[USA CONFIDENTIAL] Results in these friendlies -- now four losses, one tie and one win in the Jurgen Klinsmann era -- aren’t supposed to matter. We’re to be looking for step-by-step improvement as the team heads toward World Cup qualifying next summer. So was there progress on display when the USA fell, 1-0, to Les Bleus at the Stade de France?
DEFENSIVE POSTURE. While the USA has managed just a pair of goals in six games, it’s only conceded five. So all well’s in the back?
Besides the French being unlucky not to score more, the American defense depended on outnumbering the French, which left the USA toothless in the attack.
The starting backline, from left to right, of Timothy Chandler, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Steve Cherundolo, had Kyle Beckerman in front of it, more a third central defender than a midfielder.
A fourth central player, Maurice Edu, also spent more time destroying than creating.
Brek Shea, billed the most promising attacker to be brought on by Klinsmann, at times could have been mistaken for a left back and hardly threatened on the other end.
Even Clint Dempsey, who threatened enough that the French resorted to crude fouls, was saddled with defensive duties.
If the back four needs so much help, the offense won’t get going.
THE PASSING PROBLEM. The French provided a stark contrast, hitting 20- or 30-yard balls crisply around the field, to the inaccurate passes of the Americans, who mis-hit even under little pressure.
Stringing even three passes together proved rare for the Americans – and the problem started in the back.
The central defenders dispatched the ball hastily and Chandler’s forays were too frantic to bear fruit. Shooting from 40 yards and sprinting straight into a foe aren’t ingredients for a possession game.
Playing solo up top, Jozy Altidore did better than usual showing for and finding the ball, but unless Dempsey arrived, there weren’t enough options for him. There simply weren’t enough U.S. players in the French end to keep a possession game going.
There may be no magic wand to create more skillful passing from this crew, but a tactical change that puts more players on offense while demanding patience would help.
THROW CAUTION TO THE WIN. A 1-0 loss at France, which recently qualified for the 2012 European Championship, might not look so bad on paper. But this is a U.S. team that has managed two goals in the last 540 minutes – and went 90 minutes without testing French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Much more promising, during this rebuilding project, would be a team with a lively offense that struggled on defense.
It’s a far less daunting challenge to shore up a defense than it is to instill creativity and confidence in the offense. And since results don’t matter until World Cup qualifying, and Klinsmann has announced, “I don't give a crap about win records,” the tactics and formation when the USA faces Slovenia on Tuesday should be all about attack.
For starters, two true forwards on the frontline – eg: Altidore and Edson Buddle -- with Dempsey playing a free role as an attacking midfielder. Line up one defensive midfielder, instead of two.
Trust the backline to cope without so much help from the midfield. A challenge made easier when the Americans start playing the game more in the other team's half.
This team needs goals more than it needs wins right now, and the frustrated fans who suffer through these scoreless displays wouldn't mind seeing the ball hit the net either.