USA beats a minnow: the woeful, good and hopeful

By Mike Woitalla

What was the most pathetic moment for the USA in its Gold Cup game on Wednesday? There were a few to choose from.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan allowed a shot from 22 yards to roll under his arm as if he was dealing with a golf ball. The second goal the USA conceded came via a player laying on the ground.

On the other end, we saw Alejandro Bedoya, the most experienced U.S. player on the field, while completely unmarked, sky a volley over the crossbar from eight yards. And Paul Arriola hit the crossbar from six yards.

But the worst came when the USA ended the game -- with corner-flag time-wasting. That’s the cowardly tactic a team uses to run out the clock.

Gyasi Zardes got the ball on the left wing, 19 yards from the goal line. He dribbled quickly to the corner flag, shielding two defenders as long as he could before earning a throw-in. After settling the throw-in, Zardes went back to the time-wasting and won a corner kick.

Off the corner kick, he was joined by Bedoya and they did more of the same until referee Henry Bejarano blew the final whistle.

That is not how you want to see the USA finishing off a game against Martinique, a Caribbean island with a population of 390,000 that’s not even eligible for FIFA competitions because it’s a French department. (If you watched the beginning of the game, you heard "La Marseillaise.")

But Concacaf allows Martinique to play in the Gold Cup, and for the USA this should have been a game in which it was padding its Group B goal difference instead of defending a one-goal lead as the seconds ticked away.

For sure, going into a game in which you’re expected to rout a team that has nothing to lose often creates problems, and the USA failed to get a first-half goal.

But the first half did have a standout moment. In the 11th minute, Kellyn Acosta hit a low-flying free kick from the right flank that should not have created any danger because it came in behind Jordan Morris.

Yet Morris jumped back and managed a diving header that missed wide by inches. He had managed to create a scoring chance out of service that looked hopeless. More evidence that this 22-year-old has the potential to be a great goalscorer.

His next big chance, on a second-half breakaway off a superb defensive-splitting pass from Omar Gonzalez, Morris just failed to chip goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa.

When Morris got another chance, he nailed it, darting in front of Olimpa, who had his hands out ready scoop up Eric Lichaj's low cross, Morris nicked it into the goal.

That made it 2-0. Gonzalez having opened the scoring on a rebound off a fierce long-distance shot from Ariola that Olimpa could only parry.

Martinique’s goals in the 66th and 74th minutes made it 2-2, a scoreline that if it stood would have been one of the most embarrassing results in U.S. national team history.

Yet the USA, so disjointed for much of the game, responded brilliantly within 90 seconds. At the end of a 10-pass sequence, Morris got a pass from Justin Morrow, charged downfield and delivered the ball to Zardes. Zardes sprinted into the penalty area and cut the ball back to Morris, who thumped it high into the net for the gamewinner.

Coach Bruce Arena had taken a risk by making eight changes from the Panama game, and going through with his plan to test the entire roster, which included newcomers and fringe players aiming to work their way back into the national team fold.

In the end, it worked out. The USA, which faces Nicaragua on Saturday in its final group game, edged ahead of Panama in the standings, thanks to the third goal. (Panama had beaten Nicaragua, 2-1, earlier in the day.)

Arena had kept Dom Dwyer, who scored against Panama and in his U.S. debut a week earlier in a 2-1 friendly against Ghana, on the bench, giving forward Juan Agudelo and Morris a chance on the frontline.

Against Nicaragua, we expect to see a Dwyer-Morris combo upfront -- and no need for time-wasting at the end of the game.

31 comments about "USA beats a minnow: the woeful, good and hopeful ".
  1. Thomas Cobra, July 13, 2017 at 9:13 a.m.

    Agudelo needs more time on the field! He is tactically and technically far superior than most. He hustles and other than one poorly attempted shot a true team player with great passing vision.
    BUt if they play Dwyer and Morris where does he play. He needs time with the team

  2. Terry Lynch, July 13, 2017 at 9:39 a.m.

    Good summation of the game as a whole. As I said elsewhere, I think the players as individuals felt the pressure to make their mark and the moment was too big for them. Morris is young with potential. Has that finishing knack. Agree Agudelo also has promise. I've never been comfortable with Guzan. He is what we used to call a 'shot blocker', not much else. Our defenses struggle in front of him because maybe he can't organize, and he makes the occasional bone headed play. Besides Howard, need to start looking at the next generation.

  3. Bob Ashpole, July 13, 2017 at 9:42 a.m.

    Forwards are supposed to score goals and generally be a nightmare for opposing players to defend against. I am not seeing Agudelo as being "far superior" to most other players. I would describe his play against this amateur side as "ordinary." He did have some nice passes when he was coming back deep to get the ball, but the fact that he is coming back deep in a 442 to get the ball is a problem because he is doing a midfielder's linking job taking himself out of the finishing role.

  4. Miguel Dedo, July 13, 2017 at 10:24 a.m.

    Let us hope for what happens next in the Gold Cup. The US is not a soccer power. To go out of the Gold Cup in the round of 8 or 4 (or even, horrors, 16) on grounds that it improves our chances of going out of the World Cup in the round of 16 rather than 32 or group play is a poor choice. Win what we can win, then go on to more. Win the Gold Cup! We have enough coaches (e.g., Sampson, Arena) outsmart themselves in the name of the future.
    PS: A suggestion for CONCACAF: Let Eric Wynalda put together a “California” team and enter the Gold Cup – or an “All Mexican-American” team, leaving off those who make the USA team. They would sell more tickets than, say, Nicaragua versus Martinique.

  5. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2017 at 11:49 a.m.

    So your suggestion is to make this even more of a mickey mouse competition than it already is?

  6. Miguel Dedo replied, July 13, 2017 at 12:31 p.m.

    Four replies, take your pick. (1) Wynalda's "All California" could hold it's own against the bottom half of the current Gold Cup field. (2) California has a larger GNP than all of CONCACAF combined if we leave out USA, MEX and Canada. (3) "All California" would gain more fan attention than 3/4 of CONCACAF, (4) accept the place of the USA in the soccer world -- labeling our peers "Mickey Mouse" does not make us better, (5) all of the above.

  7. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2017 at 3:28 p.m.

    Barcelona-Juventus at the Meadowlands this week will also get more attention than the Gold Cup. Should we invite them too? If California secedes then by all means invite them to the Gold Cup. This is a mickey mouse competition filled with mickey mouse teams (including US and Mexico B teams). It should be played at Disneyland.

  8. A douglas Stone, July 13, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.

    Agree that it is embarrassing that US only won by one goal and needed to protect their lead at the end, but Mike makes a mistake by criticizing running out the clock at the corner flag at the end. Every top team in the world does this with a one goal lead in the last 3 minutes (assuming the game matters, as this one did). Makes us sound naive, come on Mike! Lots to criticize, but not that.

  9. Kent James replied, July 13, 2017 at 11:23 a.m.

    I agree with your assessment, but I think Mike was saying that it was embarrassing that we were forced to use such a tactic, rather than it being an example of poor play on Zardes part (and as Brian says, he did do it quite well).

  10. Kevin Sims, July 13, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    Wish to highlight positives from match. (1) Agudelo is vastly improved over a few years ago. His technical skills are quite sharp. His tactical awareness is much improved. His work ethic is terrific. I'm wondering if a wide MF spot might suit him best. Worth exploring his capabilities over the months ahead. (2) Lichaj had a very consistent and strong match. (3) Team responded to yielding the two goals by finding the winner.

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, July 13, 2017 at 11:20 a.m.

    From what I have seen Agudelo doesn't look fast enough to be as threatening on the wing, at least at the international level. Did you think he looked significantly better than the amateurs he was playing against yesterday?

  12. Brian Kraft, July 13, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    You canNOT be serious. You can criticize a performance that left the US with a one goal lead on the 90th, but calling Zardes "cowardly" for doing what every seasoned professional does to win games? Not only did he do it, he did it expertly and brilliantly. He manned up and took the physical abuse he knew was coming. He killed a game that needed killing, and he did it for us.

    You seriously owe Gyasi Zardes an apology.

  13. Nick Daverese replied, July 14, 2017 at 4:56 a.m.

    Doing that could easily get the player doing it hurt. Opponenent gets annoyed and will wind up going for you instead of the ball. I am surpried they did not go after him for doing it. The way they played they are not taking the free kick because from their it's like a corner. Then they will play it out again.

  14. Brian Kraft replied, July 14, 2017 at 6:58 a.m.

    What's your point?

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now, July 13, 2017 at 11:48 a.m.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with running down the clock in the corner. Not doing that would have been foolish. Now if you're saying it's ridiculous the US was in a position where they needed to do that against Martinique, then I certainly agree. But they were in that position and Zardes 100% did the right thing.

  16. Nels Hanson replied, July 13, 2017 at 12:01 p.m.

    I guess I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm glad that others have pointed out how silly this statement was:

    "But the worst came when the USA ended the game -- with corner-flag time-wasting. That’s the cowardly tactic a team uses to run out the clock"

    Moralizing a perfectly legitimate tactical move is just bizarre. It's a sport. It's these people's job to win the games. This is one of the best ways to accomplish that.

  17. Nels Hanson, July 13, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.

    I do have to admit that I still don't see Morris' potential to be a great goalscorer at an international level. He's got size and speed and some ok instincts. He doesn't have close control or hold-up ability. His distribution is mediocre at best. He may continue to do fine against a certain level of CONCACAF competition (Wondo looks great against Belize, after all), but against better teams that have defenders with equal or better size and speed, I just don't see it. Maybe I'm wrong. That would be great, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

  18. Kent James replied, July 14, 2017 at 9:58 a.m.

    While it is too early to predict he'll be a star at the national team level, his instincts/touch around the goal indicate that his strength is finishing. In the game, he scored two excellent goals (both founded on excellent technique and accurate placement), and had chances at two more (the chip over the keeper that he was able to grab, and the very impressive header he hit just wide on a cross that was low and well behind him). While he's no Messi or Ronaldo, where everytime they get the ball they do something impressive, I think he could easily be the guy who labors for much of the game, then pops in a goal unexpectedly. I have hopes for him at the national team level.

  19. beautiful game, July 13, 2017 at 12:20 p.m.

    Looking at individual player contributions to the team effort leaves me speechless.

  20. Andrew Kear, July 13, 2017 at 12:36 p.m.

    Folks, this was the US B team. In this tournament the US will prove for the first time it can win the whole thing with its second string squad.

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2017 at 3:29 p.m.

    Actually they won the 2013 Gold Cup with a B team as well. This second Gold Cup per cycle is a waste.

  22. Al Gebra replied, July 13, 2017 at 3:43 p.m.

    The US "B team" is no where close to the talented play I saw in the Mexican "B team" in their first game.

  23. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.

    Maybe not. Perhaps these B teams will meet in the final...

  24. beautiful game, July 13, 2017 at 5:06 p.m.

    Too many petty observations about this contest. Gold Cup 2017 is proof that for the most part the NT soccer IQ remains mediocre. Face it bloggers, put CR7 or any quality international player on this team and they'd walk off the field. Might as well except what is is.

  25. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2017 at 6:37 p.m.

    Fortunately few, if any, of these dudes will be on the field in Russia.

  26. Chris Sapien , July 13, 2017 at 6:21 p.m.

    It's called time-using, not time-wasting Mike. But point well taken.

  27. Nalin Carney replied, July 13, 2017 at 10 p.m.

    Well Said.

  28. Nick Daverese, July 14, 2017 at 4:50 a.m.

    I agree the worst is wasting time near the corner flag. I don't even like it in the women's game. What's the matter something wrong with using the negative space the back space. All your doing is pissing off the opponent by doing that. Do it against Mexico and see what happens. hey want to waste time play Bora ball. Do that long enough the opponent will come to you. That opens up top space pass into it. Then bring the ball back then more Bora ball. It's a lot better then playing close to the corner flag.

  29. Nick Daverese, July 14, 2017 at 5:11 a.m.

    On Zardes doing the right thing. For years he did the wrong thing under Klinnesmann. When he was far from the ball when the opponent had the ball. He was so far back it made any pass to his side an automatic completion for the opponent. Now evidently his new coach saw that and helped him to fix that. But in this case I would never tell a player to try to waste time near the corner flag because he is risking getting hurt needlessly. He did not get hurt because the opponent did not played him physical enough at the corner.

    For those who think our game is not supposed to be a physical game. I would suggest you stay with the women's game.

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, July 15, 2017 at 8:46 a.m.

    Women can get pretty physical too. There is plenty of "pay back" in the women's game.

  31. Nick Daverese, July 16, 2017 at 11:29 a.m.

    I like the women's game, but it is not even close to what is done in the men's game when they go up for headers. I had Gio Saverese on my team just before he went to the Metrostars. Gio was always very good with his head. But he was an animal when I got him from the USISL Long Island rough riders. I saw what he did I asked him if Alphonse (Mondello) taught him that. He told me no I got that from a Team mate on that team he was an English player. Guy would come up from behind the defender give him an elbow to the back of the head then get his head on the ball and score. I don't remember him every getting a foul called against him when he did it.

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