Three things we learned from the U.S. national team’s 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday…
[ RECAP: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica ]
Arena’s tactics a handicap from the start
Bruce Arena’s decision to play a two-man midfield — Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe — was a tough hole for the USMNT to dig itself out of. For starters, I’ll say this: it’s obvious what Arena’s thinking was in going with the two-man midfield — with Costa Rica playing three across the back, it’ll be two-versus-two in the middle of the field, and a fourth attacker is needed to pull those three center backs out of their shape. In reality, Los Ticos pressed like crazy, and without a third body in the center, Bradley and Nagbe were often left without an emergency outlet.
As for the defensive side of things, it was an unmitigated disaster. I briefly explained why Nagbe doesn’t work in a two-man midfield as opposed to a trio, here, and while Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream each had nightmares at center back, the wide open space in midfield played an equally massive part in both goals — especially the second. With no one free to step to David Guzman, Nagbe’s Portland Timbers teammate had all day to carry the ball through midfield, or, as he opted to do, slip Marco Ureña through with a simple through ball.
[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]
Playing through, not to, Altidore is the way forward
My headstone will one day read, Jozy Altidore is a playmaker, not a target man, why can’t any of you get this? Again on Friday, it was Altidore who held the ball in between midfield and defense, played runners through on the wings, dribbled at (and beat) defenders one-on-one, and set up two of the USMNT’s three best chances when acting as the fulcrum of the attack.
Trust me, I’m aware that a 6-foot, 180-pound physical specimen like Altidore isn’t supposed to be a creative
genius facilitator, but life doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to do. Here’s the realest problem resulting from that, though: he really needs a partner up top, as he had on Friday in the form of Bobby Wood. Remember that midfield thing we just discussed, though, about Bradley and Nagbe not really suiting the two-man midfield? To appease the former, you must also concede the latter. With one or two breaks — the no-call on what should have been a penalty in the first half, namely — the other way, the reward ultimately outweighs the risk in this game; with those breaks all seeming to go Costa Rica’s way, you end up on the wrong end of 2-0.
The never-ending search for a left back
Here’s an excerpt from my Three Things post, dated July 15, 2017:
This was Jorge Villafaña’s chance; it was to be his Gold Cup; it was supposed to be his coming-out party; it was his audition for next summer’s World Cup — the one where he needed to step up and say, “I am the left back,” thus solving the USMNT’s biggest, longest-running problem. After starting the first and the third games of the group, we’re no closer to having found a full-time starter. It would have been nice, but at this point, we all knew better.
All of the above still rings true a month and a half, and another uninspiring shift at left back, later. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that DaMarcus Beasley will start at left back, a position which he only started playing prior to the last World Cup, next summer in Russia, at the tender age of 36.