No wonder the United States is having problems scoring at the World Cup: The Americans are hardly attacking.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is eager for the U.S. to create more chances in Tuesday’s second-round game against Belgium.
The U.S. had just 72 attacks during three group-stage games, according to FIFA. That ranked 31st among the 32 teams, ahead of only Costa Rica’s 69.
The Americans were dead last in attacks from the left with 21 and tied for last with Iran with 29 from the center. Right back Fabian Johnson seems to be providing the spark for most forays upfield, advancing more often than left back DaMarcus Beasley.
Midfielder Graham Zusi insists the approach and attitude must change if they are to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
“The first minutes of the game, impose yourself, step on their toes a bit, get in their face,” he said.
The Americans know they have to surge upfield more often if they hope to reach a quarterfinal against Argentina or Switzerland — a lot more often.
A day after advancing despite a 1-0 loss to Germany in rainy Recife, they worked out at Sao Paulo Futebol Clube, where the temperature on the sunny day peaked at 81 degrees (27 Celsius), 12 (6 Celsius) above normal.
They plan to fly Sunday to Salvador, another beach city on the northeast coast for the matchup against Belgium. The Red Devils, back in soccer’s showcase after a 12-year absence, have won three straight World Cup games for the first time with one-goal victories over Algeria, Russia and South Korea. And their 136 attacks are seventh overall and nearly double the American total.
While Klinsmann wants his team to play attractive, attacking soccer, it hasn’t worked out that way. The Americans had scored in eight straight World Cup games before getting shut out Thursday.
“It’s definitely something that we learned out of the Germany game. We were too deep — especially the first 20 minutes,” Klinsmann said. “I was screaming my lungs off there to get the back line out and to move the entire unit high up the field. We will work on that in next couple days in training, to shift our entire game up forward. So that will put more pressure on the opponents and create more chances.”
The U.S. had 41 percent possession in its 2-1 win over Ghana, 48 percent in its 2-2 draw against Portugal and 37 percent versus Germany. The Americans have been outshot 54-27 in the three matches,
And this had occurred in a World Cup in which offense is up. There were an average of 2.83 goals per game in the group stage, up 35 percent from 2.10 in South Africa four years ago and the highest in the initial phase since 1958’s 3.37, according to STATS.
Jozy Altidore, the top American forward, has been sidelined since straining his left hamstring in the first half against Ghana. Klinsmann said “we are optimistic we have him being a part of the Belgium game” but didn’t go into detail on Altidore’s recovery. Altidore looked strong running laps, then stretched on the sideline under the direction of medical staff.
In the last two games, Klinsmann opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with five midfielders to feed Clint Dempsey as the lone striker.
Thus far, the U.S. has had just four solo runs into the penalty area, in a four-way tie for 27th, and the formation frequently morphs into a 4-4-1-1.
“We have to bring up the players higher up and create chances get more support for Clint and come down the line more often on the sides,” Klinsmann said. “This is something we will work on in the next few days.”
While midfielder Michael Bradley hasn’t been at his sharpest, he was the endurance-man of the first round, leading all players with 23.6 miles (38 kilometers) covered.
“He is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “We know that he can add something extra to it going forward. He also needs to help with the team by shifting higher up. If we can get Michael more into that role behind Clint, I think we are even more dangerous then. So there is more to come.”