Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from Eddie Johnson and why the US need a No. 9
That is the most bizarre penalty miss in the history of US soccer. I think the ghost of Lamar Hunt came down and deflected it, because he knew there was only one appropriate scoreline for this latest US vs. Mexico showdown in Columbus.
Here are three things we learned from a reprise of Dos a Cero in Columbus:
1. EJ did everything
It's a shame that Eddie Johnson didn't get to see out the full 90 minutes, because this result was, in large part, his doing.
It's not only the goal – which, obviously, was his shining moment on the night. It was the fact that he did the "Brian McBride stuff" that the US have always needed from a No. 9. He won balls in the air, he provided an outlet for the midfield when it got overwhelmed, and, most importantly, when he won the ball, he held it. He controlled it, and he allowed the midfield to move forward with confidence.
He completed 20 passes, and only missed three. Three! Every single time the US got the ball to him, they were able to move forward in numbers.
It wasn't perfect, and he's never going to connect the kind of field-opening passes at which McBride excelled. But he didn't have to be perfect, did he? All he had to be was "Better than Mexico."
He was. Convincingly.
2. Chicharito did nothing
Compare Johnson's night of industry and quality to his more celebrated Mexican counterpart, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández. This tweet from ESPN's Paul Carr sums up his first half:
Chicharito had nine touches in the first half, 10 fewer than any other player. #USAvMEX
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) September 11, 2013
By the 55th minute, that was up to a whopping 11 touches. That's not completed passes, or dribbles, or won headers ... just "touches." And it didn't change much until late in the game when the US pulled the foot off the gas a bit. It's honestly not even worth pulling up his heat map.
The point here is that players like Chicharito are a luxury. All the stuff most teams – including Mexico – need from a center forward have to be done by someone else. All that stuff that EJ did, didn't get done by Mexico, so their attacks were disjointed and they never, ever came close to involving the guy who's supposed to be their star.
Players like Chicharito are a paradox. When Mexico has the run of play, he can elevate them with his movement and, once upon a time, his finishing.
But when they don't carry play, he's a millstone. Against the US, he completed 10 passes and missed on eight. He was not dangerous, and did not make his teammates more dangerous. He was a net negative by any realistic measure.
On Tuesday night, and throughout qualifying, that's El Tri's tale of woe.
3. Two veterans who needed to step up, did
The two most important, though, were Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones.
I've been critical of Howard over the past year, as he's exclusively reserved his best performances for friendlies (he was magnificent in 2012 wins at Italy and at Mexico). His propensity for getting beat from distance was tough to take in the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Gold Cup, and I am not the only one who figured it was time for Brad Guzan to step in.
Howard destroyed that line of speculation tonight. He was magnificent in the first 25, followed by calm, decisive forays off his line for the final 65.
Jones was, perhaps, even better. He committed a terrible turnover 90 seconds in, just as he did against Costa Rica, then didn't make another mistake until first half stoppage (a stupid slide tackle 75 yards from goal that led to Alejandro Bedoya's yellow card). In between he was wonderful tracking loose runners, breaking up anything that looked like it was heading for Zone 14, and occasionally switching the run of play aggressively.
Then he got even better in the second half.
Below are his defensive events:
And what's more, he lost the ball only nine times tonight. Against Costa Rica, he lost the ball 17 times in the first 35 minutes.
What a spectacular, disciplined performance. This is who he needs to be – not the poor man's Andreo Pirlo that he often acts like he thinks he is.
Signature game from Jones. Signature win from the US.
Same as it ever was.