Dempsey - Analyst
USA Today Sports

Armchair Analyst: USMNT take a punch – and all 3 points – in Gold Cup opener vs. Honduras

I'm going to borrow this tweet from a friend of mine (whose account is locked, or else I'd give him credit) and use it as my lede:

Defense &

Set Pieces &

Counters &

Keepers.

#USAStyle

There was nothing new or proactive about the US in their 2-1, skin-of-their-teeth win over Honduras to open the Gold Cup. We were outshot 16-6, out-possessed fractionally, and had to make a dozen more clearances than our opponents.

But we won because Michael Bradley serves in sick set pieces and because Clint Dempsey is an American badass. It's been a very good combination over the years, and if you're struggling to take something overly positive away from the game... well, you're not alone. Just don't take those two guys for granted – as long as they're around, the US have a chance.

Here's some good, bad & ugly from Frisco:


1. Getting on the Underlap

Honduras did a pretty amazing job of pinching the US in central midfield but still defending well along the flanks. That was a tactical choice built into their lineup – they played a 5-4-1 – which defended at the midfield stripe and tried to do everything in transition.

From the run of play, they were extremely disciplined. But the US still occasionally found a way through, and when it happened it was via Fabian Johnson charging forward from left back:

Johnson is an exceptional attacking option from that spot, and actually does his best work when cutting inside to run at gaps rather than flaring wide to whip in a cross. You can see in the clip above that there's a moment of hesitancy from the Honduran defenders, and the way Johnson pushes at them forces them deeper than they want.

It would have been a spectacular goal.

It would also have been the exception on the evening for the US, who were mostly punchless in the build-up. Jozy Altidore did a lot of good work checking back to hold up the ball and link the attack, but the runners weren't quite there.

More worrying was the fact that, outside of hold-up play, Jozy didn't bring much to the table at all. He looked slow and a little bit gimpy, and came off just before the hour. If he's less than 100%, the US could face the same problem they had last summer: Trying to ignite an attack built around hold-up play without a forward who can actually accomplish hold-up play.


2. The Timmy Chandler Experience

In my tactical preview I talked about the US sloppiness against Guatemala, and how it was paramount to avoid central midfield turnovers. The guy I focused on most wasn't a midfielder, though. It was right back Timmy Chandler, who did stuff like THIS and THIS against los Chapines.

And so he topped himself against the Catrachos:

And then he topped himself again:

Here's a sample of Twitter's reaction to those plays, which weren't isolated incidents. Chandler attempted 32 passes and completed exactly half of them, which is awful.

The US were good enough to get away with it. Against Mexico or Costa Rica, though, I have trouble imagining those kinds of turnovers going unpunished.

Brad Evans came on for Chandler just past the hour and was markedly better, but his lack of 1-v-1 quickness could prove troublesome against teams with tricky attackers. Right back could be a sore spot going forward.


3. On the Back Foot

Jurgen Klinsmann started two 22-year-olds in central defense, and they mostly looked like it. John Brooks looked completely overwhelmed by the intensity of the game early, eventually coming up to meet the level and have a pretty decent second half (save for one bad moment when he got spun like a top at the end, with Evans riding to the rescue to prevent a goal), while Ventura Alvardo just never quite got up to speed.

It didn't help that they spent most of the game on the back foot, trying to dig balls out of their own 18. To give you an idea of what they faced, here are the US clearances against Guatemala last week:

And here are the US clearances against Honduras tonight:

They were super busy. They made mistakes along the way, but none of them proved fatal.

In that sense, this was an excellent 90 minutes for the US. Brooks and Alvarado had never really tasted CONCACAF play before, but on Tuesday night they were put through the wringer. It wasn't pretty, but it worked well enough, and there won't be such a nail-biting adjustment to the speed of play next time out.


A few more things to ponder...

6. This:

5. I like Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin indivdiually, but neither adds anything in possession. At some point one or the other needed to start pinching inside more in the midfield to help the US hold onto the ball, but neither really did. They both stayed really, really wide all night:

I think playing them both at the same time offered symmetry, but not balance. A lot of the problems I talked about above could stem from this one issue, and can be solved if a healthy Alejandro Bedoya is available, or if Klinsmann sees the light and plays Mix Diskerud in one of the shuttler positions.

4. It's also notable that, while Zardes tries on defense and tracks back relentlessly, he just doesn't read the game well enough to stop build-ups from happening early. He didn't have a single, on-the-ball defensive intervention outside of his own defensive third, which is telling.

3. Honduras midfielder Bryan Acosta was a one-man high press, logging five recoveries in the US half and winning two tackles. If there wasn't already a discovery claim on him before tonight, I'd be shocked. But after tonight, I'd expect a line out the door to acquire his rights. You can see why he's keeping Roger Espinoza out of the team these days.

2. Kyle Beckerman completed 46 of his 51 passes, which was the best percentage on either team. But he wasn't as influential in this one because the diamond was shattered early by Honduras - the US were pushed out of that formation after 10 minutes, and into more of a 4-1-3-2 that eventually became a 4-5-1.

The shuttlers – Yedlin and Zardes – needed to be more aware of rotating back defensively when Beckerman was either on the ball or chasing an attacker. Without those rotations, the diamond just doesn't work.

1. Someone tweeted this after the first 45 minutes against Guatemala last week. He seems to know a thing or two about winning Gold Cups:

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