Asleep at the wheel, an old U.S. habit

By Paul Kennedy

First things first, the better team won on Friday night.

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio recalled Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos, starting them together in attack for the first time since he took over as coach and the first time since the 4-4 game against Trinidad & Tobago in the group stage of the 2015 Gold Cup, and he was rewarded for his attacking gambit as El Tri won, 2-1, ending its misery in Columbus.

With all the end-to-end action, Friday's USA-Mexico game felt at times like the Mexico-T&T game that gave the Soca Warriors the group title. Jurgen Klinsmann bemoaned the missed U.S. chances with the score tied 1-1 -- and certainly there were chances.

“I think Mexico had the better part in their first half,” Klinsmann said. “The second half was outstanding [for us]. The only thing that was missing was a couple of goals. We had enough chances to put it away. But we didn’t.”

The fact of the matter is that with a little luck Mexico could have been up 3-0, not 1-0, after 25 minutes as Jesus Corona's shot was tipped by Tim Howard off the far post and Vela hit the crossbar. And if Fabian Johnson had not come out of nowhere to clear the ball away from Javier Hernandez on the doorstep of the U.S. goal Mexico would have gone ahead 10 minutes before it won the game on Rafael Marquez's goal.

It's easy to look at the USA's decision to abandon its ill-conceived 3-5-2 formation -- Klinsmann insisted it was a 3-4-3 -- for a more traditional 4-4-2 as the turning point of the game, but just as impactful was the injury that deprived El Tri of Andres Guardado in midfield.

For however well the USA played to get back in the game, it deserved to lose for how it began -- and finished -- the game. Not for the first time this year, the USA came out and was asleep at the wheel. And just as destructive was its continued inability to deal with corner kicks.

In four of its five losses in 2016, it fell behind in the first 20 minutes. The USA trailed Guatemala, 1-0, in the seventh minute and was 2-0 down after 15 minutes. It fell behind Colombia in the eighth minute of the Copa Centenario opener. Argentina scored in the third minute of their Copa Centenario semifinal. And Miguel Layun's opening goal, which capped off a flurry of Mexican activity in front of Howard's goal, came in the 20th minute.

The only thing that was different about Layun's goal as compared to the other goals is that it did not come on a corner kick. In the Guatemala game, the Chapines almost scored on their first corner kick, but Rafael Morales put away the second after Mix Diskerud made a meal of a ball played into the area. In the Copa Centenario opener, Colombia's Cristian Zapata scored on a volley off a corner kick after he eluded his marker, Geoff Cameron. Four games later, the USA failed to clear a corner kick and Lionel Messi played Ezequiel Lavezzi through to head the ball over Brad Guzan.

What Rafa Marquez's goal had in common with the Zapata and Lavezzi goals was that it was U.S. opponent's first corner kick of the game -- in the 89th minute -- and the U.S. defense could not handle it. Klinsmann called out John Brooks for failing to mark Marquez but the defense looked entirely lost on the play. Johnson was on the near post, but should someone not have been on the far post?

Four losses with the deciding goal scored each time on the first or second corner kick of the game. After Friday's game, the players all agreed that they had fallen asleep. Altidore termed the mistake on the Marquez goal "growing pains."

“We have a young team with a lot of young guys that will learn from tonight and move forward," he said. "A lot of talented guys, but these are some of the growing pains you go with."

The problem is, the USA is not a young or inexperienced team. Eleven of the 14 players Klinsmann fielded against Mexico went to the 2014 World Cup, and a 12th player, Michael Orozco, might have gone if he had not been hurt. The other two players -- Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood -- were the best U.S. players on the field Friday night. Of the 11 starters against Mexico, nine have played in the Bundesliga or Premier League, or both, so it isn't like they don't play at a high level.

Klinsmann has promised he'll get a reaction out his players against Costa Rica on Tuesday night at the Estadio Nacional. He'll need to have them on alert. When the USA played the Ticos in the Hexagonal in San Jose in 2013, it went down two goals after all of nine minutes and lost, 3-1.

You guessed it, the first goal came off a corner kick.

12 comments about "Asleep at the wheel, an old U.S. habit".
  1. Kevin Sims, November 15, 2016 at 8:31 a.m.

    The JK years have seen the USMNT struggle mightily to defend aerial set pieces ... which would seem to be a problem of design and understanding more than personnel ... the Mexico game saw some of the best attacking play ever from a US team, alas without the finishing

  2. Wooden Ships replied, November 15, 2016 at 9:01 a.m.

    I hear what your saying Kevin, but what's to understand? The Keeper is charged with man and space marking. JK identified Brooks as the culprit. My thinking is that you don't have your two center backs leaving the front of the goal. Who did Guzan tag with watching the near side, which is the most immediate threat? Attackers will try to shake free of their defenders and with that there are critical spots we need someone to challenge. These are players that have defended thousands of corners in their careers. You don't need coach instruction you need Keeper leadership. And, perhaps we just couldn't imagine a Mexico side scoring off a header. We did fall asleep. Get Horvath in the nets.

  3. Kevin Sims, November 15, 2016 at 9:58 a.m.

    Simply not clear to me that roles & responsibilities are always clear ... based purely upon evidence of how many goals are conceded on corners & free kicks ... perhaps they cover this exhaustively & the players lack concentration ... as a coach, I know all too well that what is seen on the field does not match the training or expectations ... almost never ... I also think Guzan got caught rather flat-footed on this particular goal

  4. Graham VanSwearingen, November 15, 2016 at 10:53 a.m.

    Kevin, I agree with you, I think that Klinsman seems to ave missed a coaching basic in supporting his keeper. Sounds simplistic but in set piece practice simply reminding all the players that the keeper has the call goes a long way. Just an observation but almost every coach I have encountered that came from playing forward just seemed to miss the simple....

  5. Kevin Leahy, November 15, 2016 at 11:45 a.m.

    It is either man to man marking or it is a zone. Whatever it is supposed to be they, continue to make a hash of it. Growing pains? I don't believe John Brooks would have a job for long in the Bundesliga if he continued to lose his mark. I don't believe JK is a nuts & bolts coach.

  6. Bob Ashpole, November 15, 2016 at 2:50 p.m.

    It was a very narrow 343, not a 352 which typically has a lot of width. That was the problem with the system. The problem on the corner kick was lack of organization, not inattentiveness. Why do people always prepare to replay the last game? We should be focused on the next opponent.

  7. Andrew Kear, November 15, 2016 at 10:52 p.m.

    As long as Klinsmann is coach I am not watching the national team anymore. We are now facing another qualifying crisis. It is just no fun watching a team on the cusp of not making the world cup

  8. Ric Fonseca, November 15, 2016 at 11:05 p.m.

    NEWSBREAK! Just saw the last seconds of the US/CR game and all I can say is how pathetically we played, and perhaps it is now "auf widersehen, Klinsi!!!" As a long time defender of JK, I can no longer support him or what he's done ... or is it, NOT done with the team?!?!?

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, November 16, 2016 at 3:20 a.m.

    It was heartbreaking to watch. Unbelievable. I cringed every time Guzan waived the team away and booted a 50-50 ball up field. I cringed a lot the last two matches.

  10. Andrew Kear, November 15, 2016 at 11:09 p.m.

    If the US does not qualify Klinsmann will be considered the biggest coaching disaster ever. After this 4-0 loss it is conceivable the US may not qualify.

  11. Andrew Kear, November 16, 2016 at 12:02 a.m.

    The US is now in last place. The next qualifying game is in March so a new coach will have time to get used to the team. Arena is the best choice since he has seen many of the US players in the MLS. It has to stop here and now.

  12. F B, November 16, 2016 at 12:13 a.m.

    Mr. Kear,
    It would seem an opportune moment for the USMNT to part company with JK now before the very busy qualifier schedule of 2017 draws near. His existence is charmed, however, and I don't expect Gulati to push for any changes, even after the Columbazo, and now the "cuatro a ceroh". Karma's kicking Klinsmann's keester. Actually, it would be better if it were truly a karma thing. Unfortunately, it's much worse. Among other shortcomings, there is a lack of clue in picking players for certain key positions. I would sack, Bradley and Jones as well as JK. Uninspired play by the first, and junk/brute force play by the second are major weaknesses in players who would otherwise be expected to lead the team by mere merit of experience. A lead- footed pass from Jones today to Brooks started the dominos falling on the way to the first goal which lazy play from both Gonzalez and Brooks sealed. Brooks later sleepwalked around while Campbell chumped him for the third goal. After the fourth, it was three goals in less than 10 minutes. If you don't think that lack of leadership by example erodes a team, look at the Jones-like, STUPID body check on a Tico player in the 71st minute by Altidore that earned him a yellow, and almost got another for Wood who tried to defend the indefensible. We in this country came down pretty hard on MEX when they lost 7-0 to a Chile much superior to Costa Rica. Their own journalists were starting to clamor for Osorio's head despite his prior nearly spotless record. Somehow, I doubt JK will see the same level of scrutiny. Gulati has already forcefully stated that a 0-2 start of the hex would not suggest a JK sacking. We'll likely see him doubling down on that tomorrow.

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