Featured, June 2015, U.S. soccer, USMNT

Yanks Take Smell of Victory to Cologne to Face Germany: The TYAC Preview

Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates a goal Friday in Amsterdam.

Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates a goal Friday in Amsterdam.

Jon Levy

Germany v. USA: Your TYAC Preview

I’d like to start this post by extending a warm welcome to any readers who might be making their first visit to The Yanks Are Coming. Now is a fantastic time to take your relationship with US Soccer to the next level, and we thank you for giving TYAC a tryout. If you like smart writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously, marbleized with a fatty vein of lowbrow humor and ‘90’s pop culture references, well, we think you might just stick around.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the pleasantries, let’s all enjoy a brief moment of euphoria.

Remember when the Yanks were down 3-1 against Netherlands in Amsterdam? And then hulking center back John Brooks(enbauer) led the break out of nowhere and finished it off with a goal? And you probably thought “well that’s the craziest thing I’m gonna see today.” But then the US scored TWO GOALS IN THREE MINUTES to win the match!?

That happened! Ahhhhhhh! I know it was just a friendly, but don’t kill my vibe. That was a legit version of Holland’s national team playing at home in the Amsterdam Arena, where entering the evening, they had lost once in eight years, so you were absolutely justified if you freaked out a little bit like I did.

Time to come back to earth though. Time to dispense with the smell of that victory and look to Cologne. We’ve got a match with the World Cup Champions on the cards, and we’re not ready for their attack.

Usuals. Then particulars.

Torsten Frings cheating is part of Germany-US lore.

Torsten Frings cheating is part of Germany-US lore.

Series: Eleventh Meeting. Germany lead, 7-3-0. 

Three of those meetings happened at the World Cup, with Germany winning all of them, in 1998, in the 2002 quarterfinals, and last summer in Recife. Two of the meetings have happened in Germany, with both going the way of Die Mannschaft, 4-2 and 4-1, respectively. Do the math and you realize that means the Americans are 3-2 against Germany on home soil, including the win in the US Soccer Centennial friendly in DC in 2013. Takeaway? The Americans tend to play well against Germany when the stakes are friendly stakes.

Weather: Low sixties and pleasant at kickoff. We were asked to bring back the “Fabian Johnson Misery Index” for this preview, so we will, after we explain it. 

When Fabian Johnson joined the US national team a few years back, the early returns were that he seemed to play infinitely better in cooler weather. He was a mess who faded early when it was hot. Brazil dispelled that notion, despite Johnson’s injury late in the tournament, but the notion that Johnson’s form changes with the weather appears to have stuck. The ratings system on Fab is 1-10, with 10 being he’s so miserable he won’t even want to play to 1 being “prime optimal Fab J weather.” We’d say 60’s in Cologne with low humidity is a 2 on the Fabian Johnson Misery Index. As in, he won’t be miserable.

The US celebrate the equalizer in Amsterdam.

The US celebrate the equalizer in Amsterdam.

What to watch for from the Yanks:

This team absolutely must tighten up defensively.

Sorry if that’s not as sexy or positive a headline as one might have expected coming off the back of that amazing win in Amsterdam. I’d love to be writing about the “dynamic American attack” that carved up Holland and is set to do the same to Germany, but anyone who watched the last match knows that’s not really the story. Yes, the young American attackers used their speed well against the Netherlands, but to simply say that the Dutch defenders didn’t deal with that speed doesn’t go far enough in indicting that defense. The term “ball watching” doesn’t suffice either. That was clown shoes defense out of a team that took home third place in Brazil last summer. So while I’m still incredibly impressed by the American comeback, and I do expect the USMNT to score in Cologne, please don’t go into the Germany match expecting the US to generate double-digit quality scoring chances like they did against a soon-to-be managerless Netherlands squad (sorry Guus Hiddink, had to do it to ya dude).

On to the defensive frailty that hits closer to home.

There was no stop in the American midfield against Holland, and that’s not the usual when Kyle Beckerman is on the field. What’s especially surprising is that this happened in a match in which the Dred Pirate was paired with Alfredo Morales, another central midfielder with defensive steel in his locker. But I’m prepared to chalk this up to the skill Dutch midfield and move along. No trend here (yet), not the droids we’re looking for, move along, move along.

The back line.

These guys, these are the damned droids we’re looking for, and they seem intent on hand delivering the Death Star plans to our opponents at or before halftime in pretty much every match since the World Cup. At least we got 20 or 30 good minutes out of a center back pairing in Amsterdam before it all fell apart. And it was nice to see Jurgen Klinsmann try a young pairing and demand they cover for a midfield that was actively returning pressure against the Dutch.

John Brooks and  “Ace” Ventura Alvarado, both contenders for starting spots in the Gold Cup, appeared to have developed a decent understanding, when in truth they simply hadn’t been made uncomfortable by the Dutch just yet. Near the end of the first half communication issues were made apparent, the big man John Brooks badly misjudged the cross on Huntelaar’s opener, and Alvarado became “Ventura Highway”, an easy-ridin’ road on which the Dutch were all too happy to drive.

Things didn’t get any better when Alvarado was lifted in favor of veteran Michael Orozco. The entire backline seemed out of sorts on every Dutch attack for the final two thirds of the last match, and as usual, Timmy Chandler’s speed just can’t cover for his lack on-ball defending and what sometimes seems like a complete lack of positional awareness. What does it say about these American defenders that I’ve got the least amount of criticism for Brek Shea, who’s still converting to left back? Bad things man, bad things.

The communication between the players on the back line must return against Germany, and it’s got to continue all match. The same goes for putting some stop in the midfield, something that Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were able to do against Germany for at least a half in Recife last summer. And still, we could perfect backline telepathy, a brick wall in defensive midfield, and a superhuman effort in goal from Brad Guzan, and still give up a couple deserved goals to Germany. Look for DeAndre Yedlin to get his start in defense this match.

Sami Khedira is one of many world champs who will be in Cologne tomorrow.

Sami Khedira is one of many world champs who will be in Cologne tomorrow.

And what will we see out of zee Germans?

The World Cup Champions will showcase their depth in this match, but that doesn’t mean what you might think. Germany brought what I’ll call a “C plus” team to RFK Stadium a couple summers ago, only to lose to the Yanks 4-3 with barely a first team Die Mannschaft regular on the pitch. That’s not how you showcase amazing depth, and believe us, Germany has it. You showcase depth by bringing this “B plus” squad to the table, and starting a mixture of first team World Cup winners and rising talent. Give the kids some structure in which to work and watch them thrive. That’s exactly what Jogi Löw will be looking for on Wednesday. And it’s probably what he’ll get. So we’ve got no Neur, Kroos, Reus, or Muller on this squad, and we’ve got Boateng and now Hummels out with minor injuries, but be prepared for early afternoon heartbreak at the hands of Rüdiger, Gündoğan, Kramer, and Herrmann.

Tactically, a few things to note.

First, with both Boateng and Hummels out, a start for Shkodran Mustafi on the right is almost guaranteed. I mention this first only to point out that even when Jogi Löw has a chance to play a proper fullback, he’ll often choose not to play a proper fullback, and to note that Mustafi, who played in the Algeria knockout stage match in Brazil, will be the veteran on the backline despite having single-digit caps. The rest of the German defense in the match will be youngsters, Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy, Stuttgart’s Antonio  Rüdiger and Dortmund’s Erik Durm, a gargantuan talent. Manuel Neuer is also out of this team, which means Hannover’s Ron-Robert Zieler will get the call in net and the German defense will be the glaring weakness in the side.

As they were in Recife and in Brazil then, Germany are strongest in front.

Before Brazil, one of the more prevalent questions about Jogi Low’s team was who would the combination be upfront. This was curious to me- not that the question was irrelevant, but that for the past two World Cups scoring hadn’t been terribly difficult for the Germans and even without Mario Gomez on the side, the Germans had plenty of attacking options in Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Andre Schurrle, Gotze, Ozil and Muller.

Yes, the fact they only bring one “natural” striker seemed odd, especially with him on the long end of 36 years old– but Podolski has always produced for his country and Thomas Muller is so talented tacticians wrote pieces arguing he’s redefined the “striker” role completely. Oh- and he won the Golden Boot at a World Cup at twenty years old. So Germany would score goals, I thought. And I was correct- the one goal they scored against the United States being a tournament low. 

This incarnation of Germany has plenty of that talent present tomorrow, in Max Kruse, Patrick Hermann (more below), Mario Götze, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, André Schürrle and Podolksi among others. But you wonder if most of that is more well suited to attacking the United States through the center of the field, as opposed to generate chances out wide, which was the tendency of the Germans in Recife. Or maybe the width will come with Howedes and Boateng gone, leaving at least one truly proper fullback in Erik Durm, whose highlights below are eye-opening.

If the US play very narrow without the ball, as they did in Recife,  which is something we’ve become accustomed to, that width may matter. That said, if Klinsmann is not going to play a midfield diamond, and instead has happily switched to more of a 4-1-4-1 formation, it would follow that the US will still focus upon defending the centre of the pitch and preventing the opposition playing through the middle, which makes sense against a German side boasting multiple playmakers.

It also makes sense considering the lack of proper full-backs on the German side, even with Erik Durm likely to start. 

The problem, of course, is Klinsmann’s tactics don’t often make sense. And the only tendency truly noticeable of late is to utilize a style that troubled the US opponent previously. Which leads me to believe that the Americans may adopt the Algerian approach to playing Germany.

You’ll recall that the Desert Foxes pressed Germany heavily in the knockout stages, troubling the Germans in a match that found its way to extra time. Eventually, the Germans playmaking quality won the day, but certainly abandoning a deep defensive block and setting up the midfield so that Algeria could use a band of three to press Germans in the midfield zone worked, forcing Ozil, Kroos and Lahm in particular into some cheap mistakes that set Algeria up on the break. 

In that scenario, the 4-3-3 the US lined up in on paper against the Dutch may return, with the Americans playing a high defensive line. In this scenario, the Germans will have to hope someone can run in behind the American defense, all Huntelaar or Memphis Depay, and I’m not certain if Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze want to be those players, given their tendency to tuck inside and came towards the ball. 

Eventually, as the Algerians tired, André Schürrle was that player at the World Cup, and given the absence of Kroos, he may be that player more immediately tomorrow. It’s a tall order for the US, especially on the road, but could prove a useful experiment in aggressive defending ahead of an imminent competitive match with Mexico (we hope) at the Gold Cup.

Patrick Hermann could be the next of a storied line of great German midfielders.

Patrick Hermann could be the next of a storied line of great German midfielders.

German Player to Watch: Patrick Herrmann (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Twenty four year old Pat Herrmann is awaiting his first senior cap after featuring heavily for Deutschland on almost every youth level. The talented right-sided midfielder is primed to realize what he probably views as his destiny in this match, and he’s talented enough to make a major impact. Hell, I might make an impact if I had Özil, Schweinsteiger, and Gündoğan infield from me serving me the ball. And Patrick Herrmann is a lot better than me.

As many American fans have noticed, Lucien “Don’t Call Me Brett” Favre has done a most excellent job managing Borussia Mönchengladbach since selling Michael Bradley to Roma (don’t get defensive, we love MB90 too). Young Pat Herrmann has played a big role in Favre’s transformation of the club, and he’s now scoring goals for fun, notching 16 goals from the midfield this past season, four of those in European competition. But with so many dangerous big-name German players for the Yanks to worry about, Fabian Johnson may just have to brief his national team mates on his club teammate when he’s subbed onto the field.



US Player to Watch: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution)

There was something positive to say about all the forwards that played against Holland, but Agudelo didn’t see the field.

Meanwhile, the injury to Jozy Altidore that might have granted Agudelo a starting opportunity in the Gold Cup seems to be a nonfactor (Jozy looked sharp as a substitute for TFC against DC United this weekend). Even worse for Agudelo’s USMNT playing prospects, Stanford student Jordan Morris is having a torrid spring/summer in the American shirt, and proving comparable to Altidore with how big, physical, and fast he plays. Maybe it is the grind of the Pac 12 soccer slate?

Juan Agudelo's window could be closing quickly despite his great league form.

Juan Agudelo’s window could be closing quickly despite his great league form.

So what’s Juan Agudelo to do?

It’s time for an American forward to finally buck the “confidence player” trend that we’ve seen for years with this national team.

Agudelo has played his part in that trend already. He’s been the hot prospect that stumbled at a step-up club and lost his mojo. Now it’s time for a strong-willed American forward to say “I’m in form because I say I’m in form,” and prove it on the field. We all know about Juan’s rejuvenation at New England, and we all saw his awesome goal against Mexico. Juan Agudelo can be the guy we thought he was going to be early in 2011, and he’ll have the chance to prove it against the champs. C’mon Juan, make us change Wiz Khalifa’s lyrics again. “Uhhh-huh, you know Juan it is, Agudelo-agudelo-agudelo!

Prediction: Germany 3 – 2 USA

Agudelo does get himself on the score sheet, but this is Germany’s match. It should be open and entertaining though. In that sense this should be more like the US vs. Germany match I believe we would have been treated to if Portugal hadn’t equalized in extra time in Manaus.

Enjoy the match, and Go USA!

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