As the United States completed the 1-0 win over Honduras to pick up the full 9 points out of 9 possible in this round of World Cup qualifying matches, one thing became clear: not only has Jurgen Klinsmann found continuity in the U.S. lineup sheet, but also has fully capable backups in positions where needed.
In Salt Lake City, Klinsmann’s selections saw a slow yet methodical work rate on the pitch, plugging away at the Honduras defense until it cracked, with the opposition offering a few shots in return yet ultimately little danger.
Los Catrachos attempted to play for the 0-0 draw, funneling the U.S. into the middle where it remained considerably less dangerous than out wide. It was a clear tactical maneuver, and worked for the entirety of the first half and into the second half.
Klinsmann’s lineup selection, however, continued to pick away until the dam gave way, and Jozy Altidore poked home from close range for the goal and three points.
Let’s look at the main talking points about the lineup Tuesday night:
– Klinsmann reinserted Jermaine Jones into the starting eleven, replacing Geoff Cameron who sparkled against Panama. This was the easy route, as it would have taken serious guts to bench a healthy Jones, stick with Cameron and hope for more than just a one-hit wonder. The main benefit of Cameron in the middle was allowing Michael Bradley leeway to venture forward into the attack. With Jones back, Bradley disappeared again, but Jones was instrumental in the middle. He fed the ball out wide, something which Honduras specifically attempted to prevent.
As the match went on, Jones pushed harder and harder to get the ball to Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson on the wings. The boss made the right move here. It’s wonderful to know that Geoff Cameron is there when we need him, and he’s probably got a better long ball than Jermaine. But Jones is the guy and his point guard play in the beginning of buildups made the difference. Jones had a few wonderful runs on the ball as well that pressed deep into the Honduras territory.
– Graham Zusi returned, replacing Fabian Johnson on the wing, and allowed Johnson to move back into left back. It’s not exactly tactical brilliance considering this was the first choice setup before Zusi missed out against Panama for yellow card accumulation, but the two paired wonderfully yet again and it proved a number of things.
First, Fabian Johnson has established himself as the clear first choice left back. DaMarcus Beasley has had an up and down (but mostly up) last year with the USMNT, but Johnson’s ability to cover the back and contribute out wide up front makes him an invaluable asset in the starting lineup. It’s why I named him Man of the Match against Honduras.
Second, Zusi again provided both during open play on the wings and on set pieces. The U.S. has proved its most dangerous when the ball is either out wide and crossed in, or on set plays. Ever since Landon Donovan took his sabbatical, Zusi has been at the forefront of both those situations, and his accuracy has not only given the U.S. a venomous attack, but it’s also contributed to revitalizing Jozy Altidore’s international career.
– It must be pointed out that now eight members of Tuesday night’s starting lineup are sitting on a yellow card, and thanks to this idiotic rule, a number of them will most likely end up with another in the next few matches and be forced to sit out one in the near future. Those eight are: Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, and newly Jermaine Jones. In addition, Geoff Cameron has himself a yellow as well.
Just by the nature of their positions, Besler, Evans, and Jones are probably the most likely to end up with a second. Clint also early last night looked like he was on a mission to get his second, but settled down when he realized the referee wasn’t having it.
Thanks to relatively clean play, the U.S. has a full squad for Costa Rica on September 6, but Klinsmann will no doubt have to shuffle a few things going forward. Mexico follows that on September 10, but the U.S. can theoretically clinch a World Cup berth with a win in Costa Rica and some help, so it remains to be seen how important the matches down the stretch are.