[USA CONFIDENTIAL] In the immediate aftermath of Jurgen Klinsmann’s debut as U.S. national team head coach, here's what we learned about him and his player selections ...
THE COACH’S PERSONA. After a stodgy beginning, the USA took on the bright, energetic personality of its coach to push forward zealously, equalize and nearly steal a winning goal in the final minutes.
When Robbie Rogers equalized, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped along the sideline, pumped his fists, and did everything he did as a goalscorer except launch into a full-length belly slide. He fairly bubbled in his postgame interview on ESPN2, and a string of sweeping attacks in the final half an hour certainly merited such enthusiasm.
Not so noticeable but just as vital was some resilient central defensive play by Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Orozco Fiscal, who blocked numerous crosses and picked off threatening diagonal balls after Mexico had breached the flanks. While Klinsmann has preached his devotion to attacking play, he is acutely aware of organization and discipline in the defensive third and despite a vast advantage in possession for much of the match, Mexico carved open only a few good chances, and were scrambling to hold off the USA in the final minutes.
FORMATION WAS NOT AT FAULT. The 4-2-3-1 formation, ineffective in the first half, blossomed with the insertion of Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea and then Robbie Rogers, and the move of Jose Francisco Torres and Landon Donovan to central positions.
As the subs showed, the formation, per se, was not at fault. Constant breakdowns were due to Edson Buddle’s labors while marooned up front, giveaways by left back Edgar Castillo and others, and Michael Bradley’s inability to slip balls through tight spaces. Bradley played several good balls to the wings but could not break through pressure into the attacking third on a few promising sequences.
The subs increased the aggressiveness and sharpness in the U.S. team and took advantage of numerous changes by Mexico, including the removal of centerback Rafael Marquez, wing Pablo Barrera and goalscorer Oribe Peralta.
BUILD THE TEAM AROUND …. DONOVAN. Fans, journalists and pundits believe that Torres can be the attacking fulcrum of the national team, and he may grow into that role one day.
But as Donovan showed even while the USA struggled in the first half, he is the catalyst par excellence. Often stuck on the wing by previous head coach Bob Bradley, mostly for lack of better options, he started the match out wide, then saw more of the ball in the middle and threatened repeatedly with a livelier forward (Agudelo), incisive wing play (Shea and Rogers), and better communication with the two central mids supporting him, Torres and Kyle Beckerman.
Torres is more suited to a spot on the left side of midfield, where he often plays for his club team Pachuca, and looked more confident in the second half with Shea driving up the sideline. When Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden come back into the team, Klinsmann will have plenty of options for the attacking slots whether he sticks with the one-forward alignment, switches to a 4-3-3, or plays with two up top.
LOST ON THE LEFT. Using Torres and Castillo on the left flank in the first half condemned the Americans Barrera repeatedly flying toward the endline to serve square balls and crosses when both labored to take up good positions and use the ball effectively. Andres Guardado also gave the USA problems on the other side, yet somehow it managed to ride out the first half conceding only one goal,
Barrera help set up the goal when he returned a corner kick to Guardado, whose driven ball into the goalmouth produced a spectacular shot by Peralta. Despite being tightly marked by Bradley, he stuck out his right foot to re-direct the ball inside the far post and scored from a far more unlikely situation than those created by Mexico during the run of play.
It was a rough night for Castillo, who earned just his second cap, yet Klinsmann kept him out there for the full 90 minutes and he finished stronger than he started. Marking Barrera can test just about any defender, but one of Castillo’s attributes is skill on the ball, and those unforced errors have to be corrected.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED. Castillo is 24, so he doesn't have the excuse of youth even though the Mexico game was just his second cap. Nervousness affected his play, but not so his younger teammates.
As Agudelo (18) showed, a very young player can ascend the learning curve quickly. Shea, also 21, faltered in his national-team debut last year yet jumped right into the fray and looked strong, sharp and dangerous.
All three players, as well as Holden and several others while early in their pro careers, were brought into the national-team program during the four and half-year reign of Bob Bradley. They form just one layer of the foundation that Klinsmann says he’s excited to build upon.
Aug. 10 in Philadelphia
USA 1 Mexico 1. Goals: Rogers 73; Peralta 17.
USA -- Howard, Cherundolo, Orozco Fiscal, Bocanegra, Castillo, Jones (Shea, 59), Beckerman, Donovan, Bradley (Rogers, 72), Torres (Clark, 85); Buddle (Agudelo, 59).
Mexico -- Ochoa, Juarez (Aguilar, 78), Marquez (Rodriguez, 69), Moreno, Salcido, Torrado, Castro, Barrera (Bermudez, 72), Naelson (dos Santos, 55), Guardado, Peralta (Arellano, 63).
Referee: Raymond Bogle (Jamaica).