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USMNT 6, St Vincent and the Grenadines 1: The SBI Breakdown

photo by Scott Kane/USA Today Sports
photo by Scott Kane/USA Today Sports

The road to Russia got off to a great start via a lopsided victory that most observers saw coming, and there were some things to take away from the match despite it being so one-sided.

The U.S. Men’s National Team began its quest to reach the 2018 World Cup with a 6-1 rout of St Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday. Incredibly, the U.S. fell behind five minutes into the qualifying match at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri, but overcame the early hiccup by dominating the rest of the way.

While the Americans as a whole showed well in the game, there were a few individual performances that really stood out. Fabian Johnson made a case to continue to be deployed on the left side of the midfield instead of at right back, and Jozy Altidore demonstrated how he could potentially be better utilized by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann going forward.

Klinsmann, who entered the World Cup qualifier under mounting pressure, also introduced a pair of promising players to the fold. Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga were each given their first caps as second-half substitutes, and Klinsmann is surely hoping that their integration pays off down the road when the games get tougher.

There is the belief that nothing can be learned from such a lopsided affair, but that is not true. Here are some of the things to take away from the U.S.’s win over St Vincent and the Grenadines:


Fabian Johnson showed good things at left midfield. Some really good things.

That said, the level of the opponent was always going to prove rather easy for Johnson and the U.S. to show well against.

Johnson impressed by combining well with his teammates and looking aggressive on his dribbling runs, but St Vincent and the Grenadines were far from a formidable foe. The Vincy Heat midfielders and defenders put up little resistance against the American attack, and could not even give Johnson a hard time with their athleticism. It was an impressive performance for the veteran who has been used at right back with the U.S. for much of the past few years, but Johnson will have to show more of the same against more talented opponents to make this positional change stick.

The 27-year-old Johnson should be able to do it given that he is playing and thriving at left midfield these days for UEFA Champions League participant Borussia Moenchengladbach. Tricky road World Cup qualifiers await, however, and Johnson might have to rely more on his grit and two-way play than his technical skills to make an impact because of how ugly those games can be.

Should he be able to do that and sprinkle in some of the attacking qualities he showed on Friday, then this transition to left midfield can truly become permanent.


Forget his two goals and assist, and Jozy Altidore still had a heck of a game.

Altidore impressed in the rout in a different role than usual, as he was as much of a facilitator as he was a goal-scorer. Whereas Altidore was used more as a target striker who had to get into the box and on the end of things in recent games, he was paired next to a more mobile forward in Bobby Wood this time and tasked with dropping back to help the U.S. circulate the ball.

Not only was Altidore more involved in the attack, but he looked confident and engaged when dropping to collect the ball with his back to goal. He passed it quickly, and used his body better to pick up fouls, including the one that led to Johnson’s game-winning free kick in the 19th minute.

The insertion of Wood played a big part in this, as it allowed Altidore to not have to rely strictly on service. Altidore usually stays higher up and has to play off the other forward when Clint Dempsey is next to him, but this match vs. St Vincent and the Grenadines showed the ingredients for how Altidore can be more successful in the U.S. attack.


Jurgen Klinsmann’s face said it all.

Immediately after St Vincent and the Grenadines scored the shock opener five minutes in, the usually animated and energetic Klinsmann stayed rooted to the bench and stared blankly at the field. The U.S. head coach looked half in disbelief, and half worried. The Americans, who have been on a run of bad form in recent months, were losing to an inferior opponent. At home. In a World Cup qualifier.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati revealed to media prior to the game that he had a meeting with Klinsmann in late October, and one of the things discussed was Gulati’s unhappiness with the recent string of poor results. Gulati even told media that Klinsmann was not guaranteed to keep his job through the entire World Cup qualifying campaign if these disappointing results continued.

“I don’t know anyone that would say, ‘No matter what happens, this is what we’re going to do,'” said Gulati. “That’d be silly.”

The U.S. eventually righted the ship and cruised to a win. Klinsmann was able to breathe easy. Still, it is the upcoming qualifiers against more talented foes that the U.S. will need to do well in for Klinsmann to feel better about his job security.

Klinsmann has said in the past that he welcomes pressure and critics, and now, perhaps more than ever, he has to deliver some good results. His boss is watching.


DeAndre Yedlin has started four of the U.S.’s last five games, but he should not be getting penciled into the lineup with such regularity going forward.

Yedlin was at least partially to blame for the U.S. conceding early vs. St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the way in which he was beaten was alarming. Covering at centerback for Geoff Cameron, Yedlin found himself 1-on-1 with Oalex Anderson, who proceeded to simply run by Yedlin before smacking a shot on frame. There was no crafty dribble or incredible movement. Just a simple exploitation of space that was barely challenged.

The 22-year-old Yedlin bounced back after that, and did not have any other real blunders. He set up Bobby Wood’s 11th-minute equalizer with a good run, and spent much of the remainder of the game in St Vincent and the Grenadines’ half.

That early mistake showed, however, that he is still not ready to be a regular starter at the international level. His defending is improving, but he needs more repetitions at right back with Sunderland to really be ready for the tougher tests that await in World Cup qualifying.

For now, Yedlin should continue to be used as a wide midfielder in a substitute role. His speed and athleticism make him a terror for tired defenders, and he has found much success for the U.S. when he is asked to simply provide a spark and attack.

Yedlin will improve and could lock down a starting spot at some point in this cycle, but right now he simply still is not enough of a well-rounded player to consistently get the nod in games of real significance.


  1. I’ve long said Altidore needed a speedy striking partner (I am a huge Dempsey fan but he’s getting old; and oh the days of charlie davies…). but i never really thought to consider him playing a tactical CF behind a striker in a 4411 of sorts. it makes sense tho. also with FJ slashing inside, as noted above, he really helped create from a central position

    • Right–I was just going to add– I think Jozy was happiest in the days of Charlie Davies too. He was the power striker playing off the speed striker. He always looked most comfortable in that role. Plus the dancing was better too.

    • “i never really thought to consider him playing a tactical CF behind a striker in a 4411 of sorts”

      ::raises hand:: i have! jozy’s best attribute has always been his quick-interchange passing. that’s one of the reasons that i liked deuce being left behind, because if he’s there, then he pretty much claims that “withdrawn forward” space.

      of course, as you said–fabian really helped create space. and also the obligatory qualifier that it was only St V&G.

  2. The best takeaway from this game for me was Klinsmann not making (all of) the same mistakes he usually does. Playing Yedlin and Johnson in their natural positions was a big part of it, but so was going to an actual 4-3-3 when Nagbe came into the game. I don’t think making Bradley the #6 in that setup is really optimal considering his two way skills, but at least Klinsmann didn’t immediately try to push Nagbe out of his comfort zone. That’s somewhat heartening. I also remain unconvinced that Bradley and Jones work well next to each other in a 4-4-2, but that will probably naturally work itself out as Jones ages. (Though who replaces Jones is a huge open question – plenty of options but no indication which way Klinsmann will go. Dax would be ideal, but…)

    • Joamiq – your correct to say that there are “plenty of options but no no indication which way Klinsmann will go” as far as replacing Jones. If you believe Jones is a Box-to-Box type midfielder than there is Nagbe, Diskerud, Hyndman, Gil, and others coming up in the youth ranks. If you believe Jones is a CDM than there is Williams, Morales, Kitchen, & Trapp (These are the same players leading the charge to replace Beckerman).
      However, I have to disagree with you that Dax would be ideal. I may be in the minority, but IMO Dax has not shown anything to distinguish himself above those who have already been brought in under JK.

    • You know, it makes a big difference who you are playing and where. Playing St. Vincent and the Grenadines at home, it only makes sense to play a 4-3-3. Playing Mexico there or Brazil at any time or any place, you might want to go with a 4-5-1. This is standard coaching practice. It will be interesting to see if we go with a 4-4-2 and go for the win at T&T, or play it conservatively with a 4-5-1 and go for the draw.

  3. I noticed that when we had possession Bradley and Jones both dropped deeper into playmaking roles and stayed wide of each other. Altidore and Johnson began checking/cutting into that space where the traditional number ten plays in a diamond midfield. It was actually pretty cool because Bradley and Jones play better when they can drop deep like that, and the other players were quick to notice space. Much better than Bradley trying to turn under pressure – he is not naturally good at that.

  4. Gotta read goal and sbi these days to get the full story. The quotes that tie them together – regarding FJ playing LM Jurgen said “we thought it might be a good idea to keep that consistency. He’s had a good run of games with his team so we left it that way.” (On goal,com) I wonder what hit Jurgen in the head to all of a sudden become this logical? “Gulati even told media that Klinsmann was not guaranteed to keep his job through the entire World Cup qualifying campaign if these disappointing results continued” (on SBI)

    I agree with all points, glad to hear Sunil stepped up and JK has accepted some simple facts (FJ at LM, yedlin at rb, start Wood, Besler-Cameron and Alvarado on the bench). This game was good for all; confidence booster with a warning to Yedlin that he needs to sharpen his game at this level.

    Interested on how we respond on Tuesday in a difficult environment. I hope the lineup stays relatively the same except with Nagbe taking the place of Jones. If we had a RB (Spector, Orozco maybe?) to take Yedlins spot I would keep him to the sub role Franco suggests but I don’t see another option than letting him learn how to defend 90 min at a time.

  5. I’ve gotta say – I think people are being a little hard on Yedlin for that goal. It looked terrible, but he didn’t have much choice but to force him inside, where he thought he could get help. Had he forced him outside, he probably would have gotten smoked. Yes, I think he could/should have done better, but he was in a tough situation and the guy took a great shot. As mentioned in the article, the rest of the game was pretty good.

    • Great comment. It definitely looked pretty horrible (and it was) but judging the performance in its entirety, it’s a bit of a red herring.

    • Forcing him inside was fine. The problem was that he had to actually step up and challenge. There’s no way you can ever allow someone to freely dribble into your box and take an uncontested shot.

      • I don’t disagree, but had he stepped up to pressure too hard, he would have been easily run passed. He certainly could have done better, but from my view, he was in a tough spot, and the guy made a good play, that would be missed more times than not. So with that perspective, I was surprised it was considered a take-away from the game

    • It is interesting how some guys get a pass here while others don’t. Yedlin screwed up;, they shouldn’t have scored that goal. You can make whatever excuses you want, but that is the bottom line. If Altidore had made a similar mistake of equal gravity, he would have been crucified by the posters here.


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