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The SBI Show: Episode 146 (Recapping the USMNT win vs. Nigeria, looking back at MLS Week 14, and more)

Fabian Johnson, Jozy Altidore


The U.S. Men’s National Team concluded their World Cup Send Off series in style on Saturday, with an impressive 2-1 victory against Nigeria that helped give the team some real confidence heading to Brazil.

In Episode 146 of The SBI Show, we take a look back at Saturday’s 2-1 victory, which featured impressive performances by several U.S. players, including Jozy Altidore, Michael  Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

Co-host Garrett Cleverly and I also discuss MLS Week 14, including the New York Red Bulls’ first win at New England in almost 12 years, Toronto FC’s latest victory and FC Dallas’ first win in a long time.

Give Episode 146 of The SBI Show a listen after the jump:


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What did you think of the show? Agree with our take on the U.S. team’s 4-3-2-1 formation? What impressed you the most about the win vs. Nigeria? Which MLS result surprised you the most in Week 14?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Guys, I’ve supported USMNT for over 17yrs now and I’ll still be doing so unless playing against Ghana black stars. I know almost everything about U.S soccer and honestly this team can’t beat Ghana. This Ghanaian roster is actually too skilled, too strong, and even better than 2010. However, I think U.S soccer is catching up pretty fast……but not there yet. Don’t let the fifa rankings throw you off, how the rankings are done just doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s the same system they’re using in tennis and there was a time Serena Williams won a major title, beating all of them including the 1st ranked player and they still ranked Serena as 2nd for that same year. Just doesn’t make any sense to me. At the end of the day, it’s soccer and anything can happen that’s why we play the game; but I think Ghana has the upper hand this time.

  2. Wow, I never knew someone will actually pick out “why not wait till 6th” and make a whole lot outta that when everyone knows it’s an error and I meant 16th..hmm…..what fear can do….hahahahahaha we will dominate ya’ll till you work out a way to avoid us anytime we are both in a tourney…..c’mon man be sure to bring your self to Brazil on the 6th….ooops…16th to get schooled (as usual)..then, you might care about Holland and co…nuffin personal too man….

  3. Good to see everyone is hungrily munching on to the idea that Ghana’s midfield has become so terrible all of a sudden….but come 16th the USMNT will be shocked to the core….our game against Netherland was to test our Goal Keeper in tough situations…hence our bad defensive play…..yesterdays was to test our defense….cos we have faith in our midfield and strike force….quiet honestly I would be surprised if one actually thinks the Keeper and midfield play we saw yesterday is our WC attitude… Why not wait till 6th?

    • “Why not wait till 6th?”

      Because that was a couple of days ago. We’ll see you on the 16th. Nobody cares about your excuses about your GK. Nobody cares about Holland. Bring your team. We will bring ours. See you then. Nothing personal.

    • Not sure if I’m that worried, the score is more indicative of how bad the Koteans were than Ghana’s strength. Nigeria, whom the USMNT just beat, is the current African Cup of Nations champ, winning in 2013. In the 2014 African Nations Championship, Ghana finished second and Nigeria third, but the two teams battled to a scoreless draw in the semis with Ghana winning on penalties. I’m not writing off the Americans yet.

      • No reason to write off the American’s but Ghana looks a lot more dangerous than Nigeria to me.

      • Ghana is a lot more dangerous than Nigeria. And Korea might not be great, but if we’re looking at quality of opposition in these send off games, they’re a lot better than Azerbaijan (and they are going to Brazil).

        Also, anyone looking at the 2014 African Nations Championship for comfort should look closer. The Ghanaian squad in that tournament was completely domestic based. Their third string keeper is their only WC player who played in that tournament.

    • What a complete failure you are. It’s a pity you aren’t the random12 year old we all thought you were. Turns out the reality is much more disturbing. Stay tuned. This is about to get good.

  4. Did anybody else watch this Ghana V Korea game? Yikes! Ghana just crushed them. It could have been much worse that 4-0. Ghana is crazy athletic. So extraordinarily dangerous on the counter attack.

    • I wanted to but I just got home. =(

      I got the impression Korea is just as bad as Ghana was good from what others have said though.

      As in Ghana was very good but Korea was very bad.

      • Fair enough. Korea did look really bad at least as the game wore on. It was probably some of both. I had been feeling really good after our 3 game send off series, but Ghana was easily more dominant in that game than the US was in any of its 3 send off games.

      • Yes and no.

        Agree with The Other Jeff…Korea gifted them the first two goals, then tanked. Pretty much quit after 50 or so. Reports have been that the flu bug wiped out a lot of the Korean camp and it showed; their guys really, really keeling over out there.

        Korea had the better of chances early, just couldn’t put them away…and when you’re playing from a hole and let the other team get comfie – especially a team with as much attacking flair as Ghana – you can get buried.

        Ghana’s defense is suspect, their keeper more so. Problem is, if you mess up on D, they’ll absolutely punish you; their strike force is top drawer and Oh My can that team fly.

      • “Ghana’s defense is suspect, their keeper more so. Problem is, if you mess up on D, they’ll absolutely punish you; their strike force is top drawer and Oh My can that team fly.”

        This 100%. Their forwards are so dangerous. You can think you have them covered completely and they’ll still find an extra gear and beat you to the ball and score.

    • First goal off a counter that started with a bad Korean turnover – Korea covered the 1st and 2nd attacked, but forgot to mark the runner at the far post whose shot takes a deflection off the defender and otherwise might well have been smothered by the GK.

      2nd goal a gift from Korean CB or the ref depending on your point of view, resulting in a 2v1 from midfield to goal, nice professional finish from 18 yards.

      Meanwhile Korea runs roughshod over the Ghana midfield, stripping the ball on defense and running over around and through everyone on attack. A couple quality chances created, including a rocket off the woodwork.

      Halftime: Ghana 2-0 Korea, could have been much different.

      3rd goal a great long-range shot from about 22 yards in front of goal, not a counterattack.

      4th goal just class, buildup and finish.

      2nd half Ghana just absorbing pressure and Korea overextending to chase the game. Korea fatigues first – way first.

      Ghana’s win was not close, but they showed some weaknesses. Frequently gave the ball away in their own half while trying to work out of the back. Showed the same vs Netherlands. Really struggled to maintain possession in the midfield, esp in Korea’s half. Generally organized in back but not always – Korea had their chances and couldn’t put them away.

      On the plus side, speed to burn, clinical finishing – Just about every Korean mistake was punished.

      The biggest surprise to me was their midfield, which was frankly outplayed by Korea’s both ways. Korea lost in the back with mistakes and for lack of finishing up top, but in between did pretty much whatever they wanted to. If this is what we see on 16th I’m pretty confident we won’t be giving up much in the middle.

      • Yep, well it is great to control the center of the park, but I’d rather have clinical finishing and solid defense.

        Ghana certainly can finish. They only need a moment of carelessness, a simple bad backward pass. The number of bad back passes that have been made in the warm up games by the US is more than I can count (ran out of fingers and toes). Ghana will be much more likely to grab those turnovers and turn them into lightning quick goals against the run of play. The first and second goals were reminders of exactly how the US lost in 2010. Just reverse the order of the goals. Heck, that second goal also was pretty similar to the Claudio Reyna moment in 2006.

        You can feel great that Korea controlled the midfield, or you can feel horrible that despite Korea controlling the midfield they still got slaughtered. My point is, I don’t think controlling the game is going to be enough. We will need to finish our opportunities and shutdown the counter attack.
        Ghana can destroy teams that are pressing for a goal. We can’t afford to give up that first goal.

      • Ghana’s propensity to give the ball away in their own half is something the US has to seize on, and is part of why it’s so important to keep Bradley high. Against both Turkey and Nigeria, Bradley forced a number of high turnovers that immediately turned into good attacks. We’ll need that against Ghana, because if we fall asleep for a second, their attack will punish us.

        Also, Essien didn’t start tonight, and he will probably play against us. Their midfield will be substantially stronger with him in there.

  5. Everything Ives said about Beasley could be said about Donovan.

    Too bad Ives didnt get a chance to praise Julian Grün

  6. Ives, do all journalists keep track of their “caps”? Or is there something that keeps track of it for you without you having to count them up yourself?

    • Not sure who keeps track of them and who doesn’t, but we do it ourselves. There’s no system that does it for us.

  7. Good work as always guys, appreciate you both. Keep up the good work! Try to have a little fun in Brazil Ives and keep an eye on Franco…

  8. Been touting the 4-3-2-1 for a few years now. So glad to see us finally give it a look. Great defensive shape and freedom of movement going forward. Beautiful.
    Crowding things centrally and breaking quickly when we get possession is our best bet for results. I’ve loved seeing Tim Howard looking for a chance to break when he gets the ball in his hands.

    • Thing is, this really wasn’t a 4-3-2-1. Ives, I hate to call you out man, but your dislike of the diamond is misplaced here (IMO, it always has been, but that’s a slightly different discussion). This was a hybrid formation, playing very much like the diamond with Jones in place of Zusi on the left, except that defensively, Jones would drop back and sit next to Beckerman in front of the backline, which made a huge difference – it resulted in the whole team staying compact and composed in defense. It differed from previous US lineups in a few ways:
      – Jones spent a lot of time on the left flank
      – Dempsey, despite being annouced as a central attacking midfielder, stayed higher than Jozy for much of the game – this was really a two forward setup (which is so critical to the US attack)
      – Jozy, interestingly, was called on several times to drop back and do some defensive work (especially on the left side when Jones moved centrally), which he did a better job of than Clint tends to – Jozy at times was almost even with the backline, which you almost never see. He was not up top by himself
      – Bradley stayed higher up as an “attacking” midfielder – he covered a lot of ground and got back, but he was not sitting in front of the backline with Jones and Beckerman

      All in all this was a really smart shift from Klinsmann. It got the team what it really wanted from the diamond: Bradley staying higher up and forcing turnovers in the opposing half, with two forwards in support to immediately turn those turnovers into attacks. It compensated for the diamond’s shortcomings by having two defensive midfielders shield the backline, reducing the amount of space the bottom point on the diamond has to cover. It achieved this by sacrificing a bit of the attack on the left side – but this was OK since 1) Beasley was smart about getting forward on a couple of occasions, so there was still some danger from the left (and Jones was very smart about covering when Beasley attacked), and 2) it created a natural overload on the right side (especially when Johnson got into the attack) which is a really good way to create opportunities. This setup also created more opportunities for Jozy to receive the ball facing the goal rather than with his back to it, which makes him so much more effective.

      I’m really excited to see that Klinsmann introduced the diamond, assessed what was working and what wasn’t with it, and adapted it to make it effective. It was only one game, but for perhaps the first time in the Klinsmann era, I feel like we have a sensible system in which players know their roles and are put in the optimal positions to execute them. I really hope this is what we continue to see in Brazil!

      (Also, shoutout to Ale Bedoya – in this player pool, he’s the ideal shuttler/wing midfielder with the workrate and quick thinking to help this collapsible diamond [that’s what I’m calling this midfield setup] quickly transition between attack and defense. Zusi is a similar player, but Bedoya plays quicker, has better vision, and a classier touch [albeit an inferior cross].)

      • Aren’t all formations hybrids these days? There aren’t really too many rigid tactical setups around anymore. Formations continuously morph depending on the demands of the situation. At its base, this was a 4-3-2-1 though.

        I do agree with your points about what this setup allows our individual players to accomplish though. Seems a perfect fit for our personnel.

      • Sorry my man, but it wasn’t a diamond. Ask anybody who actually played in the game and lineup and see if anyone tells you that was a diamond. it wasn’t. It was a 4-3-2-1. And no, Bradley wasn’t in the 3, he was in the 2 with Dempsey. Bedoya was on the right side of the 3, starting deep and surging forward when the opportunity presented itself. Obviously players have freedom to move around, but it was in no way a diamond and very much a 4-3-2-1 if it was anything.

        And I don’t “hate the diamond”, I think the diamond can be a great system if you have the right people for it at the level you’re playing. The diamond isn’t ever going to work for the U.S. team against good opponents. Period.

      • Definitely it wasn’t a diamond: The action maps make it clear.

        Beckerman was DM, Jones and Bradley B2B each 1/3 in from their touchline, with Bradley tilted forward a bit, Bedoya overloaded the right, and Johnson overlapped it. We were really playing downhill on that side.

        Jozy and Clint interchanged a bit, too, with both also coming in right.

        If anything we’re going to have to watch out on the left side, try to get Beasely to come up it like a raider now and again.

      • I think you saw an early version of the Nigeria line up in the Italy game which the US won 1-0 with Williams as the much ballyhooed “right winger”

        USA : 1-Tim Howard; 2-Steve Cherundolo, 4-Clarence Goodson, 5-Carlos Bocanegra (capt.), 3-Fabian Johnson (13-Jonathan Spector, 77); 6-Michael Bradley, 8-Maurice Edu; 7-Danny Williams,10-Clint Dempsey (17-Edson Buddle, 90), 11-Brek Shea (16-Sacha Kljestan, 73); 9-Jozy Altidore (18-Terrence Boyd, 79)

      • hey GW, you sure about that? I do not recall Jurgen’s teams ever deploying the Xmas tree before, and not with Williams though I know you always defend his deployment in those games.

        certainly was that formation when defending v. Nigeria tho

      • My point about William’s deployment in the Italy game was that it helped the US win the game.

        What did JJ do vs Nigeria? He stabilized the midfield which allowed Mikey freedom.

        What did Williams do vs Italy? He stabilized the midfield preventing the Italians from taking it overrunning us like they so often do..

        It is not an exact comparison but it makes the point that JK understood that midfield and how you address it is usually where it begins and ends for most teams.

      • I didn’t say it was a diamond exactly. But it wasn’t a 4-3-2-1 exactly either. There’s really no debate that there were two forwards – Dempsey spent much of the game higher than Altidore. That alone makes it not really a Christmas tree. And Jones spent a lot of the game on the left flank. The heat maps confirm both of those things (as does just rewatching the game, which I’m sure you’ve already done).

        The setup had two distinct looks in attack and defense. Defensively, the closest thing it resembled was a 4-2-3-1 with Beckerman and Jones sitting in front of the backline. Bedoya generally wasn’t in line with them – he was pressuring the ball higher in our half. And Jozy almost played the left midfield role defensively for portions of the first half.

        But in attack, it definitely played like something more resembling the diamond. Bedoya on the right was clearly positioned higher than Beckerman in the attack, and the attack is where most of Jones’s time on the left came. Obviously you know what the players said better than I do, but your fellow 100 cap boy Grant Wahl also observed Jones’ position as being on the left side of a diamond:

        I guess my point is, semantics aside, that there are things that worked about the diamond and things that didn’t, and this hybrid setup captured the good while compensating for the bad. It’s fair to say that this is different from and looks better than the straight up diamond, but I also think it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that this was a total shift away from the diamond and represents the diamond’s failure. This new system is an evolution, but it has roots both in the diamond (especially the emphasis on getting Bradley high, the emphasis on supporting Jozy with another striker, and the de-emphasis of traditional wing midfield play) and also in the multiple d-mid systems the US has used in the past.

        (I don’t quite agree that the diamond isn’t EVER going to work for the US against good opponents, and while I didn’t use the word hate before, frankly I’d say that kind of a blanket statement IS diamond hate. The main reason the diamond isn’t more effective for us is that we don’t have a secondary forward capable of doing enough high pressing (e.g. someone like Herc at his peak), which leaves Bradley with too much responsibility to pressure high and low (he then has to pick one or the other, and both have their downsides). But against a team that relies on, say, a playmaking deep lying midfielder in conjunction with wing forwards (without much in the way of midfield attacks up the middle) I think it would match up very well.

      • There is a debate because Dempsey had more touches/passes in the middle third than Altidore. You can argue semantics all day and call him a second forward, but I definitely disagree that he spent more time up the field than Altidore.

        We’re not talking Foosball, so obviously players move around. Dempsey floats quite a bit, and that’s the luxury he and Bradley have in the system. Dempsey can float into the space Altidore leaves available up high, and he can float throughout the midfield. There were stretches were Dempsey attacked the right channel, and some where he’d post up on the left channel.

        All that said, it was significantly closer to a 4-3-2-1 than diamond. Not even close. Multiple starters called it a 4-3-2-1 in post-game interviews, so it’s just a bit mind-boggling to me that anyone (and I’m not just talking you my man) would try and call that system a diamond.

        And this absolutely was a shift away from the diamond. The fact of the matter is I don’t think the diamond was ever really what Klinsmann had banked on using anyway. I said it at the start of the entire series, that he wanted to use the diamond to get the team familiar with it so he could have it in the arsenal. In the process of that he came up with a system that could actually be used as a first-choice system. This 4-3-2-1 is much closer to the 4-2-3-1 we grew familiar with in qualifying than the diamond he experimented with in recent months.

        The experimentation with the diamond wasn’t useless. It helped showcase Bradley’s abilities as an advanced midfielder, which maybe Klinsmann needed to see for himself, and it showed him that the team would need more support in deep midfield to make it all work. From that standpoint, the diamond experiment served its purpose, along with giving the team a system it can use late in a match if it needs a goal or two.

      • The major change, for me, is having Bradley as the fulcrum of our attack now. For Klinsmann’s entire tenure he has shoehorned Dempsey in that role which doesn’t necessarily suit his skill set or the team’s. Dempsey now has more freedom to float into available space and combine with Bradley who is our “point guard” through the center. Most attacks have always flowed through Bradley one way or another, but now he is in that advanced central role where he is much more effective than Dempsey was offensively and defensively. Not sure many people appreciated Bradley’s playmaking abilities as he has continuously been labeled D-mid by many.

  9. Disagree with Ives for the first time ever. If Portland makes the playoffs, they will be the team everyone wants to play. Just because they are making up ground on teams depleted by national team duty (again) doesn’t make them the scariest team in the west. As a RSL fan, I would much rather play them in the playoffs than any of the projected alternatives.

    Having said that, Adi was impressive. Great pickup for them.

    • Never used the term “scariest team in the West” and let’s face it, if there’s a team that wouldn’t mind playing them it’s RSL. That doesn’t make Portland any less a dangerous foe for teams in the West in general.

      • If Portland adds a Centerback of DP caliber they will be looking tough. Im a Seattle homer but I can tell that a high caliber CB could all of sudden make them extremely dangerous for anybody.

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