The United States limped its way to a draw to conclude the September qualifiers with a solitary point. A late, scrappy, yet beautifully taken goal from Bobby Wood may have saved the United States 2018 World Cup hopes. Despite a promising start for the US, a catastrophic lapse in judgement from Omar Gonzalez let Honduras take the lead in what became a sluggish affair. The brutal heat took its toll as everything slowed down and became extremely stretched in the second half. Thankfully a switch to a back 3 coupled with the quality of Bobby Wood allowed the US to equalize late on. Though it was definitely a horrible performance to cap off a horrible pair of qualifiers it was an absolutely crucial point. It keeps qualifying in our own hands as we’ll have 2 winnable games in October and 6 points there ensure qualification no matter what else happens in the Hex.
3 Quick Thoughts:
Outside back problems – Arena turned to experience at the outside back positions for this match. The plan backfired. Zusi and Beasley turned in their worst performances in the red, white, and blue for years. The last time I saw Beasley play so poorly he was giving away a US corner to Brazil who promptly turned it into a counter attacking goal on their way to a 3-nil shellacking of the US down in South Africa at the Confederations Cup in 2009. He was beaten for pace time and again. He got lucky not to give away a PK on one specific occasion. He couldn’t connect a threatening pass. And continually got caught on the ball leading to Honduran counters. Zusi was similarly slow and lethargic. He was perhaps a little more solid overall than Beasley but was at fault for falling asleep on the goal. He should’ve been helping track the run instead of standing and watching Gonzalez. Yedlin’s return in October will be critical. As usual the left back position will still be a question. Hopefully one of Villafana or Johnson will be deployed and have the necessary performance to get us 6 points.
Pulisic issues – Over the course of the 90 minutes he was the most consistent (read: only) threat for the US. As expected he was hacked, grabbed, harassed and just generally assaulted. The US did little to push back against Honduras for this and didn’t provide a huge alternate threat to distract their defense from their attack job on our young phenom. This needs to change. Arena could’ve helped this by moving him centrally, thereby freeing up more escape routes for both his passes and himself. Dempsey, Nagbe and Morris all needed to be more connected. Dempsey and Morris tried but even when they would get the ball rarely did they have an option beyond that. Hopefully this will be corrected in October.
Overall performance trends down – This was an even worse performance than the display against Costa Rica in NY. While the Costa Ricans punished 2 bad mistakes but were generally shutdown otherwise, Honduras threatened time and again. The US started brightly for the first 15 minutes and it looked like we had a good chance to at least escape with a draw. For the next hour the US went AWOL. Honduras bossed the game both in physicality and possession. It took a switch to a back 3 and the removal of Beasley and Zusi to really change fortunes. Arriola provided a physical fast presence. Bobby Wood up top provided some support to the exhausted attack. Still, it only proved to be just enough. Sometimes, particularly on the road in CONCACAF, just enough is plenty. The worrying concern is simply how bad the US looked for at least 2/3rds of the match. Overall performance will have to be drastically different come October.
Player Ratings (1-10 scale):
Guzan: 5 – Much better than Howard, though not that it took much to do. His distribution was suspect at time but he kept more balls in play than Howard. Commanded the area pretty confidently. Wasn’t at fault on the goal as the strike was simply perfectly placed. Has he supplanted Howard for number 1?
Beasley: 2 – As I said above, this is the worst performance I’ve seen from Beasley since 2009, when he was playing midfield for the US. He looked every bit his age and didn’t seem to apply his years of wisdom to adjust until the second half. He was lucky to get out of the first half without conceding a penalty when he nearly grabbed the Honduran winger from behind after he had beaten him at the goal line. After halftime he began to drop deeper and keep the Honduran attack in front of him. This was a vast improvement and brought his grade up from a 1.
Besler: 6 – Clearly the standout performer from the back line. He capped off his night with an MLS assist as he kept the free kick alive which led to Wood’s goal. He never really got stretched from Gonzalez and provided several big blocks.
Gonzalez: 2 – Maybe this grade is slightly harsh as he wasn’t that bad outside of THE mistake. Unfortunately THE mistake was not only was it worse than schoolboy defending it was some of the worst defending of all time and it led to a goal. If he could cut the one or two massive mistakes he has per game out, he could be a world class defender.
Zusi: 2 – Similar to Beasley though he never actually adjusted as Beasley did in the second half. However he gets the same grade as Beasley because he never had the same catastrophic moments. Yes he was part of the problem on the goal as it was his man that blew past him and then Gonzalez, and at times he was torched for pace but he was never embarrassed to the level of Beas.
Nagbe: 4 – Simply not much of a factor. Occasionally was involved. Wasn’t helped by the ineptitude of Beasley behind him. Needed to maintain possession on more of the opportunities presented to him.
Bradley: 4 – Can read basically the same as Nagbe. His free kicks returned to the abysmal level of old, that I had hoped he had left behind thanks to his improved performances in the Gold Cup. He wasn’t in the same giving mood he displayed in Red Bull Arena but just didn’t make much tick for the US.
Acosta: 5 – Better then Bradley. He popped up a bit more. Definitely helped late on dropping wide left into a pseudo left-back/left-defensive-mid/left-winger role and helped snuff out a few of Honduras late counters.
Pulisic: 7 – I hope the youngster got a serious ice bath after the match. Otherwise he’ll show up to Dortmund swollen up like a watermelon. The Hondurans had no qualms abusing the US phenom but still couldn’t stop him. He wound through 3 and 4 defenders consistently. It wasn’t his fault that he rarely had options to find after getting through the defenders. Despite all the hacks he still managed to crank out the full 90 and won the free kick that led to Wood’s equalizer.
Dempsey: 5 – It was not a spectacular night for the Texan. He really didn’t have much influence on the game. In the good first 15 minutes he combined well with Morris and Pulisic. After that his influence basically vanished. I still think he needs to be included from the start simply because he can make attacking magic with anyone in the US squad. Tonight simply wasn’t his night.
Morris: 6 – The Sounders star ground for the full 90 minutes. Essentially operating as a lone striker he dutifully chased and harassed the Hondurans all game long. Though his play with the ball wasn’t spectacular he paid huge dividends providing a crucial touch on the equalizing goal. It was a nice reward for all his hard work.
Arriola: 6 – His appearance off the bench raised some questions as to why he wasn’t included from the opening whistle. As he did during the Gold Cup run, he brought a physicality and tenaciousness to the side that is lacking in most of the other US players. He used his pace effectively down the wing to help stretch the game and get the US ticking offensively. His final product once getting towards the goal line still needs work but he’s young and that will improve.
Cameron: 5 – Provided some key defensive assistance but also was on shaky grounds (as was the whole US defense) when the game began to get particularly stretched. Much improved on his Red Bull Arena performance but that didn’t take much.
Wood: 7 – He continues to provide clutch goals for the US when we’re in dire straits. The Hamburg striker brilliantly chested the ball out of the air and calmly slotted it home. Some people are questioning why he started on the bench but after an exhausting match against Costa Rica, I think Arena got this one right, leaving him to come off the bench and impact the game once Honduras was tiring which is exactly how it played out.
Arena: 4 – Too many mistakes to give a better grade. Yes a draw in Central America is a decent result. And yes he made enough of the right changes to impact the game in a positive manner. But his tendency to lean on experience above all else did not pan out.
The important result out of these two qualifiers is that the US remains in control of its own destiny. A win against Panama in Orlando and a win in Port au Prince against Trinidad & Tobago will punch a ticket to Russia. Both of those are winnable games. Playing like we have over the past 2 qualifiers… well let’s just set that aside for now.