I’ll get to Juan Agudelo in a minute, but I want to first point out that it was Tim Howard who kept this match from being a 3,4,5-goal embarrassment for the United States.
I’ll admit that Howard’s performance in the World Cup wasn’t that great, but last night he had one of the best matches I’ve seen any goalkeeper play. He was up for it from the beginning and made several stops from point-blank range that were world-class. His positioning on the field was fantastic and his leadership kept our boot-strapping backline on its toes.
With all the hype surrounding Agudelo, let’s not forget that it was Tim Howard who made the USA goal meaningful.
Don’t believe the hype (or at least try to temper it just a bit)
Yes, Agudelo brought vitality and brashness to the US attack that was sorely missing these traits in the first half. But it misses the point to say that he, and he alone, was the difference maker. The difference in the second half was that Jozy Altidore was no longer forced to play as a lone striker — a position he is simply not equipped to play.
Altidore has always played best when he has a partner. In the Confederations Cup it was Altidore and Charlie Davies who were so effective in the attack against Spain. Last night it was Altidore and Agudelo. So, while I agree that Agudelo brought a lot to the party last night, it was really the tactical change (going from a 4-2-3-1 to a straight 4-4-2) that made all the difference for the US.
While I think there’s a vital place in the US tactics for a five-man midfield (see below), I’d love to see Bradley stick with the 4-4-2 for Tuesday’s match against Paraguay and test the Altidore/Agudelo pairing for a solid 90 minutes. With Charlie Davies returning to match form (three goals in two games for DC United) having these three strikers rotate into a 4-4-2 could be very effective during the Gold Cup.
That new German kid is pretty good
Another other big note for me was the emergence of Timothy Chandler, the German-born, Bundesliga-playing, son-of-serviceman who came on in defense in the second half. Chandler had a solid game on the right-side and his speed and crossing ability on the wings were a big reason the US was able to spend more time attacking in the second half.
In recent years, the US defense has been known for doing just enough to keep the team in games — a trait personified by the gritty Jay Demerit. Chandler may be the type of player that can bring some dynamism to the back line and add to the attack. At the very least, he’s fast as hell.
Last night, Bob Bradley really earned my respect. While the second half performance made starting five in the midfield for the first half look like a mistake, I think there’s more going on here.
The first half formation didn’t just put Bradley’s most talented players on the field, it also clogged the midfield and gave Argentina’s stars less room to operate. While the US spent an alarming amount of time defending in the first half, that’s really what teams have to do to avoid losing to Argentina — any team that plays them will employ the same tactics. It may seem anathema to many US fans, but playing defense and absorbing the attack is a skill to be admired — just ask any Italian.
But it’s not just enough to simply absorb — you must have discipline and the US had that last night. They kept their shape, stayed with the play and were concentrated in their defense. Certainly they could have done more with the ball the few times they had it, but the objective for the first 45 minutes was to set up a manageable second half by absorbing, defending and avoiding cards. And damn if they didn’t pull it off.
In the second half, the US was able to change the formation and go on the attack in large part because the first-half tactics worked so well (and because Timmy Howard was absolutely, insanely good). You may not like what it looked like on the field, but Bradley’s set-up and tactics in the first 45 minutes put the US in a position to get a result. And in the end, what’s on the scoreboard is what really matters.