Featured, January 2014, USMNT

USA vs. South Korea: Highway to Brazil Is Alive Tonight- Your TYAC Preview

Landon Donovan and the US begin their World Cup year tomorrow afternoon in the house that Landon built. With Bruce's help, of course...

Landon Donovan and the US begin their World Cup year tomorrow afternoon in the house that Landon built. With Bruce’s help, of course…

Jon Levy

After the last couple weeks Yanks should be more than ready for a very interesting match with a young and relatively untested South Korea squad. But after the last week of matches, these young Korean players should be as ready as they can possibly be for the USMNT challenge. While Klinsmann and his merry band of MLS players (and Mix Diskerud) have been role playing a World Cup, complete with a business trip to Brazil, South Korea’s young “B team” has been testing itself against two of CONCACAF’s other World Cup entrants. They’ve split matches on American soil against Costa Rica and Mexico, but the results probably aren’t the most important part of the equation as it relates to this match in LA against the United States.

College football and basketball fans like to regurgitate a cliché about talented freshmen players as it relates to important end-of-season games: “Yeah he’s a freshman, but by the time we get to the tournament/bowl game he’s basically a sophomore.” Cliché as that sentiment may have become, it might just apply to South Korea’s well-coached but inexperienced internationals. The experience of playing two away matches against quality opposition goes a long way in the time-compressed world of international football.

 Let’s kick the ballistics, shall we? The usuals….

South Korea begins its World Cup year against a foe they've only lost to once. But they'll do without key pieces...

South Korea begins its World Cup year against a foe they’ve only lost to once. But they’ll do without key pieces…

Series: 7th meeting. South Korea leads, 3-1-2. The lone win for the United States came in the 2002 Gold Cup, of all places. This was (way?) back when CONCACAF filled out the Gold Cup field by inviting teams from other corners of the globe, and South Korea was invited that year. Drawn into the same group as the Yanks, DaMarcus Beasley scored his first goal for the United States in helping the Americans defeat the Taegeuk Warriors 2-1. Another interesting note about that Gold Cup: it was played in the winter– the region decided this was better than not holding the tournament at all in a World Cup year. That game was also played in California, where the Americans are 1-1-1 vs. South Korea. The most famous meeting between the sides? Of course this came at the 2002 World Cup, where the Americans were outplayed thoroughly by the hosts for sixty minutes, but held on to the early lead they gained through Clint Mathis to draw 1-1. The draw proved pivotal for both sides, as they advanced out of the group stages past heavily favored Portugal. Yes, we’ve linked Mathis brilliant goal below.

Weather: Brilliant. 65 and sunny at kick. Can’t ask for more than that.

And now the specifics…

Neil W. Blackmon on what will we see out of South Korea?

We’ll see a young team, of  course. One thing stood out in both the Costa Rica and Mexico matches: South Korea counters like lightning and they work the ball to width with striking efficiency. Well-trained, these Warriors are. 

South Korea have been to eight consecutive World Cups, an impressive streak by any measure, regardless of region. (The US will play in their seventh consecutive finals this summer.) That said, the Taegeuk Warriors are a side that enters 2014 with a set of rather demanding questions, and ones that aren’t really going to be answered with the young group that has toured the United States this month. Perhaps the largest question surrounding the South Koreans entering Brazil is where the goals will come from– this is a team that struggled to score in the run of play in 2013 and the results were dire enough, despite qualification, to force the resignation of manager Choi Kang-Hee. Optimism abounds under new gaffer Hong Myung-Bo, but questions remain about the whether the Koreans will be potent enough in attack to survive group play in Brazil.

Lee Ho is vital to the swarming Korean midfields ability to create chances on the counter...

Lee Ho is vital to the swarming Korean midfields ability to create chances on the counter…

On their finest days, the Koreans want to work the ball to the center of the field, just before the halfline, and quickly distribute to the wings, where they have a great deal of talent and pace that can stretch a defense and force fullbacks to stay home, easing pressure. Their wingers are key to both build-up and counterattacks, and the young team they’ve brought to America is no different. Some  combination of Park Jong-Woo (a star in the K league for his club Busan I-Park, Lee Ho (a more traditional six) and Hae Dae-Sung will man the center, but they’ll all be looking to quickly usher the ball to the flank, where more veteran internationals Yeom Ki-Hun, a pacy player who is tremendous on the ball; Kim Tae-Hwan, who in an admittedly small sample size– prefers to float from his position on the right flank and looks to get central earlier than perhaps he should in the attacking third, often leaving himself with nowhere to go, or Lee Sueng-Gi, another blazer who is more a distributor than a shooter, can operate. Sueng-Gi, in particular, likes to incut to open space and operate the overlap- a task he performed admirably in a pair of AFC qualifiers for the full senior side, and the onus will be on presumable US holder Kyle Beckerman to not be too busy helping on Ki-Hun to get hurt by Sueng-Gi’s forays down the right flank.

Up top, this incarnation of South Korea features Kim Shin-Wook, another K league star with pace and surprising, given his frame, strength, whose time in the K league may be brief, as well as veteran Lee Keun-Ho, who has the most caps of any of the South Koreans in this side at 62.  Ho is their version of Brian Ching- a hardworker who will run all day but is very unlikely to beat you by himself- though he can perform capably in the air– over half his goals for the South Koreans have been scored with his head.

Senior team veteran Kang Min-Soo is in the team, but beyond him, the South Korean defense have too many questions..

Senior team veteran Kang Min-Soo is in the team, but beyond him, the South Korean defense have too many questions..

Defensively, the Taegeuk Warriors don’t have the manpower to contain the Americans too much– they’ll have to rely on their more talented midfield to produce turnovers and quickly translate them into possession– a sort of defense being the best offense proposition– or it could be a long day. Kang Min-Soo gets time with the “A” side, but he’s the only defender in the group they have that does– and the drop off between the senior team center halves and this unit is substantial. Mexico absolutely obliterated the Koreans with short, crisp distributions in the final third and a heavy dose of incutting, and I can’t imagine Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan will be much different. Could be a “fool’s gold” day for Brad Davis, who might be in need of a massive performance to make a compelling argument for his inclusion over the more-talented, but less-focused and less-consistent Brek Shea, this summer. More on Brad below…

Jon Levy on what to expect from the Yanks:

All business. You don’t assemble this group of guys in lieu of the usual January “Camp Cupcake,” take them to Brazil for a World Cup “dry run,” and play matches against the legendary Sao Paulo FC, just to field a completely experimental side in a just-for-fun match against another World Cup team. Klinsmann is out for blood in this match… without the malice that implies.

Now we all know this isn’t the full USMNT, but the newfound prominence of MLS players on the national team (through various avenues), means that this team can field more real national team starters than the squad across the pitch from them. Klinsmann ‘s squad can field as many as six starter-level Yanks if you consider Brad Evans the starter at right back, and until someone else gets a start in a big spot you’d have to think Jurgen still trusts Evans back there. I expect that we’ll see at least four of those guys starting, and if Klinsmann gets what he wants the team will play fast (Fast, FAST!) and organized like they did during their red hot summer of 2013. At this point you probably know the coach’s points of emphasis as well as I do. Create width, hold the ball, first touch, early passes, overlapping full backs, and defensive pressure high up the pitch. The US is treating this match like the first match of the World Cup, so we should see most, if not all, of the actions listed above. If we don’t see that, I think we’re finally going to see Jurgen get vocally pissed off.

Brad Davis' last run out with the US was precisely what Jurgen Klinsmann hoped for. Can he build on that momentum as we draw closer to final roster selection?

Brad Davis’ last run out with the US was precisely what Jurgen Klinsmann hoped for. Can he build on that momentum as we draw closer to final roster selection?

 US Player to Watch: Brad Davis

More than anyone else on the roster, Davis is fighting for a spot on the next USMNT plane to Brazil. Guys like Eddie Johnson, Mix Diskerud, and Nick Rimando may not be starters, but they’re more than likely already on the team for this summer. On the other side of that coin, I don’t give the Benny Feilhaber’s or Mike Magee’s on this roster much of a chance of breaking in to the World Cup squad, even if they make an impression in this match.

Brad Davis; however, finds himself back in the reckoning after an inspired substitute performance on CONCACAF’s craziest night ever, the night he and the United States of America came back to tie and eventually beat Panama, and opened the door for Mexico’s inclusion in the 2014 World Cup. Prior to that night it seemed the verdict was in on Davis, and we all (including Klinsmann) knew who would be occupying the “backup left wing” spot for the Yanks at the World Cup. Brad Davis was a player with a sweet left foot, but no wheels. He was a natural leader on the pitch, but without enough guile in possession to keep the ball or pick his pass given a lack of time and space at international level. Stop fuming for a second Houston Dynamo fan, I’m just stating beliefs that were widely held outside of H-Town. And I’m about to piss you off even more, but please read the rest of this section before bashing me @TYAC_Jon on Twitter (which I do invite you to do). The guy that would quite obviously make the plane ahead of Brad Davis was “mercurial” left winger Brek Shea. The lanky speedster has shown he’s prone to shocking defensive errors from time to time, but he’s also been an offensive spark off the American bench since Jurgen’s first game in charge. And he’d just re-upped those credentials by scoring a couple match winners in the 2013 Gold Cup, including the goal that sunk Panama in the final.

Barnsley loan or no- another big Brad Davis performance may have Brek Shea looking over his shoulder...

Barnsley loan or no- another big Brad Davis performance may have Brek Shea looking over his shoulder…

 That’s where we stood on the final night of CONCACAF qualifiers. Then came the fantastic performance by super-sub Brad Davis against Panama that might have changed everything. That was the Brad Davis Klinsmann had seen on MLS tapes that he hoped would eventually appear in the US jersey as well. So if it’s between Davis and Shea, what does Herr Manager do?

 Aside from the fact that they both play a brand of left-sided midfielder, these two players couldn’t be more dissimilar. Shea is one of the few guys on the national team that likes to run at defenders with the ball, yet he’d never pick a pass like Davis with his head down driving towards goal. And Brad Davis can also play central midfield in a pinch; no worries about defensive responsibilities there. But doesn’t the USMNT have “that guy” in spades, while it wants for just a few more flare players of Brek’s ilk?

 Davis has a big opportunity to tilt the balance in his favor on Saturday. It might be his last chance. Then again it might take just one more play to punch his ticket. A brilliant free kick for a free trip to Brazil? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Brad Davis is a guy to watch against South Korea.

Before we get to South Korea’s player to watch… gratuitous Bruce and Tom Morello break!!

Korean Player to Watch: Kim Shin-Wook

Kim Shin Wook is a tough blend of size and speed, and a good test for the US back four...

Kim Shin Wook is a tough blend of size and speed, and a good test for the US back four…

The interesting thing to us, watching him against Costa Rica and Mexico, is that he’s sneaky fast which is a dangerous recipe for the US center halves who likely will be more concerned with his 6’4 frame. He was menacing against the Ticos, a match the South Korea junior varsity won– and held in check against El Tri, a match they lost. He’s the key piece for South Korea tomorrow night, because outside of him, they’ll have to look to the midfield to produce goals, and while the midfield seems to be good at creating possession and even threatening moments in the final third- there isn’t a player among them who can beat you 1 v 1 and score in a traditional build-up.

Because the Koreans will concede in this match– the back four just isn’t good enough to hold off the Yanks for 90 minutes– we’re betting that they’ll need more than 1 goal to win. If that’s to happen, Shin-Wook will need to score.

 Prediction: USA 2 – 0 Korea

I want to see the US put on a possession clinic in match where we generate double digit scoring chances. I think we’ll get half of that equation. Korea generally keeps the ball well, but we should out-chance this team heavily. Donovan scores, nothing new there.

 Enjoy the match, and Go USA! 

Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter, linked above, at @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy