Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Five Beer Analysis of The USMNT v Los Catrachos

I'm currently coming down (up?) from the emotion of right about 6PM EST and I'm feeling tentatively capable of putting fingertip to keyboard in an effort to process some of my thoughts regarding the US Men's National Team's loss today to Los Catrachos. It helps that I have a six pack of Rogue Dead Guy Ale in the fridge. Well, a five pack anyway. One down.

Two caveats:

1. Due credit to Honduras. This Honduras side is not your grandfather's Honduras side. They qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals and they seem dead set on repeating the feat in 2014. They are physical, fast, aggressive, and technically sound. Bonus points for having a jeans and faded polo wearing coach. He's like the anti Jose Mourinho. Many will decry the state of the pitch, the heat, and the humidity as being key, anti-US factors during today's match, but at this level, good teams should be able to overcome such discomforts and the Honduran players seemed to have absolutely no problem with the weather conditions.

Mandatory equipment this evening. 
2. This isn't a death sentence for the USMNT. CONCACAF qualifying is a slog. There are no easy games in the hexagonal round and a 2-1 defeat to Honduras in San Pedro De Sula isn't the worst thing that could happen.

Now that we have some perspective, let's talk about the match in a level-headed, sensible manner.


I  mean, good God, you've only days before fielded an entirely experimental side against a distinctly inferior opponent and called for calm in the wake of a horrifically amateurish performance using the excuse that it was an entirely experimental side in a nothing match and you were using the opportunity to bleed some young players into the full national team. Today, you run out Tim Chandler and Omar Gonzalez, two peripheral personalities in the full national side and you expected them to perform like precision machined replacement parts in a well oiled machine?

I mean, all week we've been hearing about San Pedro De Sula and how dangerous it is and about how passionate the Honduran fans are and about how hot and humid it is and about how CONCACAF qualifying is a long, arduous, difficult process and about how Grant Wahl was mugged there moments after meeting the Honduran president and about how important senior leadership is in away qualifying matches and about how Grant Wahl can't leave his hotel room and about how huge the strides are that Los Catrachos have taken in the last six years and did I mention how many times Grant Wahl has personally related his story about being mugged there?! And in response, we run out a starting XI that, while not experimental in formation, was decidedly experimental in personnel selection?

Hang on. I'm headed to the fridge for another beer.

Listen, I still have faith in the USMNT's ability to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, but today's match, for me, was less about an undesirable outcome and more about the odd player selection and the manner in which said players were deployed. With Grant Wahl's unintentional help, I think we've established how difficult CONCACAF qualifying matches are when they're played away from home. In these sorts of situations, veteran leaders are necessarily relied upon for their experience, leadership, and general unflappability. Why Omar Gonzalez was starting in central defense next to Geoff Cameron, a player who hasn't played at center back for a considerable amount of time, is beyond me. Carlos Bocanegra is getting long in the tooth and Gonzalez would appear to be the future, but in this sort of match I want and need Bocanegra's experience and maturity marshaling the back line. On Honduras' first goal, I'm pretty sure Boca would have gone ahead and closed the service after the corner kick instead of tepidly running out to the left edge of the eighteen, having a think, and then crawfishing his way back into the area to nearly get kicked in the face while Juan Garcia posterized him.

Tim Chandler: Cap tied. 
The absence of Steve Cherundolo is more excusable as the right back stalwart and seemingly ageless wonder was ruled out of this match through injury. Having said that, watching Tim Chandler awkwardly run about and look totally out of his depth had me thinking, "This is what all the teeth gnashing was about? No wonder Germany didn't lock him up." He was more Timmy Burch from Southpark than Tim Chandler, saviour of American soccer's right flank. That was a short honeymoon. Chandler is cap-tied now and needs to get his shit in one sock ASAP. I know one game does not a career make, but Chandler looked consistently exposed, gassed, out paced, and decidedly un-Cherundolo like. There was a moment about three fourths of the way through the first half when Chandler was closing the ball down the right flank that I seriously thought was going to end with him on his back and a defibrillator hustled out onto the field. In a team that looked like it was playing underwater, Chandler looked like the manatee.

Hang on. That manatee reference made me thirsty.

Where were we? Ah, yes, the defense. Geoff Cameron is a legitimate talent and an incredibly versatile player. As The Shin Guardian would say, "He's a peanut butter kind of player." That is to say, he's versatile, smooth, and capable of holding different parts of the field cohesively together. While this is true, Cameron has been recently deployed for both club and country as a right back, center back, defensive midfielder, and attacking midfielder, it doesn't mean that he's particularly world class yet at any one position. Next to someone with the experience and leadership of Carlos Bocanegra, playing Cameron at center back is a calculated risk. Playing him at center back in an away qualifying match next to a green international is bat shit crazy.

On Honduras' second goal, Cameron failed to deal with a through ball he probably should have. In another match, maybe he gets away with it if his partner in central defense is alert to the possibility that things don't always go as planned and, hey, the ball could wind up on a platter for the guy I'm supposed to be marking. *Cough*, Omar Gonzalez. I think Bocanegra probably helps deal with that situation either by screaming his head off to make sure Cameron knows he has to deal with the ball or by tracking all the way back to cover behind the onrushing Tim Howard. Either way, he doesn't pull an Omar Gonzalez, start to track his man, think better of it, immediately regret his decision, and then wind up lunging desperately at the ball as Jerry Bengston scores the easiest goal of his international career.

Fuck. Fridge time.

There were some bright spots. Tim Howard did what Tim Howard does and can hardly be faulted on at least the first goal. Clint Dempsey scored a beautiful volley off a lovely chipped pass from Jermaine Jones. Seriously, it's a small thing, but the technique required to turn his foot over to hit that ball with his instep rather than the side of his foot is to be applauded. Classy finish. Jozy Altidore, although he had a serious drought of service, showed enough effort and desire to defend from the front that I think he may have taken to heart what is required to start for a national team. Midway through the first half, he chased a lost ball and put in a hard tackle to force a Honduras throw deep in their defensive third rather than allow the easy clearance back up the field. It sucks that I'm referencing Altidore slide tackles as bright spots, but I'm trying to stay away from the refrigerator for a couple of paragraphs.

Take aways from this match? A lot of attention has been directed at the defense and how it needs to adjust and improve with the looming retirements of Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo. I don't think that attention has been unwarranted and this afternoon's showing did nothing to assuage any fears. We're not blessed with a high capacity pipeline of players who can immediately plug into the national team set up. Gonzalez and Chandler have potential, but they aren't there quite yet and were cruelly exposed today.

"How was the game, guys?"
An equally pressing matter perhaps, is the lack of out-and-out wide players on the squad who can serve a ball and stretch a defense both horizontally and vertically. In the 4-3-1-2 the United States started in, with Eddie Johnson playing an odd left sided striker/winger combo role, the team seemed narrow and easily closed down (Landon Donovan). Klinsmann undoubtedly was counting on Fabian Johnson and Tim Chandler (Landon Donovan) to provide some width, but neither of them was able to get into the attack effectively and generally showed no impetus to do so (Landon Donovan). With legitimate wide threats (Landon Donovan), Klinsmann could have made a tactical adjustment to take some of the possession pressure off of the central midfielders and pin the Honduran attack back on the flanks (Landon Donovan), but all that was in his back pocket was Graham Zusi and Sacha Kljestan (Landon Donovan), two players naturally suited and more comfortable with central roles. The result was predictable. Needing a goal late in the game, the US was unable to find any width, stretch the Honduran defense, or serve a single quality ball into a dangerous area (Landon Donovan). If only we had a seasoned international with pace and the ability to play on either flank and produce quality service. Maybe one of these days.

Ugh. I want to end this with a carefully crafted and curled bow cascading in red, white, and blue, but I'm currently left with more questions than clear or even vaguely clear answers. Like I said before, today's result isn't a death sentence, but it was certainly an alarming knee-buckler. Here's to hoping we can get it sorted out. Was that a toast? I'm headed back to the fridge.


1 comment:

  1. Good analysis. I like the pic of Donovan. I think from that camera angle, we can tell he has no nuts.

    That said, I agree on Cameron. He's a beast and I hope Stoke teaches him how to crack skulls. He and Gonzalez will be a strong center - but they need to get their shit in gear pretty quickly. I wonder if Bocanegra had some kind of injury. I can't fathom a reason he wouldn't have played... even as a sub.