Well, that certainly wasn’t as good as anyone would have hoped, but the U.S. Men’s National Team did, somehow, get the job done. On the day, it was the result they wanted and needed, but looking ahead, Wednesday night’s letdown could have long-term ramifications for several players involved throughout the USMNT setup.
It was a frustrating performance that was supposed to undo a frustrating performance. After sputtering against Panama, the U.S. was expected to crush Martinique as the team pushed on towards the knockout rounds. They didn’t. Instead, they held on for a narrow 3-2 win after blowing a 2-0 lead in a matter of minutes.
That’s not to say there weren’t positives because there were, but several USMNT players let themselves down on Wednesday night. With just one more game left in the group stage, time is running out for this current group, as they know have one more chance to step up and show themselves before Bruce Arena’s knockout changes.
With that in mind, here’s a look at Wednesday’s big takeaways:
MORRIS JUMPS BACK INTO FORWARD PICTURE
Dom Dwyer has become the USMNT story of the Gold Cup, but Jordan Morris showed he isn’t quite ready to concede his spot with the national team quite yet.
After seeing Dom Dwyer score a goal in each of his first two USMNT games, Morris scored two of his own on Wednesday night to lift the USMNT to a nervy win. The first was scored with his oft-criticized left foot as he tapped home an Eric Lichaj cross. The second was somewhat similar as he fired a Gyasi Zardes pass first-time for his second goal of the match.
With Morris’ performance, the position battle at forward continues to heat up. Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey remain entrenched atop the USMNT depth chart but Morris and Dwyer certainly remain as contenders for that fourth spot.
There’s a long way to go before World Cup 2018 but Morris and Dwyer have both made their own statements through the first two matches of the Gold Cup.
FULLBACKS STEP UP IN SECOND HALF
You could see the disconnect throughout the first half. The USMNT midfield sat too deep and the forwards in front of them were too isolated to receive much of the ball. It was a relatively quiet half against a severely overmatched team.
In the second half, Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj pushed up from the fullback position, and it made all the difference.
Morrow and Lichaj pushed high throughout the second half, helping provide another option to connect the midfield and forwards. It helped create more numbers in the USMNT attack while providing the vital width to open up room for players like Morris and Gyasi Zardes to work.
Of the two Lichaj was the standout, contributing the assist on the USMNT’s second goal. He’s been out of the national team rotation for too long and, with his assist, he’s firmly back in the picture. Morrow probably isn’t going to make a push for the World Cup any time soon, but he did show well in a solid performance.
ZARDES’ TYPICAL PERFORMANCE
Everyone that has followed the USMNT knows what Gyasi Zardes does and doesn’t bring to the table. They know about the athleticism, the speed. They know about the first touches and the mishits, too.
You saw both on full display on Wednesday but, at least on the day, the positive outweighed the negative.
If you’re a Zardes critic, and there are plenty, you saw what you expected to see. He skied a few shots. He bundled a few touches. He misplaces several passes and killed off several attacks.
There was also plenty to see for Zardes’ defenders. His soccer IQ was on full display. He made direct, decisive runs that routinely opened up the Martinique defense. He was one of the most consistent attackers and provided the vital assist on the eventual game-winner.
Zardes is both an enigma and consistent at the same time, and you got a taste of it all on Wednesday night.
MIXED BAG FOR VETERANS
Bruce Arena made the decision to make mass changes following the USMNT’s draw against Panama. It made sense to get some fresh legs involved, and Arena did just that by making eight changes to the starting XI.
For the few veterans involved, it was a mixed bag as the team showed a lack of cohesion and leadership throughout the match.
Of the familiar faces, Omar Gonzalez stood out as far and away the best. He scored the goal that opened the scoring and, defensively, he put in a very solid shift at the back. It was another solid performance from a defender that continues to hold steady with a USMNT spot.
Brad Guzan, meanwhile, was not at his best as he conceded a goal that’s just one step above a howler. He should have saved Kevin Parsemain’s hopeful shot. His diving whiff didn’t look good, even after a heroic display against Panama.
Fortunately, Bruce Arena’s changes worked out. Alejandro Bedoya had a solid match once inserted into the lineup, even if he’ll rue a miss that he sent into the 25th row. Dax McCarty shut the match down during his late cameo, ensuring three points.
Reasonably, you can’t fault Arena too much for how things went down on Wednesday. He gave new players a chance and they failed to take it, and, when he started to see it, he introduced veterans to help finish off the match.
USMNT STILL NEED MUCH, MUCH MORE
Heading into Wednesday’s match, Kellyn Acosta said the USMNT needed to step up, beginning with Wednesday’s match. They didn’t.
Sure, they got the result, but there are few, if any, that could defend the way in which it was achieved. They conceded twice to a team loaded with amateur and semi-pro players, and they could have conceded a few more if not for a bit of luck. Facing a team that was overmatched in every way possible, the USMNT played down to the competition in a major way.
That’s not excusable. Yes, there were chemistry issues with eight new faces and, yes, there were leadership issues with so many new faces. But any iteration of a USMNT shouldn’t be conceding twice to Martinique. Doing so is just a lack of focus, which obviously can’t continue as the tournament wears on.
Fortunately, it didn’t come back to bite them as the USMNT sealed all three points. Nicaragua looms, another chance to build a bit of confidence, and the U.S. sure could use some after two lackluster performances.