There’s so much to take away from this game. I was overwhelmed by that second half. Let’s break it down into a some key points so my brain doesn’t overheat, as it’s wont to do when I think critically.
Tale of Two Halves
So what switched from the first half to the second? Was it just a swift kick from Jurgen to the team’s collective booties? I imagine there was some of that in the locker room, but there was a bit more.
In a tangible sense? Jurgen changed the formation from his favored 4-2-3-1 to a straight 4-4-2. The latter is a more purely offensive formation, The midfield is a little less rock like, stretched thinner. I think the goal was to stretch Bosnia vertically and horizontally. But more than anything, it allowed Michael Bradley freedom to influence play from box to box.
Our bald number 4 and the resurgent Jozy Altidore were the only players worth anything in the first half. Eddie Johnson was constantly too slow (ignoring that suicidal loss of possession leading to the first goal). Young Diskerud was working hard but found himself overrun. Jones lost the plot as the midfield was slipped away. But every time Jozy touched the ball, it looked like we may snatch a goal. And while Bradley was stunted offensively, his solid defensive work kept the game in reach as the first half wore on.
So the second half gave Bradley and Altidore the opportunity to attack directly. Altidore’s deep runs and indomitable strength matched up perfectly with Bradley’s massive passing range. And so the US scored early, quickly, and above all, easily.
And it got better. Jozy scored the kind of mind numbing, world class goal that even Messi would be proud of. Then Castillo earned a free kick (basically by staggering into his opponents), buried phenomenally by Altidore. So 3-1. Then Bradley played a little beauty to Altidore, who completed his hat trick. 4 second half goals, a wonderful comeback built with sublime goals.
We’re good, people. We are good.
Back to that formation change. The 4-2-3-1 that is so popular nowadays is conducive to a build-up style, a strong midfield aimed at possession. The idea is free flowing movement across the front four, with a pass master to keep the engine running and an enforcer next to him to smash apart counterattacks and give the midfield a spine.
It wasn’t really working in the first half. The midfield was overrun and there was no real buildup. So Jurgen changed to a formation with more offensive potency, both wider and longer. Push Johnson, who’s already prone to get forward on the wing from his role as full back, into the midfield and send Bedoya to the opposite side. Put Bradley as the focal point and Jones as a sort of stopper. Altidore no longer needs to make himself constantly available to hold up. He can move spread the defense, make runs and shoulder some of the nitty gritty striker work onto Johnson. Let ‘em work.
And succceeeeessss. Altidore benefited from the freedom now given to him, and Bradley gave him the ammo to put Bosnia down.
Tip of the hat, Jurgen.
That Johannsson Fella
Yeah, remember the name. I wrote a quick profile of the young striker Monday, look for it in the coming days.
What It Means
There was a lovely ESPN article earlier recently, about the inherent negativity of so many USMNT fans. Even today, immediately after our 12 straight win, the negativity persisted. “It was a friendly.” “The first half was so poor it’s worrying.” “Bosnia isn’t that good.”
Wrong, you fools. Some fun facts: Bosnia is top of their WCQ group, with 23 goals in just 6 games, the most in the world. Dzeko (who scored twice today) has 8 goals in qualifying, the top goalscorer in the world in WCQ. Bosnia are dominant at home, undefeated in 3 years. They’ve also won 9 straight, just shy of the US’s 11 going into this game.
So yes, Bosnia are good.
The first half was poor, sure. The defense was ramshackle at best (Brooks making his debut, Evans playing alongside 3 defenders he’d never been with, Johnson back in for the first time since June, etc). Mix was given more responsibility than usual. Johnson showed his streaky self.
But the response was even greater, more meaningful and telling, the most telling thing to take from this game. The problems were addressed, clear directions given, and a phenomenal response returned. This can’t be overstated. The first half couldn’t have been worse, and Bosnia were comfortable. There was no better response than that, and it wasn’t spontaneous.
And the goals flowed. The type of goals the US want to score, against the type of team the US will need to beat next summer.
So yes, the first half was bad but the second was so good it more than makes up for it (clearly).
So stop being negative. We’re very good right now. We’re not going to win the World Cup, and nobody is saying that. But we’re not a “World Cup or bust” nation. We’re more than mid major but less than a blue blood, playing excellent football. And we’re also just three wins away from tying the all-time record for wins in a row, held by a certain Iberian contingent.
Enjoy it. It’s good to be a fan. Nobody is delusional about our place in the world, but that doesn’t mean we have to poo-poo on our success or act as if anything short of a 15-0 win against Pele’s Brazil in the World Cup final is a failure.