared languid and out of rhythm. It’s simply not the place on the field where he’s at his best. Johnson should be running onto balls behind the defense and attacking passes in the penalty area, not making decisions 40 yards from goal.

Kljestan told ESPN that he’d never trained under Klinsmann in the position he played Friday — underneath the striker at the top of the five-man midfield. He’s more accustomed to playing as a box-to-box midfielder with a defensive bent for Anderlecht. Kljestan wasn’t bad on Friday — he was able to get forward and set up an Altidore shot in the 48th — but he wasn’t in position to play his best. Once Kljestan and Jones exited the game in the 62nd and the U.S. middle opened up a bit, the ball movement was more fluid.

Which brings us to…

Second-half spark – The U.S. has become a second-half team under Klinsmann. In the five games between the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Friday, the Americans were outscored, 5-1, in the first 45 minutes but dominated opponents after halftime by the tune of 11-3.

There was almost another late goal in Glasgow. Once Aron Johannsson, Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea entered the match, just about everything changed. The U.S. switched to a 4-4-2, creating space in midfield, while Shea and Johannsson played with the initiative their teammates lacked. Simply running at defenders with speed caused problems, and even though Shea has been moldering on the bench at Stoke, he still offers something that’s tough to handle.

Johannsson probably should have scored in the 85th after taking a pass from Shea, but he curled his bid wide. Nevertheless, his presence closer to Altidore, his movement and ingenuity in the offensive third and his ability to create space with his touch allowed the U.S. to seize the momentum in the latter stages.

It wasn’t sufficient to break the deadlock, but it was enough to suggest that letting players do what they do best is key.

10 comments
DSM
DSM

Under Bradley, the US was also frequently languid at the beginning of games. You can survive that in CONCACAF, but not in the World Cup, especially when you lack both offensive firepower and defenders who can mark Champions League level attackers.

Good to see Shea back from his injury--he is one of the rare US players who makes defenders nervous 1  v. 1.

JoelHardman
JoelHardman

Start in a 4-2-3-1, struggle, switch to a 4-4-2, play better.  I think there's a pattern here.

MarcoBastian
MarcoBastian

I enjoyed the last twenty minutes, with Aron Johannsson and Brek Shea having a go. Too bad they and others didn't get more minutes. Also Bedoya and Bradley looked solid. Unfortunately I left my TV on for the post game discussion and had to listen to Burley and Nichols, two old British blokes criticized the drab performance of the USA without once mentioning the drab performance of England at home. And they entirely missed the bigger picture that 4 top European sides got spanked, France, England, Switzerland and Belgium all lost. Come on Twellman, don't let those pansies push you around.You want drab, watch England at home in replay without downing 3 pints or more. Well the ESPN toads were cowed, but not the Wembley fans as they booed England off the pitch.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

The only reason this game wasn't meaningless was that Klinsmann could learn more about the team. I doubt if anyone should worry about this result.

RickPotts
RickPotts

ZZZZZZZZZZZ.  What a snoozfest.  Somebody take a chance and run at a defender.  Every pass was so predictable and safe.  Just do something.  Looked like many players were trying not to make a mistake.  Nobody was brave enough to try to make something happen.  Very disappointing.

RickPotts
RickPotts

I agree.  Those w@nks on ESPN stated that they just witnessed two mediocre teams play and they couldn't believe the US was ranked 13th.  P*ss off!  The fact is, unfortunately, the US played down to Scotland's level which is not very high.  Good teams have bad games and this was one of those for the US.  Twellman's response two those two w@nks should have been "Unlike Scotland, the US will be striving to improve their form for the WC finals next summer.  Thanks for coming."

RickPotts
RickPotts

....except the mid second half subs of Shea, Johannsson and Mix