Tag: DaMarcus Beasley

CONCACAF Match Day: U.S. Defeats Honduras to Complete 9-Point Haul

The U.S. maintained its two point lead over Costa Rica after both teams’ Tuesday night victories over Honduras and Panama, respectively. While the U.S. struggled at times against the pesky Hondurans, they ultimately came together in the second half and earned a vital three points that capped off an impressive four game winning streak and catapulted the U.S. into prime position to qualify for the World Cup.

Now, let’s discuss the game play. On a hot Salt Lake City evening and in front of a packed crowed, Honduras began the game with numbers behind the ball in an attempt to shrink the field of play and force the U.S. to navigate through a compact, narrow Honduran defense. Honduras’ line of pressure was extremely withdrawn, oftentimes employing all 11 players behind the midfield line, and the Honduran players tackled strongly to thwart any U.S. attacks and any attempts to establish a rhythm.

This strategy worked well for the majority of the first half, as the U.S. only created a few half-chances, mostly via Fabian Johnson early crosses into the box and some dangerous set piece deliveries from Graham Zusi. Although Honduras did not pose any serious threats to the U.S. backline in the first half, they effectively stymied the American momentum and fluidity cultivated during their previous victory over Panama.

During the second half, Honduras picked up their level of play and continued to frustrate the U.S. team. However, the U.S. settled down after the first 10-15 minutes and began to take control of the game and dictate tempo to the Hondurans. Graham Zusi sparked the U.S. offense with some nice runs and crosses into the box that opened up the Honduran defense and allowed the U.S. to find more dangerous spaces. Once the U.S. established its rhythm and came into the game, they created several goal-scoring opportunities before Jozy Altidore opened the score sheet on a nice finish to the corner and extended his goal scoring streak to four consecutive games, tying the American record.

It is amazing what confidence (and some much needed service) can do for a player. The oft-criticized  Altidore looks like a different player since the Germany game. He is playing like a forward brimming with confidence who expects to score every game and is not satisfied with just one goal. We are witnessing him blossom before our eyes and I shudder to think of the nightmares he will be giving CONCACAF defenders for the next decade. To all the doubters, Altidore is an absolute force, and, given proper service, can eviscerate opposing defenses. Do not forget the disallowed goal that showcased his poise, touch, and finishing ability. Jozy has arrived and is only getting better.

After the Altidore goal, the U.S. seized control of the game and played more conservatively to secure the all-important home victory. The nine points earned during this three game trifecta have almost definitely (not quite, but it’s close) sprung the U.S. into the World Cup next summer in Brazil. With two tough games upcoming against Costa Rica in Costa Rica and home to Mexico, these points reduce the pressure of having to earn top results in these challenging matches. For now, let’s go to my match grades.

Tim Howard – 6.5 – On a night where Howard was rarely tested, he did come out strongly on the save against Najar and on several tricky crosses into his penalty box. Howard has not appeared to be at his best lately, but he still is the leader of our backline and is very experienced. He is and should remain the #1 throughout the qualifying cycle and the upcoming World Cup.

Brad Evans – 5.5 – Brad Evans delivered another sturdy performance at right back but has certainly come down from the high of scoring the game-winning goal versus Jamaica. While Evans did not make any major mistakes, he did not display the strong service from the back that he demonstrated versus Germany.

Omar Gonzalez – 5.5 – Omar Gonzalez continued his trend of making a glaring mistake in his own defensive third when he cheaply gave away the ball to Honduras early in the first half. Gonzalez still plays like an enigma – dominant at times, careless at others but not consistent enough for a player of his caliber

Matt Besler – 6.5 – My affinity for Matt Besler has not waned. While he also had a bad giveaway (in a less dangerous location than Gonzalez, albeit), he continued his steady play and made some timely tackles in the box on low Honduran crosses. Besler has put a stamp on the #1 centerback position in the U.S. player pool.

Fabian Johnson – 7.25 – In replacing the suspended DaMarcus Beasley at left back, Johnson played very well and demonstrated that he can successfully play either left back or left midfielder for the team. Johnson defended well but also got forward effectively and delivered some promising crosses.

Graham Zusi – 7.5 – Zusi was the catalyst for the U.S. in the second half and was involved in a handful of dangerous build-ups, including the one that led to the goal. Zusi has certainly staked his claim on a starting position for the near-term future and has been a welcome addition to the team during this qualifying campaign.

Jermaine Jones – 6.0 – Coming off a concussion suffered against Jamaica, Jones had a very uneven performance wrought with ups and downs. Jones made some strong runs forwards and a few nice cross-field passes, but exhibited rust as he made some uncharacteristic (some would not use this word) miscues in losing possession and missing tackles.

Michael Bradley – 7.5 – What more can you say about Bradley. He leads the midfield, and the U.S. is simply a better team with him on the field (take a look at the U.S. record with and without Bradley under Klinsmann*). While Bradley and Jones did not display the same cohesion that Bradley shared with Cameron, Bradley was the better of the two and raised his level of play considerably in the second half, particularly when Jones exited. Bradley tackled well, worked tirelessly, and pinged the ball around the field throughout the game.

Eddie Johnson – 6 – My opinion continues to be split when it comes to Johnson. He has shown a knack for scoring goals, in key moments I might add, however, I often feel he plays a half-step slower than his teammates and disrupts the rhythm of numerous build-ups each game. I think Johnson is a useful player to have in the squad but should be used in specific situations. In a game versus a disciplined, compact opponent, like Honduras, Johnson is less effective because there is less space available for him to navigate the playing field or get behind the defense. Johnson excels against teams that allow him time on the ball and allow him to run in behind the backline.

Clint Dempsey – 6.5 – Dempsey, again, was not at his sharpest but still got into dangerous positions and nearly connected on some good deliveries into the box. Dempsey has not showcased the flair and skill that he flaunted against Germany in the previous three games. While he appeared a step off and looks like a player ready for a summer break, Dempsey, even off his best form, still threatened the Honduran defense and occupied their attention throughout the game.

Jozy Altidore – 7.5 – Altidore, whom I glowingly praised above, has turned the corner and elevated his game to the next level. His finish was a tricky one, as he placed a bouncing, short-hopping cross into the corner. Early in the game, Altidore outwardly expressed frustration as he lacked service and the Hondurans clipped his heels at every turn. But once he got going in the second half, Altidore terrorized the depleted Honduran centerback tandem and linked up well with the midfield.

*For those who are curious, the U.S.  is 11-2-5 (with losses to Brazil & Honduras) with Bradley in the lineup under Klinsmann and 5-6-1 without Bradley.

**Tactical Breakdown with more praise for Bradley

What We Learned:

1. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler have emerged as the centerback pairing of the future

Before this three game qualifying slate began, USMNT fans were hoping that Gonzalez and Besler would take the reins of the centerback pairing logjam. While Gonzalez was unsteady at times and made mistakes, he and Besler showed that they are a formidable duo and should only improve as they gain more experience. Hopefully, Gonzalez can learn to eliminate his unforced errors before the Hexagonal ends and in time for the World Cup.

2. Brad Evans is not a permanent solution at right back

Brad Evans saved the game versus Jamaica with a heroic game-winning goal, which should not be forgotten, and turned in an inspiring performance in a terrific victory over Germany. That being said, Evans has some limitations that are apparent at this level and has not supplanted Steve Cherundolo or Timmy Chandler of their places on the right back depth chart. However, given Cherundolo’s age and Chandeler’s frequent injuries, Evans is a reliable safety valve for the U.S. team.

3. A number of players solidified their positions in the squad

Fabian Johnson, Graham Zusi, and, to a lesser extent, DaMarcus Beasley staked a claim on starting positions on the U.S. team going forward for the remainder of the qualifying campaign.

4. There is a Geoff Cameron conundrum

Geoff Cameron’s versatility is both his gift and curse. Cameron has shown that he can be effectively deployed at three different positions – Center Back, Right Back, and Center Midfield – both for club and country. On the one hand, his coaches love his flexibility and insert him into the line-up whenever there is an injury or a suspension. However, his lack of dominant position and frequent rotations often leave him without a secured spot at any one position. I really enjoyed his relationship and chemistry with Michael Bradley in the center of the midfield versus Panama, but Klinsmann has not hidden his adulation for Jermaine Jones. It will take several more impressive performances (or perhaps and injury or yellow car suspension) for Cameron to replace Jones. Cameron is another option at Right Back if Cherundolo or Chandler are not fit.

5. Jozy Altidore has arrived

It goes without saying, but I am a huge fan and advocate of Jozy Altidore. He has grown and developed tremendously at AZ Alkmaar over the past two seasons, but, much to the dismay of USMNT fans, had not produced at the same level for the U.S. team. Without going into those reasons, it is safe to say that Altidore has arrived and in a big way. Altidore, who is primed to move to a bigger club this summer, combines power, speed, technique, and a great finishing touch in one tantalizing 23-year old package.

That is all from me. Soccer fans, watch the Confederations Cup and the U-20 World Cup.

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CONCACAF Match Day 5: USMNT Recap and Other Ruminations

USMNT

First and foremost, let’s talk about that impressive, dominating 90-minute performance from the Americans. It’s difficult to recall a match where the ‘Nats took control of the game from start to finish and squeezed their opponent into submission so exhaustively. The Panamanians, aside from one or two chances against the run of play, did not pose any consistent threat to Tim Howard and the U.S. defense.

From a tactical perspective, the Canaleros (“the Canal Men”) came out putting numbers behind the ball, as expected, and looked to catch the U.S. on the counterattack. The U.S. were well-prepared and confident, exercising patience as they probed the defense and picked their spots in making the incisive pass to break down Panama. For the first 25 minutes or so, the U.S. was a bit sloppy and off rhythm in the final third, unable to connect on their final penetrating passes. However, as the ‘Nats worked themselves into the game and as their confidence built, they grew sharper and more clinical around goal. Both goals, and DaMarcus Beasley’s shot off the post, left the Panamanian defense helpless and showcased the potency of a free-flowing U.S. attack. Moreover, do not understate the importance of scoring the first goal early because the goal forced Panama out of their shell and opened up the game for the Americans. In the second half, the Americans controlled the game and choose the right moments to attack and build their lead against the overextended Panamanian defense.

While USMNT fans should be nothing short of ecstatic after witnessing a thorough take-down of a pesky opponent, I think it should be noted that a performance like this raises the bar, both for better and worse. For better, this games illustrates that the U.S. can play in the proactive approach, predicated upon keeping possession and attacking the defense for 90 minutes, that Klinsmann promised to implement upon his hiring. For worse, however, the collective expectations of all USMNT fans has risen, and rightfully so. While the U.S. is not going to transform into Spain overnight and a gulf still exists among the U.S. and other soccer powers, this game proves that the U.S. does not have to rely on counterattacking and exploiting set pieces when playing top teams around the world (though these strategies are still useful). Do not expect the USMNT to perform at this level in every match, as the team will undoubtedly face ups and downs during its ascension, but a match like this is a critical step in raising the level of play for the USMNT.

From a Panamanian perspective, they sorely missed Blas Perez, their mercurial, prolific striker, who could have tested the U.S. backline. With the exception of Alberto Quintero, no Panamanian player consistently threatened the U.S. defense, and Quintero seemed more interested in drawing a penalty than scoring or setting up a goal for himself. USMNT fans, note that this Panama team had not previously lost in the Hexagonal round and is no slouch. All in all, the key takeaways from the match are the many superb individual performances, the phenomenal, uplifting Seattle crowd, and the continued strong decision-making of Jurgen Klinsmann. Now, here are my player grades.

Tim Howard – 6.0 – While I believe the whispers of Brad Guzan being ready to assume the #1 Goalkeeper spot are premature and unfounded, Tim Howard has not been his dominant self the last few games. While he earned the clean sheet and made one strong save, Howard looked indecisive in not coming off his line on the Panamanian goal that was narrowly offside.

Brad Evans – 5.0 – I am still a fan of Brad Evans, but I think this game brought him down to Earth, especially coming off the heroic stoppage time goal versus Jamaica. Alberto Quintero gave Evans fits down the left side before switching over to the right side, and Evans was a step slow in stepping to his man on the pass that sprung Panama’s offsides goal. Evans had some nice moments distributing the ball, but, overall, his match was up and down.

Omar Gonzalez – 5.5 – Omar Gonzalez was mostly absent from the match, which is always a good sign for a defender, but, on one of the few plays where he was challenged, he completely lost his man who was streaking into the open space in the box behind him. While Gonzalez continues to grow and develop, it is vital that he learns to eliminate these mental lapses that seem to happen 1-2 times a match.

Matt Besler – 7.0 – For the third consecutive match, I believe Matt Besler outshined his centerback partner, Omar Gonzalez. Besler is rock-solid and plays with the poise of a defender who has been through the qualifying gauntlet numerous times. Besler made several strong tackles in the box to break up crosses and distributed the ball well from the backline.

DaMarcus Beasley – 6.5 – Making his sixth consecutive start, Beasley put in another strong, sturdy performance for the ‘Nats. While Beasley was beat badly by Quintero on one play when he switched over to the right side of the field, Beasley played very well otherwise and nearly scored a goal on a surging run forward, reminiscent of the Beasley of old.

Eddie Johnson – 6.25 – The hometown hero made a terrific run to time Geoff Cameron’s pass and calmly finished past the Panamanian goalkeeper. Besides his well-taken goal, I thought Eddie played decently but slowed the ball down on a few U.S. attacks, which broke up potential goal scoring sequences. I don’t think he played well enough to displace Graham Zusi from his position on the right side of the midfield.

Michael Bradley – 8.0 – My man-of-the-match. Bradley’s continued growth and development has been extremely satisfying to watch. Already one of the best midfielders in CONCACAF, Bradley is still improving and showed his class all night. Bradley worked tirelessly and sprayed the ball all over the field. His beautiful cross field pass to Dempsey catalyzed the Beasley near-goal, and his booming runs forward, including the one that started the first goal, consistently created dangerous chances for the U.S.

Geoff Cameron – 7.5 – Alongside Jozy Altidore, Cameron was the second most impressive player for the U.S. Cameron and Bradley completely controlled the midfield and owned their Panamanian counterparts in every capacity. Cameron tackled extremely well and was a calming influence in the center of the park, demonstrating surprising comfort despite his somewhat limited experience in that role. His pass to spring Eddie Johnson was perfect. Klinsmann must love the versatility that Cameron provides.

Fabian Johnson – 6.5 – Fabian Johnson showed marked improvement over his previous performance versus Jamaica. Johnson worked the left wing for the U.S. all game and delivered a perfect cross for the first U.S. goal of the game. I still think Johnson can be more consistent and impose himself on the game more frequently, but he is a promising player that showed his talent versus Panama.

Clint Dempsey – 6.0 – This rating shows the high standard Dempsey has set for himself. While Dempsey displayed glimpses of brilliance and showcased budding chemistry between him and Altidore, he was a bit out of sync the whole game. However, it should be noted that his surging near-post run pulled the defense apart to allow Jozy to finish the first goal.

Josy Altidore – 7.5 – How about scoring a few goals to boost your confidence? Altidore was a beast last night, getting involved often and providing excellent hold-up play. Altidore appears to have an insatiable appetite for scoring goals and extended his consecutive scoring streak to three games. While Altidore did a good job of getting involved, I still think the U.S. can do a better job of finding him, which is a scary thought for the rest of CONCACAF.

Seattle Crowd – Seattle USMNT fans, you were absolutely incredible last night and deserve to host many more matches as soon as possible. It was truly breathtaking to hear every chant of the raucous crowd through our TV sets, and I think I speak on behalf of every American soccer fan when I say that hearing the “We’re going to Brazil” chant emanating throughout my living room was my favorite USMNT crowd moment of the past decade.

Hexagonal Thoughts

After the completion of the first five matches, the Hexagonal is beginning to take shape. Having lost to Honduras, Jamaica is essentially all but eliminated and has reduced the competition to five teams competing for 3 (potentially) 4 spots. Following the loss to the U.S., Panama faces an uphill climb to qualify for its first World Cup, as it has three remaining matches on the road and faces group leaders, the U.S., at home. The U.S. has put itself in very good position, leading the group with 10 points after the first 5 games (3 of which were on the road), and can extend its lead with a win over Honduras next week, which would avenge its opening loss to Honduras in the first game of its Hexagonal campaign.

I would be remiss if I neglected to speak about Mexico. Firstly, what is happening to Mexico? They have yet to score in three home matches, much to the frustration of their fans, which boiled over into complete chaos when Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican captain, was hit in the head with an unidentified object as he attempted to take a corner kick.  It goes without saying, but there is absolutely no place in the game for actions like this. Players’ safety should not be endangered while they are playing. While I encourage each and every nation’s fans to cheer as loudly as possible to create a hostile environment, Mexico has taken it too far. On a similar note, Mexican fans’ affinity for shooting laser pointers into the eyes of opposing players is disgraceful. Perhaps if their team was playing better, they would not have to resort to such immature behavior. Finally, FIFA is planning to review this game and may prohibit Mexico from hosting future games at their storied stadium, the Azteca, so keep an eye on that development.

Looking Forward to Honduras

The U.S. has worked itself into excellent position as it heads to Salt Lake City to take on a Honduras team that handed them an opening loss at the start of their Hexagonal campaign. USMNT fans will be eager to see the U.S. build upon their sterling performance versus Panama and avenge their opening match loss to Honduras. With a week’s rest and no known injuries, Klinsmann should have a full squad at his disposal, leaving him with some interesting decisions to make.

Will Klinsmann:

1. Rest any regulars to offer a chance to other players and/or prevent suspension from yellow card accumulation?

I believe Klinsmann will field the strongest lineup possible and look to earn three points at home to cap off an excellent three match qualifying series.

2. Continue to use the backline of Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, and Beasley for the fourth consecutive game?

I believe Klinsmann will maintain his backline, despite an uneven performance from Evans versus Panama.

3. Replace Cameron and Johnson with their predecessors, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi?

I believe that Zusi will reclaim his spot in right midfield over Eddie Johnson. The Geoff Cameron situation is more uncertain. He played well enough in Jones’ stead that Klinsmann may elect to keep him in as Jones recovers from the concussion he suffered versus Jamaica. Another possibility, although more unlikely, is Klinsmann replacing Evans with Cameron at right back.

That’s all from me today. Add any comments below if you’d like to discuss any of my thoughts in more detail.