Matt Besler

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Is 3 the answer? Formation options for USMNT in key October battles

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The United States men’s national team controls its own destiny when it comes to World Cup qualifying, a fact that has been in its corner since the beginning of the Hex and even its 0-2 start.

Matches remain at home against Panama, the team currently occupying the final automatic spot in Russia, and on the road against Trinidad and Tobago. The Yanks drew Panama on the road and waxed T&T at home, but that was before this week’s setbacks put the U.S. under World Cup qualifying pressure it hasn’t faced in years.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup scenarios ]

Even worse? A draw against stingy Panama, which has only allowed five goals in eight Hex matches, would leave the Yanks requiring a win and help in order to slide into third.

The United States has picked up just two points from its five matches against the teams ahead of it on the table, a home draw with Panama and a road point at Mexico. The Yanks have also kept just two clean sheets, and those came in 6-0 and 2-0 home wins over Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

The biggest problem, by far, is defense. Whether set pieces, counterattacking, or even the run of play, the U.S. has allowed 11 goals in the Hex. And clean sheets against Panama have been hard to come by, with 1-1 draws in the last four competitive matches between the two.

So is the answer three at the back?

It’s a small sample size, but the U.S. looked bright in recent matches against Mexico and late in the Honduras draw when it moved to three defenders at the back. Arena used Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron in the 1-1 draw at Mexico, flanking them with DaMarcus Beasley and DeAndre Yedlin. Against Honduras, there was Cameron, Gonzalez, and Matt Besler in the middle.

[ USMNT: Recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 3-5-2 or even a 3-6-1 with Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood up top would give the Yanks a plethora of midfielders, a position which has been lonely if not awful over the last two qualifiers (Alejandro Bedoya, Danny Williams, or even — gasping while ducking — Jermaine Jones would be welcome respites from the soft play of the middle section).

John Brooks’ thigh injury will keep him out of October’s qualifiers, but Yedlin should return to return Graham Zusi to backup status. Timmy Chandler continues to perform very well for Eintracht Frankfurt, but Arena has said he doesn’t want to call up players who haven’t been involved with the team. That’s problematic because he’s the one who hasn’t taken a look at the right-sided Bundesliga player, who’s had struggles in the U.S. shirt but played the third-most minutes for a mid-table German side (Might wanna look, Bruce).

Also, I believe that Arena should be forced to watch Zusi and Gonzalez on Honduras’ goal every morning when his alarm goes off and then during the final two hours before he announces his lineups for Panama and T&T.

Alas, that’s digression.

Arena loves the 4-4-2, so it seems likely three at the back remains a break glass in case of emergency tactic. But humoring the idea, would you rather have Fabian Johnson at left back — if we see Jorge Villafana again, oh my — left mid, or left wing back? To me that’s the question.

Here’s a 3-5-2:

Wood — Altidore

Johnson — Pulisic — Bradley — Bedoya — Yedlin

Besler — Cameron — Ream

Howard

And a 4-4-2:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Nagbe — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

And, for fun, a 4-4-2 if Arena breaks from his routine of only using guys who’ve been in his call-ups:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Chandler — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

Player ratings from the USMNT’s fortunate draw in Honduras

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The United States men’s national team nearly walked behind the 8-ball in terms of World Cup qualifying, but super sub Bobby Wood moved the Yanks’ chances of Russia closer to likelihood.

[ MORE: Honduras 1-1 USMNT | 3 things ]

Wood’s 85th minute goal, kept alive by Matt Besler and Jordan Morris, helped the Americans to an unlikely point after an insipid performance versus Honduras in a 1-1 draw at San Pedro Sula.

The Yanks will finish the international break outside the automatic qualifying places if Panama wins vs. Trinidad and Tobago later Tuesday.

How’d the men rate? Read on…

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 5 — Sometimes, the keeper is just there.

DaMarcus Beasley (Off 62′) — 5 — The left side of the defense wasn’t great, but didn’t have a quarter of the problems and miscues of the right side.

Matt Besler — 6 — The best of the U.S. backs gets a bonus point for keeping the play alive after Acosta saw his free kick parried past the back post.

Omar Gonzalez — 2 — Woeful, but saved himself from the ‘1’ we had here with a game-saving late tackle and another good intervention.

Graham Zusi (Off 63′) — 2 — Almost a laughably bad day. Can’t be pardoned for what appeared to be an extreme lack of focus on Honduras’ opener, and he was often cooked for pace.

Michael Bradley — 5 — Nothing impressive from the maestro, as he completed just eight of a astonishingly low 13 passes according to CONCACAF.

Kellyn Acosta — 5 — One of the few players to consistently show desperation, an otherwise subpar performance was mostly redeemed by his late free kick that led to the equalizer.

Darlington Nagbe (Off 73′) — 3 — After an early dribble to set up a chance, Nagbe disappeared as Honduras bodied him out of the game.

Christian Pulisic — 5 — Dealt better with the constant fouling than Nagbe, but couldn’t quite put his imprint on the game aside from an early chance stymied by Luis Lopez.

Clint Dempsey — 4 — Surprisingly, the big game player’s most noticeable moments were petulant pull backs and fouls. Not a banner night in a starting role.

Jordan Morris — 6 — Deprived of service, the Seattle Sounders man produced the best chance of the first half and received an assist for heading the ball back to Wood.

Subs

Paul Arriola (On 62′) — 6 — Worked hard down the right and put his shoulders into Honduran players. It shouldn’t have been a sight for sore eyes, but it sure was.

Geoff Cameron (On 63′) — 6 — Perhaps the best part about his introduction into the game was that Omar Gonzalez calmed the bleep down. No surprise he rebounded from Friday’s rare awful performance.

Bobby Wood (On 73′) — 7 — Scored the equalizer and came within a shoelace of getting a chance at a winner. Should’ve started.

Three key storylines for the USMNT ahead of Honduras clash

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U.S. Men’s National Team supporters are still trying to get over the mess that they witnessed on Friday night at Red Bull Arena, but there isn’t much more time to sulk.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios remaining for the USMNT ]

Three matches remain in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and the USMNT is in a heated battle for a place in Russia next summer with both Honduras and Panama.

With Mexico already qualified and Costa Rica on the brink of reaching World Cup 2018, that leaves one automatic qualifying position up for grabs, while a potential playoff with a nation representing Asia could also be an option for Bruce Arena and Co.

[ MORE: Breaking down the USMNT’s back-and-forth Hexagonal run ]

Let’s take a glance at the most intriguing storylines heading into the USMNT’s WCQ against Honduras.

Defensive shape, center back pairing?

There were a handful of tactical mistakes made by Arena during Friday’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, but the glaring lineup error that stuck with everybody was to pair Tim Ream with Geoff Cameron at the central defense.

This isn’t to say that Ream or Cameron aren’t quality players, however, it was quite noticeable that the communication and tactical awareness necessary to pull off the defensive partnership wasn’t present in New Jersey.

Cameron is a lock to start for the U.S. in any important match moving forward given his Premier League experience and overall solid play on big stages for the Stars and Stripes, but the question of which player starts alongside him on the back line is one that must be pondered.

Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Matt Hedges are the three other options Arena has at his disposal for Tuesday’s match at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, which will be the USMNT boss’ biggest match to date since beginning his second term with the Yanks.

Besler is the logical option given his World Cup experience and the fact that he is a left-sided player due to the fact that he is left-footed. The Sporting KC man boasts 44 caps with the U.S. and his club teammate Graham Zusi will also be starting along the back line, which could certainly help with any potential communication errors.

Who starts at striker?

Jozy Altidore and his 108 appearances for the USMNT will be severely missed in Honduras, but the Toronto FC striker will miss out on the match due to yellow-card accumulation.

That leaves Arena with another massive lineup decision on his plate heading into the crucial match in Central America. While the former LA Galaxy manager’s other options on the bench do have decent experience, his pick of the litter doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

Let me explain.

Clint Dempsey is by far the most-viable option for Arena, but this also isn’t three/four years ago. The Seattle Sounders forward is 34 years old and his ability to be playing a full match in Honduras is strongly in question.

It’s more likely that you’ll see him in an extended role during the second half on Tuesday, especially if things aren’t going the Americans’ way.

Bobby Wood should be guaranteed another start up front barring something unforeseen, so that leaves Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski, unless Arena opts for Wood as the lone striker.

Isolating Wood like that in the attack could really help or hurt the U.S. attack, though. By starting Wood as the team’s forward it could potentially give Arena the freedom to bring on a player like Paul Arriola from the start and move Christian Pulisic in from the wing to a more central position alongside Darlington Nagbe.

However, Arena will probably stick with two up front — and if that’s the case, it should be Jordan Morris.

Morris may be the young gun on the pecking order for U.S. forwards, but he offers the most in this situation. His speed and on-the-ball skills give the USMNT attack the opportunity to stretch the field and play off of Wood — who is equally as quick in open-field situations.

Even with so much on the line, Morris has shown in big games before that he is capable of stepping up. Tuesday could be his next chance to do so.

How does the U.S. handle adversity?

Arena has lost just once since taking over his USMNT post for a second time, and Tuesday’s match will surely be the 65-year-old’s biggest test in Round 2 as manager.

Last week, I wrote about the U.S.’ chances of reaching Russia — which for the record, I believe they still will.

That doesn’t change the fact though that a loss or even draw against Honduras changes things drastically for the Yanks.

Here’s a look at how the table could look by the end of Tuesday if everything goes wrong for the U.S.

  1. Mexico — 18 points
  2. Costa Rica — 15 points
  3. Honduras — 11 points
  4. Panama — 10 points
  5. USMNT — 8 points
  6. Trinidad & Tobago — 3 points

In this scenario, the U.S. could theoretically fall to fifth place with a loss to Honduras, while Panama could also leap the Stars and Stripes with a home win over Trinidad. It’s impossible to say all of these situations will occur, but it’s not that far-fetched.

Trinidad has been the door mat of the Hexagonal, so Panama could surely take care of business at home. Meanwhile, Honduras is a very difficult place to play, and San Pedro Sula could surely stump the Americans for a draw or possibly worse.

MLS Snapshots: SKC start post-Dwyer era with win; RBNY run wild

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Sporting Kansas City 3-2 Chicago Fire

The game in 100 words (or less): Four days after trading away their leading goalscorer the last four seasons (55 goals during that period), Sporting KC showed no signs of missing Dom Dwyer en route to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Fire. Daniel Salloi, Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing picked up the scoring slack on Saturday, as Peter Vermes’ side returned to the Western Conference summit. Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dax McCarty all returned from the U.S. national team and went straight into their respective side’s starting lineup; David Accam started another game on the Chicago bench, having reportedly requested a transfer after being left off the All-Star lineup by his own head coach, Veljko Paunovic, and for the second straight game came off the bench to score in the second half.

[ MORE: SKC trade Dwyer to ORL | Sigi back to LA | LAFC hire Bradley ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

23′ — Salloi does it all by himself, makes it 1-0 — Aided by a bit of fortune on a pretty wicked deflection, Salloi is rewarded for his 50-yard run. A word of advice: keep an eye on this kid.

28′ — Besler’s clearance winds up in his own net — Sometimes you just want the ground to open up beneath your feet and swallow you whole.

45+1′ — Feilhaber bikes it home for 2-1 — Feilhaber didn’t have a ton of time think about how he was going to put this one over the line. He opted to invert himself, and it worked.

51′ — Blessing gets a touch as the ball is headed for goal — Diego Rubio did the heavy lifting; Blessing applied the poacher’s final touch.

78′ — Accam gets on the end of a cross for 3-2 — It’s usually Accam streaking down the left wing and whipping the ball into the box, but this time the Ghanaian international was on the receiving end of Patrick Doody’s cross.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Latif Blessing

Goalscorers: Salloi (23′), Besler (28′ – OG), Feilhaber (45+1′), Blessing (51′), Accam (78′)


New York Red Bulls 4-0 Montreal Impact

The game in 100 words (or less): Total shots: 24-5; shots on target: 11-2; possession: 70-30; total passes: 553-241. Need I say more? Daniel Royer scored twice, and Bradley Wright-Phillips and Michael Murillo tallied one goal each. New York leapfrog Atlanta United for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, now two points back of New York City FC for third. Montreal, meanwhile, sink to 10th in the East, seven points out of the sixth and final playoff place.

[ MORE: SKC trade Dwyer to ORL | Sigi back to LA | LAFC hire Bradley ]

Three moments that mattered

23′ — Royer converts after winning the penalty — Win the penalty, score the penalty.

58′ — Murillo’s slams it home for 2-0 — Murillo happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that’s his first goal in MLS.

85′ — BWP applies the dagger late on — Alex Muyl’s cross left Maxime Crepeau in no man’s land, and BWP did what BWP does.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Daniel Royer

Goalscorers: Royer (23′ — PK, 89′), Murillo (58′), Wright-Phillips (85′)

How might the USMNT line up in the Gold Cup Final?

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The United States men’s national team became the favorite to win the Gold Cup when Bruce Arena called up more than 500 caps worth of experience after the group stage, but there’s one group that wasn’t improved at all by the legendary MLS coach, and that’s defense.

So while Michael Bradley and Tim Howard certainly help the unit take shape and Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all improve the side’s speed, passing, and creativity, no move was made to help a back line that’s done anything but thrive in this tournament.

Most of this is not Arena’s fault. John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Geoff Cameron were given time to focus on their European careers, and “next batch” backs Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler fit into that overseas bunch as well.

[ MORE: Palace signs Ajax CB/DCM/LB ]

That doesn’t change the fact that the easy weakness for the USMNT right now has a big chance to be exposed by opponents Jamaica, who — as funny as this sounds — are possibly a worse match-up for the Yanks than the side it upset in Mexico’s ‘B Teamers’.

While player ratings are far from the be-all, end-all, we’ve had two writers handle the Americans’ five matches of Gold Cup. Here are the ratings for the eight backs on the roster by appearance.

Jorge Villafana — 6.5, 5, 6; Omar Gonzalez — 6, 5, 7, 5; Matt Miazga — 7; Matt Besler — 7.5, 6, 8; Eric Lichaj — 5, 7; Justin Morrow — 6, 5; Graham Zusi — 6, 5.5, 4; Matt Hedges — 5, 5.

Only Besler has avoided a dud so far, and keep in mind that Arena has not subbed a back in the tournament and also loves Gonzalez.

[ WAYBACK: How U.S. lost to Jamaica in 2015 Gold Cup semi ]

Dealing with speedy Jamaica is a challenge for a group that’s looked pretty mixed up when it comes to dealing with counter attacks. This is especially challenging for one player, Matt Hedges, who is better suited for teams that want to attack through the air.

As for the midfielders and forwards, remember that Arena pulled Paul Arriola after 66 minutes in the semifinal and let Darlington Nagbe and Jordan Morris go all 90.

Considering all that, here’s how Arena may try to win the Gold Cup and put one American foot in Qatar for the 2021 Confederations Cup (That’s still happening, by the way).

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

Bradley — McCarty

Arriola — Corona — Zardes

Altidore

As a bonus, here’s how we think the subs may play out given player use in the run-up to the final. Call this between the 65-80 minute marks, and it can work with the lead or pushing for an equalizer or winner:

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

 Acosta/Pontius — Bradley — McCarty — Nagbe

Altidore — Morris