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USMNT feeling sense of urgency after dropping Hex opener

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

The CONCACAF Hex is quite forgiving. Of the six teams that qualify for the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, three will seal automatic berths to Russia. Another, meanwhile, will face a team from Asia in a two-legged playoff, offering one more shot at earning a 2018 spot. It’s a process that favors the big teams while offering plenty of room for slight slip-ups.

Still, after dropping their Hex opener against Mexico on Friday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team is already feeling a bit of pressure.

Even with the loss, the U.S. is favored to make a run through qualifying. Friday definitely hurt, but the USMNT’s pride took a much bigger hit than their odds of making the 2018 World Cup. However, with a trip to Costa Rica looming, there is a bit of uneasiness. The U.S. has never won a qualifier in Costa Rica, and another loss on Tuesday night would dig the U.S. quite a hole before taking on the competition’s less-renowned teams.

“The message is simple. We have to go down there and get a result, which we will do,” said USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann following Friday’s loss. “It’s the first of 10 qualifying games. It’s obviously a big one. Mexico is the biggest one we play, but we always know that when we play Mexico it will be eye-to-eye. It’s going to be a nail-biter and sometimes it goes their way and other times it goes our way.

“I told them that we have to correct it for Costa Rica and, in the summer, we can’t wait to get to the Azteca Stadium and go for it right there in their home. That’s part of the qualifying process, the whole long road over 10 games. It’s not a problem, but obviously it’s disappointing. You don’t want to lose this game.”

While Klinsmann was pleased with the second half effort, it was hard to find positives from the USMNT’s first half performance. Another opening half dud would no doubt be punished by a talented Ticos team, one which defeated Trinidad & Tobago, 2-0, to open their Hex run.

From the offset, the USMNT looked rattled. There was no chemistry, no fluidity, no creativity. Now, the pressure comes. In a 10-game run, there’s room for one or two hiccups, especially against the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica. However the fact that one of those hiccups came so early remains frustrating.

“It gets a sense of anger in us. There’s a sense of urgency,” Klinsmann said. “We don’t want to be behind. Costa Rica won tonight so it’s right there. All of those qualifying games are nail-biters and all of these qualifying games are difficult. That’s what the players are prepared for. If you pick out the second half and play the way we played in the second half, I’m not worried.”

A Copa America beatdown of Costa Rica will help reaffirm USMNT confidence. In the two sides’ last collision, the U.S. played Costa Rica off the field in a match that served as the biggest highlight of the team’s Copa America run.

They’ll need a similar effort on Tuesday night. The Hex hasn’t yet escaped the USMNT, but the group remains determined to keep their hands on their own destiny.

“We planned for three points, and we obviously didn’t get that,” said forward Jozy Altidore, “so we have to go there with a mindset to get maximum points.”


  1. I feel better now. Jurgen has assured us that the US will get a result in Costa Rica on Tuesday. It’s not that I believe him.. It just that I needed a good laugh.

  2. If we lose this, let’s move on from Klinsmann. I know it’s a tough game, and I think we’ll get a result, but if we’re unable, I think it’d be the best time to transition before 2018. A long break till March WCQs, January camp in the meantime…Plenty of friendlies to implement a play style and get familiar with a player pool. I don’t think JK is enough of a tactician or strategist to move us ahead at this point.

    I know some of us are peeved about JK making so many changes before a WCQ game against Mexico, and that most of us think Pulisic did really good in that CAM role in the first 35~ minutes, but that’s my biggest complaint about the changes. Pulisic has been playing out wide for club and country and doing really well. So why move him centrally? Why mess with something that is far from broke?

    If Pulisic were a vet I could understand it more, but the kid has only ever played meaningful adult minutes out wide. I thought he showed amazing sparks in the middle, but I also thought his vision cone was a bit narrow and that he didn’t have a sharp, reflexive ability to scan the field.

    I wasn’t one of the people wanting this formation, or even thinking about it, but it could fit us perfectly when healthy and well-practiced…

    Here’s how I’d play the 3-5-2, at full health, against a minnow, with a different coach:


    Against a minnow.

    • I’ll take Pulisic first. He has been playing more inside of late for Dortmund including last weekend. He also played there some last season. The alternative would be to have left him outside and started Kljestan in the middle. I have two theories on that one the nose is causing him problems, two he is not very active defensively. Remember in the 3-5-2 “we need to win those one on one battles”.

      On Klinsi, I don’t think losing to that Mexican team or losing at CR should qualify anyone for termination. There are no FIFA match dates between now and the March qualifiers. Which means the January camp will be MLSers and perhaps Gatt if Molde is not in training yet. European clubs will not release players for any friendly played during that time and we usually end up playing some team whose league is also on a winter break.

      Was your roster for now or in the future? I will say I’m not keen on starting a guy that walked away from the team, especially one that hasn’t been very good for his club of late.

      • Yeah about that 352, I didn’t clarify enough that that was strictly something I’d like to see. I’m not clamoring for Nagbe to start or even get called up again right away.

        I’ve watched most of every BvB game this year and he is always starting on the wing, occasionally drifting around as the game progresses. It’s where he looks most comfortable, like he knows what to do before the ball gets to him. I stand by my comments that he wasn’t reading the field particularly well on Friday. I don’t know about Sacha, but he played the rest of that NYRB game after he came off for 10 minutes with that nose, and looked to be spraying the ball around pretty well. Sacha is actually pretty active defensively, and has played in that deep lying central midfield role a lot over his career. I think he’s slower than Pulisic and that was the deciding factor for Klinsmann, but who knows. Again, I think Pulisic can excel in that position, but I’ve never seen him find passes like Kljestan. He needs time, this whole plan needed more time.

        We always need to win those one on one battles.

        If you think I want to abandon Klinsmann because of two losses, you really think I’m dumb or blinded by resentment or something. I want him out of here because he’s constantly doing stuff like he did Friday, then throwing his players under the bus afterward. Him starting off the Hex going in the wrong direction would be, for me, just enough to heed the warning signs of his tactical inefficiencies and make a change. Then the new coach would have plenty of time to gather and bond with a new staff, watch and build relationships with the player pool…Sure January camp would be the usual, sure our friendlies aren’t going to be against Germany or Spain…I’m not sure where you’re going with that.

        Bottom line, I don’t think he’s getting the most out of his players and, at this point, he’s actively holding them back. They’re consistently unsure about their roles and responsibilities out there.

      • I’m not sure a 3-5-2 will ever be a great formation for the US against better competition, and I think we can morph into it out of a 4-4-2 against weaker opponents anyway given FJ, Yedlin, Chandler, and Acosta’s versatility. Italy seems to be the only national side that really uses it a lot, I’m sure someone will name someone else, but its kind of the national formation in Italy even if its less fashionable these days.

        I should say Pulisic has been playing more centrally, as BvB has almost morphed into a 3 man back line with Piszczek or Guerreiro operating as a wing and CP or Dembele moving inside. You are right he hasn’t played directly under two forwards. I actually thought CP looked better in 3-5-2 although that was more to do with he was almost always on the counter and had more space.

        I still think the window has been missed to fire Klinsman. If you were going to fire him for taking risks, you should have done it 8 months ago. Plus it seems when Klinsy and the boys backs are against the wall is when they play their best so who knows what happens next. My other problem is pretty much all the quality managers have jobs right now. Please no one say Big Sam, I don’t want to hit and hope for Wood or Altidore to run onto it and steal a late point or 3 each match. The luster is off Berhalter, Porter, and Kries for American managers after poor seasons. Cherundolo is interesting, but his highest experience is Hanover u19s or U21s I don’t remember.

        As far as Sacha, he has been an opportunistic defender for USMNT after his return, like the goal against TnT, but I’m not sure he’s going to give you bite needed for Mexico, I still wonder if he was having trouble adapting to the mask effecting his vision as well.

    • Key word there is “well practiced”. No one in our senior team is familiar with a 3-CB system. I can’t think of a single player that has extensive club playing time under that system (maybe Bradley at Chievo?). Its a really hard system to teach, and CB spacing and shape is really easy to screw up (as we saw on Friday). We just don’t have the time in a 2 week camp to learn it.

      • Not defending the system as it was a bad call to make such a dramatic change right before a huge game but to your comment Johnson, Chandler, Jones, Bradley all have extensive experience working in 3 CB formations. It was an adjustment but not the defining reason we fell to Mexico.

    • I’m not condoning that the 3-5-2 is a good or bad formation but 2 example where it strives is:
      Mexico where they swapped out the 3-3-3-1 for the 3-5-2 (and dominated the first half)
      and TFC making the play off’s for the first time by locking down midfields
      and that’s playing a 5 man midfield with a flat-formation, with “talent” or finishers up top.

      Wood/green or Wood/Altidore (Jozy was a work horse)

      Johnson/Pulisic/Kljestan/Bedoya/Chandler or Johnson/Pulisic/Bradley/Bedoya/Yedlin

      Besler/brooks/Gonzo or Besler/Gonzo/Birnbaum

      Dropping Bradley back, in a 5 man midfield, with Jones (2 DM’s) was a failure from the jump…..they have never made the dynamic team we all hope for, let alone in a new formation

      • Tournament on U.S. soil versus world cup qualifier in Costa Rica. The two could not be more different. The U.S. has never played well in San Jose and the Ticos are always dangerous when they play at home. If this U.S. team manages to get any points on Tuesday, it will be a huge surprise.

      • Just tryin to pull back hyperbole. lol. Sure we’ve never gotten the win but isn’t like 0-8-1? So only 88% chance (in a vacuum) that we draw?….. Pointing out we most recently won 4-0 is relevant to help show full story. We can surely beat them. Just haven’t on the road in a WCQ

      • How many of those eight losses did USA have to play on that saprissa turf? And last time around Bradley picked up an injury in pregame warmups. What were the odds Mexico would win on Friday, and are they much different than the USA chances on Tuesday?

      • The U.S. has played five qualifiers in Costa Rica since 2000. Only two of those were on turf. Costa Rica outscored us 13-3:
        2000: 2-1
        2001: 2-0
        2005: 3-0
        2009: 3-1
        2013: 3-1

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