Klinsmann must convey clear tactical plan to inexperienced US side

After Brian Strauss reported Monday in Sporting News that certain anonymous members of the US Men's National Team had called into question Jurgen Klinsmann's leadership and coaching methods, the buildup to this evening's World Cup qualifier has commenced with a rather ominous sense of doubt among the American soccer community.

Since then, recently named captain Clint Dempsey and national team veteran Michael Bradley have both spoken out against players speaking to the media anonymously about internal team issues. Both have described the situation as "embarrassing" but are looking to move past it and have been adamant the reports shouldn't have a negative impact on the team's performance.

Bradley told ESPN's Roger Bennett, "To win big games we simply need as many guys to have big games as possible. Injuries, articles, who's here, who's not... at 8 o'clock tomorrow none of that counts."

It's an attitude I'm sure every player that steps on the field for the US tonight will share. Commitment and pride in the shirt are never things you feel you have to worry about with a US side.

What's concerning to me though is the alleged frustration of the players who spoke with Strauss at the lack of tactical preparedness of the side going into games. Strauss reported that one player told him, "(Klinsmann) just threw guys out there and played." Another player (or possibly the same player- again, we have no names) said, "(Klinsmann) didn't really say how we were going to play."

It's important to note that we don't know if these statements are representative of how a majority of the team feels or are just the frustrations of a lone player or two. But based on how disjointed the team looked in San Pedro Sula, it's not out of the question to believe we really are going into qualifiers without a clear understanding of how we will play.

It was maddeningly frustrating watching our front three of Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson sort of half press the Honduras back four while the midfield three sat deeper, allowing acres of space between the two lines of three for Honduras to comfortably play the ball in to. It all suggested a team not on the same wavelength.

With the number of inexperienced players expected to feature this evening, particularly in the back four, it's absolutely imperative the US has a well thought out tactical plan and that every player knows his individual role. With the US's six listed defenders totaling only 12 qualifying caps between them, organization and team shape will be vital if we're to emerge with three points.

Despite the discontent felt by factions of US supporters over the current form of the national team, we have an amazingly supportive fan base and need not fear our own supporters turning on the team at any point in tonight's game. The atmosphere will be terrific and should give our young side a major psychological boost. 

I'm generally a horribly pessimistic fan but I just have a feeling the team is going to use all the negativity surrounding it at the moment as an opportunity to come together and make a big, positive statement tonight. The new guys will make the most of their chance, the veterans will provide the needed leadership. 3-1 US!

Klinsmann gets second half adjustments wrong

The United States' World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a troubling start in San Pedro Sula as Honduras overcame an early Clint Dempsey goal to emerge 2-1 winners. Despite fielding an offensive 4-3-3 formation, Jurgen Klinsmann's side were cautious in the first half and created few quality goalscoring chances throughout the 90 minutes.

Klinsmann surprisingly left veteran and team captain Carlos Bocanegra out of the back four, opting instead for a center back pairing of Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez. With Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson taking up the fullback positions, the back four was comprised of four players taking part in their first qualifying campaign. It was a brave decision on the part of Klinsmann to go with youth over experience- and Bocanegra's replacement Omar Gonzalez was one of the US's better players- but we're left to wonder whether Bocanegra would have provided the organization at the back to prevent Jerry Bengston's second half winner.

Danny Williams sat in midfield just in front of the back four. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones played as shuttling midfielders higher up the pitch.

Jozy Altidore was given the start at center forward. Clint Dempsey occupied a narrow position on the right and Eddie Johnson played a bit wider on the left.

The US started the game cautiously, with the midfield dropping fairly deep and allowing Honduras to to circulate the ball around the back. When Honduras had the ball deep in their own half, Dempsey and Johnson would push up alongside Altidore so that the US defended with a forward bank of 3 in front of a midfield bank of 3 in front of the back four. Strangely, the front 3 didn't press Honduras's back four and instead only offered token pressure. With plenty of time on the ball, the Honduran back four were easily able to advance the ball past the forward three. At this point, Dempsey and Eddie Johnson would drop in alongside Jones and Bradley to form a midfield bank of four. Williams dropped in to fill the gap between the defensive and midfield banks of four- making the US defensive shape more or less a deep 4-1-4-1. That the US didn't press wasn't a surprise. In an away qualifier Klinsmann was always going to be cautious and the 90 degree temperature would have made pressing unsustainable. However, it was a bit strange Dempsey and Johnson didn't immediately drop off into the midfield when the US lost possession.

The deep 4-1-4-1 shape meant Altidore was often left isolated up front. Honduras pressed when the US won the ball back, A combination of Honduras's pressing and some untidy passing from the US made it difficult to possess the ball out of the back and advance up the pitch with short passes. As a result, the US were frequently forced play long into Altidore and hope he could retain possession long enough for reinforcements to join in the attack. When the US were able to keep the ball, Dempsey drifted centrally from the right just in behind Altidore while Johnson stayed wider on the left. They looked most dangerous when Altidore checked back to collect the ball in between the lines of Honduras's 4-4-2. This forced one of the Honduran center backs to step out with him, leaving a hole in the center of the Honduras defense for the US to play balls in behind for Dempsey and Johnson making runs from the outside.

Honduras's opener came from a spectacular overhead kick from Juan Garcia but the corner kick that ultimately led to the goal was a result of Honduras's pressing and a lapse of concentration from Chandler who had a difficult afternoon. Chandler failed to clear his lines inside his own box, allowing Carlos Costly to nick possession. Gonzalez made a fine last ditch tackle on Costly but Garcia scored on the resulting corner.

Diamond 4-4-2
The US set out in the second half in a what would typically be described as a diamond 4-4-2 but what in reality was more 4-2-2-2. Bradley dropped deep alongside Williams and looked to collect the ball from Cameron and Gonzalez and link passes forward to Dempsey and Jones who were playing narrow higher up the field. Eddie Johnson played alongside Altidore as a center forward pairing. Bradley was given the deeper role because he's a more creative passer than Williams- the US needed a more creative player in that role to link defense to the four more advanced attackers.

Presumably Klinsmann made the tactical switch to enable the US to control possession by playing with four midfielders in the center of the field. Honduras had 57% possession in the first half and Klinsmann likely wanted to take the game to them more in the second half. While the switch did result in the US keeping the ball better in midfield, the lack of any wide players allowed plenty of space for Honduras's midfielders to run into when they regained possession.

Flat 4-4-2
Maurice Edu replaced Williams in a like for like sub on 58 minutes. Sacha Kljestan was brought on for Eddie Johnson a minute later, prompting another tactical change from Klinsmann. Kljestan played wide on the left, Jones went to right midfield and Dempsey moved up front alongside Altidore in a 4-4-2. Graham Zusi, a player used to being employed on the right wing for the US, replaced Jones in the 68th minute. The US defended in two banks of four- Edu and Bradley were side by side- while Altidore and Dempsey stayed high up the field. The switch meant the US no longer had the extra center midfielder to fill in the space between the two banks of four- the position Danny Williams had played in the first half.

Two things were almost immediately noticeable when Klinsmann made the switch. Without the extra center midfielder, Honduras began to find space to collect the ball in the gap between Bradley-Edu and Gonzalez-Cameron, leaving the US back four dangerously exposed. The absence of a third center midfielder also meant there was a huge gap in the middle of the field between Bradley and Edu and Dempsey and Altidore when the US were on the ball. With Edu and Bradley deep and Dempsey and Altidore high up the field, they had no one to fill the space in between and provide a link from midfield to attack. After falling behind 2-1, the US couldn't regain possession and when they did they struggled to keep it long enough to create anything meaningful. The olé chants that came from the home crowd as their side easily passed the ball around the US midfield in the closing moments of regulation time were a frustrating reminder of Klinsmann's frequently inability to get his tactics and personnel decisions right in important games.

Thoughts, tactical analysis: USA 2-2 Russia

I've been left scratching my head after the US's 2-2 draw with Russia as to how my assessment of the USMNT performance could differ so much from American soccer journalists and pundits. The overwhelming sentiment on Twitter and from game commentator Taylor Twellman has been that the US back four was poor and that the draw hides what were serious deficiencies in this evening's performance, particularly at the back.

I'm hardly an eternal USMNT optimist and am willing to accept we stole a draw we hardly deserved. But I can't get on board with the idea this was an overwhelmingly bad performance from the US and one that hints at an ominous World Cup qualifying campaign ahead. Consider the context in which this game was played. Russia's entire starting lineup consisted of domestic-based players meaning they obviously faced far less travel time. This is a big deal in a midweek game in which players are forced to play for their club teams at the weekend and then immediately hop on a plane to join their national teams. The travel is exhausting, particularly on the back of a weekend game. The bulk of the US team today consisted of players based in Western Europe but also included MLS and Mexican league players- the travel was extensive for all involved.

Travel time aside let's also consider the opponent. Russia currently sit 9th in the FIFA World Rankings and in Fabio Capello they are led by a manager who has won multiple domestic titles in Spain and Italy and hoisted the Champions League trophy as manager of AC Milan. He's unbeaten in his first six games with Russia. They've gotten off to a perfect 4-0 start in their UEFA World Cup qualifying group including a win over Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal. This was no feeble opponent the US were up against. Away from home it was always going to be an extremely difficult fixture to get a result from.

The US back four has come under the harshest criticism from American soccer journalists after the draw. US Soccer Daily (@USsoccerDaily) tweeted after the game, "Big questions in the back." SI's Grant Wahl echoed that sentiment stating "questions about the U.S. back line will remain." Twellman continued to reiterate throughout the broadcast that Tim Howard was the only thing preventing the score from being 4-1 or 5-1 to Russia.

That the US had a few problems defensively was clear. Howard indeed had to make key stops and Russia certainly created more dangerous goal scoring opportunities. However, the bulk of the defensive issues occurred high up the field with the US midfield and forwards and I'd argue the back four was more impressive today than they had been against Antigua and Barbuda or Guatemala.

The US played a 4-3-3 with Danny Williams in midfield just in front of the back four and Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in front of him playing as more box to box midfielders. Jozy Altidore played center forward and was flanked by Joshua Gatt and Herculez Gomez on the outsides. The US's five most advanced players (Altidore, Gatt, Gomez, Jones and Bradley) rarely seemed to be on the same page as to whether they were going to press the ball high up the field or collectively drop deep. Often half seemed to be pressingg while the other half were dropping so that the US defense was stretched vertically when they needed to be compact to make the field small for Russia. This opened up big pockets of space in the middle of midfield for Russia to collect the ball in and run towards the back four.

Another big problem for the US defensively, particularly in the middle of the second half, occurred when the US gave the ball away after the center midfield triangle of Williams, Jones and Bradley all advanced forward to support the three forwards. This created a big pocket of space between Williams and center backs Clarence Goodsen and Geoff Cameron for Russia to play an outlet ball into and counter, leaving the back four exposed. Too often it was lackluster defensive shape or cheap giveaways from the midfield and forwards that left the back four scrambling to stop Russian players whose movement off the ball had eluded the US midfield. Given the difficult situations the back four were frequently put under, I thought they did a decent job slowing down the Russian attack. Yes Tim Howard had to make some good stops but that's nearly always going to be the case against strong sides like Russia away from home. It's telling that the only Russian goals came from a silly giveaway by Danny Williams and another mental error when Maurice Edu and Goodsen switched off on a quick Russia restart. In the run of play the back four looked up for the challenge and it was the defensive shape of the midfielders and forwards that was the biggest defensive concern.

One of the concerns with a 4-3-3 is that, unlike a 4-2-3-1, there is no attacking central midfield player that plays just off the striker to connect midfield and attack. In the first half, Russia's willingness to get numbers behind the ball forced Jones and Bradley to check back deep to receive the ball. With Gomez and Gatt both operating in wider areas there was a large gap between the midfield center midfield three and Altidore. Therefore the only way to advance the ball forward was either through long balls into Altidore or hopeful balls over the top into the corner for Gomez or, more often, Gatt. The problem with the long passes hit into Altidore was that when he was able to control them and the hold the ball, he was isolated and there was no one for him to lay the ball off to.

In the second half the US did a better job of linking midfield and attack by getting players into the space between the Russian center backs and center midfielders. Gatt and Gomez at times both tucked inside into these pockets of space but most often it was Jones linking defense to offense with his powerful bursts forward from midfield. Jones' decision-making and game awareness can be frustrating but his work rate and ability to advance past opposition center midfields both off the ball and with the dribble make him a handful to deal with. Although he's not in the same class as Yaya Toure or Abou Diaby, he possesses the same trait that makes these two so difficult for the opposition to deal with- the ability to singlehandedly link to defense to offense by bypassing the opposition central midfield with powerful vertical runs. Michael Bradley has received all the plaudits for his play in midfield but it was Jones ability to usher the ball into the attacking third that allowed the US to play higher up the pitch and enabled Bradley to get in positions where he could use his creativity and quality on the ball. Jones deserves more credit for what was one of his stronger games in recent memory for the US.

4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1
4-3-3 formations like the one used by the US today use one deep lying holding midfielder with two other midfielders that do more shuttling up and down the field. 4-2-3-1 formations use two holding midfielders (one tends to advance higher up the field when in possession) and one attacking midfielder that sits off of the center forward. 4-3-3's can be especially vulnerable to counterattacks, particularly when a team likes to get its outside backs forward. When a team in a 4-3-3 loses possession it's often left with only its one holding midfielder and two center backs to slow down the counter. It's impossible for the holding midfielder to cover the entire width of the pitch so opposition players easily move into space either side of him to receive the ball where they can then turn and run at the center backs. The extra holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 makes it easier to defend the width of the pitch on the counter- with two players rather than one in front of the center backs it makes it more difficult for the opposition to slide into pockets of space in the midfield and turn.

With Danny Williams operating as the loan holder in a 4-3-3, Russia were able to frequently collect outlet passes on either side of him and counter when the US lost possession. Had this been a competitive fixture against a side as strong as Russia, Jurgen Klinsmann would have almost certainly opted for two holding midfielders (4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1) rather than just the one to mitigate the threat of counterattacks. However, he almost certainly opted for the 4-3-3 with preparation for next year's crucial World Cup qualifiers in mind. With the exception of Mexico, the US's opponents in the CONCACAF hexagonal will get numbers behind the ball and defend deep. It makes little sense for Klinsmann to use two holding midfielders in these games where it will be important the US to get bodies forward to trouble crowded opposition defenses. Today's game was therefore probably one example where Klinsmann played a lineup with future opponents in mind rather than creating a reactive lineup to the opponent at hand.

Thoughts on USA 1-0 Jamaica

The US looked impressive in the first half of their crucial 1-0 win over Jamaica last night in World Cup qualifying and kept a good enough defensive shape in a nervy final half hour to hold on for the three points. Despite failing to score in the opening 45 minutes, the US dominated possession with 79 percent and created a number of fine scoring opportunities. They struck the woodwork three times and forced decent saves from Jamaican goalkeeper Dwayne Miller. The breakthrough came via a Herculez Gomez freekick in the 55th minute. In truth Miller should have made the save, but the US had been good value for their lead.

Jurgen Klinsmann made five changes to the side that started in Kingston Friday evening. Right back Steve Cherundolo returned from a calf strain to replace Michael Parkhurst, Carlos Bocanegra replaced Clarence Goodson at center back, and Danny Williams, Graham Zusi and Jose Torres were brought into the midfield while Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu sat. Dempsey was moved forward to a withdrawn forward position behind Herculez Gomez, demoting Jozy Altidore to the bench.

The US played something like a 4-1-3-1 with Williams playing as a holding midfielder behind Zusi, Jones, and Torres and Dempsey operating just behind Gomez. Zusi brought width and a direct vertical threat down the right, while Torres brought composed passing on the left. He also frequently drifted inside to offer an additional passing option for Williams and Jones. Both outside backs in Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson did a fine job overlapping into space when Torres and Zusi came inside. The US looked particularly threatening down the right side with combinations between Zusi and Cherundolo, though the Hanover 96 captain struggled with his final ball.

Jamaica's defense sat particularly deep, often keeping all four defenders within 12 yards of the goal when the US were in the final third. Their deep line created a great deal of space for the US just outside the 18 and the Americans looked dangerous when they made delayed runs into this area (recall Danny Williams' strike that struck the post and Zusi's volley blasted over the bar came from this area). Their movement was fluid and they were able to penetrate gaps in the Jamaican defense with relative ease. That they failed to score despite such an overwhelmingly dominant first half came down to a combination of good goalkeeping, bad luck, and poor finishing.

Perhaps fittingly, the US's revenge came in the form of a freekick, the area of the game the Jamaicans had executed so well to shock the Americans in Kingston. After going down a goal, Jamaica committed more men forward and pressed the US higher up the field. In response, the US began playing much more direct. Faced with the threat of the pacey Jamaicans aggressively closing in on the ball, Klinsmann could be seen on the sideline frantically urging his back four and midfielders to knock the ball long into the corners.

This wasn't a time-wasting strategy the US was employing to kill the clock off; they were doing it with 25 minutes still remaining. Given Klinsmann expressed desire to Latinize American soccer and the success the US had in possession in the first half (they finished the half with 79 percent possession), it seemed a little surprising that Klinsmann would resort to hitting long balls for the forward to chase while keeping a tidy defensive shape with the other players.

However, the strategy made perfect sense. At no point in the course of three halves of soccer had Jamaica shown they could break down a compact US defense in the run of play. They simply don't have the technically ability to break down a team defending with two banks of four. By playing long balls into Jamaica's defensive third, Klinsmann was minimizing the ability of the Jamaicans to force turnovers in midfield and counter at the US defense with numbers. Even if Herculez Gomez (and then Jozy Altidore) was unable to get on the end of these long balls, the US was still forcing Jamaica to patiently build from the back against a crowded defense. In effect, they were forcing Jamaica to rely on their technical ability rather than their athleticism to get an equalizer. Despite a nervous-looking finish, the Jamaicans only really troubled Howard once.

The decision of Klinsmann to move to a more direct and defensive setup after getting the go-ahead goal also signals that he's not entirely confident in his team's ability to kill off games by knocking the ball around and preventing the opponent from getting possession (the way a team like Spain would see out an important game). He was clearly concerned about giving the ball away cheaply in midfield and giving the Jamaicans opportunities to counter. That's a concern I shared and given the US's precarious position in the group going into the game, minimizing risk seemed a wise move.

A conversation on US tactics under Klinsmann and Bradley

Between the U.S. Men's National Team's away  loss to Jamaica last Friday (September 7) and tonight's match versus Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio, Daniel and I exchanged several emails discussing what went wrong in Kingston and what tactical changes the team has adopted under Klinsmann. A lightly edited version of the email conversation follows.

Daniel: I'm frankly confused as to what the thinking behind the US tactics was. Why press against Jamaica? They don't pass the ball out of the back; they just hoof it forward. Pressing isn't going to disrupt their build up. Instead, the US players are just worse off in terms of their defensive positioning. The strangest part is when Jamaica had possession in their attacking half and even third, the US continued with a press. Jamaica are weak in possession. Why not sit back, defend with two banks of four, and let the Jamaicans make the error? The result of the US pressing to try to force errors was, of course, conceding free kicks in dangerous positions. I know a lot of people, myself included, complained about Bob Bradley. His tactics might not have been terribly exciting, but they were pragmatic and made sense in Concacaf qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann seems either naive or idealistic.

Kyle: Surely not idealistic. I thought Klinsmann said in numerous interviews he changed the team's shape based on the players available and the opposition. That suggests pragmatism to me. Did the US play ugly under Bradley? For some reason my memories are of the US scoring a lot and conceding a lot.

Daniel: I think the primary difference between the US style of play under Bradley and under Klinsmann is that the team are more likely to press under Klinsmann. I don't think the play is any prettier though. Bradley definitely preferred a 4-4-2, and that also seems to be the formation that Klinsmann has settled on. Though Klinsmann sometimes plays more of a 4-4-1-1 than a 4-4-2, and a 4-4-1-1 can morph into a 4-2-3-1 depending how high the wide players are. But, I am honestly struggling to remember how the US played under Bradley so who knows!

Kyle: What would you call the formation in the Jamaica game? 4-3-1-2? 4-3-2-1? 4-3-3? I guess they're all the same. It was a lineup void of creativity, but on paper seems like the perfect one to retain a one goal lead for 90 minutes. Playing three central midfielders, all of whom are known more for their tackling and/or defensive positioning than their creativity, in theory, seems like a formation designed to prevent the opposition from scoring. The way that formation was actually employed was a different story, and I'm not so sure what the actual plan was. I think the 4-3-3 could have been fine had it been executed a little differently. Jamaica's outside midfielders were not threatening--at no point did they show they could put a dangerous ball in the box--so I thought keeping the defense compact in the center of the field was fine. However, the weird pressing thing where certain guys were chasing the ball and others were playing deep created space between the seams for Jamaican players to receive the ball and get fouled. We know how that turned out. The positioning was downright bizarre.

Daniel: I think the US were trying to play a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. I admittedly didn't watch the first half, but from what I read, Beckerman was sitting at the bottom of the diamond. When I tuned in for the second half, it looked more like the US were playing, as you suggested, a 4-3-1-2. That's a pretty subtle distinction and possibly a distinction without a difference. From what I saw, Dempsey rarely defended behind the ball. He would sometimes press the Jamaican midfielders from behind, but it seemed like the US defended with a bank of four (the back four) and a bank of three (the three midfielders at the bottom and sides of the diamond). To be clear, I am not trying to blame Dempsey; it's pretty obvious that his instructions were not to defend behind the ball.

As most everyone noticed, the US midfield three (if I say midfield three, I am excluding Dempsey) seemed to pressure the Jamaican players on the ball in our own defensive half and third to try to force a turnover rather than containing, maintaining a disciplined defensive shape, and waiting for the Jamaicans to make an error.

However, I am undecided as to whether the low press by the US midfield three was the cause of the problem or only a symptom of the problem. That is, were the three midfielders told to apply pressure on the player with the ball, or did they press because of the large gaps between the players in the bank of three? If a wide attacking player cuts to the inside, Edu (who was playing on the right) and Jones (on the left) may have felt like they had to close the player down otherwise the gap was large enough between them and Beckerman that the attacking player could easily split them. That wouldn't explain Beckerman pressing from a more central position, though from the short period of time that I saw him play, he didn't seem to be pressing nearly as much as Jones and Edu.

It is obviously considerably more difficult to defend with a bank of three than a bank of four, but it's criminal to defend with a bank of three and not be compact. Jones and Edu were usually positioned very wide, which left gaping holes between the three members of the midfield bank. If a team wants to defend with a bank of three in front of a bank of four, in all likelihood the outside backs will sometimes need to step up towards the bank of three to fill in the gaps in the wide areas. Because Jones and Edu were playing so wide, this couldn't happen, and instead gaps existed more centrally. Jones and Edu attempted to fill these gaps by pressuring players on the ball, but their pressure resulted in conceding free kicks in dangerous central areas rather than turnovers leading to dangerous counterattacks.

In sum, three interrelated factors seemed to contribute to the US defensive problems: (1) defending with a bank of four and a bank of three rather than the safer option of two banks of four, (2) the lack of compactness in the midfield bank of three, and (3) the pressing by the players in the bank of three that resulted in conceding set pieces in dangerous areas.

Kyle: That does make sense. I don't think you'll find too many examples of teams out there keeping three players in front of the ball and defending against a team playing with two center midfielders and two wide midfielders (that's what Jamaica were doing right?). It's always going to be difficult for a midfield three to cover the width of the field. Like you said, in that formation, you'd think it's the job of the midfield three to stay compact and shift as a unit. I don't think there is much of a problem if, say, Edu moves towards to the right sideline to close down the left-sided midfielder in possession as long Beckerman and Jones rotate that way as well to offer cover balance. Then it becomes the job of the left back to step forward from the back four and a little bit central to take away the threat of the big switch to the right midfielder (which you mention above).

I'm afraid we've discussed tactics more here than Klinsmann has with the team following the loss. All the solutions he's discussed with the media seem like they'd be quite obvious to a professional player: "move the ball quicker," "keep possession," "don't foul around the 18," "be patient." Of course those are all things that may help you win a game, but they don't get to the root of the problem which for me was team shape.

Daniel: Yeah, it's a meaningless answer to say "we need to keep the ball better" when asked what a team needs to improve upon. The real question is what you are going to do in order to keep the ball better. (Admittedly, they did say that they need to play simpler, short passes.) Like you, I frankly wasn't that concerned about their possession. Considering the lineup they fielded (which made sense given the personnel available and that this was an away World Cup qualifier in which a draw would have been an acceptable outcome) and the quality of the pitch, the US were never going to dominate possession. Again, as you noted, the team shape was much more problematic than possession.