Lessons from Fake Tourney

Starters v. Brazil

If you’re a die hard US Soccer Fan, the last two weeks, with three friendlies and roller-coaster results, provided must-see viewing and grist for the soccer-analytic-mill in a big way.  We saw the debut of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ jerseys, the A-Team pretty much in place, and Donovan and Dempsey on the field for the same time since Juergen Klinsmann took over.

Coach Klinsi wanted to treat this three game stretch leading up to the two World Cup Qualifiers (June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda, June 12 at Guatemala) as a tournament.  If so the U.S. might have made it out of the first round on goal differential, beating a disinterested Scotland 5-1, losing to Brazil 4-1, and drawing Canada 0-0.

More important was the way the US played (at times) pressuring high, carrying the ball forward quickly, and working the quick combos to generate scoring chances.  The team showed a capability to play the positive attack-minded soccer Klinsmann has been talking about since he took over.

Unfortunately, they also showed long stretches of passing and possession futility, lack of depth at key positions, and problems getting Donovan and Dempsey involved simultaneously.

Depth the key:  Most of us really like the style of play we’re starting to see.  It was on display against the Scots and throughout the second half against Brazil.  But three games over 12 days – a schedule similar to any FIFA tournament – exposed a lack of depth while seeming to exhaust key players.  Have a look at the team photo above.  Six of those ten field players will be 30 or above when the World Cup kicks of in 2014.  Seven players if you add Dempsey.  Sure, players in their lower 30s often operate in their prime, but you can’t expect them to do so again and again on short rest.  In a tourney like the World Cup, you need to be able to rotate guys in and out – not only to change tactics but to keep them fit enough to contribute. Continue reading