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U.S. Men's National Team

USMNT 3, Martinique 2: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

24 comments
  • cps

    My takeaways: Hedges had a very tough night, Lichaj deserves to be Yedlin’s backup, Guzan’s solid 95% of the time and then guaranteed to give up a howler. Take Bobby, Jozy, Dom and Jordan to Russia. Leave Demps- can only play 1 role and too often he’s invisible.

    Like

    • CyKlopsPDX

      For a couple of tall centerbacks, I think I can count the number of times they got their heads on the ball on one hand. Even given the dozens of goal kicks, clearances, punts, and crosses that Martinique served in to them. It was almost guaranteed that a ball in the air connected with a Martinique head all night. I thought for sure they would concede on a restart at some point.

      Like

    • Turkmenbashy

      Dempsey must be on the plane, even if he is just doing 30 minutes a game. That is a guy who has a nose for goal…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Gary Page

      I can remember when, after the 2013 MLS season, a lot of people here were writing
      Dempsey off, saying he shouldn’t even be on the team going to Brazil. He was all washed up, they said. They were wrong then and you are wrong now.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Rob

    “the U.S. was expected to crush Martinique” Really?!!
    This game went just as expected. A bunch of technically deficient MLS’rs that t never played together against a very athletic team deploying Bruce Guardiola’s much vaunted 9-0-1 formation.
    Add that to the fact that Martinique can actually finish their chances and this was never going to be an easy win, regardless of what you read here.

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    • Johnnyrazor

      I think people were expecting St. Vincent and the Grenadines not Martinique with 4 or 5 starters with European league experience. Also appeared the islanders were more than happy to absorb for the first 70 minutes and push as the US legs went away.

      Like

      • Gary Page

        A lot of that “European” league experience is for second division teams. You sholud stop making excuses. It’s not that Martinique played well, but the US played poorly, as they did vs. Panama.

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      • Rob

        European second division equals MLS.
        Technically, both teams were pretty close to each other.

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      • Jonathan Gilbert

        I think it might have had more to do with them playing together for longer, and our team being almost a totally new team from game one. We looked tentative and unsure at times about who will go and who will stay, mostly in the middle of the field and for the backs. Lesser teams that play together can be tough opponents when you are still getting to know the guys around you.

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      • Johnnyrazor

        Gary, Martinique had experience where it counted though Olimpa, was in the Bordeaux system for quite awhile so he avoided the typical Concacaf minnow GK mistakes, the backline was mostly semi pros and certainly looked it at times, but the front four had guys with top Euro league experience Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Champions League group stages and they made the US pay in the counter. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of things to work on, but Martinique was underestimated by the US and it’s fans.

        Like

  • Atx_Colin

    I thought Roldan had a solid showing , he covered a lot of space, broke up attacks and made himself consistently available as an outlet for the defenders.

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    • TheFrenchOne

      respectfully disagree. I thought he was invisible, to the point that I forgot for long stretches that he was even on the field. I don’t think he had a terrible game, I just don’t think he made an impact or raised his stock within the national program.

      Like

  • Gary Page

    As for Zardes, I’ve seen most every game he has played in MLS and for the nats. He’s still not back to the form he had before his injury (maybe 75% to 80% back). While this game was an improvement, he still has a ways to go. Both Klinsmann and Arena started him almost every game for a reason. In addition to stretching defenses and providing an offensive threat, he is a workhorse who also helps out on defense and does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box score.

    Like

    • Jonathan Gilbert

      I agree with you, and I think Zardes is the toughest guy to evaluate on the roster of possible 23 candidates. His speed, size, and willingness to track back and help on defense make him a great guy to have. He can play multiple positions as well, which is always important in a big tournament. On the other side, he always flubs the last shot, and does not always take the chances he has. In big games, you only get a few chances, and you need to make them count. If he gets back to full form I think he will be a valuable sub option next summer. If he stays where he is now, he will not make it.

      Like

    • Twomilerule

      The smartest two things Zardes did with the ball last night was play a cross to space. In the first half he played a great cross to Morris. Then in the second half he had no idea if a teammate would fill that space with a cross that found Morris. That was classic Arena/Galaxy attacking in the final third, play the ball to space and expect a teammate to find it. That was his best contribution with plentiful opportunities which usually fizzeled. Most often because he drove the ball on the left side with his right foot and was not wide enough. The two positives came from Zardes when he was somewhat wide and used his left foot.
      I would like to see what Zardes passing percentage was and how many duels he won?
      Trying not to be redundant but with a team that struggles to retain the ball, flip the field, create tempo, and be dangerous in and around the 18 yard box Zardes gives the ball away too often.

      Like

  • Jonathan Gilbert

    Side question: Why are we the only team on the planet that prints the gameday info on the jersey? Are we worried about guys not knowing where to go? Is it a money grab to prove that it is a gameday jersey to sell later? It is a small thing, but for some reason it really annoys me so I figured I would ask.

    Like

    • Twomilerule

      Pretty sure most of the top teams with big shoe deals do the same thing. I always notice Germany does the same thing. I might be wrong but kind of cool thing to do

      Like

  • Shchors

    Martinique had some tall, powerful and fast forwards that outmuscled and outpaced Hedges every time. And as a previously quoted, 2nd Division in Europe means MLS. Its not skill that causes problems for the US, its teams that are more athletic than us. We rely so much on our athleticism that an equal or more athletic foe negates out strengths.

    Like

  • DB

    Not a good performance. But the result was about was I suspected (as noted on a previous thread), a narrow win, and an ugly game.

    People were really underestimating Martinique’s ability to give us trouble. Sometimes you have to do more than just look at a map to see where a team is from and assume a 5-0 victory off that. Having actually watched Martinique’s first match, I could tell right away that we’d have our hands full on the break. We did. The USMNT always struggles with strong and fast sides. Socail media was chock full of amazing ignorance from USMNT fans last night. A magnum opus performance in that regard.

    That said, better finishing and the U.S. wins comfortably. Chances were there.

    For the love of pete, is their anyone in the player pool who can deliver a decent CK? Is their anyone who can win a defensive header on an opponent’s CK?

    I would expect a comfortable win against Nicaragua. They’re a better matchup for us. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Martinique nick a point off Panama.

    Arena has a hard job figuring out which six guys to replace. He has a lot of candidates.

    Like

    • Johnnyrazor

      Guzan, Pontius, Gonzalez, Agudelo, Roldan, One of the Tijuana guys or Miazga depending on his Euro situation. Perhaps Lichaj if there was a deal with Forest to only play group stage. Really basing this off who should be coming in not on their play.

      Like

  • Ronniet

    I get that Morris scored two goals that helped get the win but other than the goals he was just average to me. I know strikers are supposed to score and he did that but for me Juan Agudelo had a better all around game. He pressed the backline all night, sprung Morris and others after some nice hold up play and got back to defend and recorded a few steals that led to an attack, so lets not count him out all the way just yet!

    Zardes can be so infuriating at times because you see the ability and athleticism but a lot of times the final pass or that bit of composure just isnt there when you need it to be! This team is trending in the right direction as good teams do when they progress through a tournament. Was it great soccer, no, but it was better than the Panama game and the US controlled the game, limiting Martinique to very few clear cut chances. If Guzan doesn’t gift a howler we’re singing a different tune and the second goal was about as fluky as i’ve seen in all of my years watching the sport!

    Like

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