Who, where, and how? ASN resident tactician Liviu Bird looks at the data, annotates the hell out of it, and proposes a tactical plan for the United States' upcoming Hexagonal match against Honduras.
June 16, 2013
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Honduras, the United States’ next opponent in World Cup qualifying, could really use a win. Sitting in fourth place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, Los Catrachos can leapfrog Mexico and get into an automatic qualification spot with a victory on Tuesday.
The U.S. dominated Panama, winning 2-0 in its last outing, but Honduras turned in the same score against struggling Jamaica. Last time these teams met, Honduras embarrassed the U.S. in San Pedro Sula, a 2-1 scoreline hiding just how poorly the U.S. played.
That was four months ago, and while head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has sorted out many of his team’s problems since then, a difficult task lies ahead to reverse the first result.
New Left Back
DaMarcus Beasley has started at left back for the U.S. since the March 22 win over Costa Rica in the Denver snow, but he picked up his second yellow card of the competition against Panama, so he will miss the next match.
The logical choice to replace Beasley is sliding Fabian Johnson to the back line from his new left wing spot. The defender-turned-midfielder assisted Jozy Altidore on the opening goal in Seattle, but some of his habits have been slow to die.
His OPTA chalkboard shows a tendency to drop on top of his left back, as well as five ball recoveries, all in his defensive half of the field.
Presumably, Fabian Johnson would still be able to get forward from left back, especially if Eddie Johnson replaces him on the left flank.
Eddie Johnson likes to cut in toward goal, leaving plenty of room for Fabian Johnson to overlap on the outside when the opportunity arises. Graham Zusi slots nicely back into the starting XI in his usual right midfield spot, where Eddie Johnson played the last game and scored the second goal.
The Geoff Cameron Situation
A better question with regard to the U.S. starting lineup against Honduras is what Klinsmann will elect to do with Geoff Cameron. Cameron showed very well against Panama, breaking up attack after attack and shielding the back four well enough that it freed Michael Bradley to have more impact offensively.
He covered a lot of ground in the channel between the U.S. defenders and midfielders.
This play is a good example of Cameron’s defensive work rate. Bradley recovers more slowly, providing a quick outlet for the counter-attack, as he did on the first U.S. goal. His holding partner is back right away, pressuring the ball.
Cameron slides from the middle to the wide channel, keeping pressure off Brad Evans at right back.
Then, he slides centrally to prevent an easy entry pass to a checking forward. This allows both center backs to stay home instead of figuring out which one would step up to take away the checking option. Bradley joins Cameron, still slightly higher but also cutting off passing lanes forward.
Finally, Cameron ends up on the opposite flank from where he started, first marking another checking runner, finally stepping up to block an entry pass and end a Panamanian attack.
If Jermaine Jones still has concussion symptoms, expect Cameron to start again without question. However, if Jones is healthy, that adds another wrinkle into the selection equation.
Jones also provides a tenacious defensive presence with his tough tackling, but he is better going forward than Cameron. Cameron assisted Eddie Johnson’s goal with a nice chipped through ball, but his pass completion on Tuesday (47 of 56, 83.9 percent) was a bit lower than Jones’ against Jamaica (32 of 37, 86.5 percent).
That was a poor game for Jones, whose pass selection was a bit off, and he was also worse defensively than Cameron was against Panama. Jones did not cover much ground on the defensive end.
Basically, it’s a statistical toss-up between Cameron and Jones for that second holding midfield spot. But if Jones is healthy, expect him to start.
Brad Evans’ Struggles Against Speed
However, if Jones is fit to play, perhaps Cameron would be a good choice to replace Brad Evans at right back. Evans had a tough time defending against Panama, and the visiting team picked on his side as a spot to exploit.
Panama got in behind on its left side, primarily through Alberto Quintero, several times more than on the right side. Honduras’ projected starter on the left wing, Evans’ club teammate Mario Martinez, provides similar challenges as Quintero—namely, speed and footwork.
Quintero burned Evans a couple times around the outside, and when Evans managed to catch up, Quintero’s trickery got him in position to provide service. Cameron is perhaps marginally faster than Evans, but his positional sense is a bit better.
And after his performance against Panama, Cameron deserves another start.
Progress and Consistency
This is the first rematch of the Hexagonal, which should provide an interesting test on a couple fronts: whether the U.S. truly has improved since the start of qualifying, and whether Klinsmann’s team can give its coach the consistency he wants.
A lot has changed since the February match in San Pedro Sula—the U.S. seems to have a set formation, its attack is more lethal, and its defense is less porous—but a positive final score would be the ultimate passing grade.
Liviu Bird is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is also American Soccer Now’s resident tactical expert. Follow him on Twitter.