To be honest, I don’t really care about results in friendlies. That is my take on the USMNT's 1-1 draw against Venezuela on Saturday night.
The things I do care about? Individual performances, useful partnerships, tactical adjustments, and set pieces. And right now, no matter the competition, the US keep giving up goals on restarts.
A failed clearance off a corner and then some slack marking on the follow up led to the Vinotinto goal, and in a vacuum, it happens. But this isn’t a vacuum, this is a pattern. The US gave up a goal off a throw-in against Panama in their last game, also a 1-1 draw -- and of course everyone remembers Rafa Marquez’s game-winner for Mexico in Columbus. That's two results out of four qualifiers under two different managers that have been lost off a simple inability to clear the ball the hell out of the box.
The US need to be better on restarts, and almost nothing else that happened in this game matters compared to that.
So what else happened?
• The US started in a very aggressive 4-1-3-2 that didn’t really seem to work. Big issues were sharpness (Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood were particularly culpable with some leaden touches), Clint Dempsey being invisible, and a pretty hefty dislocation between the deep central midfield and the attackers. This graphic illustrates that nicely:
That's a network passing graphic made using Opta data. Each circle represents the location of the aggregate touch of the corresponding player, and thickness of the lines connecting them represents the volume of passes exchanged.
Michael Bradley was very deep, which isn't unusual for a lone defensive midfielder in such a formation. But when you combine that dislocation with the fact that the US were slow to advance the ball in almost any transition situation, you get a flaccid first-half show that produced zero shots on goal.
Bruce Arena's best moment tonight was his half-time interview, when he identified the first-half issue as exactly that. He adjusted in the second half by ensuring Bradley would stay higher up the pitch, which worked (to an extent).
• Arena made some fun subs to get his team into a 3-5-2 in the second half. It was interesting and unexpected, and not a look I’d expect the US to start in any time soon, but it’s good to know they have that club in the bag.
Kellyn Acosta, who came on and played alongside Bradley, was particularly dangerous once that adjustment was made.
• Christian Pulisic played as the No. 10 in both formations and scored yet another goal, his fifth in 15 caps:
Pick your own superlative.
• The backline looked mostly pretty good. Geoff Cameron put in 45 better-than-solid minutes; Omar Gonzalez was fine as a sub; and Matt Hedges was, I thought, pretty sharp. Jorge Villafaña at left back/wingback was probably a bit better than DeAndre Yedlin on the other side, but neither was really a problem.
The big issue? John Brooks flubbed the clearance on the goal in the first half, and came off with what looked like a hamstring issue early in the second half. The way he was moving afterwards, I wouldn't be shocked if he's ruled out for the upcoming qualifiers.