Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
CLEVELAND – The U.S. Men’s National Team may have scored twice in their loss to Belgium on Wednesday, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann knows the Americans need to show drastic improvement in the attack if they are to have any shot at avoiding another humbling defeat against Germany on Sunday.
In their 4-2 defeat to a talented Belgian side, the U.S. struggled to create many scoring chances from the run of play. Both goals, a first-half header from Geoff Cameron and a penalty kick from Clint Dempsey late, came off of set pieces and helped to highlight just how tough of a time the Americans are having in breaking down their defensively-disciplined opponents (the U.S. have scored just twice from the run of play in their last four matches and both tallies came courtesy of Dempsey).
Klinsmann acknowledged after the game at FirstEnergy Stadium that the latest offensive performance from his team was not good enough, though he made no mention of their lack of service from the wings. Klinsmann admitted that Belgium are a tough opponent but added that the U.S. made things tougher on themselves with their inability to keep possession, something that will need changing before Sunday’s friendly with Germany at RFK Stadium and the following three World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras.
“We actually talked about that before the game, that we want to kind of play simpler out of the back, not making things complicated,” Klinsmann said in his postgame press on Wednesday. “Here and there, we always look for the complicated ball into Jozy (Altidore) maybe, then into Eddie Johnson, into Clint, instead of just carrying through the midfield, just playing into people’s feet, move off the ball and keep it simple.
“We made it a little bit too difficult for ourselves there and if you do that then people get insecure, their passing gets insecure, because if you miss three, four of those passes then the fifth one will go wrong, too. Then you don’t get that flow that you hope you would get. … But what we didn’t do well was kind of playing through, keep it simple and give options to each other, just pass the ball around and don’t look for the killer ball right away. We lost far too many balls too early, too easy.”
As Klinsmann pointed out, his passing-oriented system starts with the defense and centerback Omar Gonzalez shared his coach’s assessment that building out of the back could be better. Gonzalez, who was largely responsible for Belgium’s second goal as he turned the ball over after taking a heavy touch inside his own penalty area, felt that at times the U.S. did well in that regard against Belgium but also indicated that there are improvements to be had.
“I think we saw a little bit of it today but there definitely can always be more,” Gonzalez told SBI. “Just giving it into our midfielders’ feet and maybe bypassing them and going straight to the forwards. As much as we can play on the ground, we’ve got to do it and just keep the ball moving.”
While Gonzalez and other players agreed with Klinsmann’s assessment, others did not. When Sacha Kljestan was asked about what he thought the Americans needed to do better on offense, the veteran midfielder offered up a much different response, saying that taking more chances could be what cures the U.S.’s anemic offense.
“Our ideas just have to be a bit better in the final third,” said Kljestan. “We just need to be more dynamic, putting the other team under pressure, whether that’s playing balls behind the defense, like Eddie Johnson came on and was very dangerous getting in behind the defense a few times. I think we need to try and do that a little bit more for us to be successful in the attacking third.”
Regardless of what the fix is, the U.S. know how vital it is to show more when in possession. They cannot continue to relinquish the ball easily and cannot be forced to settle for so many half-chances, not if they wish to have a good showing against Germany’s stacked side and not if they wish to pick up all nine points from their next three qualifiers.
“There was games where we’ve been on the same page and we played really well and then there’s games where we’ve been off the same page,” Cameron told SBI of the defense’s ability to jump-start the attack with quality passes. “Hopefully, we’ll get back on the same page. We have a few more days to train with each other and get some movement patterns down and hopefully that will help us out in the next game.”