Ok so it wasn’t pretty but it worked. US Coach Bruce Arena drew up a masterful plan to stop the Mexico attack at Azteca where the US has only once before not lost in World Cup Qualification games. It was such a far cry from the miss-matched mess that the German – Klinsy tried to use against Mexico at home in Feb. This US team had a plan and darn near executed it to perfection. When Bradley pulled the wonder strike in the 1st 10 minutes and then the US won almost as many corners as Mexico in the game – you knew the counter attacking plan from Arena was the right call. Woods kept the pressure high, and both wingers and midfielders assisted in the quick strike attack. The US looked dangerous on corners finally offensively as Gonzales just missed on connecting for 2 header goals, while defensively with Cameron commanding the back – they rarely lost a corner ball and cleared most with ease. I did think he missed a chance by not getting Nagbe into the game at right wing earlier – as he was masterful at both tracking back and dribbling/passing us out of danger when he did finally come in (coming off his man of match show against T&T – I hoped he would have started). Either way – the US scored early then held on – and really only gave up a goal on a corner where they honestly should have scored (Woods flat wiffed what should have been (Dos a Cero) right before the breakaway which tied it for Mexico. While I wasn’t happy with 74 to 26% possession time – honestly the shots 10-7 for US were pretty close as was the corners 9-7, the US only gave up 1 legit shot on goal in 90 minutes while we had 3. Give Bruce credit however – the Best ever American Coach has righted the ship and has a plan – that has moved us back into 3rd in the hex with a chance to overtake Costa Rica for 2nd in a home stand in Sept. Just as importantly it has reminded Mexico that they are NOT the Best team in the Region hands down – the battle for Concacaff Supremacy will still come down to the US vs Mexico mano a mano.
Confederation Cup action gets underway with 2 full weeks of play between the top teams in each confederation as they get a chance to try out the stadiums in Russia 1 full year before the 2018 World Cup. Games start Saturday on Fox Sports 1 with Russia hosting New Zealand at 11 am, Sunday gives us European Cup champs Portugal and Renaldo vs Mexico at 11 am and Cameron vs Chile at 2 pm. (See Confederations Cup Schedule below)
Congrats to Christos FC Soccer Club – the Bar League Team in Maryland with all amateur players for scoring a goal vs DC United in the US Open Cup – of course DC United won 4-1 But it was fun while it lasted. MLS has some solid matches coming up with NYCFC hosting Seattle on Sat 1 pm on ESPN, then next weekend is Derby weekend with the NY Derby NYCFC vs NY Red Bulls on Sat 1:30 pm on Fox and the Cascadia Cup with Portland hosting Seattle next Sunday 1:30 pm on Fox.
Finally the Indy 11 will look to get their first home win of the season on Sat night 7:30 pm vs North Carolina at the MIKE – I actually plan to be in attendance finally use this link Indy 11 Discount Ticket Link.
BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in Goalie Training this summer – let me know. My 18 year old goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest.
June 19-22 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14) $135
GAMES ON TV
Tues June 13
3 pm ESPN France vs England (friendly)
Sat, June 17
11 am Fox Sport1 Russia vs New Zealand Confederations Cup
1 pm ESPN NYCFC vs Seattle Sounders
7;30 pm beIn Sport Indy 11 vs North Carolina
Sun, June 18
11 am Fox Sport1 Portugal vs Mexico – Confederations Cup
2 pm Fox Sport1 Cameron vs Chile – Confederations Cup
5 pm ESPN Philly vs NY Red Bulls
Mon, June 19
11 am Fox Sport1 Australia vs Gemany – Confederations Cup
Wed , June 20
2 pm Fox Sport1 Mexico vs New Zealand – Confederations Cup
Thurs, June 22
11 am Fox Sport1 Cameroon vs Australia
2 pm Fox Sport1 Chile vs Gemany – Confederations Cup
Sat, June 24
1:30 pm Fox NY Red Bulls vs NYCFC
7:30 pm ESPN3 NC vs Indy 11
Sun, June 25
11am FS1 Germany vs Cameroon
1:30 pm Fox Portland vs Seattle Sounders
Wed , June 28
2 pm Fox Sport1 Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS
Thurs, June 29
2 pm Fox Sport1 Confederations Cup SEMI-FINALS
Sun, July 2
8am FS1 Confederations Cup 3rd
2 pm Fox Sport1 Confederations Cup FINALS
International Champions Cup July Games in Nashville and Detroit
Other World Cup Qualifiers Portugal win, Sweden Stun France
Draw at Azteca another step in USMNT reclaiming its team essence under Arena
QUICKLYBruce Arena had a plan that involved unusual players in an atypical USMNT formation, but it was executed well in Mexico as the Americans continue to rebuild as a cohesive unit.GRANT WAHLMonday June 12th, 2017
MEXICO CITY — It may be the most common word in sports. Team.We say it so often that it’s easy not to think about the rich meanings the word team can have, if you care about all the factors and daily actions that go into what makes a good one. Chemistry. Trust. Belief. Commitment. Sacrifice. Empathy. Discipline. Identity. Pride.If you listen closely to U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena, it’s clear that he venerates the word team and everything it represents. He does not toss off the word casually like so many of the rest of us. And so, after the U.S.’s hard-fought 1-1 World Cup qualifying tie against archrival Mexico on Sunday—just the third time ever that the U.S. had picked up a qualifying point at Estadio Azteca—the most meaningful thing Arena said about the U.S. was a simple declarative statement that contained so much more than that. “They’re really becoming a team,” Arena said.And you know what? He’s right. Arena made seven changes to the starting lineup he had used on Thursday in a 2-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago. He said he told his players on the first day of training camp two weeks ago that there would be anywhere from seven to 11 changes, owing to the short turnaround and high altitude, and as recently as Saturday he was going to make nine changes.
On Sunday, in the toughest environment the U.S. will play in all year, Arena put international neophytes Kellyn Acosta, 21, and Paul Arriola, 22, in his starting lineup. Against Mexico. At the Azteca. (He also included 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, but that wasn’t a surprise.) All of those young guys were ready for the challenge.“We have a deep roster,” said Acosta, who was poised in his two-way midfield role next to Michael Bradley. “This shows Bruce has belief in all of us. It’s great to see that Bruce can rely on other guys to come into the team and be a part of it and get the results that we need.”Added Arriola, who was relentless in his running as a winger: “Everyone here is capable of playing. The most important thing is the chemistry. We have a great mix of guys who can provide now and in the future. We shouldn’t be talking about us being the future anymore. This was a good game to demonstrate that. Obviously, we didn’t have the ball a lot, but tactically being able to stay mentally concentrated the whole time was huge for the young guys.”Arena communicates with his team. As the coach and several players said on Sunday, Arena told them from the start of camp that there would be different formations in the two games—4-4-2 against Trinidad, 5-4-1 against Mexico—and different players as well. There was a plan, a strategy, and the work that followed came out of that plan. There were no surprises. Everyone knew exactly what was expected of them.The Americans knew they were going to be out-possessed in a major way against Mexico, and they were, having only 26.4% of possession, the lowest in a U.S. game since June 2013, according to Opta. But that was fine. That was the plan: To absorb possession, concede few scoring chances and counter when the opportunity was there. In the end, Mexico had just one shot on goal.To hear Bradley, who scored on a mindbending 40-yard chip over Guillermo Ochoa, becoming a team again—becoming the U.S. again—has everything to do with the details, every single day.“At the end of last year, a lot of little things started to drop,” Bradley said on Sunday. “And when we get our blend right in terms of football, physicality, athleticism, mobility, speed, mentality, spirit—when we get that right, there aren’t too many teams in the world that are going to have easy days playing against us, and we feel like we can step on the field and beat anybody.“But if a few too many areas start to come down, then we’re also honest enough with ourselves to understand that our margin is not real big, and then we’re going to start putting ourselves in some difficult spots. For me, it was just a case at the end of last year where a few too many areas started to drop. And I think Bruce has done a very good job of coming in and little by little, working at raising the level across the board. A big part of that is this idea of team, of spirit, of mentality, of balls.”Bradley’s insight to his sixth-minute wondergoal was fascinating. He said they had studied a lot of video of Mexico’s movements and seen patterns in which Javier “Chicharito” Hernández comes back to the ball and one of Mexico’s inside midfielders is looking to run through. Bradley read that situation coming and stepped between Chicharito and Héctor Herrera to steal the ball in the center circle.As Bradley raced forward, he looked up and saw Ochoa was off his line. Was he surprised? Not at all, said Bradley, who noted the U.S. knows Ochoa well.“I took the first touch and saw that he was a good ways out. And here you know that if you catch a ball right that with the thin air the ball is really going to fly. I just wanted to make sure I caught it right, and I did.”There are some healthy contradictions in Arena’s U.S. team right now. Arena’s sole task is to pick up the pieces for the team’s miserable Hexagonal start and make the World Cup by any means necessary—and yet he has given new opportunities to younger players, both in qualifying and at the upcoming Gold Cup that will help the U.S. long after Arena is done being the coach.What’s more, Arena has been known far more for being a man manager than a tactical maven—and yet his embrace of the 5-4-1 and using three center backs (the fantastic Geoff Cameron, Omar González and Tim Ream) revealed a coach who isn’t afraid to take a risk and mix things up.Arena said he decided back in January or February that he would probably go with three center backs at Mexico. And while it took him some time to convince his assistants, they eventually came around.“We have very good center backs,” Arena said on Sunday. “That’s the key to that system. Mexico does an unbelievable job in their spacing. They play players on both [touchlines], so they stretch you out. They like to open you up and attack the gaps between your back line if you’re playing a back four. We protected all those spaces.”Afterward, Arena made sure to thank his veterans who didn’t start on Sunday—guys like Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard—for supporting his decisions and backing up the team.“Most of these players tonight are going to disappear until September, and to leave with the bond they’ve acquired over the last four games is very important,” Arena said. “So the next time around, I’m optimistic that we can be better in the next two games of qualifying.”This is how a team becomes, in Arena’s way of looking at it, a team, one that’s worthy of the name. Welcome back, USMNT.
Arena has exceeded expectations since replacing Klinsmann as U.S. manager
When Bruce Arena took over the U.S. men’s national team in late November, he inherited a squad in disarray. The Americans found themselves in last place of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, mired in mediocrity and trending downward as previous manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s motivational ploys and tactics lost effectiveness.Arena, who coached the United States from 1998 to 2006, got the job because of his familiarity with the program and its players as well as his presumed ability to get the red, white and blue to Russia in 2018. He was the choice by necessity and by default, the best man to get the job done, but also the only one who could.As a result, while his hiring was applauded as the right decision, it wasn’t exactly met with overjoyed enthusiasm. The return of Arena signified a return to the past, an admission that before the Americans could move forward, they needed to go back. Arena wasn’t a forward-thinking coach; he was a pragmatic one. He probably could lead the team to the World Cup but would do so by going back to the basics, leaning on athleticism and effort rather than technical ability and tactical nuance.Now that Arena’s side has returned eight points from four World Cup qualifiers, including an impressive draw at Mexico’s soccer fortress, Estadio Azteca, on Sunday, it’s time to consider that he has exceeded expectations. Not only has the coach gotten the tactics right and brought the fight back to the U.S., but he’s building a blueprint for a team that could find success in 2018 and beyond.It starts with the appealing blend of talent Arena is deploying on the field. In the past, the coach was criticized for being unable or unwilling to give younger players a chance, but he has shown no such reluctance since getting the top job again.Christian Pulisic is now the engine that makes the attack go, and Kellyn Acosta excelled in a central midfield role against El Tri and will soon take over for Jermaine Jones as a starter if that hasn’t happened already. Arena handed Paul Arriola his first World Cup-qualifying start Sunday night, and the 22-year-old midfielder didn’t look out of place. Arena isn’t working miracles, but he is setting up his team — arguably the most talented in U.S. history — to succeed, and his players are responding positively.”I thought the mentality of the group to understand what the game was going to be about, to commit to how we wanted to play, it was amazing,” Michael Bradley said after the 1-1 draw with Mexico. “Obviously, Bruce laid out things early on in terms of his idea of how we wanted to go about the two games. You always know that things can change, but ultimately we stuck to exactly what he wanted to do.”In Mexico, two moments stood out to me. The first was Bradley’s goal. While we’ll remember it for the shock value and the pureness of his strike, the moment before was more telling. The American captain stepped into space and created a turnover, after which he went sprinting toward the Mexican net. Asked after the game how he made the play, Bradley said that he knew the pass from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was coming. The U.S. team watched film of their opposition and noticed that specific pattern of play. They were prepared, and the result was a goal. The Klinsmann era, it’s fair to say, frequently lacked that type of attention to detail.The second was a conversation with Arriola after the game. All week long the U.S. players talked about how they felt more prepared under Arena, but the midfielder explained specifically how this happened. “We talked about [my role] a couple days ago in breakfast,” he said. “We just had a short meeting, each person, and I think that really helps a lot; everyone really understands what their role is and what the team role is.”A bit later, he continued: “At halftime, we talked about a tactical switch. Their left back was coming up a lot, so how can we avoid him receiving the ball, or do we want to hold in and allow him to receive the ball? We kinda talked over that. And everything was pretty clear. Myself, I was never confused.”Coaching a national team, a squad that doesn’t spend much time together, doesn’t need to be complicated. The players need to know what function they play on the field, where their skill sets fit into the specific game they are playing and the larger player pool. They need one or two discrete instructions or guidelines, and the freedom and flexibility that comes from knowing that their coach trusts them in the situation where he’s put them.Arena’s impact on the state of the U.S. program was immediate — he improved morale off the field and performance on it. Increasingly, it looks to be long-lasting, too. While he was always the right man for the job, he has been better than advertised and deserves credit. (And credit to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati for giving Arena so much latitude. It took too long to get rid of Klinsmann, but when the split came, it was clean and thorough.)”At the end of the day, what Bruce sets for us to do, we’ll be ready to do,” Acosta said before the Mexico match. He and his teammates were ready, and they nearly emerged from Mexico with three points. After the match, Arena was already looking toward the future, his vision clear.Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.
Michael Bradley the glue as U.S. earns huge point in draw with Mexico
The United States national went into a building where they’ve never won a game in World Cup qualifying and … still didn’t win. But a 1-1 draw against Mexico and the point that comes with it is more than good enough for an American squad with low expectations coming into the match.
For the better part of an hour, the American plan to flood the midfield and slow down the Mexican attack worked fairly well. After Michael Bradley’s stunning early goal, the U.S. looked to be about as comfortable as it could have hoped. Mexico’s equalizer through Carlos Vela changed the game, but the Americans showed good resolve to keep them out for the second over the balance of the match.
There’s certainly an argument that the U.S. was overly negative, but there was never going to be another approach in the cauldron of the Azteca. Brad Guzan looked shaky at times, and there were moments when the back line’s communication was lacking. With so many players behind the ball and little press, the attacking trio of Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola didn’t threaten Mexico with dangerous chances.
Manager rating out of 10
6.5 — A lot was made about the mass changes Bruce Arena made for this match, just three days removed from the win against Trinidad & Tobago, but the U.S. boss looks somewhat vindicated by the events at the Azteca. Mistakes combined with moments of brilliance ultimately ruled the day for the goal, but Arena’s setup did provide the defensive backbone the Americans needed to put themselves in position to get a result. (Shane – should have gone to Nagbe much earlier – 60th minute – also Dempsey should have come in for Wood in the last 15 minutes to try to pull out that miracle goal). Overall great result though – was right on Guzan and 3/5 man back line held their own. Cameron was a STAR! Nice to have a coach NOW who at least has a plan and communicates it properly.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Brad Guzan, 6 — Slow to react on Vela’s goal when he might have done better. May have gotten away with a foul on Hernandez. Saved by the woodwork on a Hector Herrera free kick late in the game.
DF DeAndre Yedlin, 6.5 — Rose the occasion in the second half with a yellow card already on his ledger. Mixed bag in one-vs.-one moments but mostly held his own.
DF Geoff Cameron, 7 — Slow to step out on Vela on Mexico’s goal. Improved in the second half and made several crucial interventions that kept the game level. (WHAT – Cameron made numerous saves – was damn near man of the match with Bradley!!)
DF Omar Gonzalez 6.5 — Competent defensively, including his usual good work in the air. Missed a free header that could have given the U.S. a second goal.
DF Tim Ream, 7 — Hardly stood out, which speaks to his work across the evening. Held the line well, made smart plays with the ball at his feet.
DF DaMarcus Beasley, 6.5 — Heroic performance considering his age and Mexico’s penchant for wide play. Clearly gassed in the second half, but maintained discipline.
MF Kellyn Acosta, 7.5 — Handled his big moment expertly, minus a few lapses. Set piece service was mostly poor, a lone black mark on his shift.
MF Michael Bradley, 7.5 — Scored the U.S. goal that set up the opportunity to grab a point. Did what he could against mobile midfield target, including a tactical fouling program that broke up Mexican rhythm. Also almost scored a second. Would have been wonder strike for Captain America.
MF Paul Arriola, 6.5 — Feisty evening that included a few slashing runs that opened up the Mexico defense. Worked hard on defense and left everything on the field in 64 minutes.
MF Christian Pulisic, 6.5 — Occasionally looked nervy on the big stage. Made clever runs that went unrewarded. Worked back on defense. Missed a late chance he’ll want back. (Missed Altidore or Dempsey kind of service at times)
FW Bobby Wood, 6 — Fought like hell for almost 80 minutes. Whiffed on his best chance, which led directly to Mexico’s goal at the other end. Showed off his strength with his holdup play.
MF Darlington Nagbe, NR — Added energy when it was vital to do so. Pushed out through midfield to relieve pressure. (Should have come in at 60 minute mark if not earlier – might have changed the game!!)
FW Jozy Altidore, NR — Came on and pushed a few Mexican defenders around.
MF Graham Zusi, NR — No impact after coming on in added time.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.
Possession – Mexico 74% US 26%
Shots Mexico 10 US 7
Corners Mex 9 US 7
Fouls Mex 13 US 21
Armchair Analyst: US take a page from Costa Rica’s book in draw at Mexico
June 11, 201711:24AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer
Cheers to ESPN’s Marc Connelly for giving me my lead – I mostly agree with him, though please rest assured this doesn’t mean I’m going to avoid discussing tactics after USA’s 1-1 draw at the Azteca against Mexico, a result that leaves the Yanks in strong position to qualify for next summer’s World Cup and damn near memory holed – finally – the disastrous start to the Hexagonal.The whole point of this column of mine is to get lost in the weeds about the granular stuff in the game, but in so doing I (and you, my lovely readers, occasionally join me in this I’m sure) occasionally lose sight of the obvious: Sometimes great players make great plays. Michael Bradley gets a read half-a-step before anybody else on the field and takes a gamble that results in the goal of a lifetime. Carlos Vela realizes that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s gravity has drawn both Kellyn Acosta and Geoff Cameron out of the lane, so he scorches one to the near post.Those were great goals. Blame will be assigned and distributed of course, and every tape of every meaningful incident is worth both watching and dissecting. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that great players making great plays is why we watch this game in the first place.Anyway, the USMNT now have eight points from four qualifiers under Bruce Arena, and six games overall. That’s good for third behind El Tri and Costa Rica, the latter of which will play on Tuesday night.
Here’s what I saw:
- There’s literally nothing I can say about Bradley’sgoal that will improve the experience of watching the actual highlight, so here you go:
As you can see, he both jumped the angle of Chicharito’s attempted lay-off, and wrong-footed Hector Herrera in the process so that the seas parted. It was as great a goal as the US have ever scored in qualifying.The thing that struck me about it, though, was that the US were much more front-foot than I’d expected for the first 15 minutes of the game. I expected them primarily to absorb pressure, even in midfield, but for the first quarter-hour both Bradley and Acosta, as well as Paul Arriola and Christian Pulisic, were quick and specific at pressuring their counterparts in certain zones.This group was dialed in.• The 5-4-1 has been around two decades longer than I’ve been alive, though it’s never been a formation particularly in vogue because of the obvious: It tends to play very defensive. And such was the case on Sunday as the US were out-possessed 73.7% to 26.3%, which is a lot of pressure to absorb even for a well schooled team.
But Arena’s no dummy, and my guess is he’s been watching Costa Rica play in this very shape for the better part of a decade. The Ticos flummoxed all comers with this exact 5-4-1 back in the 2014 World Cup, and they danced a jig on the USMNT’s head while playing out of a 5-4-1 last November in Jurgen Klinsmann’s managerial swansong.Great managers steal what works and make it theirs. In CONCACAF, and at altitude, and on short rest, the 5-4-1 works.There are two keys to this formation, which naturally slumps off into almost a concave shape, conceding central midfield diagonals to the flanks but refusing penetrative, between-the-lines passes into the gaps.
First is that the left center back and the right center back have to act as pistons, popping off the backline and into central midfield to add ad hoc numbers in that part of the pitch when the attack threatens to flatten the lines too much. Think back to this game, and recall how many times Omar Gonzalez or Tim Ream (who had, by far, his finest performance in Red, White & Blue) would come out into the channels and be defending along the same latitude as Acosta or Bradley.I’m stunned at the coordination they had, together, in their first outing and on such a big stage. Mexico were not able to create chances from possession.Second is that the wingbacks – the wide defenders in the back five – have to get out wide early and never allow opposing wingers to get around the edge. If that happens, a back five falls apart.This is why DaMarcus Beasley deserves almost zero blame for Vela’s goal. He did the right thing in forcing Vela inside, but the help wasn’t quite sorted, and Vela made a great play. So it goes.
Notice how both Cameron and Acosta are so concerned about Chicharito that they run themselves out of position to help Beasley? That’s about as good an example of “gravity” as you’ll get. Chicharito is such a scoring threat that guys overcompensate in an effort to track him, and smart teammates can and do use that to their advantage.About the only risk Arena took today that didn’t pay off was sending so many players forward on that particular corner kick, and the killer thing about this dumb game of ours is that it should’ve paid off. Bobby Wood – who put in a dogged but ultimately ineffective shift, and has very much earned a summer off to rest – somehow whiffed from five yards out. That would’ve made it dos a cero, but 15 seconds later it was 1-1.
So it goes.
- Juan Carlos Osorio made the right subin bringing Jesus Gallardo (a very attacking fullback) on for Oswaldo Alanís (very not that) after half an hour, but Gallardo and Hirving Lozano never could quite get into sync while the guy they were mostly going against, DeAndre Yedlin, seemed to get stronger as the game went along.
Yedlin, save for one blown offside trap in the first half, was outstanding.
Mexico crossed the ball 25 times against a five-man backline with three central defenders standing 6-foot or taller. They managed just one shot on goal, and just 10 in total. So while Osorio made the right sub, he never really did find the right tactical answer to what the US were doing.
This game was screaming out for Oribe Peralta from a Mexico point of view, for his ability to pull off the line, occupy one of those defenders with his back to goal, and create plays. It’s bizarre he didn’t get on the field, because doing that exact thing would’ve opened up plenty of space for wingers like Lozano and Vela to duck inside into the gaps that are created by that type of forward play.
- Today was obviously a good exampleof why I’m still a firm believer that Bradley is and should remain the man for the US at defensive midfield. It’s also a good example of why Cameron has to remain on the backline.
When he’s out there, the US shape is always good and the whole line is always connected. Pulisic’s is the first name on the teamsheet for me, Cameron’s is the second and Bradley’s the third.
- Acosta has maybe become a starter?At the very least he’s giving Arena real options, and many of the best bits of US play came from both his passing and movement. The US have never been particularly good in a 4-2-3-1, but with him as a box-to-boxNo. 8 next to a more stationary Bradley, and with Pulisic as a free roaming No. 10 in the middle of that “3” line (nominally)… that’ll give teams fits.
It’s a young man’s game, and the youngsters in the US keep getting better.
- Brad Guzanhas started two qualifiers at the Azteca and the US have two draws in those games.
- The US are now 3-0-4 across all seven gamesunder Arena. Vela’s goal was just the third conceded in those seven games, and the first from open play.
- It feels like the US are just about throughto the World Cup, but beware:
Costa Rica will come to town in September knowing exactly what they want to do, and exactly how to do it. It’ll be a dance with which the US are – as they showed tonight – perfectly familiar.
The pragmatism of Bruce Arena key for USMNT
Why the American manager’s five-man defense was a stroke of genius, not preservation
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Buoyed by Michael Bradley’s incredible 40-yard lobbed goal in the 6th minute of the game, the U.S. Men’s National Team fought hard to share the spoils against Mexico in a raucous Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
If the decision to make seven (count ‘em SEVEN) changes from the side that beat Trinidad and Tobago three days earlier wasn’t surprising enough, Bruce Arena doubled down on the madness by deploying three center backs – a formation the United States has struggled to use effectively for years. Competitive matches against Mexico, especially at Azteca, are some of the most daunting and demanding games any of these players will play in for club and country. Understandably, many fans frantically tweeted their displeasure when they saw the likes of Tim Ream, Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta and DaMarcus Beasley in the Starting XI. But what none of us knew was that Bruce Arena had meticulously planned for this moment, and it turned out to be a tactical masterclass. The physical and mental preparations were spot on, and the team setup offered the U.S. the ideal balance between thwarting Mexico’s dynamic attack while affording the opportunity to nick a goal or two.
To Bruce Arena, winning is all that matters. In that respect, he’s the antithesis of Jurgen Klinsmann – a pragmatist to Klinsmann’s idealism. What Arena understands that perhaps Klinsmann did not is that the team who displays the most quality on the day isn’t necessarily the team that will win the game. No matter who you support, everyone has seen their favorite team “outplay” yet still lose a match. Sunday, Arena banked on this understanding and put his players in the best position to come away with points.
It was clear from the outset that the U.S. planned to play in a deep block, keeping all the play in front of them and then breaking as quickly as possible. When playing as deep as the USMNT were, the common problem team’s face is that they can’t sustain any attacks because the striker is left too isolated and can’t retain possession or get in behind (usually) two defenders marking him. The U.S. combatted this by play Christian Pulisic as far up the field as he possibly could while keeping close tabs on Mexico RB Carlos Salcedo, always making sure he could cover his mark when the U.S. lost possession. Fortunately for the the USMNT, Salcedo is a natural center back, and wasn’t as aggressive in pushing forward and therefore pulling Pulisic away from Wood. Together, Wood and Pulisic provided the main attacking threat and they combined well throughout the first half. When the ball was cleared down the opposite flank, Arriola was able to effectively chase and push Mexico back to relieve pressure. Arena was smart to favor the physical attributes that Arriola provided opposed to a more skilled, but slower player in Darlington Nagbe (who, remember, was coming off a start three days prior).
Where the term “playing direct” is misconstrued at times is when it’s mistaken for “crossing a lot.” Playing direct simply means going from back to front and going toward goal as quickly as possible, and these players were incredibly well drilled in this respect. The ball rarely moved backward when U.S. were in possession, and Pulisic and Wood carried the ball forward with purpose.
Center backs in support
The additional center back used by Arena gave the United States a much more solid foundation than they would’ve had playing with three central midfielders. That’s because, in Arena’s mind, this was never going to be a battle over midfield. The game was going to be played predominantly in Mexico’s attacking third, and this was by design (which I’ll get to later). But essentially, the third CB (which we’ll call Cameron since he played in the middle) allowed Ream and Gonzalez to offer support to the central midfielders and fullbacks. Mexico simply couldn’t find space between the lines through Marco Fabian and Jonathan Dos Santos – the two Mexicans trying to exploit these areas. Watch here as Fabian receives the ball initially but Omar Gonzalez is there to usher him away from the danger area. The ball is recycled to Dos Santos in the same position on the other side, where Ream does the same exact thing.
Mexico piles on pressure in second half
Arena made a key switch in the second half that helped preserve the point for the Americans, but it wasn’t with a player swap. Instead, he clearly directed Pulisic to play closer to Beasley so that he could offer support to the left back as his primary purpose. Pulisic’s ability to sprint upfield so quickly on turnovers is incredible. The stamina and effort levels from Pulisic, Arriola and Bobby Wood were off the charts.
With everything in the middle so congested, Mexico was forced to be overly aggressive with its positioning at times. The fullbacks were pushed extremely high, and obviously this forced U.S. players back. But since the away side was so well drilled at playing quickly upfield, they needn’t worry about trying to manipulate Mexico to force an opening. Mexico was forced to leave opening themselves as they chased a result they were so desperate to get. Tactically speaking, while the personnel and setup was no doubt defensive on the part of the USMNT, it still offered balance in that the Americans were able to conjure up decent scoring opportunities, even if they were few and far in between. Pulisic, Wood and Omar Gonzalez all had very good opportunities to score – as good as any of Mexico’s wayward chances.
So yeah, Bruce Arena nailed it, and the postgame quotes from the players really tell the story about how well the manager prepared them to achieve such a result. And this isn’t the last time they’ll need to be prepared to play in this style. If this team is to compete with the best teams in the world (like Mexico) at the World Cup, they’ll need this level of effort. But they took a big step Sunday in proving to themselves that they’re more than capable of pulling it off.
As a new USMNT core emerges, the timing of generations is everything
Leander Schaerlaeckens,FC Yahoo
The ebb and flow of generations does not concern itself with the soccer calendar. The waves do not hold back in order to accommodate a World Cup cycle. Nor do they linger a little longer because a major tournament is just a few months away.The prime of a soccer player is a fickle thing. Some primes come early, some late. Some are brief, some long. Some don’t come at all.United States men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena once said that his 2006 World Cup team had peaked in 2005 – when they won the Gold Cup – but was already past it by the time the big tournament in Germany rolled around. The Americans went winless and flamed out in the group stage.Bad timing. It happens to many national teams whose peaks and valleys don’t always align with the years that are important and those that are not. Winning a World Cup is a function not only of form and fortune, but also of the best years of the top players happening to coincide with the right summer.Let’s circle around to the point: A young core of enormous promise is assembling within the U.S. national team in the eighth month of Arena’s second stint in charge. Of course, 18-year-old wunderkind midfielder Christian Pulisic has probably been the team’s best player for some nine months, pushing through under Arena’s predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann. Likewise, Bobby Wood, 24, had broken out at last summer’s Copa America Centenario. As did central defender John Brooks, also 24.DeAndre Yedlin, 23, has been in the mix for a while – and has somehow raced out to 46 appearances – although it can feel at times like he’s still learning his position at right back, after being converted from a winger. Up front, the 25-year-old Gyasi Zardes has shown well in spasms. So has 26-year-old playmaker Darlington Nagbe.Jozy Altidore, it’s easy to forget, is still only 27, even though he is the program’s third all-time leading scorer with 37 goals. He more or less dangles between the younger generation and the veteran core. Most of that older group of Clint Dempsey (34), Michael Bradley (29), Tim Howard (38), Alejandro Bedoya (30), Jermaine Jones (35) and Fabian Johnson (29) is likely headed for its final World Cup, assuming the Americans qualify for Russia.Yet Sunday’s hard-fought 1-1 tie with Mexico at the feared Estadio Azteca seemed to announce the arrival of at least one other player – and maybe two.The 21-year-old FC Dallas star Kellyn Acosta was fielded beside Bradley in a tandem shielding the unexpected five-man defense. And while it’s hard to distinguish yourself as a holding midfielder in a game when your team has just a quarter of the possession, he did exactly that.In just his eighth national team game, Acosta was largely authoritative – except for the rare midfield turnover – that he seemed to immediately become a rival for Jones, who has partnered with Bradley for more than half a decade. Acosta, while not permitted to do so against Mexico, also has something to offer going forward and has shown flashes of the potential to become an outstanding passer. As such, he can shuttle between the boxes and free up Bradley to sit deep and distribute from there, where he’s at his best.Further up the field, Paul Arriola, the tiny 22-year-old Xolos winger, was lumbered with a fairly thankless assignment in his fifth USA game. As a forward in a front three for a team designed to absorb pressure on the day, Arriola essentially had the job of running after the opposing defenders as they pinged the ball around. Nevertheless, he gave a composed performance, just as he’s previously impressed in flashes with the team having scored in his first two caps, including in a World Cup qualifier.When the 40-man preliminary Gold Cup roster was released last month, there was a pleasant surprise in there for attentive U.S. national team fans. Mexican-American FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was listed, suggesting that the 22-year-old might be picking the Stars and Stripes over the country of his ancestry, following earlier reports to the contrary.It’s premature to speculate over what sort of national team career he might have. That is, if he’s even one of the three goalkeepers from the six on the preliminary roster selected for the tournament, and if he makes an appearance to cap-tie him to the USA in perpetuity.The succession issue has hung heavily over the program for a few years now, with Howard slowly aging out and Brad Guzan – who is 32 and, as a goalie, has time on his side – once again looking like a most average goalkeeper in Mexico on Sunday. The heir apparent to Howard is a mantle never quite seized by Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson or David Bingham. But between Gonzalez and Ethan Horvath, the issue might finally be solved.But where does all this leave the national team right now? Or in a year, when the World Cup is here again? Is this a team with a nice blend of young and old? Or is it a band of veterans that are either over the hill or descending its summit, with a few not-quite-ready younger players mixed in?That will be determined entirely by results in Russia – again, assuming the U.S. is going to Russia, which seems fairly safe now. A stray goal here or there will cast a verdict on the 2018 incarnation of the national team – as it must on all teams at the World Cup end game – to decide whether it was a year past its best, or a little ahead of its time, or just the right combination after all.And if this isn’t the U.S. team to break through to another quarterfinal or further, perhaps the next one will be. The talent seems to be there. The trick is to get the timing right.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
• USMNT makes a point about Bruce Arena in 1-1 draw with Mexico
• U.S. ties Mexico to earn just its third-ever World Cup qualifying point
• Arena, USMNT players vocal about mending political divide with Mexico
• How Mexico’s Trump tone has changed since last meeting with U.S.
• Why the U.S. men’s national team belongs to Christian Pulisic now
Glory, proving ground, experience: What Confederations Cup means for 8 contenders
QUICKLYThe FIFA Confederations Cup serves a different purpose for each of the eight, wide-ranging contenders heading to Russia.
BRIAN STRAUS SI Wednesday June 14th, 2017
FIFA took over administration of the Confederations Cup ahead of the third edition in 1997 and so decided to create a new trophy. The governing body had a blank slate. It could’ve gone in any direction. And what FIFA came up with was a golden globe sitting atop a sort of swirly column. Seem derivative? Sound familiar?
The Confederations Cup features “two gold ribbons [that] are wrapped around the central body in a festive, dynamic movement.” The iconic World Cup trophy introduced in 1974 has “lines that spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world.” And they’re about the same height. The newer trophy is only 3.2 centimeters taller. From a distance, they’re almost interchangeable.FIFA could’ve made something that set the Confederations Cup apart, something that indicated the honor was distinctive and worth winning. Instead, the new bauble symbolized the tournament’s place as a very poor-man’s version of the World Cup—a skinnier, less appealing version of the real thing that means different things to different nations. It’s a proving ground for smaller countries, sure. But it’s positioned as nothing more than a World Cup warm-up for others. And to some, it means almost nothing at all.
France, Italy and Germany (twice) each declined to participate in past editions. FIFA cut the frequency from once every two years to once every four and in 2005, it took honest stock of the the competition’s place on the football landscape and turned it into a World Cup dress rehearsal. For many, the Confederations Cup now is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. In 2015, as his U.S. team prepared to play Mexico for a spot in this month’s tournament, which kicks off Saturday, Jurgen Klinsmann spoke about the importance of getting an early look at Russian logistics and the rare opportunity to play European or South American sides in official competition. There wasn’t much talk about any glory, accomplishment or sporting immortality associated with the trophy itself.For sure, there have been some memorable moments during the nine tournaments played since 1992. American fans will always savor the stunning semifinal upset of Spain in ‘09. Australia and Japan have also made unlikely runs to the final. The world got a good look at Ronaldinho’s potential in ’99 and mourned the death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé four years later. Cuauhtémoc Blanco scored six goals as Mexico triumphed in ’99, and the semipros of Tahiti yielded 24 in ’13. Spain’s historic reign finally ended that year. Kaká’s began in ’05.Some of the entries in this summer’s tournament, like New Zealand or Cameroon, will hope to make memories of their own. For others, such as Russia or Mexico, there’s a chance to ease doubts. For world champion Germany, it’s merely a test of depth. For Chile and Portugal, there’s an opportunity to begin prepping for the long World Cup run they crave. This Confederations Cup, too, means something different to each participant. Two will contest the final on July 2 in St. Petersburg.
Qualified as: 2015 CONCACAF Cup winner
Best previous finish: 1999 champion
Schedule: June 18 vs. Portugal, June 21 vs. New Zealand, June 24 at Russia
Meaning: Brazil isn’t the only nation haunted by a seven-goal ghost. El Tri’s humiliating 7—0 loss to Chile in last year’s Copa América Centenario quarterfinal will sting and linger until coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his talented team replace it with something better. Mexico falters too frequently outside CONCACAF, and it doesn’t want to head into the World Cup second-guessing itself. Osorio told SI.com recently that he felt “almost paralyzed” during the loss to Chile. “I had no Plan B,” he said. “Now we do, because from that experience we have learned so much. Now we have Plan B and even Plan C. We know how to react.” A run to the final will prove they do.
Qualified as: 2016 Oceania Nations Cup champion
Best previous finish: Group stage (three times)
Schedule: June 17 at Russia, June 21 vs. Mexico, June 24 vs. Portugal
Meaning: Australia’s departure to the Asian Football Confederation practically guarantees the Kiwis qualification for just about every FIFA competition, barring the occasional Tahitian miracle. New Zealand gets no competition in its vast, watery backyard, so it must rely on these infrequent opportunities to test itself against better sides. Only a handful of All-Whites, including San Jose Earthquakes defender Kip Colvey and PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas, play for top-tier clubs outside Australia or New Zealand.
Qualified as: 2016 European Championship champion
Best previous finish: First appearance
Schedule: June 18 vs. Mexico, June 21 at Russia, June 24 vs. New Zealand
Meaning: Nobody grinds out results like Cristiano Ronaldo, and his knack for mastering the moment—or surviving and advancing—spread to his Portuguese teammates last summer. It was ugly. It was drudgery. But at the end, after scoring five goals in 450 minutes of knockout-round soccer, A Selecção was European champ. Most of that squad is back, even though it would be understandable if Ronaldo, Pepe, João Moutinho and other busy stars needed a break. The Portuguese core is aging. But momentum must be maintained, and winning is its own reward. “I hope Portugal is lucky enough to win yet another trophy for the first time in history,” Ronaldo said. “It would be beautiful.”
Qualified as: Host
Best previous finish: First appearance
Schedule: June 17 vs. New Zealand, June 21 vs. Portugal, June 24 vs. Mexico
Meaning: Russia isn’t exactly heading toward its World Cup on a good run. Concern surrounding its bid, its geopolitics, worker safety and hooliganism dominate the headlines while its struggling national team kills time as an automatic qualifier. It has played only four friendlies this year, and the Confederations Cup represents its only chance since a winless Euro run to contest competitive matches. There are questions to be answered as Russia, which is comprised entirely of domestic talent and has only one player who’s scored more than five international goals, hopes to avoid a humiliating exit next summer.
Qualified as: 2015 Asian Cup champion
Best previous finish: 1997 runner-up
Schedule: June 19 vs. Germany, June 22 vs. Cameroon, June 25 vs. Chile
Meaning: The Socceroos joined Asia in 2005 in search of better competition, and the move has been a smashing success. Australia has qualified for every World Cup since then and advanced to the past two Asian Cup finals, winning in ’15. All but two players on the Confederations Cup team now play outside Australia. The next step is to compete with South American and European powers, and it’ll get one of each this month. The draw is tough, and the task will be tougher without injured captain Mile Jedinak, who plays for Aston Villa. “It’s about the experience of what we’ve done in the last two-and-half-years and to build on it,” the ageless Tim Cahill said. “The Confed Cup is where we really put it into practice and make a mark on the world stage.”
Qualified as: 2017 African Cup of Nations champion
Best previous finish: 2003 runner-up
Schedule: June 18 vs. Chile, June 22 vs. Australia, June 25 vs. Germany
Meaning: Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Colombia and the loss of Montreal Impact defender Ambroise Oyongo to a knee injury aren’t good omens for a team expected to struggle and a federation whose politics are in controversy. Benjamin Moukandjo (Lorient) and Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas) can score goals, but this is mostly a young or unproven team. Coach Hugo Broos will hope some answers emerge this month that might help the Lions get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
Qualified as: 2015 Copa América champion
Best previous finish: First appearance
Schedule: June 18 vs. Cameroon, June 22 vs. Germany, June 25 vs. Australia
Meaning: For decades, Chile couldn’t get out of its own way. Then Marcelo Bielsa took over in 2007, overhauled tactics and culture and created the foundation for a team that shut down Lionel Messi in the past two Copa América finals. Chile now understands what it means, and what it takes, to be a champion. And coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has brought his first-choice squad to Russia. Do well there—and that means reaching the final—and Chile can return next summer (assuming it survives the CONMEBOL gauntlet) with the sort of swagger usually reserved for its South American rivals.
Qualified as: 2014 World Cup champion
Best previous finish: 2005 third place
Schedule: June 19 vs. Australia, June 22 vs. Chile, June 25 vs. Cameroon
Meaning: Remember when Germany’s World Cup-winning goal was scored by a substitute off an assist from a substitute who replaced a guy who wasn’t supposed to be starting? That’s symbolic of how deep Joachim Löw’s player pool is. Even though Germany hasn’t won the Confederations Cup, defending its world title next summer is far more important. So Löw is resting most of his first-choice team this summer while he takes a look at players in frame to make a run for a spot on next year’s return trip to Russia. There’s still plenty of talent. Germany can field Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler, Liverpool midfielder Emre Can, Barcelona goalie Marc-André ter Stegen and two of the more promising pieces to emerge from the German pipeline in recent years, Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. Those players and more will hit the Russian turf running in 2018.
Its Summer – Time to plan your Soccer Camps
BEST FAMILY GOALIE TRAINING – if anyone is interested in low cost Goalie Training this summer – let me know. My 18 year old goalie Tyler and I may offer some evening training if we get enough interest. RE: or email firstname.lastname@example.org
June 19-22 9 to 12 noon (ages 5-14) $135
Carmel High School Soccer Camps – July 17-20
(called Hounds Soccer Technical/Skills Camp and Hounds Soccer Tactical/Scrimmage Camp) and they are being held at Murray Stadium the week of July 17-20. The format will be where the morning session will run 10:00-12:00. This is the technical skills training – session runs 10 am till 12 pm and it will cost $85. The afternoon session is the tactical/scrimmage session and will run 1:00-3:00 at Murray Stadium both run by Men’s Soccer Head Coach Shane Schmidt. Boys and Girls – 8-14 Cost: $85/per camper per session.
Former College Coach and Canadian National Team Goalkeeper & current Carmel FC & Carmel High Asst coach Carla Baker Provides elite-level training for youth players who want to become better technical and tactical soccer players. Our camps focus on individual technical skills and game tactics in pressure situations using advanced training techniques. Come and join our staff of former Division I college coaches, National Team players, experienced youth, high school and college players for a fun learning experience.
Cost: $195 per camper Location: Badger Fields Field Player Camp: July 24 – 27, 2017
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