The U.S. Men’s National Team lost 3-0 to England on Thursday night thanks to some terrible defending. Either, the USMNT must stay organised or press high.
It was a frustrating night for the U.S. Men’s National Team. They kitted themselves out for what was going to be quite the occasion, despite this being officially classed as an ‘international friendly’. And then they laid an egg.
The USMNT were never really expected to challenge England, particularly on the night that Wayne Rooney bid farewell to the team for which he was the record goalscorer. It would have been a surprise if they did. But that does not excuse the simple lack of effort, energy and intensity that pervaded through the team.
What was most concerning about the USMNT’s performance was their defending, or the absolute lack of it. Take the second goal as a prime example.
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England worked the ball to the edge of the penalty area. They played a few nice passes to get there, but did not really have anywhere to go. Seven U.S. defenders surrounded the ball. And then, two passes later, Trent Alexander-Arnold was streaking down the right flank and firing the ball into the bottom corner to double the lead.
Of those seven defenders, not one was aware of the run of Alexander-Arnold, not one committed the ball and tried to make a challenge, not one showed any semblance of organisation or awareness. This was truly shambolic, disorganised defending at its finest. And it was not the only example.
Such lapse defending is compounded by the USMNT set up. Because they did not press high up the pitch for the majority of the match, they allowed England to have the ball. There is nothing wrong with that tactic, as long as you remain disciplined, compact and organised at the other end. But the U.S. weren’t.
This is the problem they encountered: neither did they hound, harass and pressure the England ball-players into mistakes, nor did they play with sound distances between the lines, spatial awareness and recognition from each individual, as a cohesive and connected unit that is difficult to break down.
In the modern game, there is sometimes an over-obsession with the high press. It is the flavour of the year, the hottest fad right now, and so everyone seems to be talking about it as if it is the solution to any team’s problems. But not every team has to employ a high press to be defensively sound. There are other ways to be so. But all of them rely on organisation, communication and collective awareness, traits that were completely absent from the U.S.’s performance.
I do not know if this U.S. team would be better served by pressing England on Thursday night. Considering the gap in the quality of the players, it certainly would have been a brave move to do so. But it might have been a more effective tactic. That, however, does not mean that it is the only tactic. The U.S. could have had success by employing a low block, if they executed it properly.
The high press is not the only way to defend well. There are other ways. But they all rely on organisation. At the moment, the USMNT neither presses high or is organised. That is why there are defending so poorly.