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U.S. Men's National Team

USMNT 2, T&T 0: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports

Thursday night wasn’t exactly what Bruce Arena would have drawn up. At times, the U.S. Men’s National Team was stagnant, uninspired, as they attacked a bunkered down Trinidad & Tobago.

Regardless of the missteps, mistakes and missed chances, job done. On to the next one.

The U.S. took care of business on Thursday, toppling the Soca Warriors, 2-0, behind a Christian Pulisic brace. It wasn’t a perfect performance. It probably wasn’t even a great one, but it got the job done with Mexico looming. The USMNT’s spot in the Hexagonal is looking better by the day and the world most certainly won’t explode of the U.S. handles the rest of the Hex like they did Thursday’s match.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at several of the big takeaways from Thursday’s match.

PULISIC THE GREAT

Every time the USMNT convenes, you have to write about Christian Pulisic. It’s generally a bunch of praise, discussing how his present is bright and his future is even brighter.

On Thursday, Pulisic gave even more reason to write about his game, even if there just isn’t much left to say at this point.

Pulisic is good. He’s very good. He may be the USMNT’s best player, and that’s not hyperbole or hope. It’s right now, and Thursday’s efforts proved it. His runs were precise, his dribbling was electric and his finishing was on-point. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but it was pretty spectacular.

He’s getting used to CONCACAF and CONCACAF is getting used to him, and by that I mean they’re fouling him. A lot. He responded well, kept it cool, and found his goals. What more can you ask for?

Pulisic is confident. How confident? Well:

DEFENSE STILL A CONCERN DESPITE RESULTS

The U.S. defense just hasn’t quite felt right for several months. Much of that is due to the up-and-down play of John Brooks, whose performances have ranged from world class to gym class in his past several appearances. The results are there, sure, but there’s a lot to tighten up before heading to the Azteca.

Since Bruce Arena’s hiring, the U.S. hasn’t allowed a goal from open play. That is, obviously, pretty good. You can’t allow less than zero goals, so the defense has that going for them. The team doesn’t break from open play. You can build on that going forward.

However, set pieces? An absolute adventure. Crosses? Who knows. There’s a lot of panic each and every time the ball is whipped into the box, and it’s easy to see. Kenwyne Jones should have had one goal on Thursday and T&T could have headed in several more.

At this point, it’s not just general sloppiness. It’s a trend, a concerning one even if the results are coming in spite of it.

NAGBE STEPS UP

Darlington Nagbe has always been a bit of an enigma. He’s a player that plays every position well but has a tendency to disappear. Sometimes, it’s hard to truly fathom how good he is, mostly because his special qualities only come in spurts.

Well, if he can put together performances like Thursday’s on a consistent basis, and that’s a big if, look out.

Pulisic aside, Nagbe was the best player on the field on Thursday. He was decisive, creative and direct. His crosses were superb and his runs were wonderful. He repeatedly darted past Soca Warriors defenders, who were left all but helpless when he was on the ball.

His best sequence came on the opening goal, one which he kickstarted with a run through the heart of the defense. Nagbe was on his game on Thursday, and it wasn’t hard to see.

Can Nagbe do this on a regular basis? Maybe, maybe not. However, if he can even perform like this even on a semi-regular basis, he’s worth featuring more and more due to his game-changing abilities.

THE RECORD WAITS

Clint Dempsey was hoping the lasting memory of Thursday’s match would be him celebrating a USMNT record. Instead, his most memorable moment came as he was removed from the match empty-handed.

Dempsey was visibly frustrating by Bruce Arena’s decision to take him out of the match. It wasn’t surprising. Dempsey is known to be a fierce competitor, one of the fiercest to come through the USMNT program. He felt the game changing, and it did, and he wanted a part of it.

To be fair, though, he wasn’t on his game on Thursday. He was relatively quiet overall. He misplaced several early passes that could have unlocked the T&T defense. He never got into much of a rhythm and never really threatened goal.

Now, he’ll be well-rested for Sunday’s match against Mexico, and he’ll be pissed off. Whether Arena had that in mind is anyone’s guest, but, even if he doesn’t start, don’t be surprised to see Dempsey involved on Sunday.

MIDFIELD ISSUES PERSIST

Fabian Johnson’s move into the midfield was supposed to ignite the attack. Through two matches, though, results have been mixed at best.

Johnson was essentially a non-factor on Thursday after sleep-walking through the Venezuela friendly. Sure, he got an assist in Saturday’s match, but the Borussia Monchengladbach winger has been largely held quiet. He hasn’t had the same impact as he has on the club level and he’s been outshined by several of the players around him. Fortunately, the USMNT’s left back problem is all but solved now that Jorge Villafana turned in another standout performance, but Johnson’s role remains a question mark going forward.

It wasn’t just Johnson, though. At times, Michael Bradley was too isolated, left alone in his No. 6 position. It got better throughout the game and Bradley’s performance got a bit cleaner but, with this midfield set up, there will be times when Bradley is simply alone.

That shouldn’t be a problem against Mexico, especially if Arena does opt to unveil the three centerback set that was played against Venezuela. It’s a system that should give the U.S. the best chance in Mexico. The question is how the midfield is subsequently aligned, and where Johnson fits in an ever-evolving midfield puzzle.

 

26 comments
  • I scored three goals in one game

    I watched the game again this morning and I don’t see why people are saying Brooks had a bad game was it his best no but it solid except for the headed off the post. Speaking of FJ I’m not worried about him yet because he is just getting used to playing in the midfield with this team and a new coach, it might take a few games. Overall the second half was decent, one worry I have against Mexico is villafana cuz he seemed tired midway through the second half, does he start DMB or go 3 in the back, I doubt villafana can go 90 again and keep pushing forward.

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    • Johnnyrazor

      I missed the first half, and wondered the same thing. I also saw someone, don’t remember which site, had Villafana rated at 8.5 thought I had missed his goal and assist or something. Jorge was getting owned the last 20 minutes on the defensive end.

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    • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

      FJ, Nagbe and Pulisic are set up to be the creative hub of the team w/ Dempsey there to put things home. All 3 of our creators were absent in the first half. Nagbe and Pulisic stepped up in the 2nd, but FJ was still missing.
      Assuming we role out the same 11 vs Mexico its vital to have all 3 of those guys clicking to relieve pressure and get us opportunities on the break. They can all carry the ball over distance and dribble through the lines to create danger. They are the key to success the way we are currently setting up the team.

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    • UclaBruinGreat

      Johnny Villafana did have a very good game. He showed alot going forward, and almost every one of his crosses was good and in a dangerous area.
      What I’ve noticed from many fans (especially when it comes to defenders) is that they see a defender get beat once or twice and that’s all they focus on and then they say the player didn’t play well. I can only guess that mentality comes from individuals that have never played soccer competitively. Defenders are always going to get beat on plays a few times a game, especially on 1 vs 1 situations. Even the best defenders. Soccer is not like basketball where you can defend 1 vs 1 the whole game. It’s always about team defending and every defender relies on the positioning of his teammates and help from teammates to not get beat, especially when someone fast and with ball jukes is running at you one on one. Villafana was great like 95 percent of the game.

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      • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

        i just disagree about Villafanas crossing. Little pace or threat from them. I admit its nitpicking thought b/c his runs forward were well timed to get into dangerous positions.
        Again disagreed about his 1v1 defending. He wasn’t getting close enough to his man on a few occasions allowing space to pass/cross in and didn’t show the pace/quickness to recover a few times.
        Overall I think he had a decent game but I don’t see that we no longer have to worry about the left back position from here on out. He’s got more to prove for me.

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      • UclaBruinGreat

        Ronaldinho he definitely still has alot to prove. But for me he has played well enough to keep his starting job and stay as #1 left-back for now. Things can change but so far so good. I don’t currently see who the alternative would be over him right now (F Johnson being out of the picture).

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      • johnnyrazor

        I didn’t mean to say he didn’t have a good overall game, but not man of the match quality an 8.5 rating would indicate. While yes defense is a team performance, and is in basketball too its only the NBA where it becomes a one on one game, there are times he was tasked to close down the ball and got beaten on pretty basic moves that a better squad would have punished the US for.

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  • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

    -Pulisic rightly getting praise for his 2 goals, but was completely invisible (among others) prior to the first. He will need to make an impact over the whole 90 to get a result Sunday
    -Villafana got into good forward positions, but his crossing was not very good. Consistently just floated the ball in… Most of T&Ts attacks came from his side of the field and his defending was suspect especially as the game wore on. His spot is not set in stone for the yet…

    Liked by 1 person

    • MidWest Ref

      I only saw the first half. Pulisic was operating at a different speed than the rest of the team. He wanted to run and move – like he does at BVB – but he can’t play that way on his own. For most of the first half, the rest of the 11 lumbered in the 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2 formation. Jozy and Clint appeared to play the same role – accepting passes to make hopeful flick-ons for a runner. The problem was that CP was the only runner and he couldn’t do everything.

      As a result, until Nagbe started to adventure down the right and Villafana overlapped on FJ on the left the US didn’t do much. As Bruce said against Venezuela, possession means nothing without a goal – and thats what we had in the first half.

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      • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

        I’m not sure we can completely excuse Pulisic for the first half and thrown it all on Dempsey, Nagbe and FJ. If he is going to be the key attacking cog in the team the blame our lack of cutting edge in the first half has to be shouldered partially by him too.
        If anything I think the praise should go to Nagbe whose run with the ball sparked the first goal and Jozy whose great 1st time ball sprung Pulisic for the 2nd. Those 2 things were exactly what we were lacking in the first half.
        Again this is nitpicking probably our best player. I just think we are so quick to say Pulisic was the savior when he struggled mightily against a poor T&T side just like the rest of the team for a half

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      • MidWest Ref

        UR – my post above was not to annoint CP. My thought was that the attacking 6, for much of the first half was not on the same page. Once Nagbe started to attack and make runs, the game opened up and the US started to flow. I also think that CP needs to remember he is not playing at BVB and he doesn’t have a forward like Demebele finishing his crosses. While CP needs to attack – he has to remember that the USMNT is not BVB

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  • dr.K

    Anyone will be invisible if the service is not there. Pulisic movement was super intelligent. If you have Bradley and Brooks together , you are guaranteed poor service. Also, the offensive capabilities of the 2 central defenders are much less than adequate. Given the fact that Dempsey was sleepwalking, whats Pulisic to do? This team is actually not very good, maybe too old down the middle and in the world cup, getting out of the group will be a very good achievement. The focus must shift to 2022 now. Thank God Jones is done for. Actually ,Altidore had a pretty good game, high energy for him. Wood’s first touch is terrible. He is just a good club player. Pray for that kid Sargent to keep developing.Bradley will be 25% less effective by the time 2018 rolls around, I think.

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    • MidWest Ref

      “the focus must shift to 2022 now.” I disagree with your diagnosis Dr. K and would like a second opinion.

      The US has to qualify for 2018, first. Given our spot in the Hex, with the tie between CR and Panama, we could be facing a play-off like Mexico in 2014, and that happens in November. Even then, with the AFC standings, our opponent could be Australia, and I am not convinced that we win a 2 legged tie with the Socceroos.

      As much as I would like to give some kids a chance to prepare for the future, we cannot mortgage the present.

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    • Shaggie96

      “Also, the offensive capabilities of the 2 central defenders are much less than adequate.” I’m not sure we’re watching the same game. Brooks and Cameron are without doubt the two best “offensive” center backs the US has ever put on the field. Cameron is a midfielder in the EPL and Brooks has midfielder skills. Did you miss the multiple times that each of them dribbled out of the back to ignite the attack? Both played multiple defense splitting balls forward. I don’t remember a single time where they just hoofed it up the field. Sure Cameron played a couple of errant long balls, but they were targeted passes, not mindless clearances. If you want to criticize the defending at times, I probably wouldn’t argue, but to say they’re not offensive enough is just silly.

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      • MidWest Ref

        I recall that Brooks had one of the best scoring chances of the first half when he took a shot from well outside the penalty area after starting the attack with a pass out of the back.

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  • dr.K

    I don’t disagree, but lets not raise our expectations too high with this team. They just don’t have the horses to do well in the big race, I think.

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    • MidWest Ref

      I hope Bruce has 2 game plans for the T&T then Mexico game. Remember what he did in WC 2002 putting Reyna on the right to open space and provide for a better attack against El Tri.

      Hopefully Wood will play against Mexico as he seems to run and move more than Dempsey right now, which is necessary because we don’t want to sit back and defend for 90. Dempsey moves back and into the middle, allowing Pulisic to create on the wing, and moving Nagbe to the bench until we need some energy. Or Dempsey starts on the bench and comes in when Jozy has beaten up the Mexico defense and Clint does some shit to score.

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      • MidWest Ref

        Only Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy do on a regular basis. Add in a Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Uruguay on an intermittent basis. Add a Turkey, England, Chile and Colombia on a special generation – so what is that – no more than 10 teams in any given cycle.

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      • Jesse

        France can be in one of the top two categories. Belgium makes the special generation category. There are a few other countries that play the sport and may some day have a special generation, like the Switzerland, Russia, Greece or Japan. It also possible that someday countries like China or the US will compete at that level as well. We are getting close to 20 countries now. It’s a way more open sport than just about anything else I can think of.

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      • Johnnyrazor

        Only eight countries have ever won the World Cup and of the 20 titles 65% belong to Brazil, Germany, and Italy. There have also only been four other countries ever to reach a final, The Netherlands leads that group with three finals losses but the others Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden have not been to a final since 1962. Every four years there are countries with “Golden generations” that find themselves falling short, while Germany, Brazil, and Italy battle it out. Those three countries have made up 11 of 18 finalists since 1982 winning 6 titles.

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  • alndres ventura

    Pullisic is note,the mexican coach josé luis osorio recognize that pullisic,and Andre de Yevlin will
    be the more dangers and they will take care of them,because osorio said,that Usa will be so much
    danger that costa rica, and honduras and that the usa team is young whit some veterans
    USA USA USA

    Like

  • Chicago Josh

    Pulisic “may be our best player?” This is not up for debate. He IS our best player.

    Like

  • Scott e Dio93

    Hopefully Arena workout intelligent strategy & Pulisic intelligent role for the win. Hell, I giving free “mexican beer” for every goal USNT scores (with purchase of an entree), or margarita with USNT victory! USA all way!!!

    Americans support the USA!!! down with “forces of evil”!!!

    Like

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