It shouldn’t have been in doubt.
And hopefully this review and the game this evening is an anomaly or just poor writing.
In the ultimate warm-up game that was the first stop in World Cup qualifying on the road to Brazil, the US stumbled forward, but forward nonetheless beating Antigua & Barbuda 3-1 on soggy home turf in Tampa.
There are a few different ways to treat a game like this for a regional power like the United States.
The game can be used to build confidence with the favored side teeing off mercilessly on an inferior opponent and exerting their supremacy. Final scorelines in those are typically “my goodness” to “no chance.” USA-Barbadoes, HDC, four years ago to the day is an example.
Another option is to use the game to get players ready who may be counted on to play critical roles down the road or might need to step in in case of an emergency.
A third option is to work on specific of the game that need work and realize that the goals will come, but the team will better for forcing a game plan that will help them practice something they will use down the road. The US did this quite well in Jurgen Klinsmann’s first game, showing new possession chops against Mexico to earn a draw in Philadelphia.
And finally a fourth is to use the game to cap-tie players whose dual nationality may call their allegiance in doubt.
Klinsmann had the menu in front of him and he oddly choose option four.
TSG usually tries to rationale the decision making of the players or coaches during a match. Often–though a goal may not have results or one conceded for the opponent–the strategy had rationale a purpose. TSG also play up our typical axiom that most are probably sick of now “you can’t look at observations in isolation, you have to look at the entire body of work.”
There are two lone positive the US can take from this game. First, the US got a victory–three points–in World Cup qualifying. That’s something that should nearly never be taken for granted.
Second, the US cap-tied Terrence Boyd, a burly striker who has spent nearly his entire life within the borders of Germany but bleeds US.
After those two checkmarks, finding positives on the evening are difficult. You make consider the last two games–a draw against Canada and this 3-1 “victory”–the most challenging consecutive two-game stretch since the US eked its way past Panama and then got rope-a-doped by Mexico in the final two matches of the 2011 Gold Cup.
Let’s run down the list in no particular order. And let’s say this.
This one isn’t on the players in our book.
• The US’s attack was ill-conceived and its rate of play was unsatisfactory.
Faced with an Antigua & Barbuda defense that leaked goals against such CONCACAF stalwarts as Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago, the US failed to exert its will.
Sure Antigua & Barbuda bunkered in–but the US just has too much talent to only score from the run of play through two rebound goals and a shot from the spot. It is somewhat amazing to consider in fact that the Benna Boys had the lone goal put together through a passing combination.
The US dawdled on the ball. They were reactionary.
When a teammate got the ball, US were typically stagnant and–aside from Herculez Gomez and an occasional Landon Donovan jaunt–remained that way until their defender adjusted to the play.
The US movement could have been simple. The Benna Boys typically went with a 5-man, and sometimes 6-man, backline, but it was flat. Some simple vertical movement–the so-called piston effect–would have opened up space for the Yanks.
As it was space in the attack for the States more often came when A&B fell asleep less then when the US was moving together.
• Jose Torres at LB was a choice without future and merit and the States may have paid for it
Face with it’s two prime left backs out for the evening, Jurgen Klinsmann made what can be best said as a peculiar selection in inserting Paco Torres in their stead.
There is almost no defense for this choice.
The single rebuttal is that Klinsmann wanted to maintain width using a left-footer on the left; that notion is backed up the equally poor decision to move Carlos Bocanegra out wide later in the game.
Torres was the stater and has proven through many repetitions that his defense is not his strong suit.
Given that Torres would never–hopefully–see that positional deployment in a critical match, then using him there against a weak opponent gains absolutely nothing. In fact, it takes reps away from other players who could use the game experience–Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, etc.
The typical media axiom that “Klinsmann has authorized the US to play on the floor and out of the back” doesn’t hold merit with Torres’s selection this evening because the left back typically went backwards with the ball just as frequently. Torres played the safe pass backwards effectively; couldn’tve Cameron or Parkhurst done similarly and gotten a rep?
In the 60th frame–as might have been forecasted–the slight of frame Torres was chopped down on a tackle and may be lost for the rest of the qualifying series. Again the Primera-leaguer Torres isn’t often after to tackle attackers running in possession with a full head of steam on his day job.
…lemon juice on the Torres decision?
In the face of some visible and questionable–though not malicious–tackles by Antiguan wingers, what did Klinsmann do upon the injury? He moved his captain. His lone centerback bedrock out to the same flat where the opponent was stomping on shins and ankles.
This is the USMNT…<o> <—and that’s the bullet and I bet you didn’t know how close the US backline came to not dodging it.
• Three central midfielders is somewhat acceptable….if the team presses up the pitch in this match. What was the game plan?
The US has often played–under Bob Bradley and now under Klinsmann–with three central midfielders. That’s fine. Klinsmann has shown a sneaky disposition to insure that the previously leaky US defense was shored up. A huge positive.
However, the US’s defensive game planing in this one is head-scratching at best.
Through the first 60 minutes, the Benna Boys stranded loan forward Dexter Blackstock up top against Clarence Goodson and Bocanegra. The Boys did little to support Blackstock.
Instead of attempting to win lost balls up the pitch–when a bunkered in A&B was in disarray–the US often sloughed off, electing to pick up the opponent deeper–all but negating the reason on having 3 primarily defensive-minded central midfielders.
If the the game plan were to drop back, wouldn’t it stand to reason–by virtue of its talent superiority–that the US should insert a more attacking central midfielder to be the shuttling and threading passer on the turn?
Of course, it was Jermaine Jones that was often tasked with this, but with a game against a speedy, but not truly physical side, that’s not perhaps the best selection.
Ironically (or not) after Torres was sacrificed for Bocanegra, Tom Curtis mimicked the decision making of his Canadian counterpart and inserted the speedy Peter Byers up top.
With the US now finally pushed up the field, Klinsmann’s selection of a third centerback as opposed to a central midfielder or attacker as replacement, game Curtis all the license that was needed to try and counter against a more molasses backline.
The result? Pay dirt for A&B and sub Peter Byers (remember Simeon Jackson’s missed sitter for the Canucks?) as Oguchi Onyewu was against positionally unaware and saw Byers take the right ankle and speed by him.
Why Onyewu? In a game where the US is now further up the field and after Onyewu has proven his past two matches (and previously) to be susceptible to a forward with pace? What was left to prove?
Why not *test* Geoff Cameron if a centerback was deemed necessary to requirements?
• Was there any preparation for Guatemala?
The US heads down to Central America for game two here of World Cup qualifying and they’ll face what can best be described is as a cagey opponent in Guatemala and an opponent–with their 2-1 loss to Jamaica Friday–that will process in with a “must-win” mindset.
The Guatemalans, their crowd, and their stadium are tough.
Yet Klinsmann didn’t get his team to lay it on tonight, giving him options in the 2nd half to rest players or get other ready.
Steve Cherundolo is now coming off over 360 minutes played over the past two weeks–this after a long Bundesliga season.
Same with the aforementioned Bocanegra who–after Scotland–has been chasing to down speedy forwards for the better part of the past three matches. (Again, how in the world you ask your most critical backline component to hustle up and down the field against inferior competition on a flank where the previous player got cut down is truly beyond me.)
Conversely, Jozy Altidore now does not appear to be a starting option against Guatemala. The AZ Alkmaar forward has gotten less than 30 minutes of run in camp. Herculez Gomez is playing fantastic, but Guatemala is a side where a strong, bulling striker can create problems. Now it seems highly unlikely that Altidore will be a viable starting option–at the very least one that Guatemala has to prepare for.
» Positive: The US finally interchanged up top. Not since Brek Shea was a 90-minute player has the US moved it’s forwards around intra-game. Landon Donovan was all over the pitch tonight and the license to roam took advantage of his skill set a little better even if Donovan didn’t impose himself on the game.
» Negative: Was it by design or freelance? Here is the question I’m asking in the mixed zone line to Clint Dempsey: “Clint, was part of the game plan for you to drop to the defensive line multiple times and pick up the ball?”
Don’t understand. The US needs to find Dempsey in threatening spots further up the pitch.
» Positive: Another strong outing for Clarence Goodson.
» Negative, sort of: My colleague on the March to the Match podcast, Matt Doyle has been extolling virtues of Benny Feilhaber ad nauseum for what feels like a university term. Feilhaber doesn’t possess the defensive disciplines that seem to be favored in the middle of the pitch, but that said are there better options to receive and link up the field than Feilhaber who did it admirably in second halves during the World Cup?
» Herculez Gomez is a forward–either one of the “2’s” in the 4-3-2-1 or a “3” in the 4-3-3. Gomez has been doing yeoman’s work in the striker role, but his full skillset is not being taking advantage of up top.
» Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones again had scintillating passes, but they came only after the opponent tired. Maybe that should be part of the plan?