The United States Men’s National Team produced a dramatic and impressive 3-1 win over Guatemala Tuesday night to secure the United States’ advancement to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, commonly known as the hexagonal.
Here are seven thoughts from the win.
Tim Howard was surprisingly average
Tim Howard has been a stalwart for the USMNT and an enormous part of the United States’ biggest victories over the last half decade.
However, on Tuesday night, Howard was surprisingly average.
He failed to come out on the through ball that Carlos Ruiz put away for the opening goal, and Howard was bailed out by Geoff Cameron in the second half after spilling what appeared to be a fairly routine Guatemalan shot.
Jurgen Klinsmann needs to rebuild the U.S. back line
OK, this is probably easier said than done. And it is probably an overreaction to last night’s opening goal. And it is a little unfair considering this was only Bocanegra and Cameron’s second game together as a centre-back tandem. And the U.S. was missing its first AND second choice left-backs.
With that said, the U.S. has only kept one clean sheet in six games of World Cup qualifying so far. And this has been against fairly average competition.
What was particularly dispiriting about Tuesday night were the repeated, gaping holes in the U.S. back line. Obviously, the simple run Carlos Ruiz made to get in behind the U.S. defense for the opening goal was concerning. But less obvious were the multiple times there were holes in the U.S. defense that the Guatemalans failed to take advantage of because of poor service.
Good teams, like Mexico, will find those gaps—and exploit them.
Eddie Johnson may be for real
After scoring two goals to save the U.S. against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night, Eddie Johnson once again put in an outstanding performance.
Johnson assisted on Clint Dempsey’s first goal with an excellent low cross, and he could have easily finished with three assists had his teammates’ finishes been stronger.
What was perhaps most surprising about Johnson’s Tuesday night performance was the remarkable improvement Johnson showed in his first touch and his ability to play with his back to pressure—two areas in which he used to be very poor.
In fact, some U.S. fans have mockingly called him Eddie “first-touch” Johnson in the past.
Johnson is clearly playing full of confidence and his shockingly good performances this past week will certainly earn him more starts with the USMNT going forward.
Gomez turned it up
After one of his worst games ever in a USMNT shirt on Friday night, Herculez Gomez had a great night Tuesday.
His first half was a little slow, but his combination play in the second half was outstanding as he repeatedly linked up play between the United States’ five attacking players.
Playing in Kansas City, a city where he did not have a good experience as an MLS player, and coming off Friday night’s poor performance, no one would have been shocked had Gomez been sub-par again.
However, Gomez stepped it up on Tuesday and was a big part of the U.S. win despite not showing up on the scoresheet.
The free-flowing attack finally showed up
For almost a year, USMNT fans have been waiting for the free-flowing play promised by Jurgen Klinsmann when he took over as head coach.
On Tuesday night, they finally got to see it.
With Danny Williams sitting deep, Michael Bradley was able to go forward and with excellent displays from Bradley, Gomez, Zusi, Dempsey and Johnson, the U.S. attack roared.
Johnson and Gomez were terrific, and Zusi was active all night running up and down the touchline. Dempsey and Bradley both put in world-class displays, Dempsey with two goals and an assist on the third. Bradley, once again, ran the middle of the field, got forward well and produced a tremendous assist for Dempsey’s second goal.
The tactics changed—and worked. But was it by design?
The most interesting aspects of Tuesday’s game, at least for those obsessed with tactics, were the subtle differences in tactics in comparison to Friday’s game.
On Friday, the U.S. lined up in a 4-1-3-2. However, in that game, Bradley kept going very deep for the ball, virtually eliminating Danny Williams’ role, and Clint Dempsey was then drawn deeper, essentially turning the U.S. formation into a 4-2-3-1.
On Tuesday, the U.S. lined up in a 4-2-3-1 from the start, apparently conceding the natural tendencies of Bradley and Dempsey to drop deep from their starting positions to get the ball.
However, on Tuesday, Bradley pushed further up the pitch, Gomez was the one typically going deeper to link play, and Dempsey was then free to push further forward and get into the box—a position which set him up for his two goals.
Joe Corona is now cap-tied to the U.S.
Although Corona has been receiving USMNT call-ups frequently in the Jurgen Klinsmann era, his only two caps had come in friendlies, and Corona was still eligible to represent both El Salvador and Mexico.
However, with his late introduction into Tuesday’s match, a World Cup qualifier, he is now permanently cap-tied to the U.S.
Many may have had already taken Corona’s commitment to the U.S. team for granted. But there are still many USMNT fans simmering over the decisions of Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic to represent Italy and Serbia, respectively.
Similarly, Timothy Chandler has avoided being cap-tied to the USMNT on multiple occasions, and many USMNT fans suspect he has done so hoping for a Germany call-up.
For those USMNT fans worried about Corona, his appearance in a World Cup qualifier was relieving and now erases all doubt about where his international future lies.
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