Its been one week since the disaster that was the September USMNT World Cup Qualifiers. A home loss to a talented Costa Rica squad and a road draw to Honduras has left the teams World Cup future with a giant cloud hanging over its head. But before we get into why it happened and what needs to be done about it we need to talk about something that has nothing to do with soccer.
Perspective. There has been a lack of perspective about our beloved USMNT. Here is a fact, the United States will one day miss a World Cup. I do not believe that will be this upcoming tournament but it will happen. Now while this should be unacceptable, it is a fact of life. As qualifying gets tougher in CONCACAF good teams will miss out on the most prestigious tournament in the world. It happens in Europe and South America every four years and I anticipate in the coming years CONCACAF will be the same.
Secondly, we are not as good as we pretend to be. We should expect to win every game we play in but World Cup qualifying has never been and never will be that simple. Finally, qualifying for the World Cup is still in the team’s control. They have their two easiest games of the Hex in November and by fixing a couple issues, a team of this caliber should and should be expected to win these games.
With that in mind, lets talk about what went wrong…
Center back is one of the most influential positions in the game of soccer. Center backs are to be organizers, defenders and transit vehicles to move the team from defense to attack.
For a long time now Geoff Cameron has been fantastic for the USMNT at all three of those jobs. Unfortunately Cameron picked the match against Costa Rica to maybe have his worst outing for the U.S. ever. Cameron, who is usually tidy on the ball was really poor at passing out of the back against Costa Rica and was punished for this on the second Costa Rica goal when he poorly gave away the ball and los Ticos caught the USMNT midfield going forward and capitalized to put the game away.
Geoff Cameron was not the only United States center-back who had a nightmare either. Omar Gonzalez did not cover himself in glory against Honduras either. On the Honduras goal Gonzalez gets caught one on one with Romell Quioto (we will talk about why this happened shortly). Gonzalez has decent position on the speedy Quioto but chooses to commit to a “hero” tackle and win the ball by slide tackle. Instead he awkwardly gets caught in the grass and Quioto is able to muscle the ball past him and finish past Brad Guzan.
There was a lot of talk going into the game about the length of the grass. Longer grass is harder to slide on and the ball moves slower on these types of surfaces. To say that a slide tackle here from Gonzalez was ill advised would be giving him too much credit. He either gets stuck as he did or he gives up a penalty. The odds of winning the ball there are not worth the danger. You cannot make that tackle.
Moving away from the defense the team looked pretty inept offensively. Here the problems were less individual and more tactical. I believe Bruce Arena will make the adjustments necessary but he went 0-2 in these qualifiers.
First, lets get one thing straight about Christian Pulisic, he is a number 10. No questions asked. For anyone who will tell me he plays wide at Dortmund, though that may be true, Dortmund asks very little of him defensively except for hard work. Giving him real defensive responsibilities limits his production. He needs to be in the center of the field. Moving him central against Honduras finally got the team moving. Remember, he was the one who earned the foul that led to the Bobby Wood equalizer.
A few final things. If Graham Zusi is going to play right back, he needs proper defensive cover. He was immediately helped by Paul Arriola’s introduction in Honduras. That sub also allowed for Pulisic to go central as we previously discussed. Lastly, I do not believe that “form is fallacy” as Alexi Lalas would say. Both Fabian Johnson and the aforementioned Geoff Cameron were coming off injuries. Both were non existent and one hurt the team. We have to believe in the depth of the pool to allow those guys to be their best.
October is not too far away, I will be previewing both of those games. Until then breathe and hope. The World Cup is still in reach.