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Bruce Arena’s return to the hot seat in US Soccer finally took on the challenge of tournament play.  Paired with relative weaklings Nicaragua, Martinique and Panama it looked as though the US would sail into the knockout rounds, probably undefeated.  Arena proceeded to name a B squad that surely would have seen his predecessor lambasted nationwide for excessive experimentation.  Despite this, there should still be enough quality in the team to easily get through the group.  Saturday put a slight bump in the plans as the US drew 1-1 and put in a performance that was lacking across the board.  The good news is that this was our toughest match.  Despite the lackluster performance we still should cruise past Martinique and Nicaragua.  The bad news is it now becomes a goal difference race with Panama to see who can top the group.  Hopefully we have enough firepower to win that battle.

 

3 quick thoughts:

Dwyer looked good but restricted – It’s a shame Dwyer didn’t get his citizenship until after Klinsmann was fired.  Say what you will about the German but he knew how to play as a forward and he knew how to help them improve (see Altidore 2013, Bobby Wood, Morris, Dempsey, etc.).  Dwyer could use some of his tutelage on how to get into space and create via the lone striker role.  This is not a criticism of Dwyer who looks like he can force his way into an argument with Altidore and Wood as top out and out strikers in the pool.  It is more just a wish.  I’m sure Arena was over the moon about Dwyer’s performance because he did exactly what forwards do under Arena; they don’t float around or get out wide.  They stay in their channel down the center.  Hold balls up.  And take advantage of minimal opportunities.  Every time a USMNT player got hold of the ball Dwyer would move toward the open space but then realize it was against the game plan and immediately fall back center.  He did admirably to hold up as many balls as he did with such a predictable approach.  In the end his goal was good but I really felt if not for coaching it could have been more.

 

Central Midfield MIA – McCarty, Acosta, and Corona were largely useless over 90 minutes.  McCarty occasionally would get hold of the ball or break up an attack and settle down the US possession. However more often than not he would get stuck on the ball, waiting far too long, getting dispossessed, then look to the referee for a phantom foul.  Acosta spent most of the game stuck in molasses.  His touch was awful, his passing was terrible, and he may as well have been a center forward for how well he defended.  I wanted him off after 30 minutes and over the ensuing 60 he did nothing to make me think my instinct was wrong.  Corona didn’t do anything good or bad.  He simply had zero impact on the game and as the central attacking spear in the midfield that’s completely unacceptable.

 

Expect changes – Due to the tight turnaround time we should expect significant changes for the starting 11 on Wednesday.  Had the first game gone better or worse I don’t think it would have changed Arena’s plans one way or the other regarding personnel.  He has shown a commitment to player rotation based on game schedules.  Again, this is a tactic that I don’t disagree with but to which I find fans and press alike hypocritically giving Arena a pass.  If you criticized Klinsmann for “experimenting too much” you must do the same for Arena.  Luckily in this case it looks like change could be beneficial.  Hopefully we get to see something improved because a similar performance to Saturday’s on Wednesday and it looks like Martinique might be able to take advantage of our lapses.

 

Player Ratings: (1-10 scale)

Guzan: 7 – Definitely came up with several huge saves.  Not a whole lot he could do on the goal.  Needed his defense to be quicker with their reactions in that instance.  Looked confident handling crosses.  If we are to criticize anything it’s that he didn’t marshal the backline better.  Needed to clean up the communication issues that Besler and Gonzalez were having.

 

Villafana: 6 – Combined well with Rowe on several occasions.  Actually provided some attacking width, particularly in the first half.  Nothing special defensively but generally did enough.

Besler: 3 – Horrible day for the SKC man.  Failed to track runners properly.  Didn’t communicate well with Gonzalez.  Struggled to complete any positive passes.  Generally looked a shadow of the stalwart that guided the 2014 World Cup team.

Gonzalez: 5 –  Didn’t have the same level of struggles as his central partner.  Yes his communication wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be but he managed to put out several fires throughout the match including somehow getting a touch on what was a sure tap in at the far post for Panama in the first half.

Zusi: 5 – The converted midfielder had a pretty strong showing in my estimation.  Generally lambasted across sports sites for his performance, I saw something quite different from inside the stadium.  He was industrious.  Worked hard to track runners most of the time.  The few times he did have lapses were no worse than those from Besler or Gonzalez.  He also made several lung busting runs in the second half once Agudelo was inserted and the right side started to become a threat.  Didn’t combine all that well with Bedoya but the captain on the day had a terrible game and didn’t give Zusi much of a choice but to sit back and defend.  He’s clearly not the right back solution long term but with Yedlin looking to lock that spot down long term, I’m not concerned.

 

Acosta: 2 – Completely useless.  Didn’t win tackles, didn’t complete dangerous passes, didn’t communicate or pair well with McCarty.  Sitting in the stands I told my friend at the 20 minute mark that if Acosta didn’t improve I’d take him off at the 30 minute mark.  Well he did nothing to change my opinion over the ensuing 70 minutes of the match.

McCarty: 3 – Wasn’t as bad as Acosta and probably suffered from the inept performance of Acosta and Corona.  But definitely didn’t impress.  His passing was constantly negative though it’s debatable how much of that was his choice specifically vs his lack of options trying to go forward.  As the game wore on he got worse and by the second half he was consistently getting caught on the ball, then flopping and yelling at the referee for a foul.  Credit to the official for recognizing this and letting play go on instead of being intimidated by the Fire(y) central mid (pun intended).  This is exactly the kind of Dax I expected and am used to; not the god like figure most MLS fans claim him to be.

 

Rowe: 6 –  Was the only attacking mid with any attacking intent.  Ripped a great shot from outside the box early in the match.  And was gifted another great opportunity minutes later that he should have done better with.  He ended up getting the cross in for Dwyer’s goal and was unlucky to go off early with what appeared to be cramps.  In the first half specifically he was a little tentative getting forward but that could’ve been more Arena’s instructions than his actual play.  Some blame him on the goal but I don’t think it was an unreasonable area to go to ground and he got unlucky that it skipped by him.  We had plenty of defenders back who should have cleared it after that.  Plus he did combine well with Villafana throughout the day.  It would be a shame if he can’t go against Martinique.

Corona: 3 –  I debated about giving him the same grade as Acosta but he wasn’t quite as bad.  He didn’t really make any negative contributions to the match.  He just chose not to really show up at all.  Made zero difference attacking.  Provided no outlet for McCarty or Acosta.  Didn’t connect with Dwyer.  Never found the box.  Hopefully we won’t have to suffer through this again.

Bedoya: 4 –  Captain on the day but certainly didn’t elevate his play to match the occasion.  Had almost zero rapport with Zusi.  Didn’t get forward enough.  Failed to provide quality service.  Disconnected from most of the rest of the team.  His grade is a bit higher than the central midfield trio because he did help cover defensively somewhat.  I would rather see him sit more centrally similar to his role with Philadelphia but to be fair to Arena he’s usually not this bad out wide.  I don’t think we’ll miss him if he can’t go tomorrow.

 

Dwyer: 7 –  He continues to set himself up for a real role with the WCQ team.  2 goals in 2 caps is a great way to start off your career.  Especially with the performance, set up, conditions, etc. around him he put in a great performance.  As I noted above he seemed more restricted to the center than I would’ve liked but that was not surprising for a forward under Arena.  Took his one real chance with aplomb and saved the US some blushes too.

 

Subs:

Agudelo: 6 –  I know my fellow commentator didn’t think all that highly of Agudelo’s performance but I was impressed.  I thought he brought energy, width, and some attacking intent to the match that had been sorely lacking from the US team up to that point.  He seemed to be one of the few dissatisfied with a draw and actually pushing for the win.  Despite his horrendous hairdo I still would like to see him get a larger role on Wednesday.

Zardes: 4 –  Didn’t have a whole lot of time to make an impact but didn’t really bring anything to the match in the time he was given.  Yeah he got forward once or twice and tracked back once or twice but nothing really came of either.  It was a continuation of his apathetic form with the Galaxy and really makes you wonder if this was more nepotism from Arena than a deserved call up.

Morris: 4 –  Was hardly given the time to make a run when brought on the pitch with only minutes remaining.  His whole game just looks off this season, with Seattle and the USMNT.  Maybe the long grueling season coupled with an exceedingly short offseason has really taken its toll on the Sounders product.

 

Arena: 4 – One can only fault him so much for individual’s flat performances.  And considering the lineup really didn’t provide any surprises that backs the point even further.  In the end though a good chunk has to come back on the coach.  He didn’t make changes quickly enough to really rectify the flat performance.  Look for him to make a lot of changes Wednesday.  It will be up for debate how many of which were already planned prior to Saturday’s game.

 

Additional Player Rating articles:

https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/07/08/us-player-ratings-brad-guzan-clear-standout-gold-cup-draw

  • These weren’t terrible but generally way too soft, though harsh on Zusi

http://www.espnfc.com/team/united-states/660/blog/post/3155115/dom-dwyer-scores-again-but-us-look-sloppy-in-1-1-draw-with-panama-in-gold-cup-opener

  • Most of the analysis was pretty spot on. However, the grades didn’t seem to match the descriptions of the performances – specifically Acosta and McCarty.  As is typical across these, Zusi was rated too harsh.

http://soccer.nbcsports.com/2017/07/08/player-ratings-from-the-usmnts-draw-with-panama/

  • Saved the most ridiculous for last. First, he must’ve been watching Besler play a different match because that grade is absolute crap.  Second, garbage fire?!?!?!  The term is dumpster fire.  Lastly, Bedoya did not come close to earning a penalty.  He flopped in the box from shoulder to shoulder contact.  It wasn’t close to a penalty and only an uneducated (in soccer terms) moron would claim that.

 

Hopefully a changed team will bring a changed performance against group leaders Martinique on Wednesday.  As they showed in their opening match they won’t be a pushover.  And we have to beware their speed on the counter and their high press.

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