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USMNT 2, Ghana 1: The SBI Breakdown

Saturday’s friendly against Ghana gave us our first look at a very different U.S. Men’s National Team. It’s a new roster with many new faces and there was plenty to wonder about and assume before they took the field.

Their first match came against a familiar foe and, in many ways, it was a very positive run out for Bruce Arena’s team.

The U.S. took the fight to Ghana and emerged with a 2-1 victory behind goals from Kellyn Acosta and Dom Dwyer. It was generally a cohesive performance from a team that had every reason to not look cohesive, given the lack of experience and time together.

It was a game that provided plenty to look at, especially because there were so many new factors on display. With that in mind, here’s a  look at a few of Saturday’s biggest takeaways:


Kellyn Acosta has rapidly become a legitimate first-choice midfielder for the USMNT, and it appears a partner for him has emerged ahead of the Gold Cup.

Acosta and Dax McCarty appeared to be a match made in heaven from the start of Saturday’s match. The two combined masterfully in the heart of the midfield, showing that they’re far and away the first-choice pairing for the Gold Cup.

We all know how good Acosta is now and can be. His attacking game has grown incredibly in such a short amount of time and his free kick on Saturday was another demonstration of how good he is on set pieces. Acosta is very much a contender to start Game 1 in Russia next year and, if his last few performances are anything to go by, it will be hard to unseat him.

McCarty, meanwhile, offers an ideal complement. The Chicago Fire midfielder sat back and did dirty work, allowing Acosta to roam forward at will. The communication was there from the start while, when he did get on the ball, McCarty was clinical, only missing on three passes.

Cristian Roldan will get his chance in the group stage. The opposition is too weak and the games are too fast for Arena to stick to just one team, but, for the opener against Panama at least, Acosta and McCarty should lead the way.


The USMNT will need to rely on technique for the opening matches of the Gold Cup. Teams like Martinique and Nicaragua will offer little on the attacking end and will be content to bunker defensively. It certainly won’t be pretty.

To break those teams down, the USMNT will need technical ability. Speed won’t be enough. Fortunately, the current group has plenty of players that should be able to provide the type of game necessary in those matches.

Kelyn Rowe, in his first USMNT appearance, looked dangerous with one early cross standing out as one of the more dangerous moments. Joe Corona lurked in behind Dom Dwyer throughout, proving the creative hub of the midfield. Paul Arriola wasn’t at his best but, on his day, the Tijuana midfielder is among the more dynamic attacking wingers in the pool.

That trio in Arena’s 4-2-3-1 had never played together before. They hadn’t even practiced together before. But, on Saturday, they generally combined well to feed Dwyer time and time again.

Juan Agudelo is in the picture while Kenny Saeif remains a bit of an unknown quantity. There will always be room for athletic players like Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes, but Saturday’s starters showed the technical ability to shine at the Gold Cup.


Dom Dwyer is who he is at this point. He’s 26 years old and has been around for several years. We all know his game and what he brings to the table.

That game, that style, is one that is needed right now, and Saturday’s match proved he has a role to play for this team right now.

Dwyer will never be as prolific as Clint Dempsey or as strong as Jozy Altidore. He’s not as technical as Bobby Wood or as fast as Jordan Morris. But his engine is something unmatched in the USMNT pool, and it showed on Saturday.

The Sporting KC forward routinely drops back to help out the midfielders behind him. He consistently pressures the backline and make dangerous runs. He also has a knack for popping up in correct positions, as evidenced by his goal just 19 minutes in.

I think it’s safe to say Dwyer has a lot of work to do if he wants to head to Russia next year. He has a lot of ground to make up. But, for the here and now, Dwyer is a valuable piece that should do well at the Gold Cup. A goal against Ghana is a strong statement, and it’s up to him to now add to it.


There are plenty of question marks throughout this U.S. defense. It’s the nature of the current situation. An inexperienced roster breeds questions of how they’ll perform individually and as a unit.

Defense is the unit where chemistry and experience is most important. On Saturday, that group passed its first test.

Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are experienced, although the latter is continuing to develop as a right back. Both looked very good on Saturday. Besler, who probably remains the fourth centerback, looked strong as the leader in back while Zusi handled Ghana’s pacey attack well in what was his best USMNT performance at the position.

Matt Hedges, who is probably battling Besler for that fourth spot, looked solid in his first USMNT start and made several timely clearances. Jorge Villafana was the weak link as Ghana’s pace challenged him. However, he’s been good enough through his first handful of USMNT starts to dismiss Saturday’s performance a bit.

Bruce Arena says Matt Miazga should be expected to get minutes during the Gold Cup while Eric Lichaj will also definitely get into the action. Omar Gonzalez might be saved for the bigger games, but his inclusion on this initial roster means Arena likely has some plan for him for the first three matches.

Overall, some of the bigger question marks in defense passed what might be the toughest test of the initial four-game stretch. It was a positive performance, one that offered plenty to build off of.


It’s a little bit contradictory, but Saturday’s friendly will likely be the biggest test the USMNT faces over the next few weeks. At least until the knockout stage, this Ghana team might just be the toughest opponent the USMNT faces. Excluding Panama, the group stage pairing doesn’t present a murderer’s row for the USMNT.

That adds importance to Saturday’s result. Was it a must-win? Absolutely not. But, for players looking to show they can play on the international stage, a strong effort against Ghana means much, much more than a flawless one against Martinique.

Knowing that, you have to look at someone like Dwyer, whose goal against Ghana is obviously a meaningful one. It was important for Corona to prove he can unlock a tough Ghana defense. It was important for Brad Guzan to organize the defense and provide a penalty kick save. It was important for these players to show well against a team that will actually fight back.

That doesn’t mean the next few games aren’t important. The Panama match will present an obvious challenge. Martinique and Nicaragua will provide their own challenges, even if they’re much different than the ones posed by Ghana.

Still, Saturday’s friendly was a bit more because of the current scenario, and Bruce Arena will be glad to see that his guys generally stepped up in what was a bigger match than meets the eye.


  1. I don’t know why people are not more excited by this, Terrence Boyd has seven goals in two friendlies for Darmstadt. He clearly has earned his spot as the unquestioned starter for the USMNT. I don’t know why SBI is hiding this from the public, this is a bigger conspiracy than why no one says anything bad about Bradley. The stat is real, but I hope its clear I’m joking about the rest.

    • But for real, the fact that McKenzie Gaines went 90 minutes in both of those games with two goals is a good sign. I don’t know if that means he’ll be in the rotation this season at Darmstadt or not, but that would be huge if so.

      • He was solid both years with Wolfsburg’s U19 and trained with their U23s. I don’t know anything about Darmstadt’s depth to know if he has much chance of playing or not. Last week was an 8th division side, this week was a 5th division, next up is a 4th division so I guess we’ll see. Interested to see how much preseason time the Schalke guys get as well.

  2. Acosta was atrocious on set pieces all game. His goal was a good shot but a goalkeeping error.

    Every corner and free kick other than that was very poor.

    Just not an honest analysis of his play from SBI

  3. I guess I’m in the minority here since I’m not ready to anoint either Dax or Acosta as the replacements in the midfield. I watched Acosta gif the ball away a few times, and Dax to me seems a step too slow to play at the international level (smart player with good skill for MLS though…reminds me of a younger Beckerman). I suspect their true measure will be against much better competition.

    I did like Kenny Saif. I’m predicting he’ll break into the roster for the long term. Great control on the ball. Like Acosta and Dax, I want to see Dwyer against better competition. The best work rate I’ve seen in a while, but I’m concerned he’s all thrust and no vector. Villafana was so-so. Zusi will get torched by better competition. I suspect this is Beasler’s last show with the nats as he will be pushed out out the picture soon completely in favor of Brooks, CCV, Zimmerman, Hedges, Omar, and Cameron. Looking forward to seeing Lichaj on the field.

    • I had meant to mention that about Acosta too–a couple of bad giveaways. Acosta is still a bit raw and inconsistent. Re McCarty, I think he is better than Beckerman. So, he’ll probably be okay with teams lesser than Mexico and Costa Rica, and maybe good enough for CR. Dax is a much better passer than Beckerman and made some good through passes of about 20 to 25 yards to start an attack. People forget that before he was a defensive mid Dax was a passing playmaker at the youth level and with FC Dallas.

      • As if the likes of Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Antidote, Dempsey and plenty other first testers don’t give the ball away?? Players have bad give away all the time, no player is perfect and it’s no indictment on any player because it happens frequently.

      • Only time will tell with Acosta and I like him and think he has a good upside. That being said, midfield is a position of strength for the US. We have more decent players than we know what to do with. If you play Acosta, who goes to the bench? You know Bradley, Pulisic and F Johnson are locks, so that leaves one position up for grabs. And if you want to play with Dempsey as a midfielder or withdrawn forward, then he really gets left out. Plus, I think Williams could be better and deserves a chance. It’s not that Acosta isn’t good, but that we have a lot of good midfielders and Saeif looks promising, too. Lee Nguyen is having a good year and didn’t get invited. Is Acosta more deserving? I don’t know. I am just pointing out that we have a lot of good and experienced MF’s who are good enough for CONCACAF, including McCarty.

    • i agree re: dax, but i’m starting to get sold on acosta, partly because the spot’s really up for grabs at the moment. his weaknesses are also ones that are usually redressed by experience (he’s only 21) and more space/time (he’s better as the more defensive mid).

      it makes sense that he looked better when playing alongside bradley, given that bradley is a magnet for opposing players, and acosta (for the most part) was supposed to stay home while bradley roamed.

    • I agree Besler will lose his starting and maybe even the backup LCB spot, but I don’t think he is done, he is probably going to fight with Tim Ream for the backup LB spot. Ream can also play LCB, so is very unlikely that both make the final WC squad.

  4. “It’s a little bit contradictory, but Saturday’s friendly will likely be the biggest test the USMNT faces over the next few weeks.”

    nah. it was an exhibition game against a weak ghanaian team. the real test will be against panama.

    • Again, 8 players who saw the field in their previous AFCON qualifier played on Saturday. Nearly half their #1 lineup. I wouldn’t be so quick to call that Ghana team weak.

      Regarding Panama, they kept a lot of their mainstays off the group stage roster (to my surprise), so who knows, but I will say my only negative of the Arena Era so far was that I thought they gave Panama way too much respect down in Panama City. Please don’t do that again.

      • my statement was simply that this ghana team, relative to past years’ teams, is not that good, not that they didn’t have any first-teamers with them. but even then, ghana is over-dependent on a few very dangerous players, who they did not have for this match.

        more to the point, panama is going to be an entirely different test: they’re not going to give us nearly the space that ghana did, and they’re going to be really gunning for that top group spot, which would be basically guaranteed with a win against us.

      • On the other thread you basically said everyone was stupid this was Ghana’s A team, 8 people played in there last AFCON qualifier. One that match was against Ethiopia at home, and was over before it even started. It was their first match of new qualification in which they’ll face Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, they do not need their A team to advance from that group.

        Two, only five were starters against the US and Ethiopia, and I only counted two subs for a total of seven and one of those was the fourth sub who wouldn’t have entered in a true match, I may have missed a player. Only one player from the friendly played in Ghana’s last WCQ in November that was Waris who came on in stoppage time against Egypt. Only Boye played in their semi-final AFCON loss to Cameroon and only three played in their AFCON consolation in Feb. vs Burkina Faso, the two Ofori’s and Gyan.

        No this was by far not their A team, and their A team is not as good as it has been.

    • I really don’t get the mentality of people that want to diminish the team anytime it gets a win. When the team played in the January friendlies fans were hell bent on criticizing the team for not doing enough against a C team European team. Now that our B-C team beats arguably the best African team it’s we played a terrible Ghana team smh…..people need to realize that this US team has never played together before and looked quite good in possession and created a lot of chances. Was it the perfect game, no, but you have to start somewhere. My point is fans can’t have it both ways, let’s just enjoy the product that BA is trotting out for this tourney with the idea being that a few players emerge as beneficial to the main team going forward into Russia next year!

      • I agree. Ghana plays a style that the USMNT struggles with, so it was nice to see a bunch of inexperienced int’l players handle it quite well.

        That said, Ghana was a horrible choice for a friendly if you wanna get a look at what you’re going to see in the GC group stage (although Martinique could surprise by playing a less rigid bunker than the Central American squads), so it remains a bit of a mystery if this group can put on a similarly productive performance come Saturday.

      • Ghana hasn’t won the African Cup of Nations since 1982, they have been runners up twice since 2000. A win is a win, and we should be happy with that, but there is no need to over blow it. Ghana is recognized by American fans because they beat us twice in the WC and should have made the semis if not for Suarez’s handball, but they are not the best team in Africa. They are currently ranked 9th by FIFA among African sides, and 12th by ELO Ratings.

      • Speaking for myself only, having followed the USMNT since 1990 and sports for decades, I’ve learned it’s a good idea not to get too excited about what are basically exhibitions, whatever the sport. It was a good win, but nothing to get excited about and foolish to project that certain players are now locks for the first team. As I said before this game, it was a meaningless home friendly to get ready for a meaningless tournament. Its main purpose was to find backups and fill out the roster.

      • “I really don’t get the mentality of people that want to diminish the team anytime it gets a win.”

        yeah, me neither. not sure why this was a response to my post, where i simply said that this match wasn’t as important as the panama match.

    • Never implied it was their full A squad, but after seeing terms like “Ghana’s Z squad” thrown around on Twitter I felt obligated to point out that this wasn’t exactly a team of uncapped players from their domestic league either.

      It was a nice showing, I thought. My expectation was that the USMNT would be under siege a lot more than they were (granted El Tri faced a fuller Ghana squad earlier in the week, but Ghana outshot Mexico by a large margin). They moved the ball around well against a team with solid players and created good chances.

      I’ve also pointed out that it doesn’t mean much, since it’s highly unlikely any of the GC group stage opponents will play a style even similar to that, so Saturday will be a whole new test for this group.

      BTW, anyone see that Nicaragua beat Canada, 3-1, in a closed-door 3×30-minute scrimmage yesterday? Oh Canada.

      • Yes certainly wasn’t Z squad or Amateurs as some said but it was an experimental side for country scrambling to get into the World Cup.

  5. 8 straight games, no loses
    tinkering with personnel, no loses
    No Altidore, gives opportunity to other strikers
    No Bradley, brings “fresh air” to our midfield
    Other players are getting the recognition they deserve
    Using Gold Cup the way we use to do it, to recognized our best players (mostly MLS) and highlight our talent not playing in big leagues

    I’m happy

    • This is actually a misconception, the US has brought its best available squad to almost every Gold Cup, with the exception of the 2009 (after Confed Cup) and 2013 edition.

      • 2005 gold cup players (quarter finals)
        Josh Wolff (Kansas City)
        Ben Olsen (DC United)
        Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado),
        Steve Ralston (New England)
        J. O’Brien (ADO Den Haag)
        Frankie Hejduk (Columbus),
        Eddie Pope (Salt Lake)
        Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City),

        “And of course despite the highs of the Gold Cup victory, the U.S. did not fare as well in 2007 Copa América, though U.S. Soccer sent a roster mostly made up of younger MLS-based players”

        so not a misconception,

      • I am not sure what your point is here. The 2005 Gold Cup squad contained 10 players from the 2002 WC team and that GC squad would make up 7 of the starters for each match of the 2006 WC, the only guy that was under 30 in 2005 from the 2002 squad that wasn’t with the GC team was Clint Mathis who was in the midst of a terrible season with RSL. The only top guys from USMNT not playing in the GC in 2005 were Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna, who was injured for most of the 2004-2005 season.

        And then you proved my point the A team went to the Gold Cup and the B team went to Copa America in 2007. The US has traditionally sent its best to the Gold Cup regardless of league the player plays in. That 2007 GC squad contained 12 MLS players, while the CA contained 15 MLS players.

        The US traditionally brings its strongest available team not an MLS all-star team as you suggested.

      • I dont know what your point is either….I said
        “Using Gold Cup the way we use to do it, to recognized our best players (mostly MLS) and highlight our talent not playing in big leagues”
        2005 under Bruce Arena
        The 2005 Gold Cup fell in the middle of qualifying games for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The United States did not enter the tournament with their top veterans, which gave head coach Bruce Arena the opportunity to evaluate and train some newer players.

        “This is a great opportunity to further the continuity of our group, and to get a chance to look at players in meaningful matches,” said Arena. “We have a blend of experience and some new faces, and these games will be very important in terms of formulating our roster for the rest of qualifying. We are certainly entering the tournament with the goal of winning the competition.”

        And he is doing the same thing again…So I don’t know what is your argument or what point you are trying to make.

      • Well Bruce was good at spin back then too. Look at the roster and who played. It was pretty much the WC team of course 12 years ago was a different time, with not as many US players in Europe. Also players didn’t demand as much rest as today, much like the NBA. Bruce has done well, Rowe looked good, let’s hope it continues, I’m not sold on Villafana, hope we get to see your boy Morrow a little at some point. Bottom line the MLSers will be at a disadvantage for making WC roster because they will only have a couple months of season to impress in 2018 as the Mexico and Euro players will have a whole season.

      • Agreed
        …and never say never. Maybe something /someone special will emerge from this tournament and surprise all of us…..Maybe

  6. One of the biggest things I noticed was the way they kept possession, like dax said in an interview(kinda sounded like a shot at Bradley) he said how him and Acosta like the ball at their feet and play the ball on the ground and don’t like hitting the long balls over the top which is something that kills me watching Bradley play every game. I’m not saying bench Bradley but the build up play stood out for me and I know it was a weak Ghana team but it was something I noticed.

  7. Ghana has played everyone tough as of late, so to post a win with a lot of new faces is a positive.

    The Group Stage will be a real test with Panama. Since the Varsity only got a 1-1 draw in the Hex Competition, any result with a draw or better will be huge going into the knock-out round. This will be an opportunity for the rookies to made their bones prior to resuming WC Qualifying.

    • Ghana is 4-5-1 in 2017, wins over Ethiopia, Congo, Mali, and Uganda. Losses to US B, Mexico B, Egypt, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso, with a draw with Benin. To be fair this was also far from their top squad with three EPL based players gone and Mennsah and Afful called back by Columbus. As of now with four matches remaining Ghana sits 3rd in their group 5 pts behind Egypt, for a spot in the World Cup. This was not a big friendly victory.

    • The draw at Panama is by no means due to the U.S. not playing well. The just horrible referee is almost exclusively to blame for the final score. An embarrassment for CONCACAF .

  8. I think it’s a bit rash to make any conclusions or judgments past the Gold Cup from this game. So, to posit that Acosta is likely to start in Russia off of this friendly and a couple of other games is really stretching it. I like Acosta and think he can be an important player in the future, but he has a lot of experienced midfielders in front of him in the pecking order. The Gold Cup is mostly about filling out the roster. The starters in Russia are likely to be Wood, Altidore, and/or Dempsey, Pulisic, Bradley, Fabian Johnson, another midfielder like Nagbe, then Villafana, Brooks, Cameron and Yedlin. Only Villafana played in this game.

    • @ Gary Page – you state that “he has a lot of experienced midfielders in front of him in the pecking order”, than list a midfield 4 sum of Pulisic, Bradley, Fabian & “another midfielder like Nagbe”. Could just as easily see Pulisic & Fabian on the wings with Bradley & Acosta paired centrally. Or a 4-2-3-1 formation where Jozy/Wood are dropped in favor of having both Bradley & Acosta on the field at the same time.
      Yes there are a number of Center Midfielders in the pool who will challenge for a roster spot….
      Bradley, Acosta, Lletget, Williams, Hyndman, McCarty, Roldan, etc…
      But I wouldn’t say that many of them have that much more experience than Acosta does. Will be interesting to watch how things play out over the next 10 months.

      • In my opinion if Arena trust Acosta enough to start him in Azteca, he’d be a bet to start a WC game on a neutral site in Russia. The only guy o could see getting the nod over him right now would be JJ but after the performances by Acosta in the last several games you’d have to believe he’s Bradley’s partner going forward in the starting lineup. IDK who these other veterans are that could possibly be in front of him because they haven’t been called in yet which would make the point moot as of now. There is always the chance D Williams gets a look or Lleget makes a case down the line but for now the spot is Acosta’s to lose

      • I agree with Ronnit, I think based on Acosta getting the start at Azteca, he is probably the one that is in the lead to be MB’s partner. I’m curious if JJ is going to make a comeback or if the only other players to have a chance will be D.Williams and Nagbe. And what will happen if McKenney starts off getting playing time at Schalke, the kid has the potential to be the best 8, ever.

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