As we noted in our postgame wrap, the United States played a dull, scoreless draw against Scotland Friday on a glum November day in Glasgow– not exactly the type of performance American fans were hoping for as the US turn the final stretch and head into a World Cup year. In the end, however, the result isn’t something to panic about if you are a US fan. The Americans didn’t score, but they didn’t lose either- and given the handful of MLS pieces that were missing, the fact that the US couldn’t break down a team that is, by its nature, difficult to break down shouldn’t ring alarm bells. It just means the US need their full compliment of players to defeat similarly situated opposition,which Scotland, who defeated Croatia twice in the second half of 2013, is, at least given its current form.
Not everything we saw in Glasgow was bad, either. Aron Johannsson continued to show that he is a special player with the ball at his feet, and he showed acumen off the ball too, making clever incutting runs to space that disrupted the organized Scottish backline late in the second half. Sacha Kljestan had a good game, given that he was deployed out of position and in a position which he hadn’t trained at under Jurgen Klinsmann until a day prior to the match. Jozy Altidore did a great deal of “dirty work” up front, particularly after the addition of Johannsson, which shows he is learning to use his physical frame in England to do the little things he couldn’t do when he was banished to the wilderness by Klinsmann just a year ago. Tim Howard was excellent, continuing to display the fine form he’s shown at Everton and for the national team since the loss at Costa Rica. Most of all, it was special to see US supporters in full throat in Glasgow: the American fans were louder than the docile Scots and could be heard throughout the game. Sure, that might just mean they are “study abroad” kids who spent a few extra hours at the pub prior to the match, but if that’s the case, they were classy drunks, as we didn’t hear the “We are Going to Brazil” song directed at the Scottish team and supporters, and that would have been easy pickings if the US fans weren’t in a respectful, dignified mood.
The US, as such move on to Vienna, where this afternoon they’ll play an Austria team that has decent pieces and is much-improved from the previous two World Cup cycles. The Austrians just missed a World Cup playoff- finishing with 17 points, just behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden. In fact, they finished with a better goal differential than the Swedes, and had a chance to earn the playoff spot but fell just short, losing 2-1 to Sweden a month ago in a match that would have sent them through to the playoffs. As such, they fell just short. The Austrians haven’t seen a World Cup stage since France in 1998, but you get the sense “Das Team” is close– and it wouldn’t shock us to see them qualify for the 2016 EURO Cup in France.
The match in Vienna will be the final fixture for the Yanks in 2013, and what a special year it has been for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. The Yanks won more matches this calendar year than any other year in federation history (16). They lost only three times: at Honduras, at Costa Rica, and in Cleveland to Belgium. They defeated Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mexico, Costa Rica in the Snowclassico and Panama, three times. They set a record for goal differential, at + 29. They won the Hexagonal CONCACAF qualifying tournament for yet another time. They improved the team’s world ranking to its highest since 2006. And they won the Gold Cup for the first time in six years, punching a ticket into a playoff for a berth into the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. All in all, the Americans gave their fans plenty of hope, and they’ll look to ice that cake with a win in Vienna.
Let’s kick the ballistics and pound out the particulars.
Series: Third Meeting, Series tied, 1-1. The Americans won a friendly in 1998 in the build-up to the disaster in France. The Austrians defeated Paul Caligiuri and company 2-1 at the 1990 World Cup in Florence, which was the Austrians only victory at the World Cup Finals and in some sense, a moral victory for the mostly college kids side the Americans sent that year after Caliguiri’s “Shot Heard Round the World.” Bruce Murray tallied for the United States in that match.
Weather: Cool. 44 degrees at kick. Clear, zero chance of rain. Nice soccer weather really.
What will we see out of Austria?
Prior to Friday’s match I spent this opponent-focused section yammering on about how the Scotland team the Yanks were about to face was much improved from the team the US hammered 5-1 in a friendly in Jacksonville a couple years ago. Truthfully, it didn’t take much to improve on that team, and the nil-nil draw in Glasgow was proof positive that Scotland were better than on their last trip to The States. Well, this Austria squad is markedly better than the Scotland team we saw on Friday.
These guys just missed out on being involved in the nail-biting UEFA World Cup Playoff matches, and they notched some impressive results in World Cup Qualifying. Once again the US will take a European team’s best shot on their home soil. The majority of these guys have German Bundesliga pedigree, and aside from one defender and a pair of young strikers who probably won’t start, these guys have all pulled on the Austrian shirt before. This national team’s nickname is Das Team, and setting aside the fact that that name is terribly uninspired, we’re likely to see the real Das Team on Tuesday night. And they’re coming to score.
As noted in the intro, there is a compelling argument Austria are better than the Scottish team the Americans played in Glasgow. Statistics back this up- as this Benjamin Baer piece over at MLS.COM bears out.
Austria playing an attacking style of football and will not sit back at home. Indeed, they dictated for large swaths against Sweden in the aforementioned crucial qualifier last month on the road before being done in by a late Swedish goal. The Austrians boast a handful of quality attacking options, including Trabzonspor forward Marc Janko, Bayern Munich wingback David Alaba and Stoke City midfield string-puller Marko Arnautović.
As in the Scotland match, the Americans will face a World Cup quality midfield, led not only by Arnautović but also Stuttgart fixture Martin Hanrik and Zlatko Junuzović of Werder Bremen. The Scots are more defensive-minded and organized– the Austrians are more technically gifted. It will be a good test for Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, particularly in terms of their ability to communicate and stay disciplined enough in possession to not turnover the ball and provide the Austrians with space to operate in the midfield zone. Given the caliber of the opposing midfield,it would be somewhat surprising to see Klinsmann explore other options in the center today– the US simply need Bradley and Jones to stalemate the center of the field.
Defensively, the Austrians have outstanding pieces but suffer at times from heavy fouling and positional errors, seen in this linked video on full display against Sweden, particularly on Ibrahimovic’s winner. You can suck them out if you get the ball to positions of width, as skipper Christian Fuchs, Emmanuel Pogatetz and György Garics are all ball-winners who like to force the issue and help orchestrate the attack from the back. This means the American central midfield will need to accept tempo on Austria’s terms but in ways that benefit the States– i.e.- receive ball, play quickly to the wings. If it sounds like a strategy that calls for Eric Lichaj as an overlapping fullback, well- it is.
What to watch for from the Yanks:
We’re watching for more standout performances like we got out of Brek Shea in Glasgow. No, the Stoke City bench warmer didn’t do anything to drastically upset the USMNT apple cart or pecking order on Friday, but he proved once again what Klinsmann already thinks; he’s a change-the-game substitute. And a guy with that skill is a guy you put on the plane to Brazil.
Who’s the next player to cement his status with the team, or move into the reckoning for a starting spot? Will Geoff Cameron get another start at center half? Or will Jurgen Klinsmann bend to the will of The Yanks Are Coming and give Eric Lichaj a real tryout at right back?
One criticism that is trending is that Klinsmann isn’t particularly flexible with his formation. Pre-match, there may be some merit to this but as a larger theory it is displaced. The US changes from the preferred 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 with a fair amount of frequency- both Panama matches in qualifying come to mind immediately as does the brilliant tactical shift in Sarajevo that produced an American win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even in Glasgow, the Americans essentially played 4-4-2 after the first 20-30 minutes in order to ensure that Altidore wasn’t lost on an island looking for the ball- and it worked, to some extent, with Sacha Kljestan dropping a bit deeper and helping to create the Americans better attacking moments of the first frame.
Could we see a 4-4-2 from the start on Austrian soil today? It’s possible (see US player to watch section.) It’s also not outside of the realm, however, that Mix Diskerud could slot into Sacha Kljestan’s starting position and give the US more of a true CAM to start the game with, and Klinsmann will simply instruct Jermaine Jones to swashbuckle and freelance with a bit more of a leash early on as the US feel out the midfield zone battle. But back to the point at hand: Klinsmann has proven more than capable of making on-the-fly formation adjustments that diagnose what an opponent is doing and react to exploit it.
The 4-4-2 strategy worked in Bosnia, where the US forced tempo (something we noted Austria will do anyway) and the Bosnians didn’t handle the speed well. Space opened in the middle because the US adjusted on the flank, and Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley tore the Dragons apart.
The Austrians are slightly less likely to be overwhelmed by the Americans speed simply because Bayern Munich man David Alaba exists, but this isn’t a Mexico or Costa Rica quick midfield either– which is part of the reason Alaba plays midfield for Das Team to begin with. If the Americans decide they need to switch to the 4-4-2 to counteract Austria’s quick passing, rate of play game- Klinsmann should be trusted to do so.
Still, we’d think the lineup for the Yanks would look something like this, with Sean Johnson in goal to get game experience:
JONES- MB 90
A couple of other “short corners”…
— Yes, we slotted John Anthony Brooks into a starting spot. Klinsmann’s chances to look at him are limited and with Matt Besler and Clarence Goodson likely back in the fold for the February dates, this is the optimal opportunity.
— Terrence Boyd should get a long look here at his home park (See Below).
— A Brek Shea start would be surprising– he’s a substitute on this team and he’s struggled to fit in at Stoke City, we think, because he’s a substitute type player. He hasn’t shown at any point in his US career that he’s a capable starter– he needs a game to have a flow, ebb and fatigue to make a larger impact.
— Brad Evans was poor enough in Glasgow to almost demand a Lichaj start, and that would be the case even if the US weren’t playing a team where they’ll absolutely need width from the onset to threaten in attack.
US Player to Watch: Terrence Boyd
We’re choosing Terrence Boyd over Eric Lichaj because we already said everything we needed to say about Lichaj’s chance to impress last week, and his ten minute cameo as a substitute against Scotland wasn’t telling in any way, so keep your eyes on Lichaj if he sees the field in Austria.
As for Terrence Boyd, it’s well and truly the last chance hotel, or something similar that Brit soccer announcers love to say. Boyd hasn’t been bad in the USMNT shirt, but outside of a couple assists on big match-winning goals (Mexico at Azteca and Panama in WCQ), he’s hardly been a game-changer.
Boyd is big, young, and he should play well within Klinsmann’s system, but he’s probably competing against Herculez Gomez for one spot on the World Cup roster. We know Herc can play Jurgen’s team game, we know he can take chances himself, and we know he’s comfortable scoring goals off the bench. So this is likely Terrence Boyd’s last best chance to show Jurgen he’s important enough to include on the World Cup team, and he’s doing it against familiar opposition at his home ground.
Boyd plays with these guys and against these guys. Only one of this Austria team’s players is actually on Rapid Vienna with Terrence Boyd, but two defenders and a goalkeeper play for the crosstown rivals Austria Vienna. He’ll be familiar with a couple more defenders that play for Red Bull Salzburg, and let’s not forget that aside from his time with the US National Team, Boyd’s whole soccer career has been spent in Germany and Austria. A familiar style of play may benefit the young target forward as he tries to finally score some damn goals.
Austrian Player to Watch: David Alaba
Alaba is clearly Austria’s most dangerous player. You might know him as Bayern Munich left back David Alaba; the guy who’s always keen to overlap. But on Austria’s national team he gets to fully embrace his attacking skills, and he could be coming from anywhere. He generally plays as a winger, but he can also run the offense as an attacking central midfielder, and he’s always got free reign to make a run with the ball. Did I mention he takes penalties for Austria also? This dude was the youngest player ever called up to the full national team, and he started winning Austrian Footballer of the Year in 2011 at nineteen years old, and hasn’t stopped. In a lot of ways, except for the whole failing/succeeding at Bayern Munich thing- he’s an Austrian Landon Donovan. Look for Alaba to give fits to whichever Yank (probably a wing defender) is tasked with containing him most often. Why can’t this guy be American?
Prediction: Austria 2 – 2 USA
A goal bonanza compared to the 0-0 match with Scotland. Austria’s definitely not far east enough to qualify for the new shootouts-with-Eastern-
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.