The United States finish November’s international break with a game in Costa Rica after their horrendous home match against Mexico on Friday. Los Ticos are the third-best side in CONCACAF and traditionally provide a tough atmosphere in World Cup qualifying, so this will be nearly as tough as the Mexico game.
All we can hope for is that Jurgen Klinsmann will do better than he did in Columbus. If not, the US could be looking at a tricky road through the Hexagonal. Here’s what else they need to do to win:
Play a sane lineup
Klinsmann’s 3-5-2 — which was so bad that it only lasted 20 minutes — was widely lambasted for its lack of reason, preparation, and actual tactics. I wrote about it over at Dynamo Theory, Matt Doyle covered it on MLSsoccer.com, and Bobby Warshaw put it best on WhatAHowler.com. This is the line that you need to take from that last piece:
“I can’t stress this enough: it’s the job of the coach to understand how these things work. Players make the plays, but coaches put them in a position to fail or succeed. There’s a lot of factors that separate coaches, but at the very least a coach needs to understand the factors that can help or hurt a player.”
It is Jurgen Klinsmann’s job, first and foremost, to put his players in the right places, give them a reasonable plan to execute, and make sure that the players know their roles and know how to perform them. This, of course, goes beyond the baseline formations that we talk about all the time. This means making sure that the players know what passes and runs to make, how and when to press, and the specific zones and areas of the field that they are responsible for on both sides of the ball.
The 3-5-2 did not come close to doing that adequately, as Warshaw stated. So please, Jurgen, do better next time, or you will disappoint millions of fans like you have plenty of times.
Something along these lines should be used:
I’d accept a number of variations to this (Timmy Chandler at left back with Fabian Johnson on the wing; Jermaine Jones for Sacha Kljestan, Julian Green or Graham Zusi for Alejandro Bedoya) but it’s clear that the 4-4-2 is the US’s best lineup; not whatever Klinsmann is currently dreaming up.
Should Klinsmann not employ something like this, everything I’m about to say will be voided, just like last week.
2. Get the strikers going
I wrote about the partnership between Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood in my preview for the US-Mexico game and how important it was for them to connect and to be on the same page. In a game in which everybody wearing white looked out of sorts, Altidore and Wood were the players who stood out.
With Altidore creatively holding up play and acting as an attacking fulcrum and Wood running the channels, the combination of the two was a rare positive for the US. It’s not clear whether Sacha Kljestan will start or not — he’s more of a creator than Jones — but regardless of the midfield personnel, Wood and Altidore are how the US’s attack operates.
They are central to the US’s game-plan, plain and simple. How they perform — and whether they can the ball in the net — will be a hugely important factor in this game.
3. Get to the flanks
Costa Rica appear likely to play a 5-4-1 formation, something they used at the Copa America and in previous World Cup qualifiers. NYCFC right back Ronald Matarrita will start as one of the wing-backs opposite Jose Salvatierra.
The wings are, as we could tell from the Mexico game, a very important component to three-at-the-back formations due to the exclusivity and isolation of the wing-backs both defending and attacking on the flanks. Matarrita has proven to be very effective going forward, but tends to get caught upfield. Thus, the space will be there on the wings.
The US have to take advantage of it, because breaking through the central channels will be tougher with three center backs (including the Whitecaps’ Kendall Waston) protected by a stout defensive midfield. DeAndre Yedlin (who should be starting) and Fabian Johnson should get on the overlap with Christian Pulisic getting to the touchline ahead of the wing-backs.
This is where the US should base their attacks. If they are able to get behind Matarrita and Salvatierra, they force a center back to step out and cover, leaving a channel open for one of the strikers (likely Wood) to run into. Imagine an attack with Jozy Altidore holding up play and freeing two flank runners to drag a center back out of position for a run from Wood.
It’s simple, but it could be effective. Let’s hope Klinsmann recognizes it.