By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 1, 2014) US Soccer Players – The USMNT beat Korea in an international friendly at StubHub Center on Saturday, kicking off the 2014 World Cup year. Here are five things from the game worth considering as the team regroups in Europe next month for a Mar 5 game against Ukraine.
Shape and composure
It's easy to overdo it with the tactical analysis of a January friendly. The game is outside of the FIFA call-up window. It's a group familiar to each other after three and a half weeks of training, but unlikely to play together again. This version of the USMNT is unique by design. Controlling what they can in this situation, the analysis needs to move to individual performances and the shape and composure of the group. Shape and composure is most evident on set pieces, and this version of the USMNT gets good marks on paying attention on set pieces. Players were in advantageous positions, the moves had a good chance of working, and the composure in attack was there.
This is much tougher to rate with a January squad. There were moments when Korea got the jump on the USMNT, but it's worth recognizing that this rarely happened in numbers. One Korean player on the run isn't the same threat as a group of players catching the US defense in transition. One questionable pass might not happen with a stronger squad. There wasn't a lot of panic defending by the USMNT in this game. There weren't moments where this squad needed to hope for a bad shot or a poor pass. When Korea went idea and tried to swing the ball into the middle of the box, US defenders were normally there in numbers.
If you've ever been to the soccer tryout where one player tries to do everything, you're familiar with over committing. With every USMNT player on the field focused on making the World Cup roster, what they can do individually might take precedence over playing team soccer. That didn't happen on Saturday afternoon at StubHub Center. Instead, the US played team soccer even when it wasn't clearly working. That's the professional move, focusing on playing the position and tactics as outlined. It's also what any good coach is looking for. Lighting up a team like Korea for multiple goals gets everybody excited, but it doesn't necessarily speak to the tactical work needed to succeed in Brazil. Every game since qualifying is about Brazil, and the January friendly isn't the exception.
Top of the arc play
The USMNT had a few opportunities that started with holding up play at the top of the arc. That might be a hallmark of playing a team more interested in putting bodies in the box and trying to absorb the attack, but it's important that the US took advantage. It's easy enough to put the ball at the feet of an attacking player and let him barge into the box. After all, a call could go his way and the referee might point to the spot. Instead, the US played the ball wide, started an attacking move by laying the ball off to the left or right, and played the advantage rather than simply pushing forward. Nobody is arguing that's always the best answer, but as a choice it suggests thinking tactically in real time. That's a step up from anything we saw from Korea.
What Korea did well
They pressed. They carried the ball to the end line and tried to play it back into dangerous areas. They weren't afraid to reset the attack when it lacked options by passing the ball back and starting again. There wasn't as much desperation in the attack as the runs into the box without support made it seem. This was not a team looking for the second opportunity by design. Though the USMNT isn't likely to see that from any team in their group, it's still valuable. How do you defend when the other team is taking the ball directly in the box? When do you clear and when do you give up the corner? How do you keep the referee's card in his pocket?
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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