Johnson's Movement Leads USA to Gold Cup Final
By Alex Fairchild
The United States advanced to the Gold Cup Final on Wednesday night due to excellent movement and organization. Meanwhile, Honduras were sloppy tactically and their poor cohesion let them down, seeing them eliminated from the regional tournament.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side was listed as a 4-2-3-1, but that system failed to keep as Landon Donovan pushed forward with Eddie Johnson. Even though Donovan was allowed to move at his leisure, he played next to Johnson at times. As Beckerman dropped to his normal position in front of his defense, Stuart Holden was just in front of him in the middle, making the US appear in a 4-1-3-2, which was at times a 4-4-2 whenever Holden dropped alongside Beckerman.
Starting the match with passages of neat one-touch passing, the style of combination play Klinsmann has been looking for took shape on 11 minutes. Clarence Goodson sent a crisp pass to Donovan. With his back to goal, the talisman found a curling Eddie Johnson with a quick through ball to the Sounders man who made no mistake, powering the ball by the keeper. The assist will go to Donovan, but Eddie Johnson created the goal. With his off-the-ball movement, Johnson made space for Donovan's pass, which he ran onto. The Honduran backs took on the pair and Johnson dragged his mark out of position with ease through a quick check towards Goodson. He quickly curled his run, sprinting by his defender's shoulder and into the space behind him. It was just what Klinsmann drew up and his excitement was on display from the sidelines.
The goal yielded little change from the Hondurans, who looked out of place for much of the match. To begin, Roger Rojas was left to pressure the ball as the team's center striker, while Alex Lopez tracked the runs of Kyle Beckerman, who has been able to slide into space between strike duos to receive the ball from the US rearguard throughout the competition. The Real Salt Lake holder was solid again and had little problem with Alex on him. However, by design or not, Alex let up on his man around the 22nd minute. As the half went on he was on and off Beckerman and occasionally chased down Holden. Alex was pulled off at the intermission. Nevertheless, the entire midfield looked out of position. The Americans were too quick as the unorganized Hondurans were always a second or two late to the ball.
Evidence of that was found after Nick Rimando's goal kick on 27 minutes. A flick onward from Johnson bounced to Alejandro Bedoya who knocked the ball to his left where it was chested down and slotted away by Landon Donovan. While Donovan will get plaudits for his velvet touch, Johnson had done the dirty work. Pulling forward defenders created space for Bedoya and Donovan. The latter was unmarked when Bedoya got to the ball, as Brayan Beckeles wandered to aid his teammate's coverage. Johnson's check forward was the catalyst for the goal and the former Fulham player's run backward was not his last contribution of that sort.
A similar circumstance took place when the US made it 3-1. Goodson hoofed a long ball down the right to Bedoya. The former Boston College winger popped the ball across to Donovan who finished with ease. It was nearly a carbon copy of the second, as Johnson made it all happen. By checking back to the ball, he made Bedoya and Donovan's lives far easier, because a 2v2 is simpler to beat in front of goal than is a 3v3. The run by Johnson forced a miserable Oscar Chavez to chase the eventual goalscorer and attacking left back Juan Garcia to get after Bedoya. With both men having loose marks on the speedy Americans, there was no doubt that the US would double its advantage.
In a 4-4-2 after the break, Honduras had been exploited. While they did halve the American lead through a header, the US put the game beyond doubt with the second aforementioned Donovan goal.
Martin Chavez looked to bring his country back into the game after the break. Starting on the left, he roamed across the pitch and when the final quarter of an hour came around, he was near the opposite side. His forays did lend Honduras a hand, but would never be enough for the underdogs to recover.
As time wound down, Klinsmann must have been praying that none of his troops would do anything costly enough to see them suspended for the Final. However, the manager was not thinking about his own behavior when he was ejected for protesting a controversial challenge on DaMarcus Beasley. Holding midfielder Jorge Aaron Claros led the way with a high boot and Martin Chavez followed up by appearing to nudge the right back. The German felt his player was wronged, but referee Walter Quesada of Costa Rica thought otherwise. Klinsmann's fate for the Final will be determined by CONCACAF officials in the next day or two, according to reports.
Whether or not Klinsmann is on the field, his strategies will be on display. As complex as managing can be, sometimes a winning plan can consist of a basic tactic used at the high school level. Having a player check to the ball, with one going into the space created, is one of the oldest tricks in the book. It is effective if used correctly, as it creates holes in the defense and lessens the amount of men those who head forward need to surpass near goal. This was not the first time in the tournament that this practice was used, as Wondolowski and Donovan did something similar against Belize. The creative player dropped back to get the ball, while the poacher headed to the goalmouth.
Panama may feel they have the kryptonite to halt this winning US combination, but it will be very difficult to stop Landon Donovan, who has played both supplier and punisher since his return to the national team. In on all 8 goals in America's last two matches, it will be on the shoulders of the country's No. 10 to take the country back to Gold Cup glory.