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How the USA routed Scotland
by Ridge Mahoney, May 27th, 2012 5:19PM

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TAGS:  men's national team, scotland

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The Americans began a run of five games in 18 days by thoroughly dismantling Scotland, 5-1, with a Landon Donovan hat trick and bewildering display of attacking soccer.

The Americans didn't thrash the Scots Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., solely because of any one factor, yet by combining several powerful elements of their game –- conditioning, aggression, determination, tactics – they embarrassed a nation that prides itself on spirit above all else.

Before they began to wilt from heat and fatigue after about half an hour, the Scots were down, 2-1, and already in deep trouble. While they were able to shackle lone forward Terence Boyd one-on-one, they were unable to close down the spaces behind and around him, which enabled an energetic array of five midfielders to connect passes, time runs, and interchange positions frequently and efficiently.

Magnificent performances byDonovan, who scored his third national-team hat trick, and Michael Bradley, credited with one assist to accompany a scintillating half-volley from 25 yards out for goal No. 2, highlighted one of the most dominant U.S. games ever by the USA against a respected European opponent. Jermaine Jones, a victim of his own volatility too many times, played a monster two-way game that produced two precise assists and a clinical finish on the fifth U.S. goal.

As if often the case, no consensus existed on what formation the team was playing. MLSsoccer.com called it a 4-1-4-1, NBC Sports Network diagrammed a 4-3-3, and there were also references to 4-3-2-1 that seemed to jibe closest to a designation of a four-man back line, a triangle of three interchanging midfielders, two wingers, and lone forward Boyd.

Dubbed in some circles the “Christmas Tree” formation and stereotyped as a defensive blockade, the Americans proved yet again that the right mix of talents and tactics trumps a dogmatic diagram. Well-supported, aggressive defending smothered the Scots; flank play and crisp ball movement that spread out the “Christmas tree” cut apart their defense.

One facet of the system was that Donovan, deployed as a right wing but free to move about, attacked more directly than did opposite number Jose Torres. Yet still Torres contributed several vital plays at both ends of the field as he and left back Fabian Johnson gave the Americans one of their strongest left-sided presences in recent memory.

By tucking Torres inside, Coach Jurgen Klinsmman achieved several objectives: room opened up on the left flank for Johnson, who is bolder and faster going forward than Torres; Torres replicated the left-central role he often plays for his Mexican club team, Pachuca; and the freedom to interchange positions allowed to Torres to at times slide farther, all the way into the middle, which utterly overwhelmed the already laboring Scots as they chased Bradley, Jones, Donovan and Maurice Edu.

The concept of players taking up positions on the field, rather than rigidly playing positions laid out on a chalkboard, manifested itself throughout the match. At times, Torres would slide into the middle but Johnson would hang back, which allowed Jones to float outside and take up that vital position near the touchline from which he hit two crosses in the first half.

In the second half, a similar move mirrored on the right side produced the ball that Jones, playing briefly as a right wing, served up for Donovan to score his second goal with a sharp finish into the bottom far corner. Jones rounded off his outstanding night and the U.S. scoring by heading home a cross from Donovan.

Torres tracked back to win a ball near his own goal line a few minutes after his sharp midfield tackle had set in motion the sequence from which, less than three minutes after kickoff, Donovan slashed the rebound of his own shot into the roof of the net.  Another fluid sequence early in the second half yielded a linkup between the two wingers when a Torres back-heel freed Donovan to shoot against the post.

The secret to the U.S. attacking success had just as much to do with its balance and shape defensively whether or not it had the ball. While the midfielders, along Johnson, were always scenting an opportunity to move the ball forward, very seldom did a player leave an exploitable gap. The USA, especially in the first half, lost a few balls in the middle third but usually had enough cover to either win the ball back quickly or blunt whatever forays Scotland generated.

This concept didn’t always transition smoothly to defense. The Scots in the first half found some room on their right side, and from midfield launched several tempting crosses, one of which Kenny Miller headed off the chest of U.S. defender Geoff Cameron and into the net. But once their legs started to shake and lungs began to burn, byproducts of American running and Florida heat, the Scots were consigned to scramble and survive.

While Bradley’s incredible strike and sharp passing deserved all the plaudits they generated, his greatest value came from serving as a central fulcrum: the first line of contention when possession was lost in midfield, and the conduit to keep possession or exploit a defensive seam when attacking.

Playing first-time short balls and anticipating play shrewdly, Bradley moved imperially about the midfield, with only a couple of innocuous giveaways clouding his performance. And his goal, a sweetly swerving strike with the outside of his right foot from a Donovan flick, is dazzling every time it's viewed.

Klinsmann will have more weapons at his disposal this week for games against Brazil (Wednesday) and Canada (Sunday) when Clint Dempsey recovers from a groin injury and Jozy Altidore joing the squad. Regardless of personnel, the team’s bold mindset seems unlikely to change.



10 comments
  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: May 27, 2012 at 11:31 p.m.
    Attacking Soccer. The critics said it could NEVER be done with American Talent. The critics were WRONG! The US can play attractive attacking soccer. We will NOT be able to do the same to Brazil or Italy (yet), but we are no longer afraid to spread our wings against equals, and should be able to throttle lessers (if they try to come out of their defensive 1/3).

  1. Richard Broad
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
    It is not about systems but about PLAYERS! We have better players than Scotland so we should beat them decisively. The test is whether these same players can sustain this quality against much stronger competition.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.
    Ridge, I have not been a particular fan ofyours but I must say that your analysis of Torres contribution was excellent. while Dononvan and Bradley both deserve the praise it is nice to see that Torres' performance has not gone unnoticed. Hopefully the johnson Torres pairing will be allowed to continue.

  1. Scott O'connor
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 11:56 a.m.
    Nice analysis. I won't be too upset about losing Boyd to Altidore or Dempsey. However, I really don't know who else should lose their job to Jozy or Clint. Perhaps Maurice Edu. Put Bradley in the holding role, move Torres to Bradley's spot, and finally Dempsey into Torres' spot on the left. It's pretty nice when the team performed so well that two guys who scored almost 40 goals this season aren't shoo-ins for their positions.

  1. David Sirias
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 12:05 p.m.
    Scotlands not that good. Klinsmann genius all along has been changing the mindset such they lesser teams are to be trounced and better teams are fought, not feared. Because even a superior foe can tire of your combativeness and fitness But in order to do that you need stretches of ball control. Here is where Torres comes in. Our own David Silva light. Bradley could never use him properly by burdening him with so much defensive duties. Klinsmann only asked him to defend in one corner of thè field but press like mad up high Coupled with Bradleys improvement -- which is a product of no auto starters, and you have a team of fighters. Klinsmanns only mistake was moving Cameron to center right rather than his customary center left. It makes a big difference and helped contribute to the own goal. But otherwise this team was ready. I expect the same for brazil. A win is not necessary. All they have to do is play and not bunker all day long. That will be success

  1. Scott O'connor
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.
    Brazil will be a different animal. I watched the first half of their game against Denmark, a team that dominated ours a few months ago, and they were completely helpless against Brazil. Our defense is not up to this upcoming test, I'm afraid. Our back 4 were not tested significantly against the Scots (and when they were we gave up an own goal). Our midfield will not dominate the way they did against Scotland. The back four will be called upon to make plays, and my sense is they will not make them. We'll see if Klinsman will adjust the tactics against a much better team to try to counter more but mostly keeping Bradley, Jones, and Edu home to help the defense not be overwhelmed by a speedy, talented, and hungry Brazilian Olympic squad. Hulk was a monster (no pun intended) against Denmark. He's big, fast, strong, and technically talented on the ball. He will be a handful for our guys. #7 Lucas is a Real Madrid prospect (the "gifted one" was watching the game in Germany to check him out). Their midfield was very aggressive against Denmark (no technical slouches there) and caused a lot of trouble and turnovers in Denmark's half of the field. It'll be interesting to see if our midfield will be able to maintain possession in our half to prevent the breakdowns and scoring chances that were abundant against Denmark. All-in-all a good reality check game after a potentially-overconfidence-generating win against Scotland.

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.
    Finally, some simnple play, possession, efficacy and execution...although the Scots were demolished, the USMNT played a sound game and took advantage of opportunities...next game will determine the squads adaptability and desire.

  1. Scott O'connor
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 7:23 p.m.
    So the Brazil squad will be the one that nuked Denmark PLUS Neymar and Pato. Should be trouble for our defense. I'm predicting that the US will be even in goals for and against over their first 2 games. Yeah that's predicting a 1-5 thumpin' by Brazil.

  1. soccer know it all
    commented on: May 28, 2012 at 10:51 p.m.
    what are we witnessing as us soccer fans? Jurgen klinsmann modeled his 06 german team from that of the top flight teams in the epl. he asked his germans to play ungermanlike uptempo, highpressure, possession style similar to man united, arsenal,an chelsea. he has now modeled another team to play not like a national team style(american) if you will, but an epl team similar to chelsea or man united. I always felt that building a team using this model would be preferrable as these teams play year round and are superior to national teams in style of play, cohesion, and effectiveness. gl JK with the progress to 2014 WC

  1. John Hooper
    commented on: May 29, 2012 at 4:24 p.m.
    I liked the play from all of the midfield, but I am a little worried about Torres playing on the left against better opponents. That's not his position and he spends a lot of time playing as a left-center midfielder (where he's really good), potentially opening up space for opposition fullbacks to attack down our left and set up 2-on-1s against Johnson. It's so hard to judge against a terrible team like Scotland, though. The Brazil test should make things clearer. Even Canada will be better than that Scottish team.


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