Jrgen Klinsmanns team face one of the worlds best sides for a place in the final. But Lionel Messi and Co can be put off their stride with a few key tactics
After USA beat Ecuador and Argentina swept past Venezuela, the two teams will meet in the Copa America semi-finals on Tuesday night, with Argentina firm favorites to advance to the final( and indeed win the whole tournament .) But what can Jrgen Klinsmann do to stop them? And just as importantly can they do anything to cause Argentina problems? Here are a few tactics that could lead to an upset over Lionel Messi and Co.
Plug the holes wisely
We already know that three starters will be out for the semi-final part of the collateral damage from the victory over Ecuador. Bobby Wood, Alejandro Bedoya and, of course, the red-carded Jermaine Jones all miss out.
There arent a lot of silver lining in this scenario, but the good news largely center around the back-line get stronger thanks to DeAndre Yedlins return after suspension. Fabian Johnson should revert to the left, the Geoff Cameron/ John Brooks partnership – which has prospered in these championships – should remain untouched at the center, and with Brad Guzan in solid goal-keeping sort, at the very least the defensive foundations of the team should be as solid as can be expected.
As for the three missing starters, lets start with Jones. Klinsmann will probably bring Kyle Beckerman in to replace him the Real Salt Lake man wont cover as much ground, but hes smart, and always well informed the defenders immediately behind him. If he can help cut out some of the pas lanes to Sergio Agero or Gonzalo Higuain he can do a lot of good. If he could actually tackle Messi at the start of the forwards runs from deep that would also be…an added bonus.
The nearest to a style-for-style replacement for Bedoya would be the hard-working Graham Zusi. The wrinkle here might be if Klinsmann is convinced of the virtues of Matt Besler at left-back. In that case he could pushing Johnson into Bedoyas usual position it sets Johnson where he is most comfortable but he would have to provide support for Besler.
As for Wood, well, its possible we watch Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey up top with Darlington Nagbe and Zusi played as broad humen in a four-man midfield. But a 4-2-3-1 with the midfield anchored by Beckerman and Bradley, may be the most likely, with the question then being who becomes the ill-fitting spearhead up top.
You genuinely want Dempsey arriving late in the box or generating opportunities outside it, and if you want to keep Bradley deeper, then its merely possible that Chris Wondolowskis movement up top can allow Dempsey, Zusi/ Nagbe, and Zardes to do the run behind him. Its a more lightweight attacking formation than US fans would hope for, but when you lose three starters, youre going to be weaker. Klinsmann may as well try and build the best use of his remaining assets in their best positions.
Get after it
One of the criticisms of Klinsmanns reign by fans and indeed some current and former players is that the promised attacking style never materialized. There have been particular games that have illustrated the frustration and this has the potential to be one of them.
After the World Cup, Landon Donovan – who admittedly had something of a vested interest in the ideal of transformative assaulting players – spoke of the annoyance of watching USAs belated attempts to force-out a comeback against Belgium when they were already 2-0 down. Donovan said he wished the shackles had come off sooner against a talented Belgium team who nonetheless were vulnerable to being put over their game by spirited opponent. What he, and numerous other national team players feel is that the team is at their best when they get after it.
And foolish as it might seem to attack Argentina, it will be equally foolish to sit back and hope for penalties. There will be a phase in a tight 90 -minute game where America might be well advised to gamble on assault, but its not when the whistling blows for kick-off.
Theres a cue in how Chile took the game to Argentina in their opening match of the tournament. Chile lost, but ran Argentina close with their high energy press, and some version of the same from Klinsmanns humen might at least keep Messi and Co. honest enough to not be able to fully perpetrate their full-backs in offensive scenarios. This, however, involves intestines. To devote an example from two other teams in the tournament, on the odd occasion when Mexico tried to go toe-to toe with Chile on Saturday night, being second best on every front hurt. Their own full-backs were pinned down, Chile were hungrier to force turnovers, close passing lanes and were faster in transition. And as video games slipped away, Mexicos midfielders were overwhelmed.
Which is just to say that the US could lose heavily whatever approach they try, but the choice does not have to be about preferring your flavor of heroic failing. At this point of the tournament they need to send out a team to try and win the game and not only avoid defeat.
Use replaces well
The format tweaks of the knockout rounds mean that with penalties immediately following 90 minutes, the use of subs provides an opportunity for Klinsmann to be proactive early, and without dread of playing his hand too soon with extra-time still to come.
It can be a marginal advantage, but again thinking about a positive approach, theres the health risks to bring Christian Pulisic off the bench to stretch Argentina, especially in a tight game where the favorites start to worry about the clock and a possible penalty shoot-out.
There wont be many areas of the game where the USA can define the orders of the day, but judicious subs that arent so much like-for-like swaps as shiftings of emphasis that have the potential to alter the rhythm of the game in the Americans favor. And the more uncertainty they can create, the bigger opportunity the government had of Argentina tightening up as the final whistle approaches.
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