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.
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.
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.