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Offensive outburst sorely needed

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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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Jurgen Klinsmann needed two things from his US national team on Tuesday in Slovenia. He needed goals, and he needed victory to help provide an encouraging finish to a somewhat disappointing first four months as USA head coach.

His team came through on both counts, jumping all over Slovenia with three first-half goals before defensive frailties and an inspired second-half from Slovenia forced the United States to hold on for a 3-2 victory.

Generating goals and scoring chances was the top priority for a team that looked so lifeless offensively against France, and that is what the Americans generated with the help of a formation change and the inclusion of a trio of starters who all enjoyed standout performances.

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Fabian Johnson made his first national team start a memorable one, providing the kind of dynamic spark the team had been lacking from anyone but Clint Dempsey. He moved well, finding dangerous spots on the field, and drew a penalty kick for the eventual match winner.

Edson Buddle was the biggest beneficiary of Klinsmann’s shift to a 4-4-2, following up an encouraging cameo against France with a strong effort playing alongside Jozy Altidore. His long-range blast to open the scoring set the tone for a dynamic display by the 4-1-3-2 system Klinsmann trotted out. With Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson moving and combining well, the Slovenia defense was kept on its heels for much of the first half.

The best performance of the day though was turned in by Michael Bradley, who responded from his recent removal as a starter by turning in as thorough and impressive a game as he has had since the 2010 World Cup. Deployed as the right midfielder, but given the freedom to pinch inside, Bradley was a force in possession, keeping the ball moving forward and helping the team enjoy strong spells of possession it never could against France. The most impressive aspect of Bradley’s outing was his set-piece delivery, which was consistently dangerous, as he showed on the corner kick that Clint Dempsey headed home for the team’s second goal.

The three-goal half helped provide a cushion the United States winded up needing against a Slovenia side that pressed matters in the second half. Forward Tim Matavz was a handful, scoring both Slovenia goals and exposing some weaknesses that weren’t all that surprising.

Chief among them was Tim Chandler’s continued education as a left back. He struggled at times to work with the rest of the back four on keeping a disciplined line, and wound up keeping Matavz onside on his first goal. Chandler struggled, but he struggled on things that can be worked on with time. He still has the tools to be the answer at left back, even hitting a perfect cross with his left foot at one point.

Clarence Goodson’s night was far less encouraging. After a France game that saw a blunder on the game’s lone goal overshadow an otherwise solid outing, Goodson reverted to the kind of shaky form we last saw from him in the 2009 Gold Cup Final. He didn’t look confident at all and was caught out of position on multiple occasions. His lack of pace was exposed at times, particularly when the defense pressed forward and attempted to play a high line, something Slovenia exploited repeatedly.

The match wasn’t Kyle Beckerman’s best since taking over as a starter under Klinsmann either. If anything, his subpar effort made a good case for the notion that Beckerman isn’t the answer as the lone defensive midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation. He can pass well given time and space, but he hasn’t really shown the engine to win the battle in central midfield against better opposition, never mind carrying the extra workload that comes in a 4-1-3-2 formation, where he has far more defensive responsibility.

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And that may ultimately be why we shouldn’t get too overly excited about the offensive production generated by Klinsmann’s formation change. While playing two forwards certainly helped create chances in the first half, the reduced numbers in midfield will lead to problems against stronger teams that will be able to put heavy pressure on the U.S. defense.

That may not be an issue for the next round of World Cup qualifying, where Jamaica, Guatemala and Antigua & Barbuda don’t have the weapons to punish an American 4-1-3-2, but Klinsmann must surely be aware that he may not be able to afford the luxury of playing that system against stronger teams.

That aside, there were still plenty of positives to take away from the match. Fabian Johnson looks like a legitimate attacking threat in midfield, Edson Buddle looks good enough to give Klinsmann a forward option besides Altidore, and Michael Bradley is clearly a player who needs to be on the field, looking like a player determined to remain a key member of the national team.

Those are some very good positives to take away from Tuesday’s match, and the high-scoring road win is a perfect ending to a season that needed a strong finish. Klinsmann’s work is just beginning, but he’ll be able to start 2012 with a more favorable vibe surrounding his team thanks to Tuesday’s victory, and an offensive outburst both Klinsmann and his team sorely needed.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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