Peter Nowak’s decision to adjust his tactics (ironically enough in line with what most American Soccer Spot readers suggested the other day) shows a tactical savvy and willingness to take chances that many American coaches have quite frankly lacked in big competitions. Since the debacle of Steve Sampson 3-6-1 in the 1998 World Cup, American managers have implemented a very basic tactical structure one which is based on counter attacking and generally does not consider the strengths or weaknesses of the upcoming opposition.
In changing his tactics and starting XI immediately before a major tournament Peter Nowak has turned conventional American coaching wisdom on its head. A three point victory later critics across the blogosphere and among some of our best soccer writers are asking why and how did he do it? Many say benching Jozy Altidore whose performances for Nowak’s side have been average at best was risky. Others have stated that moving Mo Edu to center back was silly instead of picking a natural center back, perhaps at an over age level like Danny Califf or Jay DeMerit. I will state on both counts I believe Nowak made the right decision.
Several days ago, I called for Altidore’s benching. This was one of the toughest things I have written since beginning this website. Altidore hails from the town next to me and I have done everything I could to openly support him. But given Jozy’s form which was below average both at the Olympic qualifying tournament and at the ING Cup, he had to be dropped. Most disagreed but that is because of the culture in American Soccer that certain players are untouchable.
The benching will help Altidore long term as he will work hard, as he always does to regain his first team place. It’s not all his fault: the weight of Addidas ads, and the over hyping of an 18 year old by US Soccer including playing for his club, his senior national team, and his youth national team all at once has worn down the youngster as it would to any other human being.
The other big change in Nowak’s setup was to add a fifth midfielder, again a suggestion frequently advocated by your’s truly and our readers. Since the Bruce Arena era I have editorializing the need to make tactical changes before big matches and have time and time again seen the US come out with the same flat approach. That’s why Nowak’s changes were so notable yesterday. By adding a fifth midfielder, the US controlled possession and the flow of the game against a quicker, more attacking oriented and arguably more talented side. Nowak has done something most US National Team coaches have been scared to since Sampson changes blew up in his face: Could this be the dawning of a new more tactical era in US Soccer? One must surely, hope but until then job well done, Peter Nowak!