Three things from the USMNT’s draw in Honduras

1 Comment

It wasn’t a good night for the United States men’s national team, but the point it stole from San Pedro Sula puts it back on track to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Match Recap | Player ratings ]

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

Jims and Joes, not X’s and O’s

If there’s anything to glean from this miserable night at the San Pedro Sula, it’s that two coaches have failed to figure out how to get through to this batch of USMNT players.

Jurgen Klinsmann clearly had lost the team following losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, and Bruce Arena was given credit for steadying the ship over a 14-match unbeaten run leading that included a Gold Cup title.

But even that tournament with a mostly B-team wasn’t convincing, and Arena — admittedly a U.S. Soccer legend — got the plot completely wrong twice in the last week with World Cup hopes on the line.

Looking past Friday’s mess in the midfield and porous defensive set-up, Tuesday’s performance was again about lineup choices. Arena pulled the plug on Geoff Cameron coming off a poor Friday, and also left Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson out of the lineup.

Arena didn’t have the option of Jozy Altidore, the CONCACAF killer whose foolish yellow card cost him a one-game suspension, and there was logic to starting Clint Dempsey next to Sounders teammate Jordan Morris. Dempsey also happens to be the best attacker in USMNT history, so there’s a possible pass to be given there.

But Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi were miserable on the right side of the defense, and Darlington Nagbe was bossed out of the game aside from one early and electrifying dribble.

Arena plugged in high-motor Paul Arriola and Cameron with not much cooking in the second half, and put eventual equalizer Bobby Wood into the fray with under 20 minutes to go. The subs fixed things, in a sense, but in a way there’s little credit for that: At least Cameron and Wood should have been given a starting role.

Here’s Morris on Wood, who understandably seemed a bit put-off after the match:

“He’s a great player. I love playing with Bobby. He fights, he works. He’s good in the box.”
Yep, like he was before the match. Full disclosure: at halftime I questioned the use of Morris over Wood, and the former ran his shorts off in the second frame. The equalizer doesn’t happen without both players.
All that said, and it needed to be said, it’s paramount we look past the manager and directly at these players. The performances for these last two qualifiers, and really five of the eight, have not been good enough for where the program believes it should be. Debate those expectations all you will, but it’s just not good enough.

Soft first half, especially in the middle

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The United States looked motivated to start the match, but the pace and hustle slipped away as the half wore on. The Yanks completed a total of 37 first half passes according to the CONCACAF site, and had just 40 percent of the ball.

The midfield was largely non-existent. Bradley completed eight of just 13 passes in the match, and Kellyn Acosta failed to complete a single pass (0-for-2). Darlington Nagbe was tidy with his passing (14-of-15), though we’ve covered his flaws elsewhere. Winning 50-50 balls was a daunting proposition against a Honduras side which very much deserved three points on the night.

Third is a must

For everyone assuming that a Top Four finish will be enough for the U.S. because of a fairly soft Asian confederation, those thoughts got a swift kick to the rear end following Australia’s failure to hammer Thailand on Tuesday.

That, coupled with sent the Socceroos into the third place game against Syria, one they’ll be expected to win, and Australia is the sort of team that can go heart-for-heart with a typical U.S. side and perhaps bring a more talented side to the party (one that could hardly be a longer trip for the away sides).

And given the political climate in both countries, Syria would be a trickier test than it appears on paper (or on the Internet). Get it done versus Panama at home, and breathe a sigh of relief that the country’s soccer status hasn’t been set back a decade.

Throw in one more thing: Major League Soccer’s regular season ends on October 22, meaning some players will be in the throes of a playoff race but only eight MLS teams will have been active in the previous 2.5 weeks.

Follow @NicholasMendola