The United States downed Haiti 1-0 to win Group A in the 2015 Gold Cup, and despite two wins in two tries, it feels like we have more questions than we did answers coming out of Foxboro on Friday night.
1. What the heck did Jurgen Klinsmann do/say at halftime?
This team had absolutely no idea what it was doing in the first half. Mix Diskerud had no position. Clint Dempsey showed up in all kinds of places. Michael Bradley was invisible in the middle. There were acres of space.
Whatever Jurgen Klinsmann did at halftime, it worked. It wasn’t simply the substitution; Zardes had a massive impact up front, but it was a like-for-like change with Zardes going up top, and it had nothing to do with the midfield finally catching a grip on the game. There was still acres of space on the counter for Haiti to exploit, but at least the U.S. took advantage of its own space going forward.
2. How has the midfield become such a weak point?
Both Honduras and now Haiti have exploited massive gaps in the U.S. midfield to produce attacks. Countless times the Haitian side won the ball back and ran straight at the opposing back line. Diskerud was sloppy, Bradley wasn’t his usual box-to-box presence, and Graham Zusi was slow. It wasn’t any better in the first match – although the back line at times took the attention away – and gaps of space are becoming a serious problem.
It’s not just that the midfield played poorly, but who they’re playing poorly against. Jurgen Klinsmann rotated the squad with the intent of resting some players after a grinder against Honduras, but those who came in didn’t have the effect he might have hoped against a lesser opponent. Haiti played an incredibly technical, efficient game, and we should take nothing away from that, and they played a perfectly executed game plan based on the blueprint Honduras laid out. It wasn’t any different from what the United States faced three days previously, but still couldn’t handle it.
3. Has the USMNT become more comfortable against European opponents than CONCACAF ones?
After an up and down summer so far, this U.S. side has potentially transformed into something…well, not good, not bad, but odd. They defeated Germany and the Netherlands in friendlies where just about everyone who put on a U.S. shirt looked positive and bright. But after two Gold Cup matches against countries clearly inferior to even those European B or C sides, they’ve been outplayed and outmuscled in typical CONCACAF fashion.
So this naturally begs the question…has the United States under German coach Jurgen Klinsmann slowly transformed into a technical, possession-oriented side more typically associated with upper-eschelon European countries? It would explain why two completely different U.S. squads failed to match up physically with inferior CONCACAF teams. The physicality of Haiti and Honduras bothered the United States in the midfield as Klinsmann’s side looked to build through possession and creativity.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad trend, it could be one that sees a dip in performances against CONCACAF opponents who now have a clear framework on how to frustrate and overwhelm a more dainty, technical USMNT style than we have become accustomed to.