Friday, October 11, 2013

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These Games Still Matter: USMNT/Jamaica Recap and Player Ratings

    

           I had a tough time tonight trying to find someone to watch USMNT’s second to last World Cup qualifying match. “Jamaica sucks,” said some. “This game doesn’t matter, we already qualified,” said others. “But you smell bad,” chirped yet others. And while Jamaica isn’t the highest quality opponent the Americans have downed in this cycle of qualification and I may or may not have been bathing in my own body odor all day, I couldn’t shake the fact that people think these last 2 games don’t matter.
           
            Look, soccer isn’t the most popular sport here. I get that. I also get that tonight’s result has no bearing on Brazil because the United States has already qualified. But there were pertinent factors that affect the national team set-up in play tonight.

The lineup is a work in progress
           
            For the duration of the first half against Jamaica, we saw just how heavily the U.S. midfield burden falls on Michael Bradley’s shoulders. As admirable a possession player Mix Diskerud is, he lacks the box-to-box runs of a player like Bradley. And while Jermaine Jones is certainly a more combative type, he does not possess the same level of technical prowess as Bradley.

            This match showed us that, excluding central midfield, the U.S. actually has quality depth depth for the first time in a while. Brad Evans continues to impress at right back. Geoff Cameron looked very comfortable slotting into CB for someone who plays RB at Stoke City. It will be interesting to see if he or Clarence Goodson challenges the favored Besler/Gonzales center back pairing before Brazil 2014. Bedoya looked good again at right midfield, but then again so did Zusi.

            Klinsmann’s men lined up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield today, deviating from their usual 4-2-3-1. It was good to see that Aron Johansson is a viable backup target forward, if a bit raw. And with Dempsey, Donovan, Zusi, Bedoya, Corona, Eddie Johnson, and Fabian Johnson to play attacking midfield or the wide positions, the U.S. has an exciting wealth of attacking talent.

Become a seeded team is an unlikely but possible scenario
           
            The next FIFA world rankings come out October 17. According to World Cup rules, the top 8 teams in these next rankings (or top 7 and the host in this case) will be the seeded teams for World Cup 2014 and will get to navigate weaker opposition in the group stages. With a win tonight and a win in Panama, the U.S. should vault to 10th in the rankings. While it is unlikely that the teams in between the USMNT and 7th spot will falter, the carrot of the U.S.A’s first ever World Cup seeding is enough to give these last 2 games significance.

Ratings (out of 10, 5 being average)

GK Tim Howard: 5.5 – Scared us all by spilling an early free kick, Howard settled down and performed well in the face of an ordinary night’s work. Made a nice save late to preserve the clean sheet.

RB Brad Evans: 7 – Unfortunate to give away a dangerous free kick late in the first half as his slide tackle seemed to dispossess Mattocks cleanly. Kept Mattocks in his back pocket for most of the game, not allowing the dangerous wide man to trouble Howard’s goal. Didn’t get down the flank much but wasn’t asked to against a generally brittle Jamaica backline.

CB Geoff Cameron: 6.5 – Remained composed throughout a generally easy defensive game. Gets a .5 bump for starting at CB while normally out right for his club. Occasionally lost physical battles with Ryan Johnson.

CB Matt Besler: 6.5 – Becoming a relied-upon presence at the back despite his relative inexperience, it is a credit to his talent that since his debut start in the scoreless draw against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium he has started almost every international game sans the Gold Cup.

LB DaMarcus Beasley: 6 – Not at his most composed defensively, but had the pace to make up for his mistakes and limit Brown’s threat down the U.S. left flank. Missed a good chance to open the scoring and was replaced by Castillo in the 66th minute.

CDM Jermaine Jones: 5 – Did not allow Jamaica time and space on the counterattack but struggled with distribution. Lacks the vision and technical skill of Bradley as he looked to launch long-ball after long-ball over the top with little success.

RM Alejandro Bedoya: 6 – Had a quiet first half and was a little sloppy with his passing. But was a more lively presence in the second half and contributed a fine assist to Graham Zusi’s opener.

LM Landon Donovan: 4.5 – Looked fatigued and tedious on the ball, lacking the creativity that’s come to be expected of him at this point. Drifted in and out of the game and was replaced at halftime by Zusi.

CAM Mix Diskerud: 5.5 – Kept possession ticking over well for the United States but lacked the eye for a killer pass that should accompany responsibility as the team’s primary playmaker. Looked much better at the end of the game.

ST Aron Johansson: 6.5 – In a sloppy first half for the hosts, Johansson looked hungry and thus the likeliest to make the breakthrough. Didn’t put away a few half-chances but suffered a lack of service. Always looked to find the ball and make positive plays.

ST Jozy Altidore: 6 – Helped out on the first goal and scored the second, but not a great performance from Jozy. Looked out of sync with his strike partner, Johansson, and mistimed a handful of early runs into the box. Took his goal with composure to make it 6 in the last 6 international contests for the U.S’s starting striker.

Subs

Edgar Castillo: 6.5 – Good performance from the much-maligned left back/midfielder. Looked to push play up the left flank immediately after coming on for Beasley and made a good assist for Altidore’s goal.

Graham Zusi: 8 – The difference maker tonight for the national team. Playing in front of his home crowd in Kansas City, the playmaker seemed to have the creative spark that the U.S. lacked earlier. Pounced on a loose ball in the box to break the deadlock.

Sacha Kljestan: 5.5 – Looked tidy in possession in an 18 minute cameo appearance. Is always good to play possession and help kill off a game but offers little direct threat, as evidenced by his wasting of Zusi’s good cross.

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