USA proves it has depth -- and cohesion

By Mike Woitalla

One would have been excused for not expecting much from the USA in its friendly against Ghana. One week ahead of the Gold Cup, Coach Bruce Arena was testing a new combination of players. His starting lineup included two debutants and seven players with fewer than 10 caps.

Yet the USA not only won, 2-1, it played cohesively for good stretches. It had 58 percent of the possession. And several players, the newcomers and those whom Arena has welcomed back into the fold, performed well enough to indicate that the national team talent pool is quite deep.

That bodes well for the Gold Cup, and for the long term.

Arena is now eight games into his second stint as U.S. national team coach and the USA is undefeated, with four wins and four ties. The ties include road qualifiers in Panama and Mexico. The wins include qualifying home victories over Honduras (6-0) and Trinidad & Tobago (2-0)

Through the Ghana game, Arena has used 34 different field players, seven of whom made their national team debuts.

In the last three games, Arena made sweeping lineup changes. He started seven players against Mexico who hadn’t started in the previous game against T&T. Only three of the field players (Jorge Villafana, Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola) who started against Ghana started against T&T or Mexico.

Despite the lineup changes and tweaks to the formation, the team still manages to find a rhythm.

Against Ghana, one of the best performances came from offensive midfielder Joe Corona. He did come into the game with 17 U.S. appearances, but the 26-year-old hasn’t played a national team game since the summer of 2015.

Corona showed signs being a true playmaker, able to orchestrate possession in midfield and also hit the lethal pass, such as his 24th-minute ball to Dom Dwyer, denied only by a foul that should have seen Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori red-carded.

Corona, who was fouled a game-high six times, also has the invaluable ability to beat players one-on-one.

In front of Corona, Dwyer played center forward. The 26-year-old moved from England to the USA eight years ago to play for Tyler Junior College in Texas and since starring in MLS (58 goals in 136 games), married U.S. women’s national team forward Sydney Leroux and became a U.S. citizen in March.

Dwyer opened the scoring 19 minutes into his debut -- a goal that left back Villafana (who debuted this year under Arena) and Corona helped set up -- and troubled the Ghanaian defense repeatedly.

Arriola, only 22 and Corona's teammate at Tijuana Xolos, played wide left in the attack. And Kelyn Rowe, like Dwyer making his debut, played wide right. Rowe, a 25-year-old product of the Seattle area, has been with the New England Revolution since 2012.

“Our [attacking] four players had never played together before, so that was good to get this experience,” said Arena.

Rowe hit some promising crisp passes and was fouled for the free kick that led to 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta’s free-kick goal.

While Dwyer appears to have quickly put himself high on the strikers’ depth chart, 22-year-old Jordan Morris entered in the 76th minute and reminded us of how dangerous he can be. His precise cross from the left flank to Alejandro Bedoya forced Ofori’s best save of the day.

Kenny Saief, the third player to debut on Saturday, played the last 20 minutes and showed great comfort on the ball. No doubt we’ll see more him during the Gold Cup, when 22-year-old Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan will be in line for his U.S. debut.

The USA could play as many six games in the Gold Cup and test players, such as 21-year-old defender Matt Miazga and 24-year-old striker Juan Agudelo.

Arena has already proved that he can shuffle his lineups without his team losing cohesion -- and when the USA continues its World Cup quest, we’ll have an even better idea of how deep the U.S. national team pool is.

14 comments about "USA proves it has depth -- and cohesion ".
  1. Wooden Ships, July 2, 2017 at 4:50 p.m.

    I agree with you Mike, the best depth in my lifetime. The Gold Cup will be more telling, especially for Russia. Corona, Nagbe, Pulisic and Saief, Acosta, all can individually beat their marks 1v1. The IQ is very noticeable with these additions. We can go central, now establishing quality wing play is a priority. Is there always room for improvement, of course, but I'm really looking forward to the next 12 months. Our Keeper situation may be the first time in a couple decades where we look vulnerable. I'm a Horvath guy.

  2. James Madison, July 2, 2017 at 7:18 p.m.

    Sloppy game against a physically stronger, more athletic and individually more knowledgeable, but less disciplined team.

  3. Ed LaTour replied, July 3, 2017 at 11:20 a.m.

    J.M. Your comments were overly critical of a team filled with young, talented, nervous players! Give Bruce a chance to pull the best of the young men in the pool together and wait while they grow into a team. It's unlikely that we will win the WC in my lifetime as I'm on the wrong side of 70 but I'm certain we will see a much better, more entertaining team than anything we saw with Jurgen Klinsmann. Have some faith!

  4. Thomas Brannan, July 2, 2017 at 7:22 p.m.

    Dwyer is better than Altidore. Period.

  5. Terry Lynch replied, July 3, 2017 at 8:59 p.m.

    While we are certainly not on Germany's level, the trend which the latter demonstrated in the Confed Cup, i.e. to put trust in your young players and see what they can do, is the right way to go. Good for Arena for doing that with our younger guys. Germany's older guys don't have much to fear but there are numerous older ones hanging on our MNT that should be looking over their shoulders. (I don't care how experienced you are, JJ, I think your run is done. Acosta looks like the heir apparent to that spot; I'll live with the rookie mistakes.)

  6. beautiful game, July 2, 2017 at 7:25 p.m.

    J.M. u tell it the way it is. The good players make things happen and so far, we have too few of them.

  7. Craig Cummings, July 2, 2017 at 8:16 p.m.

    W S I wrote you back about Ramirez. Go to June 23 posts and you can read the 2. By the way he now has 10 goals.

  8. Wooden Ships replied, July 2, 2017 at 10:45 p.m.

    Craig, I saw your post back then and asked you who he reminds you of, what type of forward/striker he is? Does he play for Atlanta? As far as I'm concerned the US has produced very few finishing strikers. I hope he gets a shot if he can play in tight spaces, create seperation for the shot and with either foot.

  9. John Soares, July 2, 2017 at 9:29 p.m.

    I think some would find fault if the USA won the World Cup. With a couple of exceptions this is a VERY young team with little international experience, some have little experience period. Fun game, lots of energy. Bruce is doing well by giving them a shot. Tomorrows stars...? Only time will tell. However we will never know if you don't give them a chance.

  10. Bob Ashpole, July 3, 2017 at 3:08 a.m.

    That first half was the best I have seen the US MNT play in terms of technique and positioning while in possession. Good flow. This is progress and inspiring for both players and coaches.

  11. David Mont, July 3, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.

    It's just a home friendly against a weakened, largely disinterested opponent. I'm not going to make any conclusions based on that one game.

  12. Ric Fonseca, July 3, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

    John Soares: Thank you for your very insightful and meaningful comment. Those that belittle our guys, or moan, groan, and bi..h are the naysayers. In all my 50+ years involvement in the sport, these naysayers seem to have been dug up from a negative past during which these guys would just berate and pile it on against soccer. Then it is understandable, but to use a friend's analogy some years back, you gotta have the chickens to make a delicious chicken salad, and believe or not, as many of you know, including y'all naysayers, it takes time to get some good soccer legs/wheels on the US Soccer wagon, and though we may not win the WC soon, just wait amigos, it will come, just re-read Bob Ashpole's comment above. And David, it was a game to judge and gauge players, and it had been JK, the swords and knives would've been launched. I may not be Arena's cheer leader, but hey, give the guy - and the members of the entire USMNT a chance, fro crying out loud!!!

  13. Ric Fonseca, July 3, 2017 at 3:37 p.m.

    Oh, I forgot to say that I also saw the game, we played some solid 80 minutes of futbol-soccer, yes there were some mistakes made not just by US, but the Ghanians may have come to play the friendly, yet, they did exhibit some very good touches, in fact, after the game, one of their players was immediately taken to the airport so that he could play in the Phil/Rev game. I am waiting to see how we'll react to a more "vindictive" Panama this weekend - I say vindictive given the number of their players in MLS or even LIGA MX, plus their GK, will want to throw a soccer wrench in the works and will do everything to get US out of our rythm.

  14. beautiful game, July 3, 2017 at 9:28 p.m.

    The only positive from this match was that the USMNT had about 5 blatant giveaways...otherwise, the hoopla about its performance is way overblown.

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