It's a shame there's a chance Jurgen Klinsmann won't be on the sideline for the Gold Cup final, because he's really, truly earned it. This was a real test for the US – I know Honduras has been "meh" this tournament, but it's still Honduras.
Obviously, the US passed said test with flying colors.
Here are three things we learned from the 3-1 win on Wednesday night:
There were scant few bones to pick in the first half, but there was this: Too often Jose Torres and Alejandro Bedoya were mirroring each other’s movements. And that forced fullbacks DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Parkhurst to mirror each other’s movements back there as well.
For the first 20 minutes, it jammed up US spacing, and made Beasley play deeper than Jurgen Klinsmann wanted – eliminating one of the most potent US threats. Eventually, the message came to Bedoya to get wide and stay there, which allowed Parkhurst to play deeper on the right, Beasley to push up more comfortably, and Torres to pinch instead of spread the field.
As long as Torres is in there (and he will be this weekend), the right midfielder and the left fullback provide the width. Torres acts as a possession hub in the left channel, and Parkhurst pushes up almost always to act as an auxiliary deep-lying midfielder instead of an attacking valve.
There’s balance there, even if there’s no symmetry. And it’s working.
2. Don’t go to battle without Kyle Beckerman
That was the most obvious “let’s save his legs for the final” sub that’s ever been made. Beckerman’s not spectacular, and unsophisticated fans are always going to nitpick, but there’s a reason the US spacing on defense and the ability to quickly transition into attack went to pot when he came out.
Shea replaces Torres, and Diskerud replaces Beckerman. Saving Beckerman for the final? An outstanding game from him today. 67th minute.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 25, 2013
It was the right move with a two-goal lead and a lot of miles on Beckerman’s legs this year, even if it did make for a dire last 20 minutes. Regardless, I hope you don’t mind me harping (once again) on how important it is for the US to have a true No. 6 out there.
3. Landon Donovan, shape-shifter
Donovan’s defining quality as a soccer player has always been his ability to see, and then hit perfectly, the final ball. It’s why he has nearly triple the number of assists of anybody in US history, and it’s why the US offense went dry when he went walkabout.
The way he used to do it best was by starting wide, then pinching in to find his spots. Getting him away from the scrum was probably the best thing Bob Bradley did as manager, and it unleashed Donovan to become a US legend.
LD’s back from walkabout now – I’m pretty sure we can say that officially after this tournament – but he’s not the same. Landon’s a half-step slower (he was last year, too), and he’s had to adjust.
When he ghosts, it’s not outside-in; it’s inside out. That’s why you often see Landon popping up at the edge of the 18, two steps from any defender and with just enough time to put it on a platter for a fellow attacker, usually with one touch:
He’s changed his game and become more of a true second forward, filling the central channel by both checking to the ball and taking direct space away from it. The first goal against the Catrachos was a classic check – he looked like Brian freaking McBride for a second – keeping the defender on his back and one-touching into space for his running-mate. Donovan has nearly 200 assists for club and country as a pro, and I’d be shocked if more than 10 or so were like those.
The second was even more direct, running off of Eddie Johnson’s flick before getting on the end of Alejandro Bedoya’s chip in the box. That is not the kind of goal he was scoring two or three years ago. For good measure, he scored it again for the third goal of the game.
I’m going to state the painfully obvious here: Landon Donovan is really smart. He’s taken a lot of crap because of his penchant for his overthinking and introspection over the years, but those qualities have allowed him to identify exactly how he’s needed to adjust his game as he heads into the final chapter of his career.
He’s phenomenal. Gonna be a long while until there’s another like him in US colors.