Wednesday, March 30, 2016

U.S. - Guatemala, Part 2 Reaction

Where was this on Friday? I couldn't help but watch this match, which was NEVER in doubt, and wonder how in the world did we lose to this team just days ago? And not just lose, but lose BADLY. For all the criticism that Jurgen Klinsmann has received about inconsistent/questionable lineups and formations, he deserves the credit for getting this one right in a must-win contest. Opting to go with an attack-minded lineup put the pressure on Guatemala early and often, and resulted in a resounding blowout win. The question now is where does the U.S. go from here? Do we continue to play attack-minded soccer (the thing Klinsmann promised us when he took the U.S. job) or will the master tinkerer shift tactics yet again? Here's the changes/"improvements" I'd make going forward:

Left Back - I thought Edgar Castillo was passable against the Guatemalans, but I still like Jorge Villafaña and I think he deserves a shot. If nothing else, I'd at least like to see Villafaña get an invite to camp so we have more than one left back on the roster. I think that putting ourselves in a position where Fabian Johnson is our left back - or even our backup left back - is doing ourselves a disservice.

Center Back - If John Brooks is playing as well as everyone says he is, then he should probably supplant Steve Birnbaum in the Starting XI. I don't have any issues with Birnbaum's performance, and I love what he brings on set pieces, but we need to find a way to get our best players on the field. One thing that came up during the broadcast, and that I actually agree with is that we should probably consider moving Geoff Cameron into the role currently filled by Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman isn't going to be around forever, and with no clear replacement in the pipeline, it's probably worth giving Cameron, a player who can play and has played that position, a look. This way you could also potentially start Brooks and Birnbaum together with Cameron in front of them.

Right Wing - Gyasi Zardes got his name on the scoresheet last night, but he's likely the odd man out in this formation with the return of Jozy Altidore and Fabian Johnson. The question becomes whether Dempsey, who played an inspired match last night, gets the nod over Bobby Wood moving forward. Personally, I don't see Dempsey sticking around for another World Cup, so I think there's value in starting Altidore up top with Wood on the right wing and Fabian Johnson over on the left, just to see if the group has good chemistry together. As so many analysts and soccer pundits have said in recent days, it's all about building effective partnerships.

Attacking Midfielder - Graham Zusi was terrific in the attacking midfield role alongside Michael Bradley, so I think you have to figure he's in the mix moving forward. The question is, who would you start alongside him with Bradley suspended for the next qualifier due to yellow card accumulation? Fortunately the U.S. has options in Darlington Nagbe, Mix Diskerud and Lee Nguyen, so I'd expect Klinsmann to ride the hot hand.

Some quick final thoughts:

1) It was nice to see Christian Pulisic make his USMNT at the age of 17. Still, I think he's got some room to grow physically before becoming a regular member of the squad. It's not to say that he looked out of place, but he wasn't winning any physical challenges, something he'd be expected to do in the tough CONCACAF region.

2) I'm a little surprised that we opted to bring on Jozy Altidore in a 3-0 game when his fitness is questionable. Yes, he scored which was great, but I don't know what the benefit of making that move was in a blowout, especially when we had other options. Bringing on Ethan Finlay made sense because the game was at his home stadium. Bringing on the aforementioned Pulisic made sense because it CAP-ties him to the U.S. But why Altidore instead of, say, Darlington Nagbe? Or Lee Nguyen? Or Mix Diskerud? It just seemed like a risky move to me.

3) Poor Ethan Finlay. He scores his first international goal in front of his home crowd and has it called back (wrongfully) due to an offsides call. On a positive note, Finlay, once again appears well suited to that substitute sparkplug role on the wing. This is two matches in a row for him where he's had an immediate impact.

4) Brad Guzan should be the U.S. keeper moving forward. Tim Howard has had a legendary career, but until he starts coming up big in MLS with the Rapids this summer, he isn't earning his spot on the field in the world of what have you done for me lately.

5) Pretty solid effort by the U.S.'s MLS contingent despite not being in midseason form. Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), and Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC) combined for 3 goals and all 4 assists. And really Ethan Finlay (Columbus) would have added another goal on an assist from Altidore had the officiating been a little cleaner. Nice job, boys! Way to represent!

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