The Most Dangerous Lead in Soccer: 2-0

A frustrated Bob Bradley after going up 2-0 in the Gold Cup final and losing 4-2. (c) Concacaf

For the many people who had the opportunity to watch the USA vs Mexico Gold Cup final on Saturday, I hope you enjoyed the roller coaster ride!  The ups and downs of my emotions, complete with the 100 foot drop as Clint Dempsey smashed the crossbar with a left footed shot, which would have tied the game at 3-3 was incredible!  The story of the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) Gold Cup final run can honestly be described by simply watching Mexico’s last goal by Giovani Dos Santos, a scramble.  Below is the replay of the goal.  Please, take a second and watch this world-class goal.  After watching it, pause it at 0:08 into the video.  Count the United States players behind the ball.  Six!  Let me repeat that, six USA defenders behind the ball inside our own 18 and we let them score.  Inexcusable.  We had players scrambling behind Tim Howard for cover, players just watching Dos Santos dance on the ball inside our own box, and players stabbing at the ball just trying to get a flick on Dos Santos deft touch.  Quite embarrassing if you ask me.  A brilliant run in behind the USA defense (a common theme of the night) by Dos Santos, Howard flopping around like a fish out of water, and a world-class finish turned our Gold Cup dreams into a Silver Platter of questions.  After going up 2-0 only twenty-three minutes into the game, we are left only to scratch our heads.  How can a national team squad give up four unanswered goals and just collapse?  This is a great example to all coaches out there to not be complacent when getting a lead. Here we will examine the Do’s and Don’ts of the most dangerous lead in soccer, 2-0.

Getting up 2-0 and Not Looking Back

Based on the USMNT performances throughout the tournament, I didn’t really give them a chance in this game.  I remember sending Coach Jerry Mac a text saying, “What does coach Bradley have up his sleeve for today?”  When we went up 2-0,  I was in shock and I thought, “Wow, maybe we do have a chance.”

But then I noticed something: the strategy of the game never changed from when the whistle blew to start the game to when Donovan knocked in the second goal.  This game started off very open, which worried me because I didn’t think we had the pace to keep up with a very quick Mexican side.  To go up 2-0 was a dream start!  But we didn’t protect the lead. Instead, we invited Mexico into our midfield so they could keep sending in their forwards behind our defense.  A 2-0 lead can be debated as being the most dangerous leads in soccer. If the opposing team gets a goal, the momentum starts to shift, players begin to panic, and mistakes start to be made.  So, what should have the US done in order to protect their 2:0 lead?  What do you as a coach have to change tactically in order to prevent a collapse like we saw in the Gold Cup final?  How can you take a 2-0 lead and not look back on it?

  • Do Not Go in a Defensive Block – Many coaches when they get up two goals will change to a more defensive strategy.  They may even change their formation and bring more players back on defense.  The issue occurs when you go into a “complete” defensive block and just allow your opponent to keep coming down your throat (you are setting yourself up for disaster).  You must adjust to the situation.  With 10 minutes left in the match, yes a defensive block might be the right strategy.  However, if you are going to allow your opponent to keep attacking and keep generating chances, a mistake will be made and a goal will come.
  • Adjust to the Opponent – Observe and take notice of how the game has played out thus far.  Has the other team created chances or have they pretty much sat back and let you attack?  If they have created some good chances but have gotten unlucky, maybe you want to change to a more defense strategy.  But remember, don’t go into a “complete defensive block.”  Try instead to rely on a more counter-attacking approach.  Tighten it up in the midfield and don’t allow your opponent to get the ball and turn.  If your opponent thus far has let you come at them and attack, continue to attack!   A third goal could be the icing on the cake.
  • Don’t Panic – Your team will react to you as a coach.  If you begin to panic, so will your team.  If the other team does happen to get another goal to cut the lead to 2-1, stay positive and remember not to go into a “defensive block. This is the easiest way for your team to recognize that you are panicking.

What I would have done if I were coach Bob Bradley…

As I mentioned before, when the USMNT went up 2-0, the strategy of the game didn’t change and the game remained open.  After Donovan’s goal, I would have changed the formation to a 4-5-1 and dropped Dempsey or Freddy Adu back into the midfield and relied on the counter attack.  Mexico is too fast and too creative to allow them to keep the game open.  As the game went on and pressure was added, we completely lost our midfield and possession.  Going up 2-0, we needed to control the clock by keeping possession and limit turnovers in the midfield.  We needed to tighten everything up in the back and not allow the forwards to make those runs in behind our defense.  We needed to tighten up the midfield so they didn’t have time to get their head’s up and make those through balls in behind our defense.

What else do you think the USMNT and Bradley could have done to prevent such a stunning collapse?

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Tomo is your prototypical "soccer guy." A four year starter at Shippensburg University, Tomo owned the defensive midfield with his awesome vision of the game and hard-nosed style of play. An avid Chelsea fan, he's left scratching his head wondering what owner Roman Abramovich will rotate through Stamford Bridge. Tomo also blogs about Chelsea and the English Premier League on his site TomoTimes.

6 thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Lead in Soccer: 2-0”

  1. Good solid article. I wish Coach Bradley had utilized that 4-5-1 you discussed in your excellent article. 🙁 While I admire how perfectly Dos Santos’ goal (the final Mexican goal) went into the net, I don’t consider it “World Class,” personally. Those shots are the kind that you shoot and aim to some extent but you can’t plan for it to land perfectly in the corner – I don’t care how good you are. Heck, even Wayne Rooney said (of his amazing Bicycle Kick goal this past EPL season), “You just shoot these and hope it goes in.” Same with these little chip shots.

    I’d also say that the 2nd Mexican goal was about as lucky as they come, too. Tons of bad bounces and players just unfortunately seconds out of the right place. Bounces like that favor the attackers who only have to hit it at goal while Defenders and Keepers have to assess the situation AND try to get the ball away from anyone and out of the area.

    This game really could’ve gone the other way with the right bits of luck. Still, congratulations to the Mexican squad, I was impressed with their speed and technical savvy. Right now the USA is on a rebuilding plateau and we’re going to have some of these growing pains until we find and develop our new Donovans and Dempseys. We’ll get there, it’s just a matter of time.


  2. Tony, thank you for the response it is much appreciated. I would have to agree with you that maybe “world-class” might have not been the best wording. It wasn’t just the shot but everything leading up to the goal that I would consider “world-class”. The patience inside the box and keeping the ball glued to his foot. As a player, I think 90% of us would have just tried to smash it into the back of the net. The actual chip itself was a bit of luck but I can assure you that these are types of shots that they try during training sessions.

    As a die-hard Chelsea fan even I had respect for Rooney’s overhead kick this past season against Man City. In his postgame interview he even said 9/10 times it goes over the crossbar (I think those are even generous odds). Not only was it a fantastic goal but the importance of the game winner and getting 3 points to remain at the top of the EPL made it even more dramatic.

    The second goal for Mexico was about as sloppy as it gets. Again, Dos Santos providing a shot that was blocked by Eric Lichaj, but on the block his legs get tangled as he’s back tracking and he puts it right back into the six for an easy tap in. How much you can blame Lichaj on the attempted clearance, I’m not sure. The original shot had enough power on it to make it difficult to react to.

    I would 100% agree with you that we are on a rebuilding plateau. A majority of our goals and chances created came from the Donovan/Dempsey combination. But as we know, they probably only have one more World Cup in their future. I think once Stuart Holden gets back to being healthy he can provide a spark in the midfield. We have an issue with finding the back of the net but I think our real issue is in our back four. Teams have been finding ways in behind our defense way too easily. I think we need to start looking at our youth and getting them experience. We do have some players in the MLS system with international experience that I think it’s time we give a chance. Two that come to mind are both rookies from NCAA National Champions Akron, Perry Kitchen (DC United) and Zarek Valentin (Chivas). They are Generation Adidas draft picks from the US residency program and as rookies are starting for their MLS squad.

    If we are going to rebuild, why not start with our youth?


  3. Great article, Mark. It was very well written.

    @Tony, what exactly do you consider world class if Dos Santos’ chip doesn’t make your cut?


  4. My high school team plays in a 3-4-3 formation. In the past two games we took a two goal lead into the half, 2-0 and 3-1. I usually start the second half in the same formation that got us the lead. I will drop a forward to play a 3-5-2 half way through the second half and then drop another to play in a 4-5-1 with 10 to play if we are still up. The last two games we blew the lead. Lost the 2-4 and tied 3-3. Should we be going to to a four man back earlier? Should we start in a 4-4-2 and then go to a 4-5-1 late in the match?



  5. Coach F,

    Personally I am not a big fan of a 3-4-3 system, unless your team is full of super-athletes there are too many gaps in the back, too much space, and you very vulnerable to balls getting played in behind your defense. Most coaches rely on a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.

    You need to be able to adjust to the run of play. You want your team to dictate the game and not react to what the opposing team is doing. You MUST go for that third goal and continue to attack. Play as if the score was still 0-0, no adjustments necessary. If you get that third goal, you “should” be able to get a result.

    Say the opposing team scores and makes it 2-1, what are you going to do? Keep attacking! You obviously made it difficult for them earlier for you to go up 2 goals, why make a change. By going into a defensive block you are “reacting” to the other team and the scoreline. Your team will begin to panic. Let your players play.

    As the match continues and the clock keeps ticking and you don’t get that third goal, here is where you might want to switch to a more defensive formation. I would say with 10-15 minutes left in the match, you should be comfortable to make an adjustment. It’s all about how you feel the match is playing out and if your comfortable. If they other team hasn’t been generating much attacking, don’t make a change.

    Get a feel for the flow of the game. Get that third goal. And go home with a W!


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