The USA national team took a pair of one-goal leads but still lost, 3-2, to Denmark Wednesday in Aarhus.
Well, apparently a 4-4-2 formation isn’t the solution for the U.S. national team. Nor is it the problem.
Seldom during did a 3-2 loss to Denmark Wednesday did the Americans look cohesive or in sync or on the same page. They scored twice on sudden strikes and spent most of the game scrambling to cover up their own mistakes or tracking down the likes of Nicklas Bendtner (hat trick), Christian Eriksen and Lasse Vibe (one assist and numerous incisive passes apiece), and Michael Krone-Dehli (a pest every time he got the ball).
USA-Denmark: Player Ratings
About all that could be gleaned from a dispiriting 90 minutes during which the Americans took two leads that they held for a combined 31 minutes was that collectively and individually few of them measured up to a solid but hardly world-beating opponent. Jozy Altidore scored a thumping goal and set up another goal with a delicate pass, and Michael Bradley -- captaining the team for the first time -- produced several good moments. Centerback John Brooks won a lot of balls in the air and partner Michael Orozco defused a few risky moments just in time.
But overall the Americans looked second-best and not all that adept at a few nettlesome nuances of international play: cohesive movement, intelligent decisions, consistent effort, relentless teamwork. The Danes, who just a few days before the match settled a dispute with the Danish soccer association regarding payments and bonuses for national team duty, outshot the Americans, 12-4, and relied on Bendtner’s prowess in the box.
A fair dose of the long balls played up to Altidore yielded a second and third touch by him or a teammate, but very few led to possessions of any length or quality. The conditions weren’t conducive to stylish, skillful play -- a steady rain and blustery wind increased as the match unfolded -- yet somehow the Danes strung passes together, worked combinations through the middle, and knocked balls wide that Vibe, Krone-Dehli and Daniel Wass used effectively.
Plenty of fingers can be pointed at U.S. players for their complicity. Left back Greg Garza looked completely outclassed by Vibe and Vass. Aron Johannsson did almost nothing before knocking home Altidore’s wonderful feed. Gyasi Zardes, at right mid, floundered. Alejandro Bedoya labored in the middle alongside Bradley, who hit some excellent passes but seldom could hold the ball to stem Denmark's momentum. Right back Tim Chandler was overpowered by two opponents on the second goal, scored by a wide-open Bendtner from point-blank range. And that just covers the starters.
The discussion regarding which formation the Americans should play will continue. The preferred 4-2-3-1 system never materialized in this match, though the injury absence of Clint Dempsey may have prompted Jurgen Klinsmann to use two forwards up top along with the central pair of Bradley and Bedoya. He is somewhat short of attacking options in midfield, having excluded Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud from the roster prior to Dempsey suffering a hamstring injury during a Monday training session. But since this is clearly an experimental phase, the presence of Miguel Ibarra, Danny Williams and Julian Green offer him myriad possibilities for the second game of this European swing Tuesday against Switzerland. There are enough defenders on the roster for him to use a three-man back line if he so chooses.
For long periods, the Americans looked lost. There’s always confusion and miscommunication with players who in many cases are unfamiliar with each other, but there were far too many breakdowns in a system well-known to all participants. Elite players are expected to adapt to anything: worsening conditions, erring officials, rallying opponents, shifting situations.
It’s a recurring U.S. theme since the World Cup, but the attention should be on the players, not what formation in which they are deployed. The coach’s task is to prepare strategies and a game plan and pick the players to make it work. How many of the men involved in Wednesday’s game can say they did their jobs well?
Results in friendlies don’t matter, but reactions and aftereffects certainly do. In Aarhus, the whole thing ran aground.