Tuesday, February 2, 2016

USA vs Iceland Thoughts

1. First and foremost, it was good to see the U.S. start 2016 with a win. After what can only be classified as a disappointing finish to 2015, it's important for the U.S. to turn the page and start fresh. The 3-2 win, during which we twice came from behind, was far from perfect, but a win just the same.
2. The U.S. certainly outplayed their European opponents dominating in virtually every statistical category (Corners 8-2, Shots 16-6, Possession 62-38), but despite not having the bulk of the chances, Iceland was still very dangerous. If not for some poor finishing, Iceland could have easily walked away with a 5-3 win. I'd like to point fingers at the defense for sloppy play, but I'll temper that noting that the defense also scored the tying and winning goals. Still, the first Iceland goal - while a result of a lucky deflection - was also a result of ball-watching. And the second goal came as a result of a heady play by Iceland in generating a quick re-start, but also showed a lack of communication and organization along the U.S. backline (it also involved a brilliant finish by Aron Sigurdson). Granted, this was a group that hasn't played together before and it's the January camp when not everyone's at their fittest, but I still didn't think it was great performance from a defensive standpoint.

 3. Offensively, on the other hand, Steve Birnbaum is a beast. Hard to believe he only scored two goals with no assists in his first two MLS seasons with DC United. Guess it pays to play with guys like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
4. While there weren't a ton of head-turning performances on Sunday, one guy who definitely stood out was youngster Jerome Kiesewetter. Playing on the right wing in place of Ethan Finlay, Kiesewetter was dangerous throughout his appearance forcing corners and drawing fouls including the one that set up Bradley's free kick delivery for Birnbaum's winner. We didn't see a ton from him defensively, but I wouldn't mind seeing him get a start in place of Finlay on the wing against Canada on Friday just to see what he can do.
5. I find Jermaine Jones to be an immensely frustrating player. I'm not saying he doesn't bring any value, because he does, but with that comes a lot of "anti-value". Yes, he started the play that led to Altidore's goal, and he obviously is viewed as a leader in the clubhouse in some capacity, but he sends so many 'what-were-you-thinking' passes and mis-hits a lot of balls. And he also plays a bit recklessly (understatement). And maybe I see it because I'm tired of Jermaine Jones so I'm looking for him to fail, but I really just feel like he's just not the answer for the U.S. any more. That said, from what I could see Jones did outplay his replacement Tony Tchani by a large margin. Tchani, who entered the game in the 71st minute was largely a non-factor.
6. I feel like Ethan Finlay has the skillset to be a contributor at the National Team level, but I don't know that it's as a starter. He's obviously got pace, and is dangerous taking players on, but I almost wonder if he wouldn't have been better suited to fill the role Kiesewetter did against Iceland as an influx of pace late in a match. We've seen DeAndre Yedlin shine in that role and Finlay is a slower, but more skilled version of Yedlin as a winger. I don't know that he helped his standing a ton with his performance yesterday, but I think he at least deserves more looks.
7. Here's my grades for the U.S. Players:
Jozy Altidore - Altidore scored the first U.S. goal and his initial service set up Orozco's equalizer, but Jozy's first touch betrayed him more than a couple of times as the preseason rust certainly showed. - B
Gyasi Zardes - Missed a free header when his attempt from close range bounced over the bar, and was involved in Altidore's goal, but beyond that he wasn't much of a factor. - C
Lee Nguyen - Nguyen was effective as a playmaker and his ability to create chances showed well even if the execution wasn't in midseason form. - B-
Michael Bradley - Bradley tallied a pair of assists and turned in his typical steady performance on the offensive end. He's now moved ahead of Claudio Reyna on the U.S.'s all-time assist list. - B+
Jermaine Jones - Did a nice job to start the sequence that led to Altidore's goal, but I still question his passing accuracy and decision making sometimes. - C
Ethan Finlay - Finlay was certainly active, but not particulary effective. I think he warrants future looks, but his composure with the ball let him down on a couple occasions yesterday. - C-
Kellyn Acosta - Aside from being guilty of ball-watching on the opening goal, Acosta turned in a steady performance at left back, which - should be noted - is not his natural position. His versatility should serve him well in the future and now that he has the first game jitters out from under his belt, I think he shows great promise. - C+
Matt Besler - Struggled with positioning/communication as the back line looked to be in trouble almost every time Iceland threatened. Yes, there were new faces back there, but Besler could have done better taking charge. - C-
Michael Orozco - Scored the equalizer and showed his versatility playing centrally and wide right, but like Besler, he shares some of the blame for an unimpressive defensive showing for the U.S. backline. - C
Brad Evans - I thought he looked slow, but speed has never really been Evans' strong suit. That said, I would've like to see him push into the attack more. - C
Luis Robles - Had no chance on either of Iceland's goals, and didn't do anything to hurt his chances moving forward. - B
Steve Birnbaum - Made up for any defensive lapses with an assist and a goal. That said, struggled with communication and positioning, but some of that can be chalked up to inexperience and a lack of time together with Matt Besler. - C+
Darlington Nagbe - I love what Nagbe brings to the table, but he missed scoring chance when he opted to go with the outside of his right foot on a volley instead of hitting it with his left. Also picked up a yellow card for a bad tackle. Pinched in a lot, and as was pointed out during the broadcast, may be miscast as a wide player. - C+
Tony Tchani - I don't feel like Tchani looked comfortable out there, and he was more or less a non-factor after coming on for Jones. - C-
Jerome Kiesewetter - By far the more impressive debutante for the U.S., Kiesewetter used his speed effectively and was consistently a danger running down the flank after coming on for Finlay. - A-
Jordan Morris - Wasn't put in a position to show off his speed, but forced the defense to at least take notice of him. - C+
Overall Grade - Considering it was the first match of the year and that there were new faces, and players out of position, it was a satisfying result. That said, there are certainly things to work on, and we'll see how they are addressed for Friday's showdown with Canada. - C+

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