US-Slovenia – Keys
Before I get into the second (and abbreviated) portion of our Slovenia preview, I suggest you check out the excellent work done by Grant Wahl, Jonathan Wilson, and the fellas over at The Shin Guardian. I apologize for the lack of detail here–I’ve been crunched for time this past week. Anyhow, a few more notes on what to look for tomorrow, and what the United States needs to do if they want to put themselves in good position to advance:
1. Be Patient in Possession – The United States isn’t a team that relies on constant possession and careful build-ups to win, and they’ve been far more effective in recent years defending and waiting to counter attack. Yet against a stout, compact defense like Slovenia, the US needs to be patient. One of the startling things about the England match was just how well they were able to hold the ball for much of the first half, and they’ll need to reprise that performance tomorrow. With a static back line and two central midfielders who will likely tend towards mainly defensive roles, counter-attacking opportunities will be limited (though not eliminated).
For the US lineup, this could mean two changes from the team that faced England. First, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see Ricardo Clark replaced. The added emphasis on possession could mean Bradley calls upon Jose Torres, whose technical skill and creativity could do wonders in the middle of the American attack. Clark, for all his value to this squad, simply hasn’t looked sharp on the ball over the last few weeks (not that its ever been his strength). That said, Michael Bradley could simply move forward more regularly, where he was quite effective during the first 30 minutes of the England match, and leave Clark behind to stifle any Slovenian counter-attacks. Regardless, I’d expect to see Jose Torres in the match at some juncture (and will we ever see Maurice Edu?).
Second, Edson Buddle or Herculez Gomez could get the call over Robbie Findley. Yes, Slovenia could be hassled by Findley’s speed (is there a team in the world that isn’t worried about pace?), but against a team with a defensive mindset, it’s tough to see where Findley will be particularly effective. His deft chip against Turkey was sublime, but his ball skills simply aren’t polished enough. Running 15 yards and falling down is not a great asset when you’re trying to hold possession, and that seems to be Findley’s modus operandi. To me, Buddle seems more likely to create problems for the Slovenian defenders than Findley. If I were a betting man, though, I’d say Bradley sticks to the XI from the England game.
2. Defend the Runs – If there was a frightening aspect to the American defense last Saturday, it was the continued inability to track (and mark) runs into the box by the English forwards and midfielders. Gerrard exploited one such lapse by Ricardo Clark after just four minutes, staking England to an early lead. Later in the first half, it was Glen Johnson that eluded Clark, though the right back thankfully handled the ball—otherwise, he was as open as one can be ten yards from the net. In the second half, and particularly after 75 minutes, Rooney constantly found space after runs from 20-30 yards out, and had a good chance to put the game away, only to see his attempt be headed wide. Perhaps Onyewu working himself back into the lineup can be blamed for these defensive communication breakdowns, though that seems like an oversimplification. Whatever it is, they need to do better tomorrow, or they’re going to quickly find themselves in a hole.
3. Don’t Give Up Set Pieces – I’m surprised, frankly, at how few goals have been scored off of set pieces over the last six days. Given all the worries about the new ball (some of which seem to be legitimate), we’ve seen precious few opportunities converted. However, against England, Jay DeMerit was a yellow (or red) card waiting to happen, and the tendency of the Americans to go a man (or two) down in big games is all to familiar. DeMerit will likely be pulled out of the box more often than Onyewu, and long with the central midfielders, he must stay disciplined. Given chances, Novakovic will make them pay.
So, who will line up for the United States? The arguments for Buddle and Torres are detailed above. I would say Torres is the more likely of the two to start, and a 65-70 minute run-out may be in order. Slovenia’s rather methodical nature tends to mean they score late in games (both goals in the playoff with Russia were in the final frames, as was Robert Koren’s strike against Algeria). The US will need fresh legs in the middle of the pitch as they move towards the final whistle, and a late cameo from Clark may make more sense than 90 minutes.
On the left is the “creative” lineup (i.e., the one that I would be interested to see), and on the right is the likely lineup, a reprise of last Saturday.
Enjoy the match!