Breaking Down Slovenia’s Goals (Part 1)

This post an assessment of the first goal – check back later for an analysis of the second goal and for another post assessing what we have learned.

While it was a great comeback for the USA, the two goals it gave up in the first half were the result of good play from Slovenia and absolutely shocking defending from the US. Both goals scored were not the result of just one US player – they were result of multiple defensive breakdowns, beginning with the midfield and ending with the backline.

Slovenia’s First Goal: Scored by right midfielder Birsa. US players most at fault – Oguchi Onyewu, Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley/Jose Torres, Tim Howard. Watch the goal:

Part 1: The move begins. Slovenia play a ball into the channel toward their left corner flag, which Demerit rightly challenges. This however leaves him out of position and requires Steve Cherundolo to cover at the centerback position, which he does effectively. Slovenia’s #9 Ljubiankic, who recovers the ball in the corner, is forced to play the ball back. The US defensively gets organized, with only Cherundolo and Demerit out of place.

Part 2: Birsa moves inside – Donovan caught unaware. As the ball is played back, Slovenia has three midfielders shaded to that side, while the US has four – Dempsey, Torres, Bradley, and Donovan – who are all focused on the three players in front of them – who are 40 yards from goal. The left midfielder for Slovenia plays a simple square ball to the central midfielder #18 Radosljevic. At this point, Birsa who is up field on the right (and out of the picture) slides in to space behind the midfielders and behind Donovan.

As the ball is played to the #18, Donovan is actually the closest player to him, but rightly leaves the defensive task to Bradley and looks for another man to cover on Slovenia’s right. But as Donovan looks to his left side (Slovenia’s right) he sees no one – and is completely unaware that the right midfielder Birsa has cut inside and is directly behind him. Instead, Donovan sees the Slovenian right back who is at the midfield line – and presents no danger begin to make a run toward Slovenia’s right corner flag. This distracts Donovan just enough to pull him further away from Birsa.

Part 2: Gooch – Bocanegra confusion. While Donovan is unaware of Birsa, so is Bocanegra, who instead of tracking Birsa’s run, decides to assist Gooch in marking Slovenia’s striker #11 at the top of the box. As the ball is played to Birsa both Gooch and Bocanegra are tight on the #11. This to me looks like Bocanegra’s fault, as Boca should have been keen to track Slovenia’s right sided player.

Part 3: Gooch fails to close down. By the time the ball is played into Birsa he has acres of space. At this point Gooch should know that Bocanegra has his man covered and Gooch, as the closest man to the ball has to push up and make a challenge. To be fair to Gooch, this is a horrible situation for a central defender to be put in and the midfield deserves blame for not providing cover. However, Gooch, reacted slowly. As the ball is played to Birsa he doesn’t react or anticipate the turn. Even after Birsa takes a touch and turns into space, Gooch still stays back. In fact, from the time the ball was played to Birsa Gooch did not move forward at all, leaving Birsa free for an open strike from just 25 yards out.

Part 4: Howard leans the wrong way. There was probably not much Howard could do, as a save would have been one of the saves of the tournament. But… when Howard comes out to close the angle he is shaded to his right side. Howard seemed to think the ball was going to go to his right and had his weight on his right foot expecting Birsa to aim for the left corner. But Birsa hit the shot across his body and aimed for the right corner. This actually made the shot more savable because it was bending directly in front of the goal. In the end, it is hard to criticize Howard, but he probably did make an error here. He should have ceded the left corner of his goal, and focused on the middle and the right, as a shot to the left side would have required much more precision from Birsa, who chose the saver option that ensured the shot would go on target.

What we saw:

1. The communication and overall team defense was exceptionally poor. Gooch and Bocanegra failed to communicate with each other as well as with Landon about the player coming in behind him.

2. There was no holding midfielder to cover in front of the backline. Bradley and Torres were too far to the left and made the US midfield lopsided and left space in front of the backline which left them exposed.

3. A lack of defensive urgency. Michael Bradley covered the #18 fairly slowly and instead of aggressively seeking to pressure him on the ball sought to contain. Donovan meanwhile was unaware of where Birsa was on the field and showed little defensive urgency.

4. Gooch hesitant.
Once the ball was played to Birsa, Gooch should have reacted to the danger and pushed out to close down the shot. Instead, he stayed at home.


6 Responses

  1. Excellent analysis. In large measure, this could have been prevented with better defensive play from the midfield, which as you say, was lopsided and pushed up in the middle.

  2. Great stuff, Max, but I’ll add one thing. DeMerit’s “challenge” that started off the whole chain of events was very timid and poorly conceived. Normally, he’d just whack that out of bounds and we’d set up for the throw.

    I’d also suggest that Torres was woefully out of station, and most at fault from the midfielders.

    • Greg – totally agree on Torres it looked like he didn’t know his role. Demerit’s challenge was timid, but the result was basically the same as a throw, because Slovenia had to pass the ball backward, allowing us to get back in defensive shape.

      • Only we didn’t get back into shape. But I saw defensive laziness on both goals, which ended up making Gooch look far worse. Onyewu certainly didn’t shore up either situation, but he was left out to dry both times.

        On this one, the worst thing I can say about Gooch is he hesitates to decide whether to rush the shooter. He pauses, then goes (when he’d probably not have gotten there anyway). But at this level, he has to pick one right away and do that.

        On the second goal, DeMerit (among others) loafs back when he should have been sprinting to reach the eventual scorer. Dempsey and Torres are also having light jogs to get back. I mean, screw the offside trap. These guys are still getting back and Gooch is the only one facing the attack – they can’t leave him two men to cover. Yeah, he should have tried to step up, but again, I’m not sure he’d have made it in time.

  3. […] back later for further analysis of what we should learn from these goals. See the breakdown of the first goal here and look for another post assessing what we have […]

  4. All the World Cup 2010 Games in South Africa will be streamed live at 08:11

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