By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 12, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Game two of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying for the USA has them on the road in Guatemala City (10pm ET - PPV). Here are five things to look out for as the United States plays for away points.
Don't Let This Become An MLS Game
That's the big threat Guatemala poses when the strongest players on their squad play in Major League Soccer. Why is this a problem? The unpredictability of MLS games. We see stronger teams lose every week in League play, advantages turn into liabilities, and teams eek out wins in ways that work against paying for elite players. Why bother, if the opposition will do whatever it takes over 90 minutes to neutralize the obvious points of attack? How does a team work around that? They force their game and try to minimize the opportunities for mistakes. No going behind early and chasing the equalizer. No isolated player giving up the ball in a dangerous position. Limit the chance for luck to play a role. This is tough for any team, but it plays against the fluke factor that determines so much in Major League Soccer.
Ignore The Offensive Statistics
We've already seen an example of this from Euro 2012 where Holland could certainly shoot but couldn't seem to score. That game might as well have been an exercise in a futile active offense. The shots were there, they were taken, they just didn't fall. The United States know how that works. A team struggles against its own almost-success, a situation where the availability of chances work against them. The early indicator are frustration shots from distance. If the ball is blasted from outside the area because attempts to carry it into the box have ended with half chances and saves, that's frustration. It's the same thing when shot selection goes wanting and a team makes it unnecessarily more difficult.
Ignore The Bunker As Well
The expectation is that Guatemala will be more than happy with a home draw and will spend large portions of the game waiting for counter attack opportunities. Should it play out as expected, that means they'll be packing the box to make any US attacks an attempt to run an obstacle course to maintain possession. The USA is no stranger to this approach. They've used it themselves, knowing what it takes to setup a line of defense at the top of the box and expecting your central defenders to head out attempts to lob the ball into the box. Knowing how to defend in that style should be an advantage to the US on offense, because they know what doesn't work. Playing to that experience means shifting the point of attack, not playing the obvious balls, and being disrupted with multiple passing moves.
Shift The Defensive Assignments
A hallmark of competitive games in CONCACAF is the opposition finding a target and continuing to route their attack against that player. We've seen it in the Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying, and the solution is to risk shifting defensive assignments so the opponent doesn't have it as easy. Steve Cherundolo and Kyle Beckerman have put on clinics on how this can work against higher rated opponents than Guatemala. Cherundolo would man mark the ball carrier on the wing, the opponent would work against him only to see Beckerman on the edge of the box. Should he get by Cherundolo, that takes away the run and makes swinging in a cross tougher. It raises the degree of difficulty to the level where the opposition should be trying something else.
Work Against Speed
We've already heard from USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann that what's needed in the second qualifier is to play 'faster' and 'better.' That's certainly a solution, but the speed of play is one of the biggest issues presented by Guatemala. Quick counters are the expectation, and the US shifting it up a gear carries with it the problem of space. Leave enough of it open, and there are opportunities for Guatemala. That liability is, of course, covered by playing better, but it tends to play down the realities of what an away qualifier is really like.
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