Gold Cup – USA v Haiti: The USMNT is playing like my Youth Team

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I loved playing on my youth team. Orange slices at half, carpools to and from the game with my team and pizza afterwards whether we lost or won. But we had a problem. We tended to play to the quality of the team we faced. Sure, this was great when we played in big tournaments or against top teams and we found a 6th or 7th gear, but when we played the dregs of our league we looked horrible, playing cluster-ball, all herding around the ball and couldn’t string together a pass if our life depended on it. Unfortunately, right now, the US Men’s National team looks just like we did lately.

Again, this is great when we played Netherlands and Germany. Remember when the USMNT strung together an incredible 30 passes to get the go ahead goal against Germany? The US beat Germany and Netherlands twice in a week and the US soccer world thought this was a tipping point. But then came an ugly friendly win against Guatemala. And the U.S. squeaking by Honduras, playing, for a lack of better words, “CONCACAF ball”. (You know the term, ugly, overly physical long-ball that relies on beating the last defender rather than quality). Haiti was no different.

The U.S. beat Haiti 1-0 Friday night in Foxboro, Mass. to clinch their group in the 2015 Gold Cup. The problem? Haiti is the 79th ranked team in the world, and the USMNT should have dominated. Yes they have speed and individual skill and players that have played in Europe. But in the first half the USMNT looked like they were lined up in a 5-5, with Mix Diskerud, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and others looking lost. Perhaps this is because Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his constant variations of form has left the players confused about their role, but it is unacceptable at this point.

Klinsmann has preached about creating a style of play and once again this white whale remains to be discovered. Last night was an experimental squad with Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Greg Garza and Brad Evans playing in the back together for the first time. One cannot expect the team to gel immediately, but roles must be further defined and players should be able to be inserted knowing what is expected and then produce.

At least one thing has remained consistent; Apparently Coach Klinsmann has become the Vince Lombardi of soccer halftime speeches. He has found an ability at half to talk to the players and make strategic changes that have sparked a difference. Continual X-Factor Gyasi Zardes came in and hooked up with Dempsey at the beginning of the half to score. Mix Diskerud came alive from an abysmal first half to string together passes, make some great shots and understand his role behind Bradley. But the defense made Haiti look too good. And there were too many issues for what should have been a comfortable victory.

Regardless of all of this, the US has clinched a spot in the next round of the Gold Cup with one game to go. What we will see against Panama, whether experimentation or more of the same is up to the USMNT to decide. The USMNT then has a chance to swap up to 6 players for the next round so we will see if more changes come. But the US Women’s National team has shown you can play to survive in groups and then really show up come the elimination games. Here is hoping we can take some learning from our reigning champion counterparts.

Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images