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Shot quality the key to the United States' success

How can the United States win games while losing the possession and shot volume battle? By creating quality shots for themselves and restricting quality shots for their opponents.

Micahel Bradley will be the key to breaking down the opponents' defenses in Brazil
Micahel Bradley will be the key to breaking down the opponents' defenses in Brazil

The United States' last four friendlies have been a success for Jurgen Klinsmann. Against Mexico, Klinsmann began experimenting with the diamond midfield, and he fine-tuned the formation over the course of the Send-Off Series. Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron cemented their places in the back and Jozy Altidore showed he is still America's top striker. Sentimental fans are still struggling to get over Landon Donovan's exclusion, but the U.S. looked like the stronger side in all of those matches.

But will success in pre-World Cup friendlies translate to success in Brazil? Everything will be more difficult. The competition will dramatically increase, and other factors like travel and the weather won't help either, but it's not just the results that went well for the USMNT.

Across all four matches the United States' opponents completed more passes in the attacking third, 345 to 307. The opponents parlayed those passes into more shots as well, outshooting the United States 61 to 52. Concerning? Not really. The United States' plus-4 goal differential across their friendlies wasn't a fluke. It's about where Klinsmann's team and his opponents are taking their shots from.

Here's a look at the shot locations of the last four friendlies. The field is broken up into six zones; the percentages represent the amount of the total shots taken in each zone. At quick glance its evident the United States held a significant advantage.


The United States took 43 percent of their shots in the middle of the 18 yard box, compared to just 22 percent for their opponents. Typically teams shoot between 35-40 percent of their shots from those two zones. In addition, the opponents took 58 percent of their shots from outside the box compared to 48 percent for the USMNT, which is more typical. As a rule of thumb, a team is about five times more likely to score from inside the box than outside the box, so these differences are significant.

It's logical to wonder if some of the poor shot selection was driven by the fact that the USMNT was mostly ahead and the opponents were desperate to score, and therefore less selective, but that's actually not the case. The opponents surprisingly took closer shots when down by two goals.


The USMNT also converted 15 percent of their shots compared to just 7 percent for their opponents. A lot of that has to do with quality of finishing, but it's more about the United States denying their opponents quality shots and creating quality shots for themselves.

Don't expect the United States to win any of the battles you can see on a normal box score, but it is possible that they can restrict their opponents' danger zone shots while refusing to settle for poor shots themselves. How well they can maintain this advantage away from home, against tougher competition, is perhaps the biggest question Klinsmann and the USMNT has yet to answer. It also just might be the key to their success.