Philly Sports Live

Punitive Expedition: Thoughts on Mex 0 – 0 USA

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The draw was shocking, but not surprising.  A Mexican team that had underachieved in their first two qualifiers ran into an undermanned American side that had finally rediscovered it’s identity, and while the collision was not quite an irresistible force meeting an immovable object,the Yanks still managed to steal a golden point from the Azteca for only the second time in the one hundred year history of US Soccer.  With four points out of a possible nine, ahead of Mexico in the race for one of the four golden tickets to Rio, and now clear of the toughest part of the qualifying schedule, the Americans now have a little less than two months to take stock of what was truly learned in the belly of the beast.

Domesticated.  In what may be a first for the US in a world Cup qualifier, all fourteen players that took the field in stars and stripes began their careers in MLS.  for a league created with a core idea of producing players for the national team and whose player development models have been so roundly criticized, this was huge.  Granted that this was not the first eleven, but given the stakes of the match, its not unwarranted to say MLS saved US Soccer Tuesday night.

Omar Coming.  The undisputed man of the match, Omar Gonzalez finally had the coming out party so many fans of US Soccer had been hoping for.  The 2012 MLS Cup MVP finally showed his quality on the international stage, dominating in the air, making smart decisions about positioning and clearances, and commanding the line against a speedy and technically proficient attack.  His performance was all the more outstanding considering the early pressure the US defense came under in the first twenty minutes of the match.  Gonzalez was everywhere, blocking a shot on the line, lending assistance on both flanks, bailing out his centerback partner Mat Besler after an ill-timed challenege left the dangerous Gio Dos Santos with a direct line on goal.  Just like Geoff Cameron last August, Gonzalez showed that he can shine on the biggest stage, and has given Klinsmann a rock he can build his defense around.

Odd Man out.  After a few early mistakes, ably bailed out by Gonzalez, Matt Besler turned in yeoman’s work at centerback.  After a month of training and now two starts together, the two clearly have excellent chemistry in the middle of the back line, and it would be surprising if Besler didn’t see a callup in June.  This raises the question of what to do with Geoff Cameron.  The most recent center-back-of-the-future has done nothing to play himself out of the role, but lacking the connection with Gonzalez that Besler seems to have, and playing everywhere but centerback for his club side, Cameron may be at best a backup for the national team going forward.  Its a shame in many ways, as Cameron is, when in form, an international quality player, and physically more suited to the role than Besler.  His own versatility may end up hurting him as well; able to play at centerback, fullback or holding mid, Cameron could excel as a super sub, but be unable to lock onto a starting spot.  It will be an interesting storyline to follow going forward.

Do the Worm.  Despite 187 minutes of shut out play under very difficult conditions in two World Cup qualifiers, Brad Guzan is not going to take Tim Howard’s starting spot.  Yet.  What he has done, however, is open a conversation where there was none before.  The gap in talent between the two is clearly far more narrow than anyone would have thought prior to the last two matches however, and a dominant performance by the Aston Villa man in the Gold Cup, if Howard falters, could give Guzan a shot at the top job.

Cap Adam Maher.  The United States mustered only a single shot on goal against Mexico.  Part of that was by design; die Klinsmannshaft clearly came in looking to be a counter punching team, and never really got their counters off, but the simple fact is that while the defense was able to absorb the Mexican attack, the midfield was incapable of transitioning into any kind of meaningful attack, leaving Memo Ochoa to stare down the field and daydream of tainted chicken.  Much of the blame for the lack of American offense this cycle has been laid at the feet of Jozy Altidore, who has scored only one goal for the national team under Jurgen Klinsmann.  This is contrasted against his club play, where Jozy has enjoyed the finest run of form in his young career over the last two years, including breaking Clint Dempsey’s record for club goals by an American in Europe.  Why this disparity in production between club and country for the AZ man?  Two words: Adam Maher.  the young Dutch playmaker has provided Altidore with a level of service he has never had with the Yanks.  Altidore is often compared disfavorably to Brian McBride, the platonic ideal of a US striker, yet McBride has Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos & John O’Brien feeding him crosses and perfectly weighted passes to run onto.  Altidore has had Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones & Kyle Beckerman.   The use of a creative midfielder, like Mix Diskerud or Joe Corona would not go amiss.  Or you could always cap Adam Maher.

The USMNT will return to action on June 2nd in Washington DC, taking on Germany in a Centennial Celebration of US Soccer, and PSL will be there.  Stick with Philly Sports Live for continuing coverage of the USMNT on the road to Brazil.