The decision by Jurgen Klinsmann to fly the majority of the squad in from Europe could have been different if Major League Soccer was currently in season, but with our domestic league and its players currently in stasis, it only made sense for Klinsmann to bring in the big guns for such an important game.
Having to do so, however, posed a big challenge to the members of this squad as they headed into tropical weather shortly after getting off a plane coming from a European winter. Add to that the Hondurans decision to move the game from primetime to the hottest part of the day and what you’re left with are very difficult circumstances for the U.S. to earn a victory.
But who wants to hear excuses? The fact is, this team went out onto that long grass pitch and took a 1-0 lead despite the heat. With the center back pairing of the future, the federation’s best attack minded player and the ever reliable Tim Howard in goal, you’d figure that a 1-0 lead may not be safe, but at least a good start to proceedings.
Instead, the U.S. couldn’t hold their lead for even ten minutes before lazy defending from the entire starting 11 led to an opportunity for a Honduran cross into the box. With Maynor Figueroa’s chest bumping the ball into the air and Juan Carlos Garcia’s smashing bicycle kick, the Hondurans quickly and effectively sucked all the life out of the U.S. for the last five minutes of the first half.
The second half saw Klinsmann’s side create some decent chances, but as the proceedings wore on, it became pretty obvious that the starting lineup was a major issue causing the U.S. trouble. Without getting into personnel reviews, let’s take a closer look at where Klinsmann’s starting lineup went wrong.
A midfield defensive stalwart and a good passer when given the ball in that part of the park, Jones is a multi faceted talent, but he’s not a winger. So when his name was announced in Klinsmann’s midfield, I assumed that he it would be he, and not Danny Williams, inhabiting the space alongside Michael Bradley. Instead, Klinsmann went with Williams in the middle and Jones on the wing where each looked completely out of place.
If the German wanted to have Williams in the midfield, that’s fine, but Jones can’t play also, or vice versa. Bradley has earned his spot through hard work and a good sense of urgency that he brings to the game, so Klinsmann has a decision to make. He had wingers in Graham Zusi, Sacha Klejstan, Brad Davis and Jose Torres that he could of deployed from the start in an attempt to have a more lively lineup from the beginning, but instead he opted for an approach that took the best out of Jones and Williams alike, leaving his squad with Dempsey, it’s best goal scorer, as it’s only real wide option.
Granted, it was Jones who chipped the defense to setup Dempsey’s 36th minute go ahead goal, but look at where it came from. Jones was simply following instinct and went into the center of the pitch to play that ball in. If you look at the play, he was essentially in the place of a central midfielder rather than a winger as he was originally deployed.
Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley was, for a long time, too defensive of a midfield pairing. But developments in Bradley’s game in his ability to play up the field have changed things and the two looked good in their time on the pitch together against Honduras. Danny Williams and Bradley on the other hand looked more like two guys trying to do the same thing in two different ways.
Each wanted to be a creator, Bradley using possession and passing finesse, Williams using speed and individual effort. In the end, the balance wasn’t right and the U.S. didn’t have enough control over the ball in the midfield for the 60 minutes they played together.
By the time Klinsmann made the necessary changes in the second half, the team’s playmakers had worn themselves down to the point that they were pretty much flat. He made all three substitutions leaving himself with no flexibility as the game wore on. Perhaps if Edu and Zusi would have started, the game would have been different. Maybe the U.S. would have been able to use the width of the pitch to run Honduras a little harder or maybe they would have had the possession they needed to squeeze another goal out of the game. We’ll never know, but moving forward the young manager needs to establish his starting eleven rather than experiment with it.
As for the second goal, which came entirely down to a defensive break down between Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, I would say you can expect more of it. Changing your center back pairing to build for the future is never an easy thing, but it’s absolutely necessary to not rely on an aging Carlos Bocanegra. Gonzalez has needed to be included in the U.S. team for some time and Cameron is the “man of the hour” so to speak having earned himself a crucial role at an English Premiere League side.
The two have rarely, if ever, have played together and chemistry in a center back pairing isn’t something that just happens. It has to be cultivated and allowed to grow on its own. In time, Gonzalez and Cameron will be a great pair, let’s just hope it’s in time to get us to Brazil in relaxing fashion.
Adding to that, this team is supposed to be different under Klinsmann. The offensive ingenuity of the squad is supposed to be reaching new heights as goals come pouring in. We haven’t seen it and laying our woes at the feet of the players may be a mistake. Instead, if performances like Wednesday’s continue, you have to put it on the man who was supposed to take us beyond this and the people who hired him. No, you can’t fix a team over night, but after a year and half, you should at least have a clear diagnosis and be moving in a direction towards improvement. Looking at Wednesday’s game, it’s tough to see. Despite all that talent, we still desperately need Landon Donovan.
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