It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the U.S. team looked out of sorts in the first half against Mexico on Wednesday night.
It was introducing a new coach in Juergen Klinsmann. With that comes a new system and new identity. Players were asked to step into different roles and take on a fresh mind-set. Some fit in well from the start, others looked better after they adjusted. Some never found their form.
That’s a part of the growing process.
On Wednesday night it seemed the U.S. team had already started to take on some of that easy-going personality Klinsmann emits.
It showed in the young players who changed the game with their loose, creative play, and in the players’ willingness to try new ideas, move in and out of positions, and ultimately overcome a deficit.
“It was an amazing learning process that the players went through in just 90 minutes,” Klinsmann said. “Slowly we gave them the task to move, step by step, more forward and get more confidence the longer they are in the game and put Mexico under pressure. That’s what we saw in the last half-hour. All the defensive tasks were under control and they challenged that Mexican side.”
It began with a tactical overhaul featuring plenty of new faces.
The U.S. came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Edson Buddle was the lone forward, tasked with running his behind off, as Klinsmann put it. Kyle Beckerman was a system No. 6, a defensive center midfielder that is meant to clean up the mess, cover ground and not lose the ball. Michael Bradley sat in front in a playmaking role with Jose Torres and Landon Donovan on his wings. In the back line, Edgar Castillo got the start at left back and Michael Orozco Fiscal was playing center back.
Those players in the first half looked out of sorts. The U.S. couldn’t hold the ball, struggled with spacing and shape defensively and was unable to play a high line, thus preventing the team from creating any menacing play going forward.
But Klinsmann wasn’t worried.
This game was about testing out players and formations more than it was introducing one solid concept of what his system would entail. He showed that with his substitutions.
In the 59th minute, Brek Shea entered at left midfield, shifting Torres into central midfield and pushing Bradley back into his more comfortable defensive center midfield role. Juan Agudelo replaced a gassed Buddle, who had run with little support for an hour. Immediately that created a spark. Shea was menacing running at players and Torres was much more effective holding the ball.
When Robbie Rogers entered in the 72nd minute, Donovan could slide inside and play closer to goal, lessening his defensive responsibilities. The 4-2-3-1 was now a 4-4-1-1 with a diamond central midfield – Beckerman deep and Torres high.
“ We need to have those variations, we need to have those flexibilities moving people around,” Klinsmann said.
The Americans were a new team, and just one minute later Rogers scored. Then the chances started coming. Part of it was players in more comfortable roles. Part of it was younger players like Shea and Rogers unafraid of taking defenders on, going one on one, and looking to create. That’s encouraging.
“It was just fun to watch,” Klinsmann said of the young players. “Really enjoyable how they suddenly they expressed themselves and they go for it.”
If you take away anything from this game, don’t be left looking at a test-tube first half. Understand it’s going to be a process -- one that Klinsmann seemed eager to undertake.
“”This is now a new beginning,” he said. “And they are full of energy and willingness to take it one step at a time.”