Beasley, Beckerman, chances in numbers: Three areas of focus for the U.S. against Ghana

5 Comments

Three hours before kickoff, we still don’t have lineups for the United States or Ghana, but that can’t stop us for looked ahead to the U.S.’s opener at Brazil 2014.

Here are three areas that could prove important when the U.S. faces its World Cup nemesis at 6:00 p.m Eastern in Natal, Brazil:

1. DaMarcus Beasley will have his hands full, regardless – Early hints at Ghana’s starting XI say Asamoah Gyan, André and Jordan Ayew, and Christian Atsu are all in Kwesi Appiah’s starting XI, guaranteed left back DaMarcus Beasley, set to appear in his fourth World Cup will have his hands full. Atsu, a quick Porto product currently on Chelsea’s books, or Jordan Ayew, a more all-around attacking threat who has six seasons’ experience in the French first division, will lineup on Beasley’s flank.

A natural midfielder, Beasley, 32, has slowly entrenched himself at left back for Jurgen Klinsmann, and while he doesn’t lack any of the physical tools needed to succeed at the position (part of the reason why the conversion was attempted before), he still lacks experience. After a career playing higher up the field, the former PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City, and Glasgow Rangers player is still learning his full back’s role. At the start of the  U.S.’s pre-Cup warmups, he was still competing for this job.

That doesn’t mean he’ll come up short today. That inexperience is just an obstacle to overcome, though set to face off against Atsu or Ayew, the margin for error will be small. Atsu is crafty enough to exploit of any mistake, while Ayew could be a goal-scoring threat that will challenge Beasley in the right of the box.

2. The importance of Kyle Beckerman – There’s a flip-side to Ghana starting those four attackers players (as opposed to, say, somebody like Kevin Prince-Boateng, a natural central midfielder): One of them will have to check back on Kyle Beckerman, likely to be the U.S.’s holder in midfield. None of the Ghanaian attackers are used to that job, and while the tack is not so difficult conceptually that any of them couldn’t slide into the role, any lapses will give Beckerman a chance to have more influence on the match than need be.

But this is Kyle Beckerman we’re talking about. How much influence could that be? He is a savvy but, physically, limited player. At least, he is on this level.

Did I mention this all assumes Beckerman starts? He may not. If he does, however, he could be overlooked as Ghana concentrates no the U.S.’s more renown threats, giving the regista his chance.

Left to play the normal, holding role we see the 32-year-old serve with MLS’s Real Salt Lake, he could actually provide an important outlet as Michael Bradley tries to tip the scales higher up. Instead of the U.S. having to work exclusively through their on-field general, Beckerman could help bypass Ghana’s midfield and find Clint Dempsey and Jozy Alitdore, if he’s given enough time to do so. Even if he isn’t so ambitious in his passing, an unfettered Beckerman means the U.S. is more likely to win the possession battle, something that will limit the opportunities for that talented Ghanaian attack.

Of course, we could see Beckerman play more of a mere foundational role, as he did against Nigeria, but if Bradley (when he’s not dropping back), Jermaine Jones, and the U.S.’s other midfielder (Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya) can draw that attacking midfielder deeper, Beckerman could find the time he needs to make his mark. If the RSL linchpin’s allowed to be more than a mere anchor, the U.S. could get some unanticipated production out of one of its least-likely starters.

3. Quantity of chances – Against the best defenses, you want to focus on creating the best scoring chances possible. It takes something special.

Ghana, however, is not one of this tournament’s best defenses. In fact, they can be mistake probe. According to former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley, organization can be a problem, and while Bradley failed to take advantage of that during his time with the U.S. or Egypt, the point remains. For all the talent the Ghanaians have going forward, there are some questions at the back.

Quantity of chances will be important, but whereas Jonathan Mensah can step up and snuff the isolated chance, the back four is less likely to hold up under more constant pressure. Keep asking questions, and eventually you’ll get a wrong answer.

This ties back into point two. If Beckerman’s given time at the base of midfield to pick out Dempsey or play long to Altidore, that’s more chance for the Ghanian defense to make a mistake. If the team can spray the ball wide to Fabian Johnson and Beasley, the U.S. will be able to test the organization that drew Bradley’s skepticism.

You always want to create good chances, but against a team prone to mistakes, give them a chance to screw up. The U.S. needs to force that Ghanaian back line to make some (potentially bad) choices.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

Liverpoolfc.com
2 Comments

Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

liverpoolfc.com

Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo
Leave a comment

Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

AP Photo/Michael Sohn
Leave a comment

John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.