Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: US finish off camp and finish off Canada thanks to Jozy Altidore header

Public sentiment is always weirdly harsh toward target forwards, and has been for as long as I've been following the game.
Nobody on the 1990 team drew as much criticism as Bruce Murray, even though he was smart and brave and had better vision that most realized. That was eventually transferred to Brian McBride -- go back into the archives of BigSoccer and you'll find threads begging Bruce Arena to leave him off the 2002 World Cup roster -- and for the past decade it's mostly fallen onto the shoulders of Jozy Altidore.

Jozy's deserved a lot of it. He doesn't play with the kind of dogged energy that Murray and McBride brought, and his circuitous club career has hinted at true competence without delivering such on a consistent level. There are external reasons for that -- why go to England a second time, right? -- and there are internal reasons for that. There always are with human beings.

But he didn't deserve a lot of the nonsense I saw on Twitter tonight. No target forward is perfect receiving the ball with his back to goal, and no player's first touch is always spot on. You don't get those things unless you luck into a Didier Drogba or a Lionel Messi, and the US haven't produced a player like that.

So what you should look for are guys who bring the right kind of 1) energy, and 2) movement, because those things are reliable and repeatable. If your center forward makes great runs you will create more chances, and eventually those chances turn into goals because that's how soccer works.

I can live with Jozy's occasional struggles with hold-up play and his wayward finishing if he's making those runs. From the first minute to the last, and through two games this winter, that's exactly what the USMNT got. 

Altidore had the lone goal in the USMNT's 1-0 win over Canada on Friday night, heading home from point-blank range off a perfect Ethan Finlay cross:

Friendlies don't really count for much, but you can use them to build chemistry or assess individual form. And what I've seen from Altidore over the last couple of games gives me real hope that he's turned a corner in terms of his on-field understanding.

Maybe this all goes away a month from now and he returns to enigma status once the games really matter and the defenders are a notch or two more talented. Given precedent, I wouldn't be shocked.

But still... he looked different. He played different. I'd have been happy about that, even without the goal. If you're a US or Toronto FC fan, you should be too.

Bullet Points:

• Canada badly missed Atiba Hutchinson or Samuel Piette as a defensive midfielder. Adam Straith always looks like a fish out of water at that spot, and I wish Benito Floro had given Russell Teibert a crack at it. Straith was better in the second half as a central defender.

• Playing guys out of position is playing with fire. Canada were burned by exactly that on the goal because Doneil Henry is not a right back. A real right back would have closed the cross down.

• Jordan Morris makes good runs. This should've been finished, but tip the cap to Montreal Impact's Maxime Crepeau, who was quick off his line and steady all night:

As long as Morris keeps making good runs he'll be fine.

• It was a nice bit of redemption for Ethan Finlay after his struggles against Iceland. He's not a starter for the US, I don't think, but as a Cobi Jones-type specialist, he has uses. And it's worth noting that Canada are missing that exact type of player. Time and again they were set up to get around the edge against the US fullbacks, but time and again their wingers were either too narrow or too slow to make it count.

• Speaking of US fullbacks... a healthy Steve Birnbaum is a fearsome aerial presence. I don't think we should see much more of him at right back, though.

• We will be seeing a lot of Brandon Vincent at left back. He didn't have much to do defensively, and his overlapping instincts are still weird -- look at how narrow he stays at times, and how he needs to be told to push up by his left central defender quite frequently -- but all the right ingredients appear to be in place.

• Lots of fun takes on Jermaine Jones's night in central defense. This one was the best, though:

February 6, 2016

• Honestly not sure what bearing this game will have on the US and Canadian qualifying efforts, though at this point it does stand to reason that the US' new preferred formation is the flat 4-4-2 (we've played it in four of our last five games), while for Canada it's a 4-1-4-1. Canada's got to figure out the flank service, while the US have to figure out how to keep the backline and central midfield connected -- the fatal flaw of the flat 4-4-2 against more modern formations.