Posted November 19, 2013

Finale failure: Three thoughts on the USA’s 2013-closing 1-0 loss to Austria

International Soccer, Jozy Altidore, Jurgen Klinsmann, U.S. men's national team, U.S. Soccer
USA defender Geoff Cameron

Geoff Cameron’s play at right back was one of the bright spots for the USA in a 1-0 loss to Austria in Vienna Tuesday. (Hans Punz/AP)

While the world was riveted by Tuesday’s Ronaldo-Zlatan show just outside Stockholm, the U.S. national team finished off a memorable 2013 with a rather forgettable 1-0 loss to Austria in Vienna.

The Americans topped the Hexagonal, lifted the CONCACAF Gold Cup and compiled a program-record .761 winning percentage as coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s vision took hold. But questions remain about several key positions, and consecutive shutouts by second-rate European sides (the U.S. tied Scotland, 0-0, on Friday) may not have taught the manager much.

Here are three thoughts (and one more for the road) on Austria’s 1-0 win:

The U.S. improved: The result was worse, but the performance was far better than in Friday’s desultory draw in Glasgow. The Americans looked more energetic and enterprising on Tuesday at the Ernst Happel Stadion. If they’d been a bit more clinical near the goal and a bit more careful with the ball in midfield, a victory wouldn’t have been out of the question. The officials played a role as well, refusing to award a goal when Geoff Cameron’s 17th-minute header appeared to cross the line before being swatted away by Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer.

Jozy Altidore had a couple of very good chances, including an open look in the 74th minute that he hit straight to Almer. Cameron (in the second half), Michael Bradley and Terrence Boyd came close as well. The U.S. dominated the latter stretches but couldn’t find the equalizer and was left to rue a few mistakes that made the difference. Overall, however, the effort was better.

AS IT HAPPENED: Austria 1, USA 0

The 4-4-2 still has potential: Klinsmann once again sent his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation that left Altidore isolated. The manager tried to solve that problem by deploying Brek Shea on the left (in only his second start of the year) and Aron Johannsson in the hole at the top of midfield. It didn’t work. Rooted to the bench at Stoke City, Shea hardly is in form. Johannsson often was too deep to do much damage.

The middle was crowded as both Bradley and Jermaine Jones played relatively free roles, and the U.S. simply failed to click. In the 56th minute, Klinsmann pulled Shea and Johannsson, put Eddie Johnson on the left and Mix Diskerud behind Altidore. Eleven minutes later, Terrence Boyd replaced Jones. The U.S. evolved into a 4-4-2. Lo and behold, with more space in the middle and with Boyd next to Altidore, the Americans found a bit of rhythm.

The visitors had several good stretches of possession over the final 25 minutes and put Austria in retreat on multiple occasions. The goal never came, but it might suggest that the U.S. moves the ball better when the midfielders have a bit more space and when there’s someone closer to Altidore.

Jones jitters: Klinsmann’s faith in Jones is unwavering. But Tuesday’s performance should be cause for concern. The Schalke 04 veteran committed too many turnovers and failed to track Austria midfielder David Alaba during the build-up that led to Marc Janko’s 33rd-minute goal.

There also was a sign of indiscipline, as Jones took a swipe at the face of the Marko Arnautović following a collision along the sideline. The Austrian didn’t embellish the contact and the referee must have missed it, but in different circumstances, the same action could result in a red card.

Jones doesn’t like to sit in front of the back four. He wants to push forward and hit penetrating passes. But that’s part of what crowded the field for Bradley and Johannsson in Vienna, and it often led to breaks the other way. At this point, it’s impossible to imagine Klinsmann opting for another player in that role. The manager needs Jones to rein it in, play simple and think defense first.

Bonus thought: Klinsmann should also seriously consider leaving Cameron at right back. He played well on Tuesday, starts there for Stoke City and is comfortable going forward if need be. If Klinsmann wants his best players on the field, forcing Cameron to unseat either Omar Gonzalez or Matt Besler in the middle seems counterintuitive.

4 comments
DSM
DSM

Zero goals in 2 games (although without Donovan & Dempsey) is a concern and there seems to be a consensus among journalists that Altidore left alone is ineffective.

Right back and left back are major concerns, given the quality of WC wingers.

KenKing
KenKing

From back to front:

Well, let's first say that it is certainly clear that this team is better as 4-4-2 than as 4-2-3-1


Howard - Again with all the screaming and blame. Bring on Guzan!!!

Back Four - Cameron looked very good out there, today. Evans gave a great effort and improved, but he will be eaten alive in the WC as a right back. Besler and Gonzalez need to be in the middle. They seemed to have some continuity going before injuries. As for the left DMB is a great guy and busting his butt. However, this game exposed just how disastrous the left side could be in the WC. I don't know if Brooks can slide over or if Chandler will ever get his head out of his butt.  But if Fabian Johnson gets well, a line of him, Besler, Gonzales and Cameron is likely the best we can field.

Midfield - Today was a typical Jermain Jones day: 6 really excellent passes, 12 incredibly stupid losses of the ball and at least two spots where he could have been carded. All the while, he puts Bradley ( plus Johannsson today) in a tough position, because he wants to push forward all the time. Let's pray that Bradley behind Diskerud works by the time the WC rolls around. Let's face it: Jones is going to get carded out of some stage of the WC and Diskerud is going to have to come in. That is the one and only thing that anyone can guarantee about WC2014. Shea and Bedoya did nothing today, but I think they both bring something to the bench at WC 2014. Shea has proven that he is no starter, but has also proven that he can enter in the final 20 and make a difference. It needs to be Zusi and Donovan on the wings anyway.

Up top - Any U17 player who shot right at the goalie like Altidore did would never see a starting spot again. Would Wondo have scored? Deuce? Johnson? Johannsson? Donovan?  JK needs to try Deuce next to Johannsson and see how that goes. I suspect that pair, with Zusi and Donvan as the wings, could be very interesting. Furthermore, Bradley behind Diskerud makes that quartet more dangerous and tactical, whereas Jermain Jones wreckless style of play renders some of that chemistry moot.

KenKing
KenKing

@DSM Well, we actually did earn one goal today. It just did not materialize on the scoreboard!

Keep in mind, as well, that the US has not actually played its starting line-up in nearly a year. I'm not sure Deuce, Donovan and Altidore have ever started a game together.  This was just another line-up which prevented any chemistry. That is fine. it is a friendly. Winning would be nice, but seeing Cameron do well at RB is a win all by itself.

Altidore's goal streak was a little misleading. Out of the 6 goals, one was a PK that he did not earn by getting the foul,  one was an excellent free kick, one was a poor shot from distance that the goalie misplayed and 3 were him sitting within 8 yards and flicking in great crosses. Not a single one compared to any of Ronaldo's three goals today. It has been over 2 years since Altidore scored anything like a transcendent goal for the USMNT. At the same time,he has proven that he has a clinical allergy to hustling.

The Altidore Supporters point out how well he did at AZ Alkmaar. Then again, Johannsson has taken over that spot and has eclipsed that production - and with a key injury in the midfield at AZ. So if Jozy needs to start because of his production at AZ, yet Johannsson is producing more as his replacement as AZ.....?

The 4-2-3-1 does not work, no matter how you slice and dice it, with Altidore at the top. Maybe Deuce works up there, with Johannsson slightly behind? More likely, Deuce and Johannsson  at the top of a 4-4-2. But I don't see keeping Jermain Jones and  Altidore in the lineup merely because they have been there. By that logic, Alexi Lalas and Brian McBride should still have their spots.

positivewins
positivewins

@KenKing"Any U17 player who shot right at the goalie like Altidore did would never see a starting spot again."

 You ruin whatever credibility you think you have with this.  Every striker, no matter how talented, hits shots right at the keeper frequently.  They also hit them wide, high and off the post or crossbar.  Robin Van Persie has averaged almost a goal a game in EPL - I think he took a lot more than 30 shots in a 38 game season, don't you?