From start to finish on Wednesday, Honduras couldn’t touch the U.S. The Americans never looked uncomfortable. ASN tactician Liviu Bird shows us why (and asks for your help).
July 25, 2013
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Another solid performance against Honduras on Wednesday saw the United States earn a CONCACAF Gold Cup final berth, with a 3-1 win in Dallas. A combination of American enthusiasm and Honduran lapses resulted in the second U.S. win over the Catrachos this summer.
Both teams played similar formations: 4-4-2 with two deep central midfielders and stacked strikers. Honduras’ Jorge Claros held back more than his box-to-box midfield counterpart, Stuart Holden, and the wingers in blue played wider than those in stripes.
Even their patterns of play were similar, as both preferred attacking primarily down their right side. Both left backs, DaMarcus Beasley and Juan Carlos Garcia, seemed to be the weakest links in their respective back lines, enticing attackers to drive at them.
However, the U.S. would not be breached through the run of play often, holding a high line and stifling many attacks before they happened. Honduras was not organized enough to deal with the concerted high pressure from the Americans.
Winning the Ball High
In the defensive midfield role, Kyle Beckerman had another solid game for the U.S. He finished with 37 successful passes in 41 attempts, including a perfect 14-for-14 in the 22 minutes he played in the second half.
Defensively, he recovered 11 loose balls, made three interceptions, and won three tackles. However, he wasn’t the only one putting in the effort to win possession. Jose Torres had 11 recoveries, and target man Eddie Johnson finished with five.
It was a blue-collar defensive effort, pressing the Honduran team into its own half whenever possible. The U.S. had 30 recoveries in the attacking half of the field, out of 69 total.
That’s a more balanced ratio than teams usually provide. Honduras, by contrast, recovered six of 52 balls in its top half of the field, and none of those were by players in the defensive half of the formation. For the U.S., defenders Beasley, Michael Parkhurst, and Matt Besler all recovered balls on the other side of the midfield stripe.
Those numbers symbolize the high pressure Jurgen Klinsmann’s team put on Honduras, which was tackled and lost possession 77 times in its defensive half of the field throughout the game.
A Tale of Two Halves
Defensive shape is predicated on compactness. Basically, the goal is to reduce available spaces that the ball could penetrate and suffocate the opponent into coughing up the ball. Once a team wins possession, that focus changes from being compact to being spread out.
Width and depth are two basic principles in attack. Some players have to provide width, usually wingers who “chalk their boots” (stand on the touchline). Others provide depth, such as forwards straddling the offside line or central midfielders dropping into space behind the ball.
Before his first assist on a Landon Donovan goal, in the 27th minute, right winger Alejandro Bedoya was too compact. Torres stayed fairly narrow all game, as he has done all tournament, but somebody has to provide that width in attack, and it’s impractical to expect the outside backs to overlap on every single attack.
In the early stages of the game, Bedoya crowded the midfield unnecessarily. But after he stretched the Honduran back line and found a flick to Donovan for his first goal of the night, his tendencies changed.
Bedoya stayed higher and wider, stretching the defense and putting direct pressure on Garcia. As a result, he got in behind several times and caused trouble the rest of the game, playing almost like a wide forward would in a 4-3-3 formation.
Strung Out to Dry
Not that Honduras kept its shape spectacularly well. The opening goal came as a result of defensive error after defensive error.
When Clarence Goodson drives forward into space, Honduras’ back four looks to be in decent shape. Osman Chavez is matched up with Johnson, as is Brayan Beckeles on Donovan. Nery Medina could perhaps be tucked in a bit farther—we’ll get to that—but it looks okay for now.
Johnson checks to the ball. Usually in a two-forward set, whenever one moves, the other will counterbalance it by taking over the space he just vacated. That means the defenders likely expect Donovan to run in behind.
Chavez follows Johnson, and Beckeles stays with Donovan.
Trouble is, with all the space in the middle of the field, Johnson knows he can dummy the ball to Donovan. As part of a team’s tactical training, it should decide whether to force the opponents through the middle or into the channels. In the run of play, players make adjustments on the field with verbal communication (“force him wide” or “force him in” are tried-and-true commands).
It looks here as if Honduras has decided to force play into the middle (we call this “funneling”)—sort of. In an ideal world, Diego Reyes might be a step farther inside, Edder Delgado would be a couple yards to his left, and—this is the important one—Medina would be tucked much farther inside to provide close cover for the center backs.
However, if Honduras is funneling play inside, Garcia never got the message. His body shape is focused squarely on Bedoya out wide, as if he expects the ball to go there. He is in no mental position, let alone physical position, to cover for his center back right now.
In the end, forcing the U.S. toward the middle is not the best option. Why would you ever want to force play toward Donovan, no matter what numerical superiority you may have around him?
Instead, Honduras should be forcing the play wide. This is how its shape would be different: Medina still has to tuck in farther to cover for his center back, and Claros absolutely must take away the passing lane to Donovan. By stepping toward the outside, he could take both Donovan and Johnson out of the play. (Reyes could take one step outside to entice Goodson into playing to Holden or Bedoya, but it’s not as vital.)
If the ball moves wide, the U.S. has only Holden and Bedoya to deal with Garcia, Delgado, and Reyes, who can all close down (and Garcia’s body shape would be perfect to do just that). If they play a ball in behind, there is time to read it and adjust.
Instead, the passing lane to Donovan is open, and Beckeles is clearly a little surprised that the ball gets to him. As soon as it leaves Goodson’s foot, both Garcia and Medina should be tucking in to provide cover—remember: compact—especially after seeing both center backs get sucked forward.
As it stands, the Honduras defense is too wide. The gaps between players are too large, and Johnson takes easy advantage after Donovan lays a perfect ball to him. By the time Garcia and Medina start closing down, it’s too late, and the Catrachos are down 1-0.
It’s a good goal for the U.S., which takes advantage of what Honduras gives up and punishes it for the mistakes. However, it’s an easily preventable goal through a little communication and awareness.
We always try to provide a wrap-up to our tactical analysis. This time, we’re going to let the ASN community play tactician. What do you take away from this game? Did you learn anything new in this game? From this analysis?
Fire away in the comments section.
Liviu Bird is the Cascadia regional editor for SoccerWire.com, as well as an ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.