Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned as the USMNT went to the top of the Hexagonal

About a year ago, a current US national team member said something to me to the effect of “Jozy is starting to get it. Once it finally clicks, he’s going to be unstoppable.”

We’re now at the point in the show where that’s looking something close to prescient. Jozy Altidore isn’t precisely “unstoppable” at the moment, but he’s renting space in that neighborhood. Thirty-one goals in all competitions for his club team, Best XI in the Eredivisie and now – finally – production to match in a US kit.

This is what it feels like to have a world-class forward.

If we get nothing else in this cycle (something that looks increasingly unlikely after Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Panama), we’ll have at least gotten that.

The counter is what we do best – for 25 years and counting

Credit to Brendan Hannan for this one:

The “another level” part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s introduction is something that’s provoked debate – most of it snarky – since the moment "Der Golden Bomber" said it. What exactly does “another level” mean, and why is playing with three defensive-minded central midfielders the way to get there?

If there was a cudgel to use against Klinsmann through the first 20 or so months of his tenure, that was it. Now, things have changed.

I don’t know what or who convinced Klinsmann that the US aren't Spain, and can’t even do a reasonable facsimile thereof, but I’d like to buy him or her or them a drink. If this US group gets to “another level,” it will happen on the run, after somebody wins a second ball deep and Michael Bradley carries it as high as possible at a dead sprint before making the defense collapse, then putting it on a plate for a winger.

That first goal was “another level,” just like we saw vs. Egypt, vs. Spain, vs. Brazil, vs. Algeria. It doesn’t have to be tika-taka to be breathtaking.

Which brings us to point No. 2…

Michael Bradley is at his best playing just in front of true No. 6

Look, it’s unfortunate that Jermaine Jones picked up that concussion against Jamaica, because he was absolutely playing the best soccer of his brief US national team career. And, of course, concussions are terrifying. I truly hope he gets back to full health ASAP, and at least makes a cameo against Honduras.

But without Jones, Klinsmann was forced to adapt. He likes playing Bradley and Jones as a double-pivot, and it’s never been smooth sailing for that pairing in that set up for more than a game at a time.

Enter Geoff Cameron. He played as a pure d-mid on Tuesday – deeper and more defensive than Jones does for the US – and that allowed Bradley to push higher both with and without the ball.

See that graphic at right? Those are Cameron's tackles, clearances, interceptions and recoveries on the evening, and to a player as sophisticated as Bradley, that says one thing: "Go forward, I've got your back."

Mikey could have had a goal inside 15 minutes, did have an assist inside 35, and was instrumental in one of the prettiest build-ups we’ve seen from any US team, which ended with DaMarcus Beasley cruelly pinging the post. He was in position for all three plays because Cameron had the game on lockdown behind him.

FULL LINEUPS AND BOXSCORE

To bring it back to the discussion in the previous point: We’re at another level when Bradley is on the ball conducting the counter. Having Cameron as his security blanket means he can do exactly that anytime he sees an opening.

Also, Cameron turned into Fernando Redondo for a minute on that Eddie Johnson goal. Andrea Pirlo would happily add that pass to his personal highlight reel.

Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez have played 3 qualifiers together…

And the US have conceded one goal. Which was offside, and shouldn’t have stood.

As Taylor Twellman pointed out late in the broadcast after Omar had been unsighted, he can be beat when he ball-watches. And Besler will never make anyone forget Oguchi Onyewu or Jay DeMerit when it comes to raw athleticism.

OPTA Chalkboard: Besler cleans up every mess

But that doesn’t matter because they’re proving to be perfectly complementary parts. They make up for each other’s shortcomings, and that has been enough to take seven points from the last three games. And, of course, there’s every reason to assume they’ll keep improving as they get more reps and get more comfortable at the international level individually and as a pairing.

Back to my first point: Altidore now has 90 professional goals for club and country, including 34 in the past 10 months. And he’s just 23. And he’s just now starting to get it.

This is what it feels like to have a world-class forward.