Tim Howard

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Three things from the USMNT’s 2-0 win over El Salvador

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The United States of America is not winning the Gold Cup.

At least that’s not how things look despite Bruce Arena’s much-needed call-ups of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, and Clint Dempsey.

[ MORE: Match recap | Altidore bit | Player ratings ]

Don’t let the clean sheet fool you: The defense was a mess again, the finishing was off, and any other remaining team in the tournament would’ve dismissed the U.S. at the quarterfinals given the same chances.

Agree or disagree, read on…

Back line blues

Tim Howard bailed out Eric Lichaj for a miserable early giveaway, but the play was far from an aberration for the Yanks’ defense.

Lichaj, solid in his first match of the tournament, struggled with giveaways in this one. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges were caught out of position and sometimes out of the camera, with the former’s missed clearance of a cross nearly allowing El Salvador back into the game in the 63rd minute.

With this roster and Costa Rica on the other side Saturday, Hedges probably needs to slide back onto the bench and Gonzalez needs to be paired with his World Cup mate Matt Besler. We’d still like to see more from Matt Miazga, but unsure a semifinal against the team that got your last coach fired is the spot for a relative rookie.

Now what does Arena do with the fullbacks? Neither Lichaj nor Morrow shone in defense, but Graham Zusi has been very poor and Jorge Villafana is yet to put forth a complete performance in this tournament. Looking back to the Martinique charade, defense is slated to send the Yanks away from the Gold Cup without a title and probably without a Final. Find a fix, Bruce.

The roster changes were needed

While it wasn’t Clint Dempsey’s best night, he provided a key assist and made sure that each of the five roster changes — third string goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez is six — showed why Arena made the changes after the group stage (though who he sent home, *cough* Kelyn Rowe *cough*, remains up for debate).

Michael Bradley is simply the best option in the center of the park right now, and showed that the captain is still the man even if Dax McCarty is a fine backup. Darlington Nagbe was clean on the ball as usual, Tim Howard made an early calming stop of a horrible Lichaj giveaway, and Jozy Altidore showed that he remains the player to game plan for if you’re a CONCACAF team. While only Howard and Bradley will really love their games, all five will be necessary to a Gold Cup Final run.

Adjustments haven’t been great

Maybe Arena doesn’t have the options he needs to show “master tactician” status, and his work is far from the biggest team problem, but the second half was a problem.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

One substitution in particular was questionable: Arena took off Paul Arriola and replaced him with forward Jordan Morris. Now perhaps this was somehow due to Arriola’s sneaky groin kick earlier in the match, and that’s about the only way I can handle the sub (Full disclosure: I’ve enjoyed watching Arriola, so if you think he’s been poor then call this post “Two things” and move on).

The move disrupted Nagbe’s great night and the Yanks never really rebounded to threaten a third goal. In fact, they probably should’ve seen their lead knocked down to one at least once. The Kellyn Acosta for Gyasi Zardes sub was welcome, for sure, so it’s not like Arena was a disaster. And the side hasn’t looked aimless as it did under Jurgen Klinsmann, so this isn’t a witch hunt. But the Americans need better.

USMNT-El Salvador preview: Come together, right now

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The United States men’s national team is now reinforced with plenty of CONCACAF experience, and should find itself in the knockout rounds come 11 p.m. ET Wednesday.

That’s two hours after kick-off against El Salvador, and the plucky Cuscatlecos are back in the quarterfinals for the third time in four tournaments.

This is a match that will be more about Michael Bradley and his fellow U.S. call-ups gelling with the gents who led the Group B triumph over the past 10 days.

It also gives Clint Dempsey a good chance to draw level and perhaps pass Landon Donovan for most goals in USMNT history. Dempsey’s 56 are one shy of Donovan’s 57 (in 23 less matches).

[ USMNT: Ranking quarterfinalists | Stock up/down ]

El Salvador got here by beating Curacao and drawing Jamaica after a 3-1 loss to Mexico, who was also carrying a B Team, so this is a significant step up in class for El Salvador.

The visitors bring four U.S. based players in San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Darwin Ceren, Reno 1868 midfielder Junior Burgos, and New York Cosmos pair Richard Menjivar and captain Andres Flores.

Especially dangerous on the counter, something Arena doesn’t quite expect on Wednesday, forwards Nelson Bonilla and Rodolfo Zelaya have 33 goals in 83 caps.

Experience won’t be a problem for the United States, who added 486 caps to the lineup with the additions of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley (Uncapped Jesse Gonzalez and 17-times capped Darlington Nagbe also joined the fray).

If Arena opts for the lineup suggested by our own Joe Prince-Wright, we’d expect a three or four goal win for the Yanks. If he continues to use Graham Zusi at right back, it could be a little closer as the Sporting KC man has left a lot of space for attackers in this year’s tournament (again, not his fault).

The sides last met in the 2013 Gold Cup, when the Yanks posted a 5-1 win behind a goal and three assists from Donovan (Mix Diskerud, Clarence Goodson, Joe Corona, and Eddie Johnson also scored).

While that score line is unusually disparate, the Yanks have never lost to El Salvador. There’s almost zero chance that happens on Wednesday.

Bradley, Dempsey, Howard join USMNT for Gold Cup KO rounds

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CLEVELAND (AP) Forward Clint Dempsey, midfielder Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard are among six additions to the U.S. roster for the knockout phase of the CONCACAF Gold Cup as coach Bruce Arena opted to add some of his most experienced players.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 3-0 Nicaragua | Three things we learned ]

Arena also added forward Jozy Altidore, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, the U.S. Soccer Federation said Sunday. Gonzalez’s application to change affiliation from Mexico to the U.S. was approved by FIFA last month, after the deadline for setting the 23-man roster for the group phase.

Goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson were dropped along with midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe, and forward Dom Dwyer. Arena had planned in advance to replace Guzan, Johnson and Bedoya.

Bedoya is expecting the birth of his second child next week.

[ REACP: USA beats Nicaragua, 3-0 ]

The U.S. plays its quarterfinal Wednesday in Philadelphia against a third-place team from another group, likely Honduras, El Salvador or Jamaica. The opponent was to be determined Sunday night.

Using a mostly junior varsity group, the Americans opened with a 1-1 tie against Panama and wasted a two-goal lead against Martinique before winning 3-2. The U.S. defeated Nicaragua 3-0 Saturday night, getting an 88th-minute goal from Matt Miazga to win Group B by edging Panama based on total goals.

Each team is allowed to make up to six changes in the 24 hours after finishing the group stage, and the additions must come from the 40-man preliminary roster submitted in early June.

“We have added some experienced players,” Arena said in a statement. “The players leaving all made a good impression, and I’m optimistic for their future with the national team program.”

Dempsey has 56 international goals, one shy of Landon Donovan’s American record. Dempsey, Bradley, Howard and Altidore all are regular starters when the full national team player pool is called in, and Nagbe appeared in the first seven U.S. matches this year after Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann and started his second stint as coach.

The U.S. improved to 32-1-4 during the group stage of the Gold Cup and 6-0-5 since Arena returned.

Updated USMNT roster

Goalkeepers: Jesse Gonzalez, Bill Hamid, Tim Howard

Defenders: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafana, Graham Zusi

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Chris Pontius, Gyasi Zardes

Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris

Three things from the USMNT’s draw with Venezuela

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The United States worked out the kinks against Venezuela ahead of two huge World Cup qualifiers.

Drawing 1-1 in Utah, the Americans started slow and won’t love their evening overall.

[ MORE: Player ratingsWatch Pulisic’s equalizer ]

Yet the Yanks saw dynamite performances from Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic, with Jorge Villafana also doing plenty of good.

Set pieces are a real concern

Bruce Arena’s appointment didn’t guarantee much, but it promised significant improvement on set pieces. Jurgen Klinsmann’s team did not fare well on corner kicks and free kicks, and Arena was supposed to fix what ailed the Yanks tactically.

Not yet.

The Yanks have not been much better, if at all, in dealing with set pieces, allowing another goal off a corner on Saturday and saved from a second by one of two fantastic saves by Tim “No. 1 Forever” Howard.

Either Fabian Johnson (likely), John Brooks (maybe), or both were victimized on the goal, moved out of position by the ping-pong of the ball amongst Venezuela heads (Win a 50-50, gents!).

And the second saw Clint Dempsey lose his mark for the first header, and Michael Bradley lost on the second as Howard bailed both veterans out.

Pulisic, Pulisic, Pulisic

At the risk of over exuberance, the Borussia Dortmund 18-year-old continues his path toward becoming a transcendent U.S. talent.

Pulisic scored five goals for BVB this season, and now has five as a national team member. Again, he’s 18.

This time, it was a composed move atop the 18.

“The ball just came back to me on top of the box. I just didn’t see the shot on my right foot, so I cut it back once and just put it right to the back post.”

There’s also something about the way Pulisic sees the ball in the center of the park, and the way he sets up for his longer passes, how they come off his foot.

There are some questions about his BVB future with Thomas Tuchel, a huge Pulisic proponent, out the door, but there aren’t any when it comes to his import within the USMNT structure.

Post-friendly calm

Listening to Pulisic and Tim Howard after the game, this friendly was part of the process. No, it didn’t look good. No, they didn’t come out well. But yes, they knew they were experimenting as well as the merits of that experimentation.

That last part is the biggest difference so far under Arena, and the half-year game plan to get used to playing at altitude has embedded itself in the players. We’ll see whether it’s successful on Thursday versus Trinidad and Tobago, and then Sunday at Mexico, but right now we like hearing the following:

Pulisic: “Obviously we had a slow start. We didn’t come out with the right intensity like we should have but as the game went on we found a groove. We’re getting used to the altitude. We’re looking a lot stronger and we feel much more confident.”

Howard: “Just a little bit of experimentation but Bruce Arena emphasized that every time you put that shirt on it means a lot.”

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela

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The United States failed to beat a non-powerhouse on home soil, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some very good performances from Bruce Arena’s men.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-1 Venezuela ]

Who starred, and who slipped? Read on…

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 8 — Two outstanding saves on a rocket shot and its ensuing corner made up for a goal he didn’t have much hope of stopping anyway.

Jorge Villafana — 8 — Saved the U.S. bacon in the first half, helped prod the play that started the equalizer, and had an all-around lively day.

John Brooks (Off 56′) — 7 — When he pairs with Cameron, the Yanks have one of the strongest passing center back duos this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Geoff Cameron (Off HT) — 7 — Perhaps the steadiest player in the Yanks’ frustrating first 45 minutes

DeAndre Yedlin (Off 90′) — 6 — Lively first half with a hiccup that could’ve cost the Americans a goal.

Michael Bradley — 6 — A very bad turnover that didn’t lead to anything, but overall quiet and orthodox in the center of the park.

Fabian Johnson (Off 63′) — 5 —  Sloppy night overall, wasting a good scoring chance and positioning himself poorly on the Venezuela goal.

Darlington Nagbe (Off 70′) — 6 — He’s a hard man to judge, as he does 2-3 things per game that make you sit up… only to disappear for swaths of time. A terrific dribble through the heart early in the match.

Christian Pulisic — 8 — He’s the best attacker on the team. He’s also 18.

Bobby Wood — 6 — Some moments of promise and trademark grit, but overall missed his chance to make a difference on the scoresheet.

Clint Dempsey (Off 63′) — 5 — Wasn’t his night, and it had nothing to do with effort. Perhaps being one goal away from matching Landon Donovan’s all-time mark got to him.

Substitutes

Omar Gonzalez (On HT) — 6 — A quiet night for the former LA Galaxy man, and he needed one of those in the U.S. kit.

Matt Hedges (On 56′) — 7 — Confident, steady… the man many of us expected to see should he get the chance.

Kellyn Acosta (On 63′) — 6 — Passing was a bit off, but he remains a fun prospect when played properly in the center of the park.

Tim Ream (On 63′) — 6 — Missed a difficult but finish-worthy chance in close, but defended well.

Jordan Morris (On 70′) — 5 — A little overeager and scattershot in a limited role.

Graham Zusi (On 90′) — N/A