The USA were taught a lesson by the Republic of Ireland’s reserve team in Dublin on Tuesday. No joke.
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Of course, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side weren’t at full strength either but they were slack in defense and gave the ball away cheaply all night as 2014 ended on a sour note for the U.S. national team.
Yes, there were plenty of changes to the team which performed admirably against Colombia last Friday in a narrow 2-1 defeat, but the performances levels dropped off alarmingly as another collapse occurred in the second half at the Aviva Stadium.
Here are three things we learned as the curtain came down on the USA’s 2014 season.
Possession matters, as late collapses continue
Following the USA’s 2-1 defeat to Colombia last Friday, I sang off a pretty similar hymn sheet regarding the U.S. giving up late goals at an alarming rate. Well, it happened again against the Republic of Ireland. The USA lead Colombia 1-0 last week and lost 2-1. They were beating both Honduras and Ecuador 1-0 at half time in October and drew both those games after coughing up equalizers in the final five minutes. Against Ireland they went in level at the break with the scores locked at 1-1 but then fell apart and gave up two more goals late. That is now 11 goals in their last 11 games which have come in the 80th minute or later for the USA.
[ RELATED: Defensive issues remain for USA ]
You can point the finger of blame at individual players for mistakes, but both backlines against Colombia and Ireland were vastly different. It is the mindset that needs to change. Not only to defend better, but to keep the ball from the opposition. It’s an old adage that rings so true. “If the opposition don’t have the ball, they can’t score.”
Time and time again the USA gave the ball away cheaply — the U.S. misplaced 24 passes in their own half — as they tried to build from the back but the ball kept coming back at them. Center back Geoff Cameron was the most successful at doing so but the link between defense and midfield just wasn’t there. In truth, it hasn’t been there for quite some time and simply has to change if the U.S. are to kick on.
Some players have huge question marks over their heads
The likes of Timmy Chandler, Chris Wondolowski and even Fabian Johnson should start to get a little nervous when it comes to their USMNT future. Wondo was hooked off at half time after several poor touches, even though he redeemed himself by setting up the USA’s long goal with a beautiful cushioned header. Was that enough to get the ‘boo boys’ off his back? As for Chandler he looked nervous, got caught out by Anthony Pilkington’s runs, was hesitant to join attacks and gave the ball away cheaply.
His days with the USA could be numbered, and shockingly Fabian Johnson could be nervously looking over his shoulder. After performing so well at the World Cup, Johnson had a bit of a nightmare against Colombia last Friday and gave the ball away in a horrendous area for Ireland’s go-ahead goal in the second half. Johnson will have time to turn things around, but needs to play regularly at Borussia Monchengladbach. There are plenty of others in that boat as Matt Besler looked tired and jaded at the back, with his poor post-World Cup form continued. Speaking of tiredness…
After a busy 2014, the U.S. players need a break
Quite simple this one. The players are beat up, especially those guys who ply their trade in Major League Soccer. Recently I spoke with Besler in London who has just gone about a year straight playing professional soccer at the highest level in MLS and with the USA at the World Cup. If you look around the U.S. team, there are plenty of guys like him. These recent friendlies highlighted plenty of chinks in the USA’s armor but the players were weak, vulnerable and looked tired. After several two-a-day sessions in London over the last week, the U.S. put in one final tired display of 2014 but is it good enough for these international caliber players to be lacking fitness?
Speaking after the late collapse to Colombia last week, this is the reason Klinsmann gave for his side continuing to wilt late in games. Hint: he’s guys might be tired.
“It comes down to many reasons. We have many players struggling after the World Cup to get back into shape, especially European players who lost starting spots,” Klinsmann explained. “Right now they are on their way back but it took quite a long time because they came late in the preseason. They are not as fit yet to play right away. Jozy, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, Julian Green, all of them they have struggled. Other players have struggled with their form after the World Cup because it is a huge deal. Coming out of a World Cup you have to realize that 90 minutes is not always coming out of their legs… Some players you see them go downhill after 70 minutes and that is why we conceded a goal against Ecuador two minutes from the end and now again today [against Colombia].”