Prost Amerika has teamed up with the people at Keeping a Clean Sheet, to bring you tactical analyses of 2013′s big matches.
Looking forward, they will be breaking down the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, but they start today with the World Cup Hexagonal between Honduras and the USA.
Honduras v US (2-1) – First Match in the Hex Yields Zero Points
The grass was high and slow and the weather was steamy. After taking a first half lead, the US conceded twice at the San Pedro Sula Stadium.
Manager Luis Fernando Suarez aligned his side in a 442 with a diamond midfield. Roger Espinoza, who made his name as a deep lying midfielder at Sporting KC, played in a more advanced role sitting just behind the two strikers Jerry Bengtson and Carlos Costly.
Without clear lineup choices, Klinsmann surprised with his team selection.
In front of Tim Howard was a back four of Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson. Danny Williams operated as the holding midfielder with Bradley and Jones the box to box players.
Up front was Jozy Altidore with Clint Dempsey behind him and Eddie Johnson playing on the left. The result was a strange 4-3-2-1 type system. The US played without a wide right player and the fullbacks rarely got forward; whether this was tactical cautiousness, a result of the extreme heat or a combination of the two was unknown.
Early on the Yanks sat deep and tried to slowly come into the game. Honduras was looking for a goal early. Omar Gonzalez was caught out of position but was saved by the offside flag. Lacking quickness, Gonzalez can be punished if he is not aligned correctly.
Finally, 19 minutes in, the US got their first positive buildup.
Chandler pressed Boniek Garcia hard at the halfway line and won the ball leading to Altidore and Bradley combining but Chandler’s cross was inaccurate.
A minute later, Altidore, who pressured in the first half, won the ball which led to another foray forward that broke down at the top of the box.
Espinoza was tightly tracked by Williams for the start of the match but found himself free to test Howard 24 minutes in. Jones and Bradley had the freedom to push up and sometimes both took attacking positions. This led to Williams being outnumbered in the center two to one with either Boniek or Bengtson taking a central position to link up with Espinoza.
The Yanks Go Forward, Briefly
In the 29th minute, the US nearly took the lead. Dempsey was able to probe the center, lay off a pass to Jones who set Johnson free with a long ball to the left. Johnson’s cross found Altidore who extended his right boot and turned the cross just over the bar.
Espinoza then got past Williams in the left channel and squared a ball which was cleared by Johnson. Then, he picked Williams pocket in the attacking third and fed Martinez who tested Howard.
The Yanks took the lead after the first long passing buildup they had all match. The move finished with a chipped pass from Jones over the top to Dempsey who volleyed home first time over the head of the keeper.
Five minutes before the break, the home side leveled. After a poor initial corner, the ball looped to the other corner of the attacking third. Bernardez swung the ball back in to Figueroa who chested it to Garcia who bicycled it home. The finish was extraordinary but the lack of aggression in attacking the initial cross was inexcusable.
Substitutions Change the Shape
It was clear Klinsmann made a few tweaks during halftime. Eddie Johnson moved higher up the pitch and played as a striker alongside Altidore. Also, the fullbacks were told to make runs forward. Johnson did so and was found by Dempsey five minutes into the half. His squared pass found Bradley whose shot from 20 yards was blocked by a defender.
The two striker system lasted 15 minutes when Klinsmann made two changes.
Sacha Kljestan came in for Eddie Johnson and Maurice Edu for Danny Williams. Edu slotted in as a direct replacement for Williams and Kljestan patrolled the left side. The third change was made nine minutes later when Graham Zusi came in to play on the left and Jermaine Jones exited. People will criticize the changes because they were made very early.
I thought this was wise since the heat required fresh legs to energize a tired team. However, the changes were overly aggressive. Klinsmann opted to chase a second goal which left the US exposed. Zusi and Kljestan took wide roles and only Edu was left in the center since Bradley was exhausted and was slow tracking back.
On a rare second half attack, Bradley controlled and found Dempsey in the 65th minute but the shot was blocked. Klinsmann should find more ways to get Bradley forward. On the few occasions, Dempsey and Bradley were able to combine in the attacking third; the combination was able to yield shots and promising opportunities.
With eleven minutes to play, Honduras took the lead. Figueroa ventured forward from the back and was given too much space to turn and find a through ball that split Cameron and Johnson. Boniek was able to get a touch before Howard and slip in Bengtson to win the match. Bengtson poached the goal after Gonzalez fell asleep and did not track back.
Left scrambling for an equalizer and unable to make a change, the US hardly threatened the goal. The match ended on a corner that was headed over.
Due to the long grass, it was easy for Honduras to play balls in behind the defense since the ball would check up instead of roll towards Howard; similarly to the pitch when Seattle lays temporary grass for friendly matches. This factored into the winning goal. It is also worth noting the Cameron is playing midfielder for his club but is a center back for his country which is not ideal.
While the loss was disappointing, the Hex is still in its early days. After the match, Clint Dempsey had some telling words about the long travel and playing in the heat.
“Both teams have to deal with those conditions but it’s difficult because you can’t press and run and have the endurance that you would have in other games,” he told ussoccer.com.
A point would have been nice but it is more crucial for the Yanks to take three points at home against Costa Rica in March.