Real Madrid Vs Barcelona Supercopa De Espana 2nd Leg 8/16/17 Player Ratings

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Real Madrid claimed their second trophy of the early season after defeating Barcelona 2-0 at home with goals from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema. The tie finished 5-1 in Madrid’s favor with with an own goal from Gerard Pique, a wonder goal from Cristiano Ronaldo and an equally brilliant goal from Marco Asensio with the lone Barca goal coming from a Messi penalty that was controversial in it’s own right.

There was no question that Madrid dominated their eternal rivals over both legs and Real looks far and above better than Barcelona and the loss of Neymar seems to be hindering the Catalans far more than people expected.

3 notes (over both legs)

Madrid look ready: Real Madrid took it to Barca over the two legs, easily pushing aside their greatest threat domestically. They looked in top form already whereas Barca were slow, misplayed many passes, and had no answer for Madrid’s speed and technique. There’s hardly any question whether Madrid is ready to defend their titles this season and it’d be hard for anyone to debate Barca has a chance at least right now.

Asensio a star: Everyone in Madrid saw what Marco Asensio brought to the team with his brilliant goals and knack for scoring in every competition. However, it’s his hard work, tenacity, and willingness to dig deep and do the dirty work that makes me feel he deserves a starting role and it will be hard for Zidane to see otherwise. While I don’t know that he’ll get 30 starts this season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get 15-20 especially in games where the front 3 need or at least can be rested.

Pique the Goat: I don’t usually write much about the other team but I’ll make an exception this time. It’s no mystery that Pique is the most hated of the Barcelona players among the Madrid fan base but it was nice to see the deflected cross go off him to opening the scoring in the first leg. He was far slower in attempting to keep up with Marcelo or Asensio when he was forced to venture out left and he’ll have his issues always dealing with speedy players.

Player Ratings (just from 2nd leg):

Navas 7- Had to be aware to come off his line a few times, once notably to stuff Messi, in the match and came up with a couple key saves to preserve the shut out.

Carvajal 8- dug in well and kept Andre Gomes at bay while venturing forward plenty. Linked up well with Modric and Asensio and found time to whip in a few crosses. Had a couple misplayed balls and committed a couple fouls but overall a good night for the right back.

Varane 9- Excellent night from the French international. Was a force in the air winning a number of duels and put out a few fires. Showed off his pace more than once to beat Suarez for the ball and gave the Uruguayan fits.

Ramos 8- Also excellent defensively. snuffed out a few challenges in the middle of the box and was quick to react to a low Messi cross to clear just before Suarez arrived. In the thick of it as always with his challenges but kept his cool and avoided caution.

Marcelo 8- The Brazilian had a great night as well, getting the better of his defender more often than not. Sent in some delicious crosses, one of which to set up Benzema to make it 2-0. A couple loose balls were covered up by some fantastic long balls forward.

Modric 9- The Croatian sensation was fervent and lively all around the pitch. Had a decent shot blocked and generally sprayed around the ball wonderfully, finding passes few players could see. Still had a bit of preseason rust on some of his passes but his control and turn on Gomes in the first half was orgasmic.

Kovacic 7- Had himself a very solid night sitting in place of the benched Casemiro. Showed off his set of flicks and tricks for the crowd, had a few lovely turns and runs and for the most part controlled Messi and company as the first line of defense.

Kroos 8- A quiet night for the German but a very effective one. Sent in his usual array of free kicks and marshaled the play well, mostly from the back of the midfield. Occasionally got forward but not as often as usual.

Asensio 8- another night, another wonder goal for the budding star. He was instrumental in the all around build up to his goal as he strung together a few passes before picking up on the loose ball and firing home from 30 yards out that had Ter Stegen rooted to the spot. Buzzed up and down the pitch and looked a threat every time he had the ball at his feet.

Vazquez 6- Slightly more subdued night for the winger who saw a good bit of the ball but his final touch wasn’t quite there. That being said he commanded his side well for the most part and popped up defensively when needed.

Benzema 7- Started off slow but got himself into the attack as the game progressed. Scored a lovely striker’s goal as he brushed past the poor challenge from Umtiti to flick up and volley home Marcelo’s cross. Definitely enjoyed being the lone BBC member on the night and even showed some good hold up play, an area that has plagued the Frenchman a bit over the past couple of years.

Subs:

Casemiro 5- Came on to shore up defense as always for the last hour.

Theo 5- Came on for his first cameo at the Bernabeu. Saw out the game well.

Ceballos NR- Came on in the last 10 minutes, also in his first game, and saw out a couple of threats.

 

The season kicks off tomorrow as Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Coruna to begin their quest to defend their La Liga title.

 

Hala Madrid!

The Political Minute No. 2

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Over the past weekend my home, Charlottesville, Virginia, was desecrated by groups that appeared to be straight out of the deep south of the 1800s and Germany of the 1930s.  White supremacists and Nazis descended upon our town bringing with them a wave of hatred and violence not seen here this century.  They proceeded to violate the hallowed grounds of the University of Virginia on Friday night with an unsanctioned torch-lit march, viciously attacking a group of unarmed students and community members who were standing around the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda.  The next day they escalated the violence, proudly displaying firearms and weapons at their planned “Unite the Right” rally near the statue of Robert E. Lee behind the downtown pedestrian mall. This eventually culminated in the death of Heather Heyer and injuries to several others when a man from Ohio brutally drove his car into a group of protestors.  In a separate and tragic accident, a police chopper that was part of the units called to Charlottesville for Saturday crashed, killing both officers aboard.  The alt-right claimed victory; many of their members viewing the violence as a triumph.  In a completely unsurprising move, Donald Trump failed to condemn the attackers instead criticizing “many sides” in a delayed ad-libbed statement.  The unrest continued Sunday as the leader of the alt-right and (though it pains me to say it) a UVA graduate, Jason Kessler, held a press conference in downtown Charlottesville.  Thankfully, police prevented busloads of his armed supporters from disembarking, preventing yet another volatile situation. Left wing protestors vastly outnumbered him.  They shouted him down and surrounded him before the police could reach him and get him to his car.  They physically ran him out of town.  While it was very nice to see the filth finally leaving the city, it was unfortunate that he was physically assaulted by members of the left along the way before the police were able to restrain them.  By meeting the right’s violence with violence, we only perpetuate the problem.  As thousands of people came to the lawn to show the true colors of Charlottesville Wednesday night, we finally got a heartwarming return to the peace, love, and unity that is the hallmark of this town.

All of this unrest stems from the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to rename Lee Park and remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, which is the park’s centerpiece.  An injunction by a Judge has slowed the process of removing the statue and unintentionally allowed the events to unfold as they did. Personally, I feel all Confederate monuments, of individuals, should be removed.  As they are, I feel they serve to glorify that which should be remembered but condemned.  As George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  We must remember the atrocities of our forefathers if we ever hope to improve as a society.  However, leaving the statues sends the wrong message.  They are no longer, if they ever had been, simple memorials or educational tools.  They serve as rallying points for hatred and prejudice.  Yes, the Civil War was about far more than slavery; a generalization of the root of the problem was states’ rights.  I know some defenders of Confederate history point to this as the real reason they support the Confederacy.  I still believe the South’s arguments on that subject are wrong anyway but I won’t dismiss the legitimacy of that debate.  The problem is that, as the demonstrations this past weekend vividly illustrated, the statues of these Confederate generals do not facilitate a discussion on states’ rights.  Their only purpose now is to remind everyone of an archaic way of life that valued certain people for no reason other than the color of their skin and viewed certain people as subhuman for the same.  The answer is not to destroy these statues but to transition them to better locations.  They should be placed in museums; environments where they can serve an educational purpose.  By placing them in enclosed locations, it acknowledges the wrongs that they support and removes their hatred from places which should be reserved for glorification while allowing future generations to still learn from the past.

Of course Trump, and others of the alt-right, have turned to a classic and ridiculous response.  “Does this mean we need to remove statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they owned slaves?”  The answer clearly is no.  The difference is in their contributions to society and this nation.  It does not excuse nor dismiss their very vivid flaws, and monuments to our founding fathers should acknowledge these darker chapters of their lives.  But we can also appreciate their other positive contributions.  Nobody is perfect.  We are all human.  We all have flaws.  Expecting the founding fathers to live up to today’s standards will only lead to disappointment.  And yes, the same thinking should be applied to Americans in the 1860s.  However, committing treason against the United States and willfully defending and promoting subjugation of an entire race, regardless of other motives, quite simply should not be celebrated.  Confederates chose to leave this legacy.  They chose to commit treason.  They chose to be symbols of a dying way of life.  These things should not be placed on pedestals and elevated to prominence in society.  As Matthew Dallek notes, “It’s almost as if Italy or Japan had erected statues honoring wartime leaders Benito Mussolini or Hideki Tojo in the decades following those countries’ defeats in World War II… [when most were erected] Confederate statues and monuments served as cultural expressions of white supremacy…”  It is time for this to end.  Cities across the nation have reacted swiftly to the violence we experienced here in Charlottesville.  Baltimore, Boston, and New York are just some of the cities that have removed Confederate statues.  Hopefully more will follow suite.

No one else should have to endure the turmoil we experienced.  Don’t feel sorry for us; learn.  The alt-right, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis celebrated their weekend; statements from many of their leaders claimed victory for causing such violence and death.  It is important to stand up to the hatred and bigotry that these groups try to spread.  But there are many ways to stand up.  The best way was on display Wednesday night on the Lawn.  Speeches, singing, moments of silence, and all-around community inclusion stood in stark contrast to the hate filled, torch-lit rioting that took place on the exact same land just days earlier.  It displayed clearly for the world to see that Charlottesville is healing.  My advice to future cities that are faced with extremist protests: prepare but ignore.  Imagine, had nobody showed up on Friday night or Saturday afternoon what could the right have done?  With nobody to antagonize and provoke how could they have gained the national attention that has had them celebrating all week?  Wednesday’s celebration by the community could still have occurred.  We could still show that we utterly reject all hatred, racism, bigotry, and violence.  And we could still show that Virginia is truly for all lovers.  I understand this is hard.  Such blatant antagonism and hatred is so disgusting, anyone with morals instinctively wants to respond immediately.  This is exactly what the alt-right is counting on; it is exactly what they want.  Don’t give them the satisfaction.  Peace and love will win.  We are getting better.  We will get through this.  We will prevail.  We are Stronger Together.

#HoosUnited #HoosTogether #TakeBackTheLawn #Charlottesville

Author ~ QPGM; Editor ~ SW

The Political Minute – No. 1

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I write this not with verve and vigor but with a heavy heart.  The majority of the following I wrote back in March.  For various reasons, I never posted it.  After the events of this past weekend here in Charlottesville I was compelled to revisit what I had written.  I have many thoughts regarding the explosive events, which, having started in my home town have touched me in a very personal way.  I will address those thoughts directly in another post.  It shouldn’t have to be said but in today’s America this is necessary.  I completely and utterly denounce any and all neo-Nazi/white supremacist/alt-right views.  They are hateful, harmful, and destructive.  Their views have no place in society.  And the violence they perpetuated this weekend was completely sickening.  The following that I wrote may sound generic and soft based on recent events.  However, I do not feel they should be changed.  All of it still stands.  We must and we will persevere.  Let us unite and become stronger and continue to defy this wave of hatred sweeping our nation.

Up to this point, the political segments have been covered (quite well) by Derin.  Events over the past year have vastly altered the landscape of America and the world.  I have sat idly by for far too long.  Inaction is no longer acceptable.  And so, with that I begin this series of essays: The Political Minute.

I was crushed on November 8, 2016 and still have not recovered.  On that day, America’s political system selected one of the least qualified candidate for president of all time over one of the most qualified candidate in America’s history rejecting both logic and the will of the people.  The system has failed.  Yet at times like this we must not crumple and hide.  We must stand tall and strong and try to prevent the destruction of everything our ancestors’ have been building for the past 240 years.

I want to exercise my voice.  I am not the most outgoing individual.  I struggle to fit in.  But up until last November I felt I had a place; now I wonder.  I’m a moderate to conservative democrat, a dying breed.  My list of favorite political figures of all time run the gamut from the Bill and Hillary Clinton to JFK to Jimmy Carter. I definitely admire some very liberal figures.  But JFK and the Clintons, while massive figure heads of the democratic party over the last 50 years, are far from excessively liberal in their policies.  And if you take Terry McAuliffe and Mark Warner, two more of my favorites, you will see that they are both businessmen with some Republican views.  I have always felt moderation is the key to progress.  Pushing too fast and too far leads only to violent recoil.  There are of course exceptions to this rule; Equality for one is progressing far too slowly.  Still the only way to truly create lasting change is through compromise.  That is not achieved by ignoring the opposition and ramming your views down others’ throats, a tact that both sides seem to be employing with increasing regularity.

The country is tearing itself apart at present.  Republicans and Democrats alike are sprinting to the extremes.  The Tea Party and Progressive movements are in danger of ripping the country irreparably down the middle.  I will look to be a more reasoned voice.  The ideological center is getting to be a lonely place but without a middle the country will fall.

However, I do not proport to be an independent.  In the end, I am still a Democrat.  My loyalty to the party is deep, and I have no qualms with my support for the party and much of the platform.  What I do miss are the days when Congressmen of both sides could argue their viewpoints on the Congress floor, then go have drinks together.  Nowadays members of opposing parties shy away from just being seen together.  It is sad to see the great institutions built on compromise devolve into petty gridlock.

Are we simply the latest global empire in its death throes?  Or can we emerge from the ashes of defeat and shame and be the reborn Phoenix, stronger and more beautiful than ever?  The shining city on the hill President Wilson envisioned has gone dim.  It is covered over with rust and cobwebs.  If we can survive the next 4 years we can rebuild.  We can still be the shining beacon of hope and democracy for all the world to see and emulate.  And just maybe, together we can still unite with those from around the world and appreciate our differences instead of fearing them.

author ~QPGM; editor ~ SW

 

2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup USMNT Player Review

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The USMNT successfully lifted the Gold Cup trophy on the horrible pitch at Levi Stadium.  The main objective was obviously to win the title but Arena was primarily using the tournament as a testing ground for lesser used domestic players.  So, while we can argue about the pathetic performances the US put in on multiple occasions, the more useful exercise is to go through the 29 players who suited up in the red, white, and blue and analyze them in terms of the larger USMNT depth chart moving forward.

To do this I’m going to list each players’ statistics, then in parenthesis I’ll put the ratings I gave them in chronological order of the matches in the tournament.  After that I’ll note if I think their stock is up, steady, or down before giving a little analysis underneath. For the more visual readers, the following is an explanation of the order of the statistics and what the abbreviations mean:

Player Name: Games Played [GP], Games Started [GS], Minutes played, Clean Sheets [CS], Goals Against [GA] OR/AND Goals Scored/Assists [G/A], Cautions [C], [wins-draws-losses] Record, Ratings (Game by Game – Average) – stock [Up, Steady, or Down]

Now on to the review.

 

Goalkeepers:

Sean Johnson: NA – Down

  • Never appeared in a match. Sent home after the group stage to make room for Jesse Gonzalez.  I would’ve thought he and Hamid had a 50-50 chance to start the final group stage game.  With Hamid getting the call, you’d have to think Johnson’s is no higher than 4th on the full squad depth chart and possibly lower.

Jesse Gonzalez: NA – Steady

  • Since FIFA approved his one-time switch from Mexico to the US Arena didn’t have to cap him in the tournament as he’s permanently tied to the US moving forward. If you wanted to claim his stock is up since Arena did make the decision to bring him in and get him acclimated I can see that argument.  I’m just not a hundred percent positive he’s going to get a secure spot until after Russia.

Bill Hamid: 1 GP, 1 GS, 90 min., 1 CS, 0 GA, 0 C, 1-0-0 record (7 – 7) – Up

  • He made it through the entire tournament… WITHOUT getting hurt! That alone is enough to raise his stock.  The fact that he was handed a start over Johnson and kept a clean sheet and was kept around through the knockout rounds all bode well for the DCU number 1.  Yeah, he wasn’t tested much in his one appearance but you can’t fault him for an opponents’ ineptitude.  I’m not sure this is enough to secure a place in the squad moving forward.  But it appears only Rimando or Gonzalez would be his competition for number 3 on the US depth chart.

Brad Guzan: 2 GP, 2 GS, 180 min., 0 CS, 3 GA, 0 C, 1-1-0 record (7, 5 – 6) – Steady

  • Personally, I don’t think he did anything to hurt his standing. If you want to argue that he solidified himself in second position on the depth chart, and that it’s a step down from joint number 1 with Howard, you may have a point.  I don’t think Arena ever valued him over Howard so I don’t consider this a demotion on the depth chart.  And I also don’t think he was overtaken by anyone below him.  Had some shaky moments, particularly against Martinique but he also had a couple brilliant moments against Panama.

Tim Howard: 3 GP, 3 GS, 270 min., 2 CS, 1 GA, 1 C, 3-0-0 record (7, 7, 5 – 6.3) – Steady

  • This is another case where you can argue he improved his stock by clearly solidifying the number 1. I don’t think he was ever anything but in Arena’s mind.  He definitely earned both of his clean sheets with a couple big saves in both matches.  He was hung out to dry once or twice by the defense and rose to the occasion every time.  On the one goal he gave up, it’s debatable if he could have done anything better.

 

Defenders:

Matt Miazga: 1 GP, 1 GS, 90 min., 0 GA and 1/0 G/A, 0 C, 1-0-0 record, (6 – 6) – Up

  • Started one game. Got a clean sheet.  Scored a goal.  And won the US the group with the goal.  Looked comfortable next to Besler.  They seemed to have decent communication together which is big for a young defender.  He really wasn’t given any opportunities to showcase any defending traits but you can only play those who line up against you.  Hopefully his second loan season at Vitesse will help the Chelsea youngster develop and continue to be in Arena’s mind.  He’s obviously a long shot for Russia but for me he’s definitely in the running for the 5th center back spot.

Matt Hedges: 2 GP, 2 GS, 180 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 2-0-0 record, (2, 2 – 2) – Down

  • He was the worst USMNT player by far. For a player who had many people championing his cause to be a major part of the USMNT picture, he showed absolutely nothing of quality.  What’s even more concerning is that this wasn’t against the Brazil’s or Germany’s of the world. El Salvador is ranked 103 currently by FIFA and Martinique isn’t even a FIFA member, yet he conceded two goals to the Caribbean minnow!  Showed no strength, no pace, no chemistry with Gonzalez or anyone else for that matter.  If he has not played himself out of the USMNT picture through Russia then we are in serious trouble.

Eric Lichaj: 2 GP, 2 GS, 180 min., 2 GA and 1/0 G/A, 0 C, 2-0-0 record, (6, 5 – 5.5) – Down

  • I have long felt he was someone Klinsmann unfairly froze out of the USMNT picture. He’s been plying his craft in the championship consistently for years and he’s been named Nottingham Forest’s player of the year.  Yet Klinsmann never saw fit to give him a real run out.  I was ecstatic to see Arena call him in for this tournament.  Unfortunately, it looks more like Klinsmann recognized something I’ve missed.  Yes he scored a very well-crafted and taken goal.  But his defending was nothing to write home about and he nearly cost us a goal in the opening minutes of the quarterfinal against El Salvador.  With Yedlin the lockdown starter and Cameron and Chandler both solid options I felt Lichaj really needed a statement performance to grab a foothold.  Unfortunately, Arena preferred Zusi much more so and Lichaj really did nothing to change that.  Long odds to get to Russia.

Justin Morrow: 2 GP, 2 GS, 180 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 2-0-0 record, (5, 5 – 5) – Steady

  • Not much of an impact one way or the other in either game. Didn’t commit any serious gaffs.  Didn’t show anything off to merit inclusion going ahead.  Probably deserves another look but I would hope we have better options for WCQs this fall.  Being a left back keeps him in the picture by default (even the ageless wonder Beasley remains in the running) as we haven’t had a locked in left back since the Mayor of Hannover (Steve Churundolo) patrolled that side of the pitch.  Would surprise me to see him get to Russia.

Matt Besler: 4 GP, 4 GS, 360 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 3-1-0 record, (3, 5, 6, 6 – 5) – Up

  • The stats (or more so my ratings) seem to suggest a steady outlook however I think he had a better tournament overall than perhaps my ratings indicate. He was hurt by such a poor performance against Panama in the opener but he improved every game and really became a crucial stalwart in the Semi and Final.  He and Gonzalez I think solidified themselves as no worse than the 3 and 4 centerbacks on the depth chart.  If Brooks continues to struggle the opportunity is there to take the number 2 spot next to Cameron.

Jorge Villafana: 4 GP, 4 GS, 360 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 3-1-0 record, (6, 5, 5, 5 – 5.25) – Steady

  • He’s in a strong position on the roster, at least through Russia, mainly by default. To be fair to him he hasn’t done anything to hurt his own standing with this tournament performance.  I just got the feeling that he struggled more than he should throughout the tournament based on the quality of players he was facing.  He seemed to have the best performance when paired with Rowe as they had a good chemistry.  Otherwise he rarely got forward to any effect.  Wasn’t tested often defensively so not much to take out of this tournament for the former Chivas and Timber player.  Still probably a lock for Russia.

Graham Zusi: 4 GP, 4 GS, 360 min., 2 GA and 0/1 G/A, 1 C, 3-1-0 record, (5, 6, 5, 5 – 5.25) – Steady

  • Arena clearly preferred him as his primary right back throughout the tournament. And you could argue that it’s an improvement in his stock but I think particularly in terms of the quality he showed he’s steady.  I don’t think he showed fans or (more importantly) Arena anything they didn’t already know.  Arena’s fondness for the SKC man is slightly concerning to me because I really don’t want him at right back against any serious competition.  I appreciate a lot of the qualities he brings to the position but he clearly showed time and again that he’s really a midfielder.  His defending was suspect.  However, I do think he’s got a place in the squad.  It’s helpful to have that extra bit of possession and attacking quality against the smaller nations that will bunker in against us.  I think the question moving forward will be whether he or Chandler hold the backup spot behind Yedlin in Russia.  Either way I’d expect to see him in the WC 23.

Omar Gonzalez: 5 GP, 5 GS, 450 min., 4 GA and 2/0 G/A, 1 C, 3-1-0 record, (5, 6, 8, 4, 5 – 5.6) – Up

  • Clearly an Arena favorite which is understandable if for no other reason than their familiarity (and massive success) with the LA Galaxy. He had one bad outing but considering he played 5/6ths of the tournament, that’s not a huge deal.  He also found his scoring boots which was a shockingly pleasant development.  Some people may complain about his performances with the national team but he has put in many massive shifts throughout the Klinsmann and Arena 2.0 eras.  He looks to be the 3rd center back option currently and may have a chance to jump Brooks for second spot going into Russia.

 

Midfielders:

Christian Roldan: 1 GP, 1 GS, 90 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 1-0-0 record, (5 – 5) – Down

  • This may be a little harsh on the Sounders man but he really did nothing to help himself. I could accept a steady stock watch for him.  However, I think to really have any part in this team moving forward he needed to show something special.  I do expect him to get another chance but only in friendlies this fall.  In other words, the door isn’t shut on Russia but he’ll have to get there on club form and impressing in friendlies between now and then; don’t expect to see him in any WCQ without a rash of injuries.

Joe Corona: 2 GP, 2 GS, 128 min., 1 GA and 1/0 G/A, 1 C, 1-1-0 record, (3, 4 – 3.5) – Down

  • I did not like either of his performances. He was far from the only culprit of our poor outing against Panama but being in the center of the attacking quartet magnified his failure.  I thought he was misplayed as a central midfielder in a 4-man midfield against Nicaragua but he did improve from Panama.  He even managed to find the back of the net but that was thanks to a deflection after he dallied on the ball for hours after receiving it in the box.  Later in the game he was given a second opportunity from the spot and had one of the worst pk attempts ever.  Unfortunately for him I hope he’s played his last game for the USMNT.  I definitely don’t see any spot for him in Russia.

Kelyn Rowe: 2 GP, 2 GS, 131 min., 1 GA and 1/1 G/A, 0 C, 1-1-0 record, (6, 8 – 7) – Up

  • I thought he was possibly our best performer from the group stage. It was disappointing to see him sent home.  I hope that decision was in coordination with the Revolution and not an indication of Arena’s opinion of the attacker.  It would’ve been nice to see him down the middle instead of Corona but he still made the most of his opportunity on the wing.  With Arena stating that the wings are where he sees the competition to be the most wide open this was a huge tournament for Rowe.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him included in WCQ rosters and if he is I’d say he’s a lock for Russia (provided those performances go well).

Alejandro Bedoya: 2 GP, 2 GS, 203 min., 1 GA and 0/2 G/A, 0 C, 1-1-0 record, (4, 8 – 6) – Up

  • After the Panama match I was ready to crucify Bedoya. It was an absolutely pathetic performance, especially from the man sporting the captain’s armband.  He redeemed himself in spades when moved centrally against Nicaragua.  I could see him partnering with Bradley pretty well.  The key to his performance against Nicaragua was his movement.  He timed perfectly when to stay home and help defend and when to break forward and attack.  And when attacking he moved around, popping up out wide at times and hit a great cross for the opening goal.  He was probably already a lock for Russia but if he can duplicate his last performance against improved competition he may be in a fight for a starting spot.

Chris Pontius: 3 GP, 1 GS, 110 min., 2 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 3-0-0 record, (5, 6, 5 – 5.3) – Steady

  • Technically he was only on the pitch for 1 of Martinique’s 2 goals so the Goals Against is a little harsh on him. Really didn’t show anything super special.  Coming in literally the day before the first match as a late replacement for the injured Saeif his tournament really can’t be classified as a disappointment.  However, I didn’t see anything that should get him into WCQ or Russia.

Darlington Nagbe: 3 GP, 3 GS, 266 min., 1 GA and 0/0 G/A, 1 C, 3-0-0 record, (6, 6, 6 – 6) – Up

  • Clearly already in a strong spot as Arena brought him in as one of the heavy hitters for the KO rounds. He only strengthened his position.  Was hacked over and over by the Reggae Boyz in the final but stayed calm and composed.  I’m not sure whether his better position is central (quarterfinal) or out wide (semi and final).  I was annoyed with his slow decision making and if he could speed that up he’d be lethal.  Unfortunately, being in MLS, he’s never going to get any faster.  Arena values him and he’s a lock for Russia.  It’s all a matter of whether he’ll secure a starting spot or not.

Michael Bradley: 3 GP, 3 GS, 270 min., 1 GA and 0/1 G/A, 0 C, 3-0-0 record, (5, 5, 4 – 4.6) – Steady

  • My opinion of the general is just about as low as you can get and these performances didn’t change that. Everyone else’s opinion (including Arena’s) of him is higher than Snoop Dog on pot and nothing in these performances changed that.  He was, is, and will be a lock for every critical USMNT game through Russia and will start every one (barring injury or suspension of course).

Dax McCarty: 5 GP, 3 GS, 190 min., 4 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 4-1-0 record, (3, 5, 5, 5, 5 – 4.6) – Steady

  • Wasn’t on the pitch for either of Martinique’s goals or Jamaica’s so really only had 1 goal against. Did absolutely nothing surprising.  Every performance was exactly in line with his MO.  He plays negative passes as often as possible.  Doesn’t ever move out of the holding midfield role.  Will dig in for any tackle and does bring some steel to the midfield.  To me he looks like he would’ve been a solid partner for Jermaine Jones but I doubt that will be necessary moving forward, and they won’t bench Bradley anyway.  He may have a role as the backup defensive mid that can help lock things down.  It wouldn’t be my choice but Arena isn’t consulting me as of yet.  I’d say he’s on the bubble for WCQ and Russia.

Kellyn Acosta: 5 GP, 4 GS, 301 min., 4 GA and 0/0 G/A, 1 C, 4-1-0 record, (2, 5, 3, 5, 5 – 4) – Down

  • He was given the keys to the castle; this was easily his best opportunity to lock down a starting spot next to Bradley. Instead of waltzing in like he owned the place he went walkabouts.  I’m pretty sure they still have a missing persons claim out for him in Nashville.  Provided he gets back to his best with Dallas, I’d expect to see him given at least a couple more opportunities to earn a starting spot in Russia.  However, (especially now) I’d think that’s a long shot; he’s definitely trended down.  I still expect him to be on the plane to Russia next summer.

Paul Arriola: 5 GP, 4 GS, 309 min., 3 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 5-0-0 record, (6, 5, 6, 6, 6 – 5.8) – Up

  • This is another time when GA is a little harsh as he was only on the pitch for Martinique’s first goal. Regardless, the Tijuana youngster upped his standing with several good performances.  Though he never put in a truly outstanding performance his pace and intensity caused fits for defenses.  His final ball needs to seriously improve.  Hopefully he was just dealing with some preseason rust, as the Mexican season had not started prior to the Gold Cup, leaving him a few steps behind the MLS players.  He still managed to carve out a consistent role, getting the 4 starts.  With the wing depth a problem for the USMNT I expect him to continue to get calls.  I’m thinking he’s not quite a lock for Russia but if he continues performing like this (even if off the bench) he should probably get a place in the top 23 next summer.

 

Forwards:

Dom Dwyer: 2 GP, 2 GS, 164 min., 1 GA and 1/0 G/A, 0 C, 1-1-0 record, (7, 5 – 6) – Up

  • Though he didn’t register an assist he was heavily involved in both of Bedoya’s goals against Nicaragua. Plus, in that same game he drew a penalty (though he did fail to convert from the spot).  I was shocked to see him sent home after the group stage.  I hope that decision was simply for SKC’s benefit and considering he was traded before the tournament was over it is very plausible that the SKC brass asked Arena to send him back as early as possible.  I think he clearly has a role going into WCQ though it may be as a squad rotation or cover player than an actual starter or even super sub.  Jury is still out on Russia.

Juan Agudelo: 3 GP, 1 GS, 130 min., 3 GA and 0/0 G/A, 0 C, 2-1-0 record, (6, 6, 5 – 5.6) – Steady

  • In my eyes, he went up. However, the fact that he was never used in the knockout rounds may be an indication that Arena was not as impressed.  And since he never did anything amazing to stand out or climb a relatively stacked striking corps means his stock is steady.  I’d be a bit surprised to see him playing a role in WCQ but I think he did enough to get another look in some of the friendlies later this fall.  It will probably be a stretch to get to Russia.

Clint Dempsey: 3 GP, 1 GS, 149 min., 1 GA and 1/3 G/A, 0 C, 3-0-0 record, (7, 9, 6 – 7.3) – Up

  • Unfortunately, it’s looking like Captain America is going to be relegated to a super sub role under Arena. Some stars might take exception to that but a very strong start and two good performances off the bench (including the best stretch of the Gold Cup for any American) clearly showed Duce is ready for anything.  Either way he showed once again he is absolutely critical to the success of this team.  He’s a lock for Russia and will be fighting with Arena to get the starter role.  If he’s not starting he should clearly be the first off the bench.

Jozy Altidore: 3 GP, 3 GS, 263 min., 1 GA and 2/0 G/A, 1 C, 3-0-0 record, (3, 6, 6 – 5) – Steady

  • He definitely improved as the tournament went on. His first game was awful but the second two were serviceable.  Had a great goal against Costa Rica.  Brilliant run and found with an inch perfect pass from Duce.  In the final he had a decent free kick goal.  I think had Blake still been in goal for Jamaica he probably saves the shot but you can only face who’s in front of you so kudos to Jozy.  In general, I thought his touch was poor and he went missing for long stretches.  However, that is of little to no consequence as I don’t think he did anything to change his roster spot.  He’s still a first-choice striker and a lock for Russia.

Gyasi Zardes: 5 GP, 3 GS, 203 min., 4 GA and 0/1 G/A, 0 C, 2-1-0 record, (4, 5, 6, 5, 6 – 5.2) – Steady

  • Not on the pitch for either of Panama or Jamaica’s goals but did suffer through being in for both of Martinique’s. Of course, as a striker/mid the more important stats regard goals and assists.  The Galaxy striker only managed one assist but it did come on the tournament winner.  A lot of the commentary was strongly critical of his touch and passing.  I can understand it to a certain extent as he’s not the cleanest player.  However, I think a lot of it was excessive complaining.  He was always going to be called in for this tournament if for no other reason than his familiarity with Arena.  I don’t think that is enough to sustain his position going ahead.  He’ll need to improve his MLS form to stay in the USMNT picture.  I’d put him as probable for WCQ this fall but on the fringe of the plane to Russia.

Jordan Morris: 6 GP, 3 GS, 323 min., 4 GA and 3/0 G/A, 0 C, 5-1-0 record, (4, 7, 5, 4, 5, 6 – 5.1) – Up

  • The Seattle striker had an up and down tournament. That should be expected as this was his first official tournament with the USMNT after Klinsmann left him off the Copa roster last year.  He struggled particularly against Panama and El Salvador.  It is interesting to note that those were 2 of his 3 appearances off the bench.  In matches he started he performed much better, notching 2 critical goals against Martinique and then an even more important one to win the tournament against Jamaica.  While we should expect more from the youngster he seems to be a lock for WCQ and Russia.

 

 

Now, the point of this tournament, as I stated before, was to test out the player pool depth with an eye towards Russia.  I understand the US still has a good chunk of work to do to get there but Arena seems to have stabilized the ship.  It is not unreasonable to look ahead (as fans) to what the team will look like next summer.  I can guarantee Arena and his staff are having discussions in a tournament post-mortem right now.  So let’s hypothetically look at a 23 man roster for Russia.  For simplicity sake, I’m going to mirror the numbers Klinsmann took to Brazil, with 3 keepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders, and 4 strikers.  Underneath I’ll include a couple extra players that would fill out a potential 30-man pool, which is what Klinsmann initially named prior to pairing down the 2014 roster.  Unlike Klinsmann I’m going to include 4 extra defenders (instead of 3), 2 extra mids, and 1 extra striker (instead of 2).  This is just because I’m less certain about the defenders Arena rates than anything.  I’ll also give a line to those who I think still hold a legitimate chance to make the roster.

 

Goal Keepers (3): Howard, Guzan, Hamid

  • Still a chance: Gonzalez, Rimando

Gonzalez could easily overtake Hamid for spot 3.  Rimando may also be in the picture if Arena decides to go with the seriously experienced (old) group at the back. But based on the Gold Cup performance, if Hamid can stay healthy he’s got a good shot of holding onto his #3 spot.

 

Defenders (8): Cameron, Brooks, Gonzalez, Besler, Yedlin, Chandler, Villafana, Zusi

  • Prelim: Beasley, Garza, and Ream
  • Just missed: Morrow, Lichaj, Birnbaum

I’d love to see the Beas make an American record 5th world cup squad, and I think he legitimately has a chance.  I’d take him as a left back option.  But he may be a bit off the pace right now, to say nothing of next summer.  I think Morrow did enough to stay in the conversation, but with Garza continuing to show well with Atlanta and making the All-Star team I think he’s ahead in the left back race.  Zusi could be on the outside looking in currently, but I think Arena will favor those he knows come the World Cup.  If you’re looking at center back depth, Ream is probably the next called in, and with his and Besler’s versatility allowing them to play outside backs they definitely have an advantage over other center back options.  Birnbaum may be in the conversation if his club form picks up but I think for anybody to crack the top 4 there would need to be an injury.

Midfielders (8): Pulisic, Bradley, Johnson, Nagbe, Bedoya, Arriola, McCarty, Lleget

  • Prelim: Acosta, Kljestan, Rowe
  • Still a chance: Saief, Jones, Feilhaber, Williams, Roldan

Personally, I’d take Acosta over McCarty, and I’d probably sacrifice a defender (Zusi) for Rowe.  But I doubt Arena does that.  I also would not be surprised at all if Kljestan is ahead of McCarty but I still feel a strong defensive mid, at least for the bench, is an important role to have.  My most controversial pick here may be to include Lleget at the expense of Acosta.  I was just highly impressed with Lleget in his USMNT debut and my opinion dropped of Acosta throughout the Gold Cup.  Club form and showings in WCQ and friendlies between now and next summer may change my mind on that.  Yet again though I come back to Arena’s familiarity with players.  He knows Lleget and I think that gives him a leg up.  Jermaine Jones is probably done.  As much as I love the former Schalke man and hope he does really well I just don’t see enough right now to make me think he’ll last to Russia.  Kenny Saief was unlucky to get hurt prior to the tournament.  It may have cost him any real chance at the WC but with Arena stating he’s most concerned about the wing areas he’ll probably still get a look.  I also would like to see Feilhaber, Williams, and Roldan get additional looks to work their way into the squad but I think it will take blistering hot form (or injuries) for them to get a chance.

Forwards (4): Altidore, Wood, Dempsey, Dwyer

  • Prelim: Zardes
  • Still a chance: Johannsson, Agudelo, Sapong

Depending on the reason Dwyer was let go after the group stage, it’s conceivable that Arena may favor Zardes for the 4th striker spot but I hope not.  Zardes does bring the advantage of having familiarity playing wide midfield as well as up top.  I wouldn’t be horribly upset if he was included at the expense of either McCarty or Lleget.  I also think Johannsson could be brought in from the cold if he can stay healthy and anybody is hurt or in poor form come next summer, provided of course he himself catches fire.  Agudelo I’d say is definitely on the outside looking in.  And if Sapong continues his hot MLS form he may find himself with a chance in January camp next year.

 

That’s my synopsis of the USMNT picture, post 2017 Gold Cup.  A lot can (and will) change between now and next summer.  Perhaps the biggest take-away from this tournament is that we have depth.  It may not be of exceptionally high quality but if players get hurt or lose form, Arena definitely has options.  It will be very interesting to keep an eye on this picture over the next few months.

CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals: USMNT v Jamaica – Player Ratings 7-26-17

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The US is Gold Cup champions for the 6th time, pulling within 1 of Mexico’s record 7 titles.  More importantly we now have 1 foot in the door for the 2021 Confederations Cup and Arena has a larger sample size of performance to draw from for WCQ and the roster for Russia.  Outside of that, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about this game or the tournament performance overall.  I’ll be doing a more in-detailed post later, on our players stock and can get into a more forward-thinking discussion.  All in all, this final was a fitting conclusion to the tournament; it had its moments but was far from an entertaining all-around product.

 

3 Thoughts:

Set piece defending – It has been a problem all tournament long, and I really should’ve commented on this sooner, but last night we saw Jordan Morris take a siesta right as the ball was coming in.  It cost us a goal, and nearly a trophy.  Since Arena 2.0, we have seen very shaky defending on set pieces.  While our attacking on set pieces seems to have picked up since Klinsmann’s departure, our defending is becoming a massive concern moving towards Russia.  It needs to be straightened up.  Hopefully, Cameron and Brooks can bring some stability to the situation.  It was interesting during the broadcast to point out that Howard had no one on the posts for the incriminating corner.  I’m definitely on Donovan’s side here that, if possible I definitely want defenders on the posts.

Too slow – Another major problem throughout this tournament has been pace of play for the US.  It went particularly poorly last night.  The number of times Nagbe and Bradley slowed the game down was driving me up a wall.  I’m pretty sure U-5 players could have run circles around them.  As usual Arriola and Morris’ natural pace essentially don’t allow them to play that slowly but even they weren’t their usual bright, buzzing selves.  Once again Dempsey came on and immediately upped the tempo every time he touched the ball but literally no one else was interested in playing at speed.  I will be very grateful for the European based players to return because outside of Dempsey this team was/is dull as donuts.

Lucky but not – The US thoroughly deserved to win this game.  My first two points were heavily negative and the score line was close.  This may lead some people to think that the US was lucky.  And considering how we never put the game away after Altidore’s opener in some ways we were.  But actually analyzing the game Jamaica was never in this.  They created maybe 2 or 3 dangerous moments and scored on 1.  The US had somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of the possession.  It was clear Jamaica wanted to sit and hit on the counter and they did this successfully. Thankfully, the US managed to find just enough in final product to get over the edge.  It really wasn’t as close as the score line suggests.

 

Player Ratings: (1-10 Scale)

Howard: 5 – Had little to do.  Got involved once or twice.  Was simply a spectator on the Jamaican goal.

 

Villafana: 5 – I thought this was one of his more industrious performances.  Never seriously burned but his defending just appears a bit shaky.  Got forward decently well and had a few dangerous crosses but just never really able to get the quality above average.

Besler: 6 – Not tested much as all of Jamaica’s attacks came from pace burning down the wings.  Was a little bit asleep late on not coordinating with Gonzalez as to who should step to the Jamaican midfielder who unleashed a strong shot from 30 yards out right at the start of stoppage time.

Gonzalez: 5 – Almost identical to Besler.  Did have a great moment of recovery in the first half when Zusi was torched like a Model T in a Nascar race.  This was nullified when he couldn’t make a tackle to complete the recovery coupled with a few lost marks on various set pieces.

Zusi: 5 – Had a decent night.  He’s shown nothing to make me think he can be a right back against any serious competition but he’s fine for CONCACAF opponents.  Was left for dead by Mattocks in the first half but thanks to Gonzalez sliding over to slow him down a bit Zusi was actually able to recover himself and snuff out the threat.  Had a few poor touches sprinkled throughout the night that didn’t help him.

 

Nagbe: 6 – Gets a boost in his grade for the sheer number of free kicks he drew.  Half of those were because he was dallying on the ball for eons.  His pace of play picked up a bit when moved central and Dempsey entered but seriously outside of Bradley he was the slowest decision maker on the whole squad last night.  He did flash moments of brilliance and if he could get his intensity up he may have a starting role moving forward.

Acosta: 5 – Again given a massive chance to lock down a starting spot for the full squad and came up short.  Showed none of the sparkling MLS form, or even the moments from prior Gold Cup USMNT appearances.  Played ahead of Bradley for the most part but failed to find any dangerous passes or shots.  On the flip side he really didn’t commit any major gaffes so it was just an average night.

Bradley: 4 – Slow, plodding, horrid on set pieces.  Didn’t commit any real gaffs.  Got a little scared seeing him playing with himself on the ball in our defensive third but managed to wiggle out of it.  Perhaps his poorest performance of the tournament.  Absolute joke that he won the golden ball.  I literally don’t know what people see in him.

Arriola: 6 – You could pretty much copy and past any of his grades from earlier games in the tournament to describe his performance.  Buzzed around.  Brought pace, energy, and industry.  His final pass was lacking.  He faded in the second half. I wonder if a roll off the bench might allow him to be a difference maker moving forward.

Morris: 6 – It’s not the greatest night for a forward when you score and yet your grade is hovering around average.  His first half was marked most notably by his defensive help as he tracked back a couple times to good effect.  But he was virtually non-existent in the attack.  The second half was not good to start as he decided to go do walkabouts at the worst possible time, leaving Je-Vaughn Watson to simply play backboard and direct the cross into an empty stretch of net.  Thankfully this seemed to light a fire under the Sounders youngster as he improved.  To his credit he kept pushing and eventually blasted home a knockdown/layoff (unintentional as it may have been) into the net for a game winner.

Altidore:  6 – His touches weren’t anything great throughout the match.  Did unleash a great rasping shot that lead to Blake’s unfortunate injury.  The free kick wasn’t anything super special.  Keeper probably should’ve saved it but he didn’t.  At least it looks like he’s starting to get some confidence back and hopefully that translates to improved play entering WCQ.

 

Subs:

Dempsey: 6 – Very unlucky not to have the winner himself; it took an absolutely brilliant save to deny him taking the all-time USMNT scoring record.  I’m not sure how much he knew about knocking Zardes’ cross down to Morris for the winner but it still counts as an assist in my book.  It was also a sign, yet again, of how he, Zardes and Morris all seem to have a pretty special chemistry out on the pitch together.

Zardes: 6 – Hit the cross that led to the final goal and may have actually gotten a legitimate assist depending on how they scored it.  Thought he brought some good intentions to the match upon entering but just wasn’t clean enough to execute clinically.

McCarty: 5 – Time wasting, game solidifying sub.  Didn’t have any real time to make an impact but Jamaica didn’t score so it all worked out.

 

Arena: 6 – It wasn’t the greatest game of the tournament but it clinched it.  It was very nice to see consistency from Semis to Finals oosted some of my confidence.  He definitely didn’t have the team peaking too early; the flip side being that I’m not sure he ever really got it to peak at all.  The Costa Rica match was clearly the best but even that wasn’t great for a big stretch.

 

Concentration firmly back on Russia now.  Big qualifiers coming up and we need full points. Hopefully folding the Euro based players back in will allow some more dominant performances than we saw this Gold Cup.

CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinals: USMNT v Costa Rica – Player Ratings 7-22-17

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Finally, a real soccer performance.  The US dominated an entertaining game from start to finish.  Jordan Morris should’ve opened the scoring inside the first minute but found the post.  Costa Rica carved out a few chances but Howard came up big when needed with at least 2 big saves to keep the clean sheet.  Despite the US’s control of the attack not kicking into high gear until the local kid, Captain America himself, Clint Dempsey was introduced in the second half.  Dempsey absolutely dominated the game from the moment he entered.  Displayed his silky-smooth touch that makes the Downy Teddy bear seem rough.  Picking up a pass from Nagbe, he spun a Costa Rican midfielder like a top and slipped in Altidore with an inch perfect pass.  Altidore calmly dispatched the ball into the back of the net for his first USMNT goal since last year.  Ten minutes later, he was given a free kick opportunity very similar to the one he dispatched against Honduras in San Jose earlier this year during WCQ.  Instead of going up and over the wall, this time he bent it near post and tied Landon Donovan for all-time leading USMNT goal scorer.  The strike was so sweet, Duce was already sprinting away in celebration as soon as he hit it.  It was fantastic to see him tie the record not far from where he grew up, in front of a clearly partisan hometown crowd.  Similar to the quarterfinal match, two nil ended up being all the US would need as they booked a trip to Santa Clara and the Gold Cup final.

3 Thoughts:

Starting 11, part 1 – Once again massive changes.  A completely new back 4 yet again.  Shifted the midfield around and changed up the forward pair.  For the first time this tournament it actually worked.  Hopefully this provides him a bit more of a base that he will build on for the final.

Starting 11, part 2 – Yes, I’m kind of cheating on this one (using the same description).  No I don’t care.  I continue to hate the flat 4-4-2 but I knew it would be rolled out with Arena in charge so I thought I was generally prepared.  However, based on the players he put on the pitch he made the wrong choice.  A 4-4-2 simply doesn’t make sense.  With Morris’ quality and familiarity with playing out wide, and Nagbe’s influential play in the middle, coupled with Bradley and Acosta both comfortable sitting deep, the starting 11 was tailor made for a 4-2-3-1.  People can point to the result and performance in defense and tell me to go climb a tree.  But just because something worked doesn’t mean there wasn’t a better alternative.  I know Altidore likes to bitch when he is played as a lone striker but he can go jump off a bridge.  Use your strength, do your job, and deal with it.  Altidore does not have the talent to which an entire team should be bent simply to serve him.  Thankfully it appears with Pulisic in the fold, Arena seems willing to play a 4-2-3-1 which will be good moving forward.  Formation flexibility is a positive so I do appreciate the number of formations Arena has tried in his second tenure here.  But he needs to settle on a primary with maybe a second or third that are regularly drilled to bring some stability to these performances.

Real football – This is kind of a cop out, as it’s not a direct comment on USMNT, but after the El Salvador street fight it was quite nice to see an actual game of football.  Usually, Costa Rica is one of the worst offenders against pure football, particularly when playing the US.  Perhaps they watched the US quarterfinal and decided that everyone deserved a break from the serious dark arts.  Players actually showed sportsmanship to each other.  They played hard, physical, but not overly so; and especially nothing dirty.  Joel Aguilar deserves a lot of credit for maintaining a great atmosphere.  He may have called it a little tight but it worked out.  He stayed fairly consistent and never let anything get out of hand.  On a similar tangent, it was fantastic to hear Donovan and Holden providing stories and insight from games they played in where Aguilar officiated.  It is rare to hear players talk directly about an official they had and it provided a brilliant broadcast moment.  Donovan has already become my favorite ever American broadcaster, and he and Holden seem to be developing a great rapport.  John Strong is unfortunately not a good soccer broadcaster and brings the trio down.  If Fox would get their shit together and put JP back in the booth with Donovan and Holden the 2018 World Cup broadcasts could be some of the best of all time.

 

Player Ratings: (1-10 Scale)

Howard: 7 – Once again a very solid performance.  Kept us in the match with 2 huge saves, bailing out Gonzalez on both occasions.  Not much to do otherwise.

 

Villafana: 5 – Not tested much defensively.  Didn’t bring much offensively in terms of final product but was involved.

Besler: 6 – Decent night for the SKC man.  Clearly in a different universe than Hedges.  But wasn’t overly great.  Generally managed things well and clearly has a good partnership with Gonzalez as they worked in tandem for the most part.  Did have an absolutely horrid back pass to Howard go out for a corner as he played it into a different zip code than the one Howard was in.

Gonzalez: 4 – Somewhat of a rough night.  He’s been our best and most consistent defender throughout the tournament so this was not super concerning.  Was beat straight up for pace on both of Costa Rica’s best opportunities.  Also made the horrible decision to step up on a clearance from Costa Rica off a US corner and totally misjudged the bounce.  The Costa Rican striker turned him like a rag doll and all Gonzalez could do was bring him down and take his yellow.  Hopefully this was just a bad night and he’ll shake it off for the final.

Zusi: 5 – Couldn’t hit a cross to save his life, but at least he was getting forward into position to hit the crosses.  Nothing spectacular defensively as usual but didn’t really get turned seriously.

 

Nagbe: 6 – I wasn’t as happy with his night as Ian was.  Thought he was far too slow with his decision making.  Simply wasn’t all that influential moved out wide.  Not particularly connected with Villafana but I guess they combined well enough.  Did find Dempsey in the lead up to the Altidore goal but I’m not sure how much he actually knew about it and how much of it was just emergency passing as he was getting pushed off the ball.

Acosta: 5 – Once again did not assert himself to the same extent as many expected.  He’s young so he’s got plenty of opportunities ahead of him with the USMNT, but he is burning through his opportunities to secure a significant role in Russia.  He did win the free kick that Dempsey dispatched, so I bumped his grade up.  Outside of that it was a disappointing night as he really had no other impact.

Bradley: 5 – Ian seems to be getting mesmerized by the light reflecting off the Toronto man’s dome.  In his defense everyone always seems to be drinking the Bradley Kool-aid.  I remain immune.  He didn’t commit anything atrocious on the night, which is literally some of the highest praise I can ever give him.  But as usual was slow, plodding, and negative with his passing.  Didn’t help the pace.  Was a major reason we didn’t have any serious attacking sparks prior to Dempsey’s entrance.

Arriola: 6 – Had one of his better performances of the tournament.  Continues to struggle with the final pass or cross.  I continue to hope that this is just pre-season rust that he’ll shake off.  He could be, at the very least, a useful sub option in WCQ and possibly Russia next year.

 

Morris: 5 – Crashed one off the post in the opening minute.  Unfortunately that would be the high point of the night.  Seems to be struggling to get some traction in games and outside of the 10 minute span against Martinique that included a brace he really has not had a good tournament.

Altidore: 6 – Again, I wasn’t as impressed as Ian.  He did alright.  But the only thing that got him over an average grade from me was the goal.  It was a great run and finish and he’s clearly got a good partnership with Dempsey.  However he just falls so far short of his potential that I’m becoming very discouraged about Altidore’s worth long term for the USMNT.

 

Subs:

Dempsey: 9 – You literally can’t have much of a better performance off the bench.  An assist, a goal, a goal-scoring record; and all of it not far from his hometown.  It’s clear Dempsey is the most crucial piece of this team moving to Russia.  Without him we are an average team without any real game-changing depth.  With him, either starting or off the bench, we have a confident, inventive leader who’s a natural scoring and creative threat.  It frees everyone else around him up to perform at their best.

Zardes: 5 – Helped lock things down at the end.  The game was over and he didn’t need to bring anything special, which he didn’t.

McCarty: 5 – Similar to Zardes, just even less time.

 

Arena: 6 – Bringing Dempsey on was clutch.  I still think he made a mistake with the formation but at least he put out a solid starting 11.  He’s one win away from bringing home a trophy to really kick start his second tour of USMNT duty.

 

Great performance.  Something similar will be needed in the final, particularly if we face El Tri.

CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinals: USMNT v El Salvador – Player Ratings 7-19-17

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After El Salvador finished using our players as teething toys the US had advanced to the Gold Cup semifinals anyway.  The 2-nil score line may have appeared comfortable but the performance was anything but.  Thanks to our Secretary of Defense (Timmy H), the US survived a horrid (and possibly game crippling) back pass early in the night from Eric Lichaj who had an up and down game to say the least.  Overall, we were dominated for large stretches and though things stabilized after the break we rarely threatened outside of the 5 or 10 minute stretch at the end the first half that saw us score twice.  The one other opportunity for the US came in the first half when Captain America, the Duce, slipped Zardes in behind and the Galaxy man chipped over the El Salvadoran goalie into the far corner of the net.  Unfortunately, in a foreshadowing of the incompetent officiating to come, the AR incorrectly raised his flag for offsides.  Thankfully Captain America was not to be denied an assist on the night.  After Omar Gonzalez knocked in a free kick cross from our stat-sheet captain Michael Bradley, Eric Lichaj decided to atone for his earlier error.  He stepped up to win a great interception at midfield.  The Nottingham Forest player of the year found Nagbe who barely managed to continue the pass to Dempsey.  Dempsey displayed his usual sick touch leaving a defender diving at air.  Meanwhile Lichaj had continued his lung-busting run and Dempsey smoothly slipped him in behind the back line.  A hard, low shot found the far corner and Lichaj attempted (which is rather charitable) to recreate Donovan’s famous Algeria celebration diving towards the corner flag face first.  The second half brought less goal scoring opportunities for both sides but more drama.  As the game devolved into something more akin to a one-sided no-rules bar brawl (something not unknown to the city of Philadelphia I’m sure) the best thing that can be said is that the US managed to avoid serious injury and any retaliatory suspensions.  Costa Rica is up next, in the biggest test to date for this Gold Cup squad.

3 Thoughts:

Starting 11 – Once again the starting lineup is a point of easy contention.  Arena continues to frustrate me with massive inconsistencies.  This was at least expected this time as he folded in 5 of his 6 roster changes.  And in all honesty, I was pretty content with the selections.  It didn’t bring the boost many expected but hopefully moving forward they will allow Arena to bring some stability to the starting 11.  Whether or not he’ll want to keep a similar selection is up for debate as he’s left with more questions than answers after this performance.

Officiating – I’m mirroring Ian’s category here but I have a slightly different take.  I have no problem ripping officiating to shreds.  Being an official myself, I completely understand the official’s perspective and therefore I have a very good idea of what they do wrong.  I’ve had my fair share of awful games, everyone does, but if anyone has ever deserved severe criticism (and possible suspension) Drew Fischer did after tonight.  Allowing this level of abuse was simply inexcusable.  They don’t allow the El Salvadoran hijinks in prison ground football.  Hopefully we don’t see Mr. Fischer for a long time.

Survive and advance – We can talk about how ugly the match was from a quality perspective but at this point all that matters is winning.  That has been Arena’s only charge since US Soccer flipped the panic switch last November.  He’s done it so far and if he keeps this up his two year tenure will have to be seen as a success.  Next up is Costa Rica and this should be the biggest test to date for Arena’s side outside of the trip to the Azteca.  Hopefully we can continue to survive and advance.

 

Player Ratings: (1-10 scale)

Howard: 7 – Didn’t have a whole lot to do most of the night but came up with a couple crucial saves to secure the victory.  Early on, Lichaj hung him out to dry but the Rapids’ #1 came through big.  Later he faced a couple buzzing shots from El Salvador but he kept his first clean sheet of the tournament.

 

Morrow: 5 – Ok performance.  Didn’t provide a whole lot but did alright with Zardes in front of him.

Hedges: 2 – Completely agree with Ian’s analysis here.  His grade gets the slight boost from the one good tackle but on the international stage, against a far inferior opponent this is unacceptable.  He was torched like a crème brulee multiple times.  He has no future at this level.

Gonzalez: 8 – Commanded things well, especially considering he was playing next to an elephant on skates.  He chipped in with a huge goal and he may have the tournament Golden Boot in mind moving forward.

Lichaj: 5 – He had a performance more uneven than Donald Trump’s campaign.  Nearly gifted El Salvador the lead but rebounded to make an absolutely electric run resulting in a goal.  As I noted before the celebration leaves much to be desired but that’s ok from a defender.  I think he still deserves another look but he is on very thin ice moving forward.  Perhaps on his last international chance.

 

Zardes: 6 – I thought he did decently.  Should’ve had a goal off a great run and finish from Dempsey.  Showed a great connection with Clint and it just seems like if the US is going to get anything out of Zardes he needs to be on the pitch at the same time with Duce.  His passing and touch, as always, need to improve.

Bradley: 5 – A non-participant for much of the match.  I guess at least that means he wasn’t committing his usual turnovers and other negative plays.  Did hit a decent ball that Gonzalez headed home.  That was really his only input all night.

Nagbe: 6 – Solid night from the Timbers man.  Generally caused problems and was decent passing.  Still a little slow with his choices and seemed to get a bit lost at times.

Arriola: 6 – Was our best player for the opening 30 some minutes.  Was the only one bringing real energy from the opening whistle.  Unfortunately he faded pretty badly, particularly in the second half.  Also had an unfortunate collision with an El Salvadoran player that has earned him the nickname “Nut Cracker.”  The incident didn’t appear intentional but it also looked like he didn’t particularly try to stop it.  His crossing is absolutely woeful; if he could correct that he might be a huge piece going forward.

 

Dempsey: 7 – Still searching for the record tying goal he contributed massively in other ways.  He struggled a bit early on trying to find connections but eventually caught up to speed.  Should’ve had 2 assists as Ian noted.  And it’s just so fun to watch him.  He makes the game fun and just does shit that others don’t even try.  Continues to be a critical piece to this team.

Altidore: 3 – Poor night.  Couldn’t hold the ball.  Couldn’t connect passes.  Couldn’t find the net.  He was brought in to be the talisman at the top of this attack and boy did he fall far short of that.

 

 

Subs:

Morris: 4 – You want your subs to make an impact and he just didn’t.  I was good with the sub choice but he didn’t deliver.  Did take a punch and kept rolling so the lack of retaliation I guess is something good.

Acosta: 3 – Poor night.  He’s playing himself out of the picture at this point.  Couldn’t keep the ball or find passes or shield the defense.

Pontius: 5 – Short night for the former DCU icon/resident cripple.  Didn’t have much time to do anything.  It’s looking like he’s finally gotten over his injury bug so maybe he can be a big piece moving forward.

 

Arena: 4 – Really didn’t like the players he sent home.  Don’t like the continued changes to the starting 11.  Didn’t seem to have much cohesion drilled into this squad.  Granted the players didn’t help him out at all on the night.  And he did get us into the semis so that’s something.

 

Costa Rica up next should provide a stiffer test.  Really need to improve if we want to get back to the final after missing out in the last edition.

USMNT Vs Costa Ric 2017 Gold Cup Semifinals Player Ratings

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It was by far the USA’s best showing in this Gold Cup and they saved it for their best opponent. Costa Rica came in having only allowed 6 shots on frame and one goal scored against them through 4 matches. But the U.S. took it to the front foot and nearly scored in the opening seconds off a wonderful move that saw Jordan Morris clang a shot off the post. From there on the hosts dominated the half, giving the Ticos little time in possession and little space to run into. It was 0-0 at the break and it stayed that way through half of the 2nd half before Jozy Altidore slipped in behind the visitor’s defense to slot his effort past the sprawling keeper and into the bottom corner for his first goal in 10 international appearances dating back to last year. But it was Clint Dempsey’s introduction in the 66th minute that really sparked the team and the crowd cheering on their home-grown kid. Dempsey would reward the fans by cooly finishing a free kick that he bent around the wall and inside the near post to seal the 2-0 victory.

3 thoughts:

Gameplan and tactics finally right- There was still plenty of tinkering with the starting lineup just as there had been in previous games, but it seemed the team finally gelled with the 11 that were on the field. The communication was much better and the U.S understood exactly how to attack Costa Rica’s weaknesses and they did it with aplomb.

However, midfield play still having issues- individually there was plenty of things to like from each midfielder on the night. But overall, there still needs to be improvements made amongst the four midfielders. It’s hard to develop that relationship when the formation and players keep changing but I felt the midfield still got overrun at times.

Better defensively- While there were still lapses, I felt the defense gelled better than in previous matches in this tournament. There was better communication and Howard and Besler seemed to take control, even with Gonzalez having an off night.

Howard 6- The veteran goalkeeper was alert to toe poke an effort in the first half and later had another big save to preserve the shutout. Had a couple shots flash wide but wasn’t nearly as busy as he may have expected.

Zusi 5- Had a couple crosses float into the box but overall average night for Sporting KC mid converted defender. Tidy in defense but nothing stood out. Had one shot land in Row Z which was his offensive input for the night.

Gonzalez 3- Decent in the first half but fell apart in the second. Had a couple loose passes and committed a few fouls in the second half that saw the ref flash him a yellow. Got turned by Urena in the second and early was far too over eager on passes in his direction and either got beat or committed a foul. Has been very good in this tournament but it wasn’t his night tonight.

Besler 7- On the other hand, Besler had himself a very good night defensively. Saw out a number of dangerous opportunities for the visitors. Did get caught out of position once and also had his very lazy back pass to Howard that lead to a corner for the ticos but besides looked calm and collected with the ball at his feet.

Villafana 5- Saw plenty of the ball on the left side and hit a number of crosses in but they weren’t up to par and never found their targets.  Otherwise did well enough defensively though wasn’t called into action too often.

Acosta 5- Had some loose passes through the midfield and looked a bit out of sync with the rest of the team at times. Agreed with Alexi Lalas that Acosta needed to have a big game and he kind of fell flat. Did force a good save out of the Tico keeper in the second half but was in the background for the most part when it came to the offense.

Nagbe 7- Positive game from the Timbers man. Made some darting runs forward and bothered the Costa Rican back line with his speed which won him a couple free kicks. Instinctive in the offense but needs to make his decisions faster as he got his pocket picked a few times. That being said, he’s definitely had a great tournament and deserves a place in the starting XI in the future.

Bradley 6-  El Capitano had a tidy night in the midfield. Spread the ball around well and kept things ticking in the middle of the park. Put in a defensive shift with multiple solid tackles. Got turned easily by Ruiz once but besides that played well and didn’t put a foot wrong. Nothing flashy but gets the job done.

Arriola 6- Got plenty of touches on the night and while his final pass was a bit array, he put in a very strong defensive shift showing off his tenacity and strength to win a few balls back. Linked up well with Morris up top and was the first to be hauled off in the second half.

Morris 5- Nearly started off the game wonderfully as he smashed an effort off the right goal post and was very active early on making a number of great runs in and around the box. But he faded as the game went letting the ref and the pity-pat fouls get to him. off post, very active so far, commits foul though fairly soft, good play to start break, good strength but then giveaway, great run,

Altidore 7- The bulky striker finally had a good showing in a USMNT jersey which we haven’t seen much lately. Put in a good shift up front showing off his strength and linked up well with his fellow striker partner Morris. Forced a solid save early in the second half before finishing off a lovely pass to put the U.S in front.

Arena 7- Subs worked out, especially Dempsey who he brought on at the perfect time and I thought the 4-4-2 formation worked wonderfully. Had a game plan to attack Costa Rica and it worked wonderfully. Now it’s on to the final.

Subs:

Dempsey 8- Despite being on the pitch less than half an hour he’s my MOTM. Immediately made an impact and slipped in Altidore after being on the pitch for only 6 minutes to get the U.S. goal-scoring going and had a lovely lay-off to Acosta just prior for the midfielder to unleash a shot. 10 minutes he would draw level with Landon Donovan as the USMNT’s all time leading goal-scorer with a lovely low free kick that was bent perfectly around the wall and into the near post corner.

Zardes 5- Came on for the gassed Arriola to close up shop.

McCarty NR- Also on to shore up defensively in the midfield with 5 minutes to go.

It’s on to the Gold Cup final on Wednesday where the USA will face the winner of Mexico vs Jamaica.

USMNT vs El Salvador 2017 Gold Cup Quarterfinals Player Ratings

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Another somewhat uninspiring match from the USMNT who managed the very physical, fairly dirty encounter with El Salvador. The USA should have gone up around the half hour mark when Captain America Clint Dempsey fed a lovely ball to Gyasi Zardes to chip past the keeper. However Zardes was wrongly flagged for offside. It looked to be heading to halftime scoreless before Omar Gonzalez popped up in the middle of the box to narrowly flick home a Michael Bradley free kick delivery. It wasn’t long after when, a couple minutes into first half stoppage time, Eric Lichaj started and finished a fantastic team goal. Lichaj had a nice tackle and distribution on one end only to run the near-length of the field to slot home after Dempsey made a panty-dropping turn and cool pass to feed the right back to finish through the keeper’s legs.

3 thoughts:

More changes, more of the same: It was thought that bringing the big guns in from MLS would bring some cohesion and precision from the squad. While things improved on the night, they were far from perfect. There were still too many lackadaisical passes, even from the star players, and it’s fair to say El Salvador deserved a goal on the night. There was still a good bit of sloppiness as the defense looked out of sorts at times and struggled to deal with the Central Americans speed and tenacity.

Physical battle, referee loses control- I’m no fan of bashing referees or blaming them for results. Having been one myself, I understand the turmoil they go through and the stick they get by the second from coaches, players, and fans alike. HOWEVER, there is never an excuse for losing control of a game, regardless of the occasion. Last night the El Salvadorians punched, bit, pushed, and purple-nurpled their way through the game. Now, while none of that is ok, and while it should be reviewed by CONCACAF, it is completely naive to think this is new to the U.S. The Central American countries don’t like us. Period, and they never have. The USA always goes through physical contests with sub-par referees all the time, especially in WCQ and the Gold Cup. That’s nothing new and it frustrates me that Stu Holden and Landon Donovan, having played in these types of matches, acted like this isn’t the standard for them. I have nothing wrong with a physical battle, but it was clear the El Salvadorians crossed the line. In fact they crossed it farther than Ndamukong Suh does on a game by game basis. But that isn’t anything new, nor is the piss-poor refereeing, so let’s all accept that and move on.

Underestimating but still through to the semis- The USA had the easiest opponent they could have asked for. Out of potentially facing Costa Rica, or even comparing to the other match-ups on the other side of the bracket, the USA was always likely to win last night. However, it was far from an easy match and Costa Rica, while not looking great in their quarterfinal win, will be far tougher opponents.

 

http://www.goal.com/en-india/news/105/main/2017/07/20/37192212/usa-player-ratings-gonzalez-excels-in-gold-cup-quarterfinal    Far too high on Hedges, but generally I can agree with these.

https://www.starsandstripesfc.com/gold-cup/2017/7/19/15928574/usa-2-0-el-salvador-2017-gold-cup-player-ratings     Ok I gotta get what this guy is smoking. First off learn to spell Bruce Arena’s name right, it’s called editing. Secondly, Gonzalez’s grade and analysis is all kinds of wrong. Thirdly if you’re going to bash Hedges then give him something lower than a damn 5! You bash him and suggest he had an average game. Rest of the grades are alright.

http://www.espnfc.com/team/united-states/660/blog/post/3161017/us-disjointed-but-kept-cool-to-beat-el-salvador-in-gold-cup-quarterfinal  Generally agree with ESPN but again, Gonzalez far too low.

My Ratings:

Howard 6- Commanded his box well and had to be very alert just 3 minutes in to halt a breakaway after Lichaj made an abysmal backward pass. Didn’t have a ton to do on the night outside of watching a few shots skip wide.

Morrow 6- Decent night from the left back. He was beaten on at least one occasion but overall commanded his side well and got forward sporadically. Gotta get rid of that haircut though.

Hedges 2- Once again a useless night from the former MLS defensive player of the year. Got beat a number of times, got caught out of position, and was useless in defense. Had one solid tackle of note that saves his grade ever so slightly but to agree with Alexi “Big Red” Lalas that Hedges was good on the night, is ludicrous.

Gonzalez 7- Good strong night from the big central defender. Was a force to be reckoned with in the back clearing out multiple chances from the visitors, and went all janitorial cleaning up Hedges’ messes. Also found himself on the score sheet after heading home a free kick to open the scoring. It was his 3rd ever international goal, all of which have come in the Gold Cup.

Lichaj 6- Off an on night for the lanky right back. At times looked good in defense and others he looked very suspect. Struggled a bit with the pace of the visitors but found himself winning a majority of the battles. Gets a decent boost for starting and finishing off the USA’s second goal of the night for his first international goal.

Bradley 5- The hairless veteran wasn’t necessarily bad on the night as he didn’t seem to put a foot wrong. He just wasn’t seen much throughout the match. Was seldom involved in the attack and really didn’t put much of a defensive shift in either. Generally stayed home around the center circle distributing balls around the pitch. Did pick up the assist on a lovely free kick.

Zardes 5- I would say he lost the majority of the battles with Tamacas on the left flank. Couldn’t do much to get around the young defender but the Galaxy man did see a fair bit of the ball throughout. Linked up pretty well with Morrow, though he faded in the second half. Deserved a goal that was wrongly called offside.

Arriola 6- Definitely looked strong out of the gate, being feisty and getting after the loose balls. Was involved heavily in the attack the opening 15 minutes and then faded out for most of the rest of the first half. Was on hand to celebrate the two goals but couldn’t rediscover his passion in the second half and was yanked before 90 minutes was up.

Nagbe 7- The Liberian born American was the best player in the midfield and arguably our best field player on the night. Fought after every ball, linked up wonderfully with the entire midfield, made some great darting runs and showed off his pace well. I do agree with Fernando in the fox sports studio, that his decision-making could use a little tweaking. Either held the ball too long or needed to get off a shot.

Dempsey 7- Captain American didn’t find the back of the net but unleashed a solid shot that was well saved. Should have had a 2 assists on the night if the AR wasn’t incompetent but settled for one after daftly turning one of the El Salvadorian defenders, then laying it off for Lichaj to finish.

Altidore 4- Granted this low grade isn’t necessarily his fault. He just couldn’t get himself into this game. Couldn’t get the space or time on the ball and didn’t receive the service he needed. Did have one good hold-up play and shot but it ended up being tame in the end. Had to overcome getting bitten and nipple-twisted along with other dirty treatment from the visitors.

Arena 5- Overall while I didn’t love the players he sent home, bringing in the veterans was a smart move. That being said, neither Bradley or Altidore did much on the night and the team still lacked the whole “team” aspect for big portions of the night. All this constant changing of the lineups will never allow us to compete with the big European sides when it matters. It’s frustrating but I don’t necessarily see it changing.

Subs:

Morris 5- Came on in an odd switch for Arriola with about 25 minutes to go. Got arm-checked in the box but beyond that wasn’t able to really get himself into the game.

Acosta 3- Came on with 20 minutes left and had enough time to commit a foul and a horrid giveaway. Shored up defensively well-enough.

Pontius 4- Didn’t even realize he was in the game until he got a touch but that was all from the Union man in a brief cameo.

 

All in all the U.S is on to the semifinals to face the Ticos. Again it wasn’t a clean match in more ways than one but it was what the USA needed. Still haven’t seen anywhere near the best out of this team and if the starting lineup we saw was the A-team of this squad, than there will need to be vast improvements before Saturday’s match in Texas.

2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup – USMNT v Nicaragua: Player Ratings – 7/15/17

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It was far from comfortable but thanks to a late header from Chelsea man Matt Miazga, the USMNT finds itself top of group B and heading to Philadelphia for a Wednesday quarterfinal.  Two missed penalties during the game added some grey hairs to US supporters eager to avoid a Costa Rica match in the quarters.  There was little to speak of in terms of attacking fluidity or any fluidity for that matter in the US play.  11 changes to the starting 11 from Wednesday may have contributed to that.  Thankfully Nicaragua did not put up much of a fight and what few shots did get through, Hamid handled easily.

It’s survive and move on for the US.  Arena has announced 6 roster changes, none of the incoming players should surprise anyone.  However the 6 sent home should all probably feel hard done by.  Jesse Gonzalez, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey are in while Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Kelyn Rowe, Christian Roldan, and Dom Dwyer are out.  Of those sent home Guzan and Johnson are not surprising nor particularly noteworthy.  Howard is a straight swap at the top for keeper and Gonalez was always likely to replace one of Johnson or Hamid once his switch was approved by FIFA.  Hamid showed well against Nicaragua and must’ve shown something in training to get that opportunity.  Roldan didn’t show much on Wednesday and while I would’ve liked to see more of him I’m not horribly upset at him getting sent back.  Bedoya, Rowe, and Dwyer were 3 of our best players from the first three games.  I have absolutely no idea whey they were sent home.  Corona, McCarty, Arriola, or Zardes all have clearly been worse and even Agudelo or Pontius would’ve been less of a loss to the team.  Arena has tied his hands moving forward and it will be very interesting to see if he can somehow coax this group into a championship team.

Three Thoughts:

Effective but far from convincing – When Corona’s tame effort was easily saved for the US’s second missed penalty of the night it was hard not to pine for the days when the man in the booth was on the pitch.  Arena’s large expletive laden outburst following the miss was both hilarious and evidence that he was wishing for the same thing.  Donovan would never have missed both of those kicks and our night would’ve been much more smooth.  Dwyer’s wasn’t awful, especially when compared to Corona’s, but either way they needed to take a minute, read the keeper, and roll the ball into the opposite corner.  Thankfully in a crucial WCQ or even world cup match I don’t expect to ever see Dwyer or Corona lining up to take a spot kick.  However Arena may want to have the squad put in a few more minutes on the training pitch working on penalties.

Still questioning Arena –  I was relatively excited to see the 4-1-4-1 rolled out.  Maybe I’m a bit biased because I have very fond memories of the last time Arena employed that formation to great success against a strong Auzzuri team in the 2006 world cup, nearly nabbing a victory.  At that time he had a monster in Brian McBride up top and a very feisty Pablo Mastroeni sitting in the destroyer role.  Unfortunately McCarty did not live up to the Mastroeni role, though he had an improved day.  And Dwyer did not live up to the McBride role.  Bedoya and Rowe really managed to make things tick better however they did not get reward post match.  Arena having announced his 6 changes threw both aside.  The constant changes in lineup throughout the group stage plus his choices as to who to send home after the group stage are all puzzling.  Hopefully he is able to work some KO round magic and make this a moot point but at the moment serious questions should be asked of the new (old) US boss.

Little attacking fluidity – The US second goal was the closest we saw to some slick attacking play.  This whole tournament has been lacking when it comes to actual attacking flair and while that’s not obviously the goal of tournament play (the goal is to win) it is still disappointing that there is hardly even a hint at an attempt.  Hopefully with some regulars joining the likes of Duce, Nagbe and Jozy can induce some attacking flair into this horribly dull side.

 

Player Ratings (1-10 scale):

Hamid: 7 – Handled everything that came at him confidently.  Tipped one chance over the bar and came up with another big save in the second half that were good.  His distribution was well and he seemed to have a good repertoire with his back line.  It was impressive that with so little to do he was able to keep his concentration throughout the match.  The one sequence that would’ve been interesting to see was when the 2 Nicaraguan attackers got in each others way.  I’m not sure he could’ve saved that, but it’s all hypothetical.

Villafana: 5 – Nothing bad on the day, but nothing good.  Didn’t seem to have the same coordination with Rowe as he did in Nashville.  Generally kept things simple which is all that was needed on the day.

Besler: 5 – Same as Villafana.  Didn’t stand out.  Seemed a little off on attacking set pieces.  His distribution out of the back was generally solid.

Miazga: 6 – Wasn’t given any real chances to show off his defending skills as Nicaragua spent the day everywhere but in their attacking third.  So Miazga decided to show off at the other end of the pitch with a great (crucial) header.  Hopefully he’ll get more looks as the tournament goes on.

Zusi: 6 – He had an up and down day as any threat from Nicaragua came down his side but he also had a great day at the other end.  He was the balance to Rowe much more so than Pontius.  Had a great step up to win a ball and foil a Nicaraguan counter attack then he slalomed his way through their defense before unleashing a shot that was unfortunately tame.  Late on he put in an inch perfect ball for Miazga to head home sending the US top of the group.  He looks much more like a midfielder than defender but on the night that worked out well.

 

McCarty: 5 – It was better than last weekend.  There were still instances of slow decision making and getting caught on the ball.  He still looked for a non-existent foul after getting dispossessed.  But in general put out fires and kept things ticking.  As expected didn’t provide much going forward.

 

Rowe: 8 – Fantastic night for the Revolution star.  Showed the same attacking spark that he displayed in Nashville.  Was eager to get off a shot and one of the few who actually looked like he understood the urgency to score the US was facing.  Finished off the only truly fluent attacking move from the US.  Thought he was unlucky to be taken off when he was and I still can’t believe he’s been sent home.

Corona: 4 – When you score and still get a below average grade you know it was a long day.  He got extremely lucky with a massive deflection on his goal.  He appeared to wait way too long before unleashing his shot.  He never was really involved in any other attack throughout the night.  And when given his shot to be clutch after Dwyer missed the first penalty he turned in a truly pathetic effort.

Bedoya: 8 – Given the chance to captain again and moved more centrally the Union man took full advantage.  Did very well to move about the pitch providing an outlet centrally at times and stretching the field wide at others.  Did fantastically to pick Corona out at the back post with a cross leading to the first goal.  Won the initial ball that led to the second and got the assist to Rowe there as well.  And he drew the second penalty with a surging run into the box.  Another player I can’t believe is going home.

Pontius: 6 – Did decently well on the night.  Provided some good width.  Picked out Dwyer with a good cross which drew the first penalty.  Wasn’t overly involved but didn’t make any real mistakes either.

 

Dwyer: 5 – It was an up and down night for the SKC striker.  He found Bedoya in the sequences leading up to both the first and second goals and did very well to draw the first penalty.  His penalty wasn’t horrible but he clearly had his spot picked out prior to taking it and wasn’t changing despite the keeper zeroing in on it as well.  Never really got an opportunity to show off his striking ability but then again he didn’t force one either.  Unlucky to get sent home.

 

Subs:

Arriola: 5 – Didn’t bring a whole lot when he came on.  Had some pace.  Didn’t create enough.

Morris: 5 – Same as Arriola.  The couple times he did seem like he’d get free his touch let him down.

Agudelo: 5 – Only given sixteen minutes but still had an impact.  Won the free kick that Miazga eventually scored from.  But he should’ve passed earlier in that sequence that might have led to a dangerous chance in its own right.

 

Arena: 5 – Got the result he needed.  Should be credited for moving Bedoya centrally and giving Miazga and Hamid chances.  But still a very labored effort against an inferior opponent and needs to get his team to shape up on spot kicks.

 

 

All that can really be said is survive and advance.  Hopefully the squad changes bring a bit of an infusion of quality with them.

 

Here are some other player ratings posts:

 

http://soccer.nbcsports.com/2017/07/15/player-ratings-from-usmnts-3-0-win-over-nicaragua/ – Generally agree here though he’s generous with Corona’s grade but correct on his comments and he’s extra harsh on Dwyer

https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/07/15/us-player-ratings-alejandro-bedoya-leads-pack-vs-nicaragua – generally soft ratings.  Except for on Dwyer where again they were harsh.

http://www.espnfc.com/concacaf-gold-cup/59/blog/post/3158537/united-states-gets-win-it-needed-vs-nicaragua-in-gold-cup – the closest to what I saw.  Finally seemed to grade Corona equivalent to the analysis they list.