In retrospect, I should go back and rejigger my post-Guatemala analysis. I was pretty sure that we didn't really learn anything in that one, when in fact we learned that the US were absolutely going to demolish Belize. Which they did.
I wish Jurgen Klinsmann had been as cognizant of his team's strengths (and the weaknesses of CONCACAF minnows) last year, because it would have made qualifying vs. the likes of Guatemala and Antigua & Barbuda a lot more fun to watch. Those games were pure slogs, and this was the easiest setting of "Whack-a-Mole."
More important than my whining, though, is that Klinsmann has, indeed learned. No more three d-mid sets, no more unnecessarily high lines, and good, compact and compartmentalized defending.
Except on set pieces. Ugh.
Anyway, three things we learned:
1. Fundamentals always matter, even against amateurs
My takeaway from 1st half: Wondo knows where the goal is (even if the 'kit man' doesn't know what his name is...)— Daniel Haiek (@Dan_Haiek) July 10, 2013
Neither Dan nor I are under the impression that Belize were anything but road kill, and there is still a strong (and entirely understandable) "Wake me when he scores against someone good" strain of thinking about Chris Wondowlowski in the fanbase. He's not going to unseat Jozy Altidore at any point and he's got a ton of work yet to do if he even wants to unseat Herculez Gomez.
But ... no matter who the opponent is, "Wondow" is able to find his spots in front of net. It happened to John Terry, it happened to Felipe Baloy of Panama two years ago, and it happened to a bunch of no-names on Tuesday.
Chris Wondolowski, on the other hand, went goalless in the second half. For shame!
2. Kill 'em with patience...
I was surprised to see my Twitter feed blow up late in the first half as the US were trying to find that second goal. There were some frustrating moments — there always are when you're trying to carve out chances against a bunkering defense — but overall there was good patience, and an ability to create spaces for the playmakers out wide that hinted at more goals to come.
Not surprising at all, but US at 9 passes per turnover and Belize at 2 passes per turnover. A full third of US passes occurring in final 3rd— Alex O (@tempofreesoccer) July 10, 2013
Those are basically "Messi and Friends" numbers, and that final third possession isn't exactly useless. I've harped on Klinsmann in the past for putting out teams that aren't set up to succeed, and in that context, it makes sense to pull apart patterns of posession and chance generation (lack thereof).
Did anybody really think that was an issue tonight?
3. And then kill 'em quick
I'm still wary of going here because I don't believe he can stay healthy for more than six months at a time, and because I'm not sure if he can play alongside Michael Bradley, but the tempo of the game goes up dramatically when Stuart Holden is in there. The only players in the pool who recognize the right pass after a recovery as quickly as he does are Bradley and Landon Donovan (and if you're looking for a reason Jose Torres struggles against good teams, there ya go).
Getting Holden, Bradley and Donovan onto the field at the same time should be a goal for Klinsmann. The main issue is that I'm not sure Holden recognizes our own defensive weak spots as quick as he needs to — he's always looking for passing lanes and pressure points, which would force Bradley into more of a shield or even destroyer role. Holden's good, but I'm not sure he's good enough to justify that.
That said, I want to find out. If you're looking for a long-term angle from this Gold Cup beyond "Landon's back, Wondo finally scored, and can we beat Mexico when it counts for the first time in four-and-a-half years?", that's the one.