Gold Cup: Flexibility brings U.S. attack to life

The U.S. men's national team, which scored just two goals in four games against "A" national team opponents since Gregg Berhalter took charge as head coach in late 2018, broke out for 10 goals in the first two games at the Gold Cup.

Even when you take into account that they were against Guyana (4-0), the longest-ranked entrant in the 2019 Gold Cup, and Trinidad & Tobago (6-0), which has won one international game in the last year, they reflect success the USA is having in implementing the system Berhalter has been working on since he took charge.

Similar to his work in his five seasons at the Columbus Crew, the USA has emphasized wing play -- or using players moving in from the outside to break down opposing defenses on the dribble or with penetrating passes to create high-quality chances in the penalty areas.

That was certainly true in the T&T game when the first five goals consisted of plays that were developed or finished from the outside:

Aaron Long (Christian Pulisic), 41st minute: Ball played from near the corner of the 18-yard box crossed to the far post for a header.

Gyasi Zardes (Nick Lima), 66th minute: Ball played to overlapping right back and headed through the six-yard box for an easy tap-in.

Gyasi Zardes (Christian Pulisic), 69th minute: Run through the middle to center forward slipping into the left side of the box for a curling shot into the far side netting.

Christian Pulisic (Jordan Morris), 73th minute: Dribble into the right side of the area to player unmarked in the middle.

Paul Arriola (Jordan Morris), 78th minute: Flicked pass to winger played into the box to set up another easy tap-in.

The U.S. attack has emphasized Lima, the right back, often playing as a right wing and Tyler Boyd, the right wing, playing a more central role and Pulisic often drifting to the outside on the left side where Arriola starts out.

"I think the diversity in our game showed today," Berhalter said after the T&T game. "We hit a couple of good offensive transitions, we had some good buildup, so I liked that we played with that diversity which in a tournament is important."

He added that getting his players up to full fitness had a big impact and a second-half adjustment -- when the USA scored five goals and could have easily had five more -- played a big part in the T&T rout.

Regarding Pulisic, who had his best game of 2019 with the national team, Berhalter said getting the Chelsea-bound attacker in good attacking positions was important.

"The structure around him accommodates him being flexible," he said.

"We felt that our fitness could have an effect on them. And then a slight adjustment that we made in the second half was dropping our right winger down into the space. Their man rotated into the midfield and we needed to create an extra man, and when we dropped the midfielder down it had a positive effect on match.

"We moved our right-back up to keep [Cordell] Cato from transitioning, and it pinned him back, but then it created space in the midfield."

Pulisic was the biggest beneficiary. He set up the second of Zardes goals and thrived in the additional space that came as Trinidad and Tobago were forced to take more risks.

"I think what we're doing is trying to put him in a position where he can [take a game over]," Berhalter said of Pulisic. "The structure around him accommodates him being flexible.

"He can go wide, he can come inside, he can create space for himself, we can use the striker to get him the ball bouncing it back to him. That's what we're trying to do and the reason we're trying to do that is he has these game-changing abilities.

"It's something that you see tonight; very fluid with his movement, dynamic, able to take players on, good ball security. And then today was great in that the final product was there also which is always important for attacking players."

3 comments about "Gold Cup: Flexibility brings U.S. attack to life".
  1. Bob Ashpole, June 26, 2019 at 8:47 a.m.

    In the US conventional thinking is that soccer tactics consists of "formations" of 11 players that include "defensive blocks" and attackers. That there are also "four moments" to the game. This conventional thinking can be successful, but it doesn't use the full potential of the team.

    "Dutch Style" principles don't separate the 11 players into attackers and defenders. More fundamentally, "Dutch Style" tactics call for the team to always play offensively and defensively at the same time. In the Dutch Style view, transistions have less significance because the team is not transistioning from attacking to defending, or back. They are always "positioned" well for both. This approach I prefer because it uses 100 percent of the team's potential to defend and attack all the time. 

    I don't know where this conventional wisdom comes from. This conventional thinking doesn't come from US football, basketball, or hockey (all players in the game both defend and attack), or come from positional strategy games like chess.

    Do people need to play chess in order to understand positional play? 


  2. Ben Myers replied, June 26, 2019 at 3:06 p.m.

    It's not just Dutch style.  It's French style.  It's German style.  It's Spanish style.  It's even EPL style.  Or simply watch the EPL, Bundesliga, Champions League, or top-level national teams.  All kinds of players attack out of the back and strikers play defense, too.  It is total soccer, and it is what is truly missing from most of the soccer mindset in this country.  I am optimistic that Berhalter might manage to implement total soccer with a crew of players willing and fit enough to play it.  Next challenge will be to see how well the USMNT plays total soccer against better opponents.

    And wide play?  OMG, what a concept!  It is so fundamental to the idea of playing total soccer.  It's long overdue.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, June 26, 2019 at 4:56 p.m.

    I agree Ben. Positional play requires good fundamentals to succeed, but actually requires less running.

    I gave up hoping Berhalter would introduce a new style of play, but gave up the hope about 3 months ago. (Pulling the FB higher into the central zone is superficially like "total soccer" but not in substance). 

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