I watched part of the US – Argentina game a second time, and reflected on some things that had been bouncing around my head for the last 36 hours on what went wrong for the US in this Copa America semifinal. I’ll start with the fact that I (and no one else) should have had the expectation that the US was going to win this game. Argentina is playing on another level right now, and the gulf in class between them and the US is larger than the Gulf of Alaska, especially when we talk about Wood, Jones, and Bedoya being suspended.
– Bradley played like a dumpster fire. Everything starts with the captain in a game of this magnitude. If the US was going to pull off an amazing victory, they needed a big game from their skipper. They did not get one. In fact it was quite the opposite. His passes seemed to be wrong more often than not, he and Beckerman were not in sync in terms of positioning, and his decision making was bad. The sooner he can forget this one, the better. I think giving him the night off versus Colombia might even be in the picture.
– Everyone playing terrified: Alejandro Bedoya’s piece in The Player’s Tribune had me hyped. The US knew they were an underdog, but they were ready to come out firing, and maybe anything could happen. Instead, we got 9ish guys who looked scared to even be out there, and a team who was rattled almost immediately after giving up a soft goal. They got composed, looked decent, and then.. Messi. It was like no one wanted to look dumb on the biggest stage of most of their lives. I get that tons of people were watching, and the possibility of embarrassment was rather high. I just wish it would have been different, that the whole team hadn’t respected Argentina so much.
– John Brooks hurt? Brooks looked off. I saw him limping a bit at one point, and he seemed to be grabbing at his elbow pretty regularly. Not sure if this was a factor or not, but his play seemed very different. Hopefully he is alright. He’s the guy I hope took the most away from this game in terms of experience, because I think he and Yedlin have the best opportunity to feature in future runs deep into international tournaments in the future.
– Lack of depth on the current roster: The drop off from Wood, Jones, and Bedoya to Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi is nuts. Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi are all good MLS players (great in Wondo and Beckerman’s cases) but that does not translate to the international quality needed against teams like Argentina unfortunately. Nothing against them, most teams don’t have that depth either. It’s more of an instance where the US youth need to step up and win a place in the team or Jürgen Klinsmann needs to hand the keys to someone like Darlington Nagbe and gamble a little. This also is greatly influenced by the roster, which I will touch on below.
– Leveraging the players at your disposal: So instead of starting Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi, why not play Castillo/Besler and pushing Fab Johnson up into the midfield/forward in your 433 to give the team an outlet and a speed option on the wing that can beat a guy off the dribble/turn out of trouble? Why not bring in Nagbe and playing him in the center with Bradley to help relieve pressure instead of going super defensive with Beckerman? You know you are going to have to take some pressure off of your defense. Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi are all known quantities. They aren’t going to help you beat Argentina 999 times out of 1,000. Mix it up, get creative, take some chances. Worst case it doesn’t work!
– The roster: The lack of players like Lee Nguyen instead with an emphasis on defensive midfielders like Kitchen and Beckerman on the original roster immediately concerned me. It was the first thing that I texted to my friends, instead of “LOL Chandler”. The lack of a creative option that really could have helped the midfield relieve some pressure in a game like this was concerning, and we finally got to the game where this was a major issue. I know Jurgen picks his players with specific intent, but why is Kitchen here? Why bring him and Beckerman? The other is depth up front with Wondolowski versus someone more raw and explosive like Morris. Is it 2014 all over again? With Wood, Dempsey, Zardes, and Wondo, you lack a like for like replacement for Wood, or a speed option. Jordan Morris had been playing well, and offered something that would have been really helpful against Argentina. Starting the kid up front against Messi and friends? Why the hell not!
– Lack of any game plan: I’m guessing there was a game plan. I even saw some of what looked like one, which was working the ball to Zardes and getting him into good spots to attack Rojo, which in my mind is great. Zardes whipped in a couple good balls, one that was extremely dangerous. Maybe you win some corners, which the US can score from. After the second goal, that game plan was gone. Everything seemed to go back to Guzan to clear deep, making Dempsey and Zardes work as if they were on the offensive glass constantly, and when they would win a header or control the ball, their options were minimal. Who was the outlet man, the pressure relief valve? Why was the high press so disjointed? Tactically this game was a mess. I know early goals can do that to you, but still, that is on you Jurgen.
– Let’s gamble: The biggest frustration of them all, go after it. No reason to worry about what the score is versus Argentina, if it is 1-0 or 6-0. Everyone expects you to lose. We are realistic fans. We have seen Messi and friends running teams over of late. Guys like Wondolowski, Beckerman, and Zusi don’t need the experience though, they won’t be there in a year. Let Nagbe start. Push Fab Johnson forward. Get creative with a Cameron Bradley Nagbe midfield. Give Pulisic a chance to do some ridiculous things. Just do something. Anything. Try something that would have made this game a worthwhile learning experience or tactical experiment, something that we the fans can reflect on positively. Not a “shit, let’s try and stonewall them for 90 minutes and get to penalties”. If the US is going to play deep into the World Cup, or Copa America, or anything else, they are going to have to be able to beat a team like Argentina. Not just play for the draw super conservatively. They have weaknesses too. If the US had gotten past Belgium at the World Cup, guess who was waiting? Argentina. The US can’t exploit them if there isn’t a plan of attack, or willingness to gamble on some new things. Fans would be hyped about that. In this situation, it is better to try shit than sit back and accept the loss.
Overall, I think the Copa America has been a success, a semi-final spot is a solid achievement. Ecuador is no slouch, and some bad decisions/bad reffing hurt the US in terms of suspensions pre-Argentina. I just wish Jurgen would have been a bit more daring. Okay, a lot more daring. He was already playing with house money, and that is the best time to do something ridiculous that just might work. Worst case, you walk away with a good story. Colombia in the third place game should be interesting.