The best thing that happened in the US national team's 6-1 win over St. Vincent & the Grenadines on Friday night was that both Matt Miazga and Darlington Nagbe got capped. Miazga came into the game eligible to represent either the US or Poland, while Nagbe could still have suited up for his birth nation of Liberia.
No longer. Both are Yanks forever, and both should be a large part of the next two cycles (probably three for Miazga).
Add in the very necessary three home points to kick of 2018 World Cup qualifying, and it was a pretty good night. Not great, mind you -- there were still some spacing issues, as well as the requisite hamstring pull -- but pretty good is a massive step up from what US fans have been used to in recent months.
It didn't start out so great, though:
1. The Disconnect
One of the obvious consequences of constant roster, lineup and formation shuffling is a disconnect between individual players. Repetition breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds the kind of cohesion that has always been a hallmark of US teams.
Without those individual connects, the knock-on effect is a disconnect between the lines of defense & midfield, and midfield & attack. In my opinion, a flat 4-4-2 in which there is no one player specifically tasked with protecting the back line can exacerbate this problem. There exists a soft spot between the lines in which clever attackers can win second balls and find space in which to operate.
Oalex Anderson, who opened the scoring tonight and will almost certainly be playing meaningful minutes for the Sounders next year, appears to be just that kind of clever attacker:
Gyasi Zardes needed to be there to win the second ball after Geoff Cameron's half-clear. That's a disconnect between the right side of the defense and the right midfielder, and with no No. 6 in there (both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones played as box-to-box players for the first 65 minutes), there was nobody to gobble up the mistake.
All of this was compounded by DeAndre Yedlin's really, really passive defensive stance. Just like the U-23s on Wednesday, Yedlin backed deep into his own box and let an attacker, um, attack.
It's become a habit for the US, and is a worry heading into Tuesday's qualifier at Trinidad & Tobago.
2. Classics Never Go Out Of Style
Yedlin partially redeemed himself with a nice assist on the well-worked equalizer minutes later, and then US dominance set in. Vincy Heat are primarily a semi-pro team, and they largely looked it both in terms of awareness and fitness. Bobby Wood was excellent with his touches around the box, and Fabian Johnson -- playing in his preferred spot at left midfield -- was a constant threat.
Maybe the most encouraging thing, though, was how dominant the US were on set pieces. You may be turning your nose up at that, but please don't. The US cannot afford to be anything but dominant on restarts on both sides of the ball, and that's what they mostly were.
It wasn't just down to raw physicality, either. Clearly there's been some real coaching going on this week, and that led to some clever movement. Obviously both the Soca Warriors and Guatemala will do better with all of this over the next 10 months, but a good set piece routine is a good set piece routine: It's hard to defend against no matter who you are.
Then again, this is also worth remembering:
3. The Switch
So Nagbe and Miazga came on, and there was much rejoicing. It's always nice to see young players progress through the ranks and realize a dream.
Klinsmann may have, at the same time, started to realize his own dream. When he took over for the US in 2011 he talked at length about playing a 4-3-3, building on possession through midfield and attacking "proactively." Yet he's rarely chosen the type of personnel who could provide for that, and only sporadically trotted out his team in that formation.
Yet for the last 25 minutes, it was a true 4-3-3. Altidore played as a No. 9 with Zardes and Wood (eventually replaced by Jordan Morris) on the flanks; Nagbe and Jones played in central midfield as box-to-box players (though Jones, as is his wont, seemed to try to be more of a No. 10), and Bradley dropped deep as a No. 6.
Here are Nagbe's touches, which mostly came in that center-right channel where he operates for the Timbers:
It's nothing special -- just a graphic. But it's nice to see a kid who's been on the radar for so long get his first real look in a position that makes sense.
There's still plenty to be concerned with for the US, of course. This 6-1 win didn't erase any of the previous results or weak spots, just like the 6-0 win over Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals didn't negate the awful group stage or presage a winning trip to the semifinals and beyond.
But the pieces are there to pull out of the current nose dive, and I'm convinced we saw a couple of them enter the game with 25 minutes to go.