Some thoughts on the USMNT's defeat to Denmark

The US let a 2-1 lead slip away in the final ten minutes as Niklas Bendtner scored twice late to give Denmark a 3-2 win and complete his first international hat trick. The result was no more than Denmark deserved. They were the better side throughout as the US were desperately poor in possession and unconvincing in defense.

Klinsmann opted for a 4-4-2 with Alejandro Bedoya partnering Michael Bradley in midfield. Clint Dempsey missed out through injury so Aron Johannsson played alongside Jozy Altidore up front. Gyasi Zardes and Fabian Johnson played on the right and left wing respectively. Center back Michael Orozco and right back Timmy Chandler made up the right side of Klinsmann's defense, John Brooks and left back Greg Garza made up the left side.

Denmark played three in the middle of midfield and therefore had a 3 v. 2 advantage over Bedoya and Bradley in that zone. Johannsson didn't drop off to pick up the deepest Danish midfielder and therefore the home side were able to use the spare man to comfortable circulate possession and keep hold of the ball.

There's nothing inherently wrong with losing the possession battle if your defense is well organized and you're effective on the break. The US didn't achieve either of those things tonight. They defended in two deep banks of four well inside their own half. The wide midfielder on the opposite side of the ball tucked into a very narrow position to offer support in the central zones where Bradley and Bedoya were outnumbered. This opened the US to Denmark playing sweeping diagonal balls that switched the point of attacking. Denmark were particularly dangerous hitting these diagonals into the right channel where Brooks, Garza, Johnson and later Brek Shea didn't do well enough passing off runners. Lasse Vibe got into a number of dangerous positions with runs down the right channel that allowed him to cut the ball across the face of goal. He provided a flick for Bendtner's opener then got behind the right shoulder of Garza to receive a diagonal ball over the top that allowed him through on goal. He slashed his volleyed effort wide but the US didn't heed the warning. Bendtner ran into the space to the left of Brooks and received yet another crossfield diagonal ball from Christian Eriksen for Denmark's winner. Seconds later Martin Braithwaite got into a similar position but fluffed his effort.

The most concerning issue for the US however was their incompetence on the ball. Perhaps that could partly be blamed on a poor playing service but it didn't seem to effect the Danes to the same degree. Defending with deep banks of four, the US needed to be dangerous on the counter when they won back possession and to do so they needed to execute quick vertical passes out of the back. They couldn't do it however. Too often the first pass was poor or the receiving player's control let him down.

When Denmark dropped off and allowed the US some time on the ball in midfield the movement from Zardes, Johnson and Johannsson wasn't good enough. There were multiple occasions when both Bradley and Bedoya were forced to keep the ball at their feet longer than they would have liked as they looked for a more advanced player to move into pockets of space. Zardes is of course just finding his feet with the national team and I think Johnson is a better fit at right back, particularly given Chandler's poor performance there this evening. It was a difficult situation for Johannsson given how little of the ball the US had. He's more of a center forward or secondary striker than a creative #10 adept at exploiting pockets of space between the opposition lines so providing a link between the two center midfielders and Altidore was never going to be easy for him. Without that link between midfield and attack the tempo was too slow. The number of long hopeful ball hit towards Altidore was frustrating but came as a result of the US's inability to find a link forward. Neither Zardas nor Johnson tucked inside enough to give the US the numbers in central attacking areas to cause Denmark problems.

Altidore is limited technically but finds way to make impact

I've come to realize I have to accept that Altidore is never going to be particularly good on the ball. At 25 it's difficult imagining him improving his technical ability all that much. His heavy touches and wayward passes are maddening and today's performance wasn't without its frustrating moments. Kareem Benzema he is not. However, it's difficult to fault his movement off the ball and when the US are as poor in possession as they were today his size and physical strength are quite useful in providing a means to get the ball into the attacking third. He's capable of winning physical battles against opposition defenders when longer balls are hit towards him, as he showed for his goal, and draw fouls around the box with his hold up play. His finishing of course has also been good of late. He's proved that at the moment he is the best option at a position where the US is particularly thin. I'd love for him to add the ability of Wilfried Bony, a player Altidore resembles in physical strength, to not only hold up play but also link it forward with clever passes for midfielders making runs from deeper positions.