Five Points: USMNT fades after encouraging start in Chile
RANCAGUA, Chile —
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann voiced his concerns about the wall on the day before the 3-2 defeat to Chile on Wednesday night.
Klinsmann knew his players would give everything they had to the cause. He said as much. He just didn’t know how long they could match the pace and the tempo established by an aggressive Chile side itching to impress.
The line of demarcation eventually arrived at the hour with the Americans clinging to a 2-1 lead. Chile pushed and pushed as the second half progressed. Their endeavor and their fitness eventually paved the way Mark Gonzalez to score twice and secure victory on home soil.
"I think the key moment for us was on the fitness side," Klinsmann said. "We’ve only trained for two weeks. Our worry was that at minute 60, 65 that players would make mistakes because they get tired legs. You make certain mistakes because you’re getting tired. You lose the focus. You lose the vision because you are not fresh any more. This changed the game."
The turning point also provides an important foundation for this edition of Five Points. The final half-hour deserves its scrutiny, but the utility of this exercise largely stems from the efforts in the opening hour and the formation used for most of it.
Klinsmann introduces 3-5-2 from the outset
The mooted shift transformed into reality at the opening whistle. Klinsmann explained his decision to alter the setup in his post-match press conference and watched intently as it played out in front of him.
As expected, there were some benefits and drawbacks that influenced how the first half of the affair unfolded. Klinsmann and several players outlined their thoughts on the new look after the game.
Wide areas produce profit going forward
Wingbacks play a crucial role in the effectiveness of the 3-5-2 setup. Brek Shea and DeAndre Yedlin found themselves tasked with the role until the halftime reversion to a 4-4-2.
Shea exerted his influence most noticeably in the opening 10 minutes. He drifted into the ideal area to create space for a run behind the Chilean line. Matt Besler played an inviting ball from midfield to exploit the space. Shea glided past his marker and thrashed it home first time to supply an ideal example of the advantages gained from using this sort of setup.
"We moved the ball out wide and I was able to read the guy who was tight," Shea said. "I just made a good run. I think the ball was perfect for me to hit first time."
The early goal encouraged the Chileans to pin Shea back deeply for much of the remainder of the first half, but Yedlin presented a consistent threat on the right. He accepted the responsibility of challenging his defenders one-versus-one and used his pace to mine the space behind his opposing number.
It worked time and time again for much of the first half. Yedlin dragged just wide of the far post after 15 minutes and drew foul after foul to prompt set pieces opportunities. His continued endeavor also created room for Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to operate menacingly through the middle.
All of those efforts paid off when Yedlin maneuvered through two Chilean defenders and slotted Diskerud along the end line in the buildup to Altidore’s goal. The sequence provided him with a tangible contribution on a night where he threatened often before fading after the break.
Defense manages to muddle through to create halftime advantage
The emphasis on playing through the wide areas created plenty of the work for the central midfielders and the back three when the ball turned over.
For the most part, the Americans scraped through despite the apparent vulnerabilities. Besler and Steven Birnbaum made the correct decisions about when to hold and when to step more often than not. Michael Bradley dropped into helpful areas when necessary, particularly when Jermaine Jones started to wander too far from the generally stay-at-home spot in the middle of the back three. Shea and Yedlin usually understood when to transform the back three into the back five.
Jones found himself culpable for a dropped mark on the first goal and nearly responsible for a second with an ill-timed decision to dribble into pressure, but the end product represented a decent, if occasionally harrowing, return from a framework installed within the past two weeks.
"It was interesting," Birnbaum said. "We’d been working on it ever since we’ve been down there. I’ve gotten used to that spot a little bit. It was little different playing full speed in a game with it, but I thought we dealt with it pretty well in the first half. We obviously got a couple of goals there, too, but, unfortunately, we gave up a couple of goals in the second half, which wasn’t a good thing."
Tiring legs lead to entrenchment despite switch to 4-4-2
Klinsmann changed to 4-4-2 at halftime to move Jones into midfield, partner Besler and Birnbaum in central defense, pull Shea and Yedlin into fullback positions and shore up some of the spaces afforded in the first half. It worked more or less for the first 15 minutes of the second half, but the inability to corral possession or push out for extended periods extracted a significant toll after the hour.
By this stage of the game, the lack of match fitness started to show. Chile pursued the game earnestly and eventually reaped the benefits through Mark Gonzalez’s double. The visitors mustered their own attempted response after a raft of substitutions, but their intermittent endeavors — including a rasping Bradley effort off the crossbar and a Chris Wondolowski header — did not produce the equalizer required in the final quarter of an hour.
"It’s hard, obviously with the result," Altidore said. "A lot of these guys — you saw during the week — are trying to get their legs under them. They’re in preseason. That’s a big challenge in and of itself, especially with three months off for a lot of these guys. I think that played a part, too."
Another defeat creates some impetus to secure result against Panama
The setback at Estadio El Teniente leaves the Americans without a victory since the 1-0 triumph against Czech Republic in September. These matches are friendlies designed to experiment with new ideas and identify players for the future, but results do matter on some level.
At this stage, the U.S. needs to reinforce some of its work with a payoff at the end. There were enough encouraging signs here (particularly in contrast to the insipid showing against Republic of Ireland to conclude last year) to take forward for the remainder of this camp. It is now time to see whether this group can cobble together those strands to produce the desired result in Carson, Calif. next Sunday.
"We have to win the game, to me," Altidore said. "I’m not going to say it’s a must-win game. But I think it’s a game — at home to start 2015 — that we should win."