There's a habitual need in certain corners of the US national team's fanbase to downplay any and every win against regional competition. I get it, at least in part, since the US have been and should be significantly better than the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and even Jamaica. The real measure that fans want is something like what we saw this summer in the Copa America, except without the humiliation of the punchless loss to Argentina.
With that said: It's OK to celebrate Tuesday's 4-0 win over the Soca Warriors. This is the same T&T team that outshot the US by nearly a 2-1 margin last year, that had that game's three best scoring chances, that pitched a shutout. This is the same T&T team that routinely gives Mexico trouble, and the same T&T team that's generally played decent soccer under head coach Stephen Hart.
This was fun. The US haven't moved like this on and off the ball against half-decent competition in years.
Here are a few takeaways:
• Kljestan was the biggest winner from this camp, and credit Jurgen Klinsmann for recognizing it:
Klinsmann: "Kljestan helped his case big time." Took his chance and manager is proud of him.— Neil W. Blackmon (@nwblackmon) September 7, 2016
Sacha played the same type of game for the US that he's played for RBNY over the past two years, and his goal – the game-winner – even came off of high pressure. He's got relentless energy, great fitness and a brain that understands how to open up the field for his teammates. Watching him and Pulisic combine all night was electrifying because neither of them ever stops moving, and both are always looking to create space in the attack.
The US under Klinsmann have not habitually combined like that in the attacking third, no matter who the opposition is.
If Kljestan has moved himself into a regular role (and I suspect he has), the one thing that Klinsmann, fans and his teammates will have to understand is that often his execution doesn't match his ambition and vision. He will create goals like the one above, but he will also frustratingly give the ball away in the final third.
He's a high risk/high reward player, and given the defensive talent on this team the reward is worth the risk.
• That assist from Pulisic was a bit of an "and... exhale" moment for me since he'd repeatedly gotten into that exact spot but had trouble picking his runners. Red arrows are incomplete passes, and blue is the assist:
Part of it was him just not quite picking his head up early enough, but the other part was that Altidore and Bobby Wood had a ton of trouble sorting out their runs. They ended up drifting into each other's paths, and actually hurt the US's overall ability to generate meaningful possession.
Altidore and Wood have a long way to go to figure out some sort of workable partnership up top.
• Wood's struggle with connecting dangerous passes continued in this one. He's now created just one chance in his last seven games, which isn't good enough for a pure attacker. To put it into context: Altidore created four tonight, Kljestan three, Pulisic two and both Alejandro Bedoya and Paul Arriola created one each.
I hope Klinsmann keeps trying to find a way to get both Wood and Altidore into the lineup, but I also hope he's open to using one or the other as a super sub if they can't develop a bit more chemistry. And if that's the case, it may mean a shift away from the 4-4-2.
• Here's the network passing graph from tonight, created using Opta data:
The circles represent each player's aggregate position, and the lines connecting them represent the volume of passes exchanged back and forth.
As you can see, Michael Bradley was once again a lone d-mid. Mistakes at this spot are often deadly and are always magnified, but since moving Bradley to that spot in the run up to the Copa America the US are 6-2-0 with five shutouts (not counting the win over St. Vincent & the Grenadines) – the team's best run since 2013.
• Fabian Johnson keeps locking it down at left back, and with Pulisic playing like this, there's far less urgency to move him into the attack. Still, it'd be nice to see Jorge Villafana get a call one of these days, especially if it means a 4-3-3 with Pulisic on one wing and Johnson on the other.
• The central defense of Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez didn't exactly struggle with their distribution, but neither can hold a candle to Geoff Cameron (used at right back tonight) or Matt Besler when it comes to picking a pass early and accurately. That has to figure into Klinsmann's thinking going forward.
• And finally, while I'm thrilled that the US won this game in such commanding fashion and are finally on a good run of form heading into the Hexagonal, and that Klinsmann has finally taken the shackles off of many of his attackers, I am kind of bewildered that Darlington Nagbe was unable to earn a single minute across the two games. Hopefully, for Portland's sake, he decides to take out his frustration upon the rest of MLS.