USMNT Report: Bad Performance belies Good Result

There’s little to celebrate in the USMNT’s 2-0 win over a lackluster Jamaica
by Herb Scribner   |   Saturday, October 12, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team might have earned a win last night, but it wasn’t a victory by any means.

Despite defeating Jamaica 2-0 on the fancy scoreboard at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., last night, the USMNT put on a dreadful performance that ranks among the worst under manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

With the win however, the United States has now clinched 1st place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal and glides its way to Brazil here on.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: USMNT star Landon Donovan was very critical of the US’ performance in the 1st half, which finished with a 0-0 score.

“It definitely wasn’t our best half,” Donovan said. “It certainly wasn’t my best half. I think it was frustrating for all of us, but in the end it’s about finding a way to win games. A lot of the time you play poorly and lose and we still found a way to win even though we didn’t play great. So it was still important to win that game.”

Klinsmann, even though the team’s performance was poor for the majority of the match, still praised his team after the game.

“Excited to see this group coming along, the personalities slowly come through there,” he said. “If you look at this year, 2013, it’s just a tremendous experience for all of us with the fan support every place we play has been sold out. It’s really an enjoyable moment for all of us.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Graham Zusi – Playing on his clubs home field, the Sporting KC player brought a spark to an inert United States squad. After scoring a goal to put the United States ahead, he offered a beautiful lofting ball that eventually led to Jozy Alitdore’s game-winning goal. Zusi brought intensity to the pitch and was the lone light in an otherwise dark affair.

ANALYSIS: That was bad.

From the 1st half until the final 30 minutes, the Americans put on one of the most uninspiring performances in the Klinsmann era, especially given that Jamaica was eager to score but quickly proved impotent and overwhelmed. Errant passes gave away possession, sloppy defending offered chances to Jamaica and the lack of fire and hunger made the USA look like it was going through the motions, and nothing more. Calling their vibe in the first half “practice session” wouldn’t be a stretch.

A lot of the failure came from the starting lineup. Klinsmann, who has coached a perpetual 2 defensive midfielder formation during his tenure, decided to experiment with a diamond midfield that called for more attacking. Offense-oriented soccer is always a pleasure to see and watch, and it’s certainly the starting point for the evolution of the modern game, but it’s not something you can switch to overnight.

Klinsmann has been teaching these players to play on both sides of the ball, to attack and defend quickly when possession is lost. A player like Mix Diskerud, who played that center attacking midfielder role, or Donovan, who was attacking on the left side, shouldn’t be scurrying back to aid the defense. Nor should new Icelandic striker Aron Johannsson be back so far as to leave his attacking responsibilities entirely. They should be pushing forward with that formation. But last night they resorted to the old ways and played in each half, making the diamond style switch virtually useless.

And why not start Kyle Beckerman? He plays the diamond midfield for Real Salt Lake – a team that has mastered (relatively) the formation for years – and knows how that style of play should work more than anyone in the USMNT pool. As the captain, anchor and sole defensive midfielder for RSL, Beckerman makes that team click. It was bewildering he didn’t see any playing time when Klinsmann used a lineup he’s more than familiar with. Jermaine Jones played 90 minutes in the defensive midfielder spot, and continuously gave away possession. He took shots at goal, too, and those were well off target. He wasn’t as brash as in previous performances, but he didn’t bring many positives to the US.

That’s the story for the strikers, too. Altidore and Johannsson couldn’t get much going in the attacking third and would often drift far out towards midfield, hindering their chances of making runs at goal and wasting energy in the process. The few times Johannsson attacked the goal, he seemed rushed, awkward and out of sorts. Altidore appeared angry and agitated throughout the game, showing little focus in his attack. It was the Altidore of old carrying over either his club happiness or frustrations to his USMNT playand this was not the one with all smiles and brimming with confidence that we saw this summer. Like happy Dempsey at Fulham, frustrated Dempsey at Tottenham – Altidore needs to figure out his situation at club level before he sours both club and national sides of his career.

Last night, everyone seemed to float out of position. DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans, who are both natural midfielders playing in the backline, made runs up the side and scrambled to get back and defend. Beasley didn’t make many obvious errors last night, but Evans did. He cleared the ball on a dangerous Jamaica attempt, but otherwise offered a reckless challenge and continued to play a long ball out wide instead of laying it off to an open man. Matt Besler, another local Sporting KC player, disappeared, and Geoff Cameron didn’t find much success either in center back, where he no longer plays at club level.

Many players vanished as the US succumbed to the lower level of Jamaica’s fruitless physical game. The Reggae Boyz needed this win to remain in contention for a qualifying spot and consequently attack-oriented with 3 forwards up top. Jamaica didn’t play beautiful soccer by any means, and it affected the USA’s game and potential rhythm. Even when the US had possession, the Americans clumsily gave the ball away. Or sometimes they blasted the ball forward with unhelpful crosses. Just like Jamaica.

The Americans didn’t need to win like Jamaica did since they already qualified. But even if they weren’t hungry and under pressure to succeed, the US should have carried this game and won by a hefty score. 6-0, 5-0, 4-0 scorelines aren’t out of the question. England did just that with Montenegro and France showed their class versus an eroding Australia. This USA side didn’t even score in the 1st half and had to rely on Zusi, a substitute, to bring them back to life.

And we all know that this US team and coaching staff will be judged on how they play next summer at the World Cup, qualifying results and form will soon be forgotten. The completion there will be much more dangerous than this Jamaica.

For the USA to be successful moving forward, Klinsmann needs to make changes to the lineup. He should find a way to make Donovan, Zusi and Diskerud play together, as they’re all comfortable with the ball, positionally acclimatized and aren’t afraid to attack head-on. Brad Davis wouldn’t be a bad option either, especially if Klinsmann’s going to continuously experiment with the roster, test new players, re-position old players and tweak formations.

It’s obvious the players that took the field last night weren’t playing against or at a very good international level. Luckily for the US, this CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying cycle was the weakest (easiest) in recent decades and the ticket for Brazil was cheaper than ever before.

That ticket has been bought none-the-less. But this USMNT team – so inconsistent, unpredictable and excruciatingly tough to watch at points – isn’t a World Cup quality side. If the Americans continue to play this way, there won’t be too much samba in the aisles on the return flight home, after the first round.

NEXT UP: October 15 – WCQ: United States vs. Panama, Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama. 9 p.m. EST, beIN Sport.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.