The US midfield duo of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark held their own against England, restricting the ability of Lampard, Gerrard, and Rooney to boss the center of the park. Defense was their first priority, and it’s a good thing too because they hardly did anything offensively. We didn’t have much of the ball and we didn’t create enough chances when we did. That kind of display isn’t going to cut it on Friday because Slovenia are not England. Overlook them at your peril–just ask Russia–but we can be more aggressive. Bob Bradley should replace Clark with Jose Torres and up the tempo to spark the attack.
The threat posed by England’s attacking players is obvious and it was precisely the correct tactical approach to have our two central midfielders play deep and try and frustrate them. As the game wore on, Rooney kept dropping deeper and deeper in an attempt to get more involved in the play because Bradley and Clark were making it hard for him to find space closer to the goal. But it came at a price, England had much of the possession (57%-43%) and 18 shots while we created few chances – most of our 12 shots came either outside the box (7) or from set pieces, except the Altidore shot that Green pushed onto the post.
Slovenia, on the other hand, struggled to create much of anything against Algeria. The North Africans did set out with five in midfield, but the Slovenian attack was particularly muted regardless of the formation arrayed against them. They created no chances of note, only had seven shots at goal during the whole match and only on one occasion did they make an attempt from inside the box. The game had all the hallmarks of a 0-0 draw before the Algerian keeper’s blunder handed Slovenia all three points. We simply don’t need a defensive formation against Slovenia.
Bob Bradley has options. Michael Bradley is a classic box to box central midfielder (in the mold of a Gerrard but not nearly as good yet). Benny Feilhaber has long been an AF favorite and is probably the best pure passer in the squad. Maurice Edu blends both defense and offense better than Clark. Landon Donovan can certainly play in the middle. But Bradley isn’t a great distributor, Feilhaber and has the disturbing tendency of getting caught ahead ball when paired with Bradley, Edu really is more of a defensive stalwart than an offensive engine, and Donovan is too dangerous in space with the ball at his feet to sacrifice that threat against the Slovenes. Jose Torres is the man for this job.
Torres can play a deep-lying quarterback similar to (but clearly not at his level) Xabi Alonso of Spain. He can sit back and screen the defenders and should be deep enough to pick up the ball from the defense and start the attack. He is a terrific passer – and importantly, he moves the ball with pace and precision. Algeria is not a strong a team as the US and was more oriented towards defense, but it looked its most dangerous when it broke with speed into attack, usually on the flank. Torres can instigate quick counter-attacks but also move the ball around when the Slovenian defense is set.
A more attacking formation from the center will definitely mean that the back line and wide midfielders will need to provide more cover, but a slow and stodgy build up is playing right into Slovenia’s hands. Let’s go out with the mindset that we’re going to win this game and the players to do it.