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The Morning After: A second look at USA-Cuba


There is no other word to describe the U.S. Under-23 national team’s performance against Cuba on Tuesday night than disappointing. A 1-1 tie isn’t the worst result in the world but the Americans missed a golden opportunity to bag three points and make things easier for themselves in the rest of the Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Peter Nowak deserves the blame for a flat first half by his squad, a performance that was a product of lineup and formation that was just not going to work with the personnel he used. Yes, the first 15 minutes of the match were promising for the Americans, but that was down entirely to the creativity and trickiness of Freddy Adu.

The concept of using Charlie Davies and Robbie Findley as wingers was a nice attempt at flooding the U.S. attack with speed, but neither player looked comfortable on the flank and they wound up leaving Jozy Altidore all alone up top. Altidore looked lost at times as he waited for service that never came. Nowak’s decision to leave behind Robbie Rogers and Arturo Alvarez was only made more puzzling by the awful showings of Davies and Findley (though it should be noted that Rogers is believed to have been carrying an injury)

The second half was better for the Americans, particularly the play of Dax McCarty, Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan, but the forward trio of Davies, Findley and Barrett looked just plain awful. I know Altidore didn’t have a great first half but he is head and shoulders above those three forwards and it is scary to think what the U.S. team would do without Altidore for an entire tournament.

The defense also looked extremely vulnerable. The fullbacks looked decent in the first half but I saw them beaten too many times in the second half. Luckily for the Americans, Cuba just couldn’t deliver the final pass to create quality chances. Aside from the equalizer of course.

So what now for the Americans? Scrapping the 4-2-3-1 formation is a start (not just scrapping it but burning it in a fire. The 4-4-2 the U.S. team used in the second half was effective and Nowak has the players to make it work.

What did you think of Tuesday night’s performance? Share your thoughts below:


  1. Formations, personnel, Nowak, Players…

    I would encourage people to understand that while the players didn’t perform, and the choice of wingers was perplexing….

    In my opinions, it WAS Nowaks fault for one overarching reason. He did not field a PIVOT. You cannot run the formation he had in place without a deep lying playmaker. You HAVE to have a CM whose JOB it is to switch the field. Dax and Edu are both very good at maintaining possession and winning tackles, but neither are good at the 50 meter pass switching the field to the onlapping winger. That IS what the 4-2-3-1 is supposed to do. The only two CM we have in the pool to can do that are Benny and Sacha. Benny was picked and Sacha didn’t start. Nowak should have never put out that formation with that personnel.

    It was a juvenille mistake, an U-16 Mistake, an Arena Mistake (Czech 2006 4-4-1-1 with a HM & DM)

    These are my opinions, and others have rightly pointed out that the coach can only do so much and then the players have to perform. This is correct. But the coaches job is to put the gameplan in place so that when the players DO perform, they can win. Nowak didn’t even do that. Save for the individual brillance of a certain Mr. Adu…cue irony…we would have lost that game.

  2. As far as Szetela goes, the kid is what?? 20?? trying to establish as an american in a spanish league…. not an easy feat by any means… now that he’s been loaned to a serie b team he stands a chance to establish himself, but its all on him now…

    Eugene- you asked if Serie B is worse then the MLS, and the answer is: it’s better… Serie B, while being a 2nd teir to Serie A, still has LOADS of quality players and good teams…. if he musters up time and even a starting spot by next season, he’ll get great experience…


    anyhow, as Beckhambauer stated, Nowak isnt the issue here. Outside of his odd choice of wingers (which as i stated, truely played as forwards) he placed a quality side… hopefully this time he’ll realize that he needs wingers who play as wingers and will stick to 2 top with adu behind them and 1 DM….

  3. Stop the Nowak bashing. It’s ridiculous. He put the team out on the field in a position to win. The players didn’t finish their chances which let Cuba back in the game. Evidence? The first 20-30 min. we were all over them. The speed on the outside was working. If they finish even just one of those chances … the rout is on. But they didn’t… all a coach can do is put the players in a position to succeed. Yin’s need to get out of the NBA, NFL, MLB mindset that coaches win games… in soccer it’s 80-90 percent up to the players on the field.

    Nowak was fine… our finishing wasn’t, because, let’s face it, our talent isn’t all that great just yet. We now have made progress in that our U23s are finally all professionals… but look around the world at U21s, U23s… those players are all mostly playing with big clubs. We have exactly one player playing on a big club…Freddy, and he barely plays. Think about it… our potentially best player, Jozy, plays for the famous super club…the New York Red Bulls. What does that tell you. We’re improving but we are soooo not there yet.

  4. I think people have to realize that Danny Szetela will likely be yet another in a long list of can’t miss young American players that just never made it. This seems to be happening at an alarming rate. The future, as far as a lot of prospects are concerned, never materialized.

    I remember last year Sigi Schmid talking about Szetela’s struggles and saying this year was the most important of his career because it would likely determine whether he makes it as a player or not. I think the final verdict on Szetela is finally in. I was astonished that a European team actually signed him. He’s very lucky he had a good tournament at the right time. The bottom line is he has been around for quite a while now and is not developing into a good player. He couldn’t even get into the lineup on a weak team in MLS, and now he can barely get onto the bench for a second tier team in Italy. Enough said.

    People calling for him to have been in the lineup against Cuba shows some people are clearly not qualified to criticize Nowak.

  5. It’s not Nowak, its the players… Until US players learn to use their skills the proper way to hold the ball under pressure, these kinds of result, along w/ the kind we saw against Mexico and Ghana are going to keep on happening… These players are as skilled as just about any in the world (w/ the obvious exceptions of the 4 or 5 best soccer countries), its all in the head. Positioning yourself so that when their is pressure and the gameplan breaks down, you know what to do… We saw it again last night, first 20 minutes, no pressure so the gameplan worked to perfection and the players were able to use their skills as they were coached. last 25 minutes, a ton of pressure, at that point instincts have to take over and the players need to be able to handle themselves… W/ the exception of Adu, and to a lesser extent McCarty, nobody on the field had confidence in their abilities enough to control the ball… Feilhaber and spector in the center midfeild, rogers and alvarez on the wings I believe would have been able to keep cool and control tempo in that situation and get the players organized so their not just bombing balls downfield… Hopefully it was just a case of first game jitters, and working the kinks out, as the players really aren’t used to each other yet

  6. Eugene

    Szetela has dressed a couple times for Brescia-made the bench I mean- but has not got any minutes.

    Face it- there must be someting wrong with him or his form is terrible-just like everyody else’s favorite- Benny F.

    Look- these guys coaching are not complete idiots eve though WE ALL question their choices including me.

    Remember Szetela did not even get regular starts with the Crew. He had a nice U20 and made the most of it with the contract with Racing.

  7. I think some of these assessments of Findley are a bit harsh. Did he have a real good game? No. But he was played out of position and was pretty active from what I saw. However, I do agree the missed 1v1 was terrible (and very out of character-I don’t think he missed one of those for RSL last year), but to base his whole performance on that one play is unfair.

  8. undrafted,

    are you kidding? Barret and Davies were the two worst performers on the night. Davies…terrible. In the case of Barret, hard work and endeavor don’t make up for being poor. And it wasn’t just his touch that let him down- prescience, decision-making. About the only thing worthy of note was his hustle. And (mikeinsd), referring to him as teh ‘u-23 equivalent of Twellman’misses the mark; Twellman is one of teh most prolific scorers in the MLS while Barrett (at least last night) is just A$$.

  9. though I did think the US was terrible last night, I have a bone to pick with those people who are picking on the formation in the first half. They see 4-5-1 and cry out “defensive”. In actuality, the way it was intended was a 4-2-3-1 and it can be a VERY attack oriented formation. I’ll give 2 examples…2006 France with Malouda-Zidane-Ribery supporting Henry up front. Second example…AS Roma with Mancini-Giuly-Perrotta supporting Totti. Anyone who’s ever seen Roma play know they typically play very attack minded and flowing football.

    On the other hand, Liverpool and Italy both have used the same formation and used to counterattack more.

    Point being…don’t cry about being too defensive based upon a formation. Look at the players on the field and the role they are attempting to fill.

    Now, obviously Nowak didn’t have the proper wingers in place, but I think that Adu and Altidore are perfectly suited for the roles he had them in. Problem was Freddy got no service and Altidore lacked the necessary movement up top. We all have a man crush on Josi but that doesn’t make him a perfect player. I would have liked to see Zizzo get a run on the right wing.

  10. Danny Szetela plays for Brescia and now that he’s actually at Brescia and not Racing Santander, yes he gets minutes there

    Is Serie B crap compared to MLS? I must have missed that

  11. Re: Dax

    I like Dax a lot, but I see him as clearly behind Michael Bradley and Danny Szetela when available. Dax can also play the attacking midfield role well, so in a way I’m surprised that Nowak kept him and Freddy on so long when they have two more games to play this week.

    For people who haven’t seen Dax play, he’s very good, but there are significant things that Freddy does better as an attacking mid, Bradley and Szetela do better as two-way mids, or Edu and Szetela do better as defensive mids. So Dax’s problem is that he’s not the first choice for the US anywhere in central midfield.

  12. A guy above stated it perfectly. The USSF is a group of insiders. We need foreign coaches.

    Last night’s game was disgusting – pathetic – aggravating. The coach’s line up was cocky and the players were cocky.

    Complete crap. If we can’t beat Cuba, the renaissance of American soccer that I believed was looming is in fact far, far away.

    How did Feilhaber not make the team? Outrageous.


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