USA has reason to celebrate but suspensions sure take edge off big win

By Paul Kennedy

First, the good news from Thursday night in Seattle:

-- The USA's 2-1 victory over Ecuador, which moved it into the semifinals of the Copa Centenario, marked the first time it has ever won three games in a row in a competitive tournament other than the Gold Cup.

-- Playing at home, the USA should have won and did win, even if Ecuador is one of the best teams in South America. The USA should no longer feel it has to wear the "underdog" label against all but a handful of teams.

-- One of those teams is Argentina, which the USA will face if Lionel Messi and Co., get past Venezuela. The schedule makers, though, have made sure the hosts, as the Group A winners, have an advantage -- two more days of rest than the winners of Argentina-Venezuela, which won't be played until Saturday night.

Finally, one more bit of good news:

The USA played as well as it has done in a big game in a long time in the first half against Ecuador, but that should not come as a surprise. It has played confidently throughout the four games at the Copa Centenario, even if it did not get a result in the opening game against Colombia, a 2-0 loss.

But here's the bad news:

-- The USA was lucky to escape with a 2-1 win. If Enner Valencia had finished his chances in the second half, we'd be talking about how the USA blew a 2-0 lead and missed out on a chance to play one of the most-hyped games in the program's history.

-- According to the stats provided by the Copa Centenario organizers, the USA managed to complete just 56 passes in the second half -- that's an average of little more than one pass a minute -- for a completion rate of 69 percent.

And now for the killer:

The USA will be without three starters -- Bobby Wood, Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya -- for the semifinals. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann made only change in his starting lineup for the first four games, and that was forced upon him -- DeAndre Yedlin's red card against Paraguay. Now, he'll have to make at least three changes for the semifinals.

If Klinsmann stuck with the same lineup, there was a reason. His players had begun to gel: Wood and Clint Dempsey working off of each other up front, Jones and Michael Bradley looking comfortable -- for once -- in midfield, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks forming the best center-back partnership of the tournament and the wingers helping out the outside backs, minimizing, against Ecuador, some top-of-the-line threats down the wings.

In goal, Brad Guzan has come up big when he's needed to, but it's been only once or twice a game, nothing like the 16 saves his predecessor, Tim Howard, had to make in the onslaught he faced against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup.

Throughout the Copa Centenario, Klinsmann has talked about how he wants the USA to move away from bunker mentality -- our words -- that forced it to sit back and defend for the last two games of the World Cup against Germany and Belgium. He says his players have been growing and maturing.

"They pushed them back," he said in reference to the Ecuador game but he could have been talking about any game at the Copa Centenario. "They made them work also defensively and that's another step forward from two years ago. We pushed the game back into the other half, and make them work the same way as well."

There is a reason for the new approach. It begins with better players and players playing better, or both.

Bedoya isn't a flashy player, but he is certainly a much better player than two years ago, coming off his best season yet at Nantes in France. Jones is getting up in years, but he is off to a great start with his new MLS club, the Colorado Rapids.

Wood has been the revelation. We all knew of his scoring prowess from his winning goals against the Netherlands and Germany last year to his record-setting season (17 goals) in the German second division at Union Berlin, but his ability to take on defenders and force them out of position is the biggest difference between the USA of today and two years ago in Brazil. It was no surprise that Wood had huge roles in both U.S. goals against Ecuador or tormented Paraguay last Saturday in Philadelphia.

Klinsmann loves to talk about how his players -- those he selects -- are givers. For Wood after Thursday's game, he had more praise.

"In Bobby Wood," he said, "we have a player -- a warrior -- working all over the field, giving everything for the team. On top of that, he's damn dangerous."

The best compliment to say about Wood is that the Argentina (or Venezuela) defense will be very relieved to hear he won't be available on Tuesday.

But it all unraveled for the USA in the 52nd minute when Jones was red carded. It was just his bad luck that Brooks shoved Michael Arroyo in the back, so when the Ecuadoran turned around to shove back Jones was right there. Both players had their hands up. Jones' left got Arroyo in the face, however slightly. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan didn't see it, but the fourth official, Brazilian Wilton Sampaio did, and Jones was gone.

Jones' red card was easily avoidable -- he didn't have to jump into the mess -- just like Wood's yellow card -- his second yellow card of the tournament -- just a minute later for a foolish foul was avoidable. Did Wood have any regrets? "It's an emotional game," he said. "It's a big game. That stuff happens."

Later in the second half, it was Bedoya's turn to pick up his second yellow card, keeping him out of Tuesday's game. "It's tough," he said. "It sucks. We knew going into the game some of us were on yellow cards. Who cares? We miss the semis? We won the game."

The good news is that the USA has more depth than it has had in a long time. Klinsmann could replace Bedoya, Jones and Wood with three players -- Yedlin, Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi -- and not even get to Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic, who'd still be available off the bench.

"Obviously," said Klinsmann, "we're going to miss Ale and we're going to miss Bobby for the semifinal. Not easy, but I think it's a team that has so much desire to grind it out."

That might be, but the USA showed it could do better than simply "grind it out," and it will now be a lot harder.

For that reason, how things began to unravel in the 52nd minute is a damn shame.

22 comments about "USA has reason to celebrate but suspensions sure take edge off big win".
  1. :: SilverRey ::, June 17, 2016 at 9:33 a.m.

    Time to start Nagbe in the middle. He can hold onto the ball and work out a good pass. One reason we're so defensive is due to our midfield turnovers, Nagbe can help with that.

  2. Kevin Sims, June 17, 2016 at 9:34 a.m.

    Telling that players do not see error of their ways regarding cards. Take responsibility & fix it!

  3. Leia Ambra, June 17, 2016 at 10:56 a.m.

    ALL this shitting on Jurgen Klinsman; this team is sooooo much better then the US team EVER was before he took the helm! Not 'best in the world', for sure, but leagues above what it was before. Kudos to Klinsman!

  4. Raymond Weigand replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:09 p.m.


  5. Thomas Sullivan, June 17, 2016 at 11:22 a.m.

    Great result, not sure JK deserves a whole lot of credit. Jones has always been a wild card and a great talent.
    What has been amazing to me about the US run is that the team is scoring from the run of play, not set pieces as has been the history of UMNT goal scoring in tournaments. Only a penalty against CR. The rest great team play and finishes in the run of play.

    But Beckermann is a liability. He will cost the US and you can only pray Klinsmann doesn't turn to him to fill the holes. He covers no ground, arrives late and is prone to dangerous fouls.

  6. Raymond Weigand replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:10 p.m.

    Agreed. KB is good off the bench - late - as he is tactically clever, however, not too much fitness.

  7. Glenn Auve, June 17, 2016 at 11:22 a.m.

    I dunno. Arena took the team pretty far at the 2002 WC. Now that Klinsi is FINALLY playing a consistent lineup with players in comfortable positions the team is doing well. Not sure if it's because of him or despite him that the team has done well in this event.

  8. Raymond Weigand replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:14 p.m.

    BA had a good team ... age old argument - is it the coach or is it the players. Lots of talent on that team! I think the coaches like to side with the players and the players like to side with the coaches .

  9. beautiful game, June 17, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    Best team first half performance since the 2002 WC win over Mexico. Simplicity of play, team cohesion, pressure, and off ball movement were top notch; second half not so good. Again, knucklehead cautions by Jones and Bedoya. JK's expectations have been comes crunch time.

  10. Charles Stamos, June 17, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    Kennedy makes some good points above - Our attackers can learn from Wood's recent success - you make diagonal runs, go to the wings, find open space, and then control the ball with a deft first touch...we don't have another forward who does that - we will struggle against Argentina for that reason. So, bring Yedlin back in at left back and hold your breath, moving Besler to right back, move Johnson to midfield, play Gardes on the other wing or upfront and then bring in one of the new young guys to attack, Nagbe or Puliski in a forward or attacking middie spot. Good luck USA...

  11. Raymond Weigand replied, June 17, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    I predict lots of Argentina fouls and the USA will have some clever set plays to provide some excitement.

  12. Kent James replied, June 17, 2016 at 2:18 p.m.

    I agree with you on all points; Wood's diagonal runs are key, as he either gets open or pulls the centerbacks out of position onto the flanks (and few centerbacks like that, that's why they're centerbacks). His combination of speed, strength, touch, and mentality (both composure and tactical awareness) has been a revelation. Tactically, I like your idea of Besler again at outside back and moving Johnson to midfield; leave Zardes out wide (where he's done well), and bring in someone new up top (where's Johannson when you need him?).

  13. Barry Ulrich, June 17, 2016 at 12:55 p.m.

    So we defend for the last 8-10 minutes of the game?!? How is that good game/clock management. Offense is the best defense because the other team does not have the ball! Hate to bring in another sport analogy: Basketball teams who are winning a close game would rather have the ball and making quick passes near the center circle. That is game and clock management!

  14. Scott Johnson replied, June 17, 2016 at 2:59 p.m.

    One problem with basketball is there is a shot clock, so teams are limited in how long they can hold possession. Also, defensive players can always foul the ball-handler, forcing him to the free throw line, hoping he misses the free throws. (And nobody would pass around the center circle, because of the over-and-back rule; teams wanting to play catch to waste time bring the ball into their own frontcourt first).

  15. Ginger Peeler, June 17, 2016 at 12:59 p.m.

    No matter what, we are blessed to finally have choices due to the depth of the team. And, just maybe, JK has solutions in those who play to replace those out on cards. After all, he's experimented extensively with different lineups. Hopefully he'll pick some good, capable players who will work well together. The odds are going to be very much against us if we play Argentina...of course I want us to win. If we don't, then I'm hoping we play a really good game. Go USA!

  16. Ric Fonseca, June 17, 2016 at 1:35 p.m.

    KUDOS TO THE USMNT!!!! Yes we played very "sophomorish" in the second half, and some game management was lacking in the last minutes, however, how about we say BRAVO, BRAVISIMO GENTLEMEN OF THE USMNT AND SURE AS HECK GET BEHIND THEM?

  17. Stuart d. Warner, June 17, 2016 at 1:41 p.m.

    Yedlin will play right back and Besler on the left. Johnson will play left mid with Zusi on the right, pushing Zardes up to forward (which unfortunately will hurt us with hold up play and early runs: poor touch, doesn't read the play two passes out). The real question is who will take Jones' place (we could really use a beast like him against Argentina or Venezuala). If JK starts KB, that says one thing, if he starts Nagbe, then it's a statement that we really want to compete against the world. If we start KB, we will not have any possession and no threats going forward.

  18. beautiful game, June 18, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    Woods is out, there is no one on this team that can do half of what he does. Why talk about who this or cohesion, focus, simplicity of play and counter efficacy rules; everything else is elementary.

  19. Richard Brown, June 19, 2016 at 2:29 p.m.

    Can't worry about the players you don't have only about the ones you do have. He has to convince the team he has the right 11 for this game on the field. He has to mean it because they will know if he is lying. You have a chance to win if your backs get back then play like a man defense in the back. So the opponents have to deal with a packed defense. No through pass opportunities for the Argentines. You get a lot of interceptions in man. Use it try to counter off it.

    US played a young Argentina team under 21 or under 23 team years ago, and beat them by doing the same thing I suggested years ago.

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, June 20, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    Gutsy approach. I personally haven't played man to man since the 80's. I taught both man marking and zonal marking to youth as "fundamentals" in the early 90's, but I don't think youth coaches teach man marking any more (outside of 1v1). Not sure if today's players have the skill set.

  21. Richard Brown, June 20, 2016 at 7:03 p.m.

    Bob just the backs after they all fall back after the ball is lost. To give them a chance to intercept passes. Then start a counter off the interception.

    Also immediate pressure on the player who wins the ball from us. The next player back is our players support player the second defender. Anyone further up field takes away their closest back pass option. If one of those win the ball we quick strike them with our three players.

    Everyone else use the time to fall back.

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, June 21, 2016 at 2:28 a.m.

    Thanks for the explanation. I think I can picture it. This would take away space around the opponents and make through passes very difficult to get into space behind the backs while we recover.

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