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LISTEN: First, a disappointing draw vs. Panama, then a nervous win against Martinique. What's up with the USMNT? The guys break it down, then Brad Guzan calls in to talk ATLUTD ("They're doing it right") and compare the Jurgen Klinsmann era to Bruce Arena's tenure. Plus, midseason MLS awards in the mailbag. Subscribe now so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
Most of my takes, and Bobby Warshaw's, and Andrew Wiebe's are in the above video. There's also David Gass rocking a backwards baseball cap like he's an extra from a Harmony Korine film for some reason. The good stuff is in there.
Here's a couple of points I wanted to expand upon beyond the allotted camera time following Wednesday's frustrating 3-2 USMNT win over Martinique:
• Geoff Cameron is still the No. 1 concern for USMNT fans
Not as in "I'm not sure that Geoff Cameron can do the job," but as in "Geoff Cameron turns 33 years old during the World Cup, which is not young, and it's still not clear that there's another CB in the pipeline who can do the job he does of organizing the defense." The US, under both Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, has struggled to keep the backline compact and connected to the midfield when Cameron's not out there.
To me (and to those I've spoken with around the team) that is a reflection of Cameron's organizational ability, which he marries to his above average athleticism. That combination means he's the center back who's best able to step off the backline and into midfield to make a play, but also to keep the players around him organized when he does so.
Last night was Matt Hedges' audition for at least half that role. Nobody sane expected him to have top-tier athletic ability even against Martinique, and that actually became glaring – Hedges was nutmegged in space in the first half, turned and burned for the second Martinique goal in the second half, and lost a pair of dangerous headers in the box.
The bigger problem was that Hedges' biggest strength was glaringly absent in that the backline on Wednesday was no more connected or organized than it had been last weekend against Panama. Perhaps it was too much to expect a guy to be a loud and clear organizer from the first minute of his first meaningful cap, but I don't really feel it's necessary to grade on a curve here. Hedges, who I've been high on (and remain high on – one cap does not tell his whole story, I hope) did not come close to getting the job done when a big chance was thrown his way.
• Kellyn Acosta does not find the ball enough
I asked one of the Very Smart Soccer People™ I occasionally get to talk with about Acosta at the start of May. The assessment, in short: He's got a lot of tools, but often struggles to find the game through his off-the-ball movement, which then makes it harder for him to connect the right passes, both in terms of setting tempo or unlocking a defense.
That was Acosta in a nutshell on Wednesday. Go back and watch the tape, and count how many times he and Cristian Roldan are working along the same latitudinal axis despite the fact that Martinique were determined to take that central midfield away.
This isn't to say that Acosta should be benched or that I want to throw Roldan in the trash (though I do not rate him as high as others do), but to make the point that "Is this guy able to get on the ball?" is a worthwhile question to ask when assessing how well a player is playing, or how well a player could be playing. It's basic, but that's the point: If you're not doing the basic things right, the more complicated stuff is less likely to come off.
For what it's worth, A) I do think Acosta will eventually be better than Bedoya, but B) if the USMNT had a game tomorrow and my life depended upon the outcome, Bedoya would be the guy who I picked to start as the No. 8.
• Arena did not adjust to the above particularly well
Rob (who you should go follow on Twitter) is both right and wrong here. Arena is correct to use this Gold Cup to fiddle with his squad – certainly, finding out who can/can't back up Cameron, or Christian Pulisic, or Michael Bradley, or DeAndre Yedlin, is in and of itself worthwhile. And there's been progress made in some of the above categories.
But the Martinique game was not a good test for Roldan as a No. 6 because he's not yet a No. 6, and the butterfly effect there is that it became a worse test for Acosta. And that was compounded by playing a 4-4-2 in which both wide midfielders, Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, do play in fact like wide midfielders. Neither pinches into the middle early in the play, adding an ad hoc third central midfielder to assist in (meaningful) possession or to just clear out a side for an overlapping fullback. There was no outside-in to their game.
It was static and everybody stayed in their lanes, so that while Martinique was overselling on denying service to Roldan and Acosta, the US backline was reduced either to hopeful diagonals to the flanks, or hard, line-splitting passes up the middle to the feet of a checking forward. Juan Agudelo was able to do some fun stuff with that; Jordan Morris was not.
That, in turn, allowed Martinique to keep the whole game in front of them for the first 60 minutes. Zardes got a lot of chances to go 1v1 and made some good of it, and Arriola made a couple of nice runs off of Agudelo's hold-up play. But the reality is that the lack of a central playmaker – or at least a wide playmaker who's comfortable ad libbing by drifting central to confound the defense – was readily apparent and...
The funny this is he did, but for whatever reason he won't play Rowe in the middle— Tyler Smith (@tylersmith8890) July 13, 2017
Yeah, basically this. I wanted to see Kelyn Rowe or Joe Corona on one of those flanks, because both guys are more comfortable getting into the middle, getting on the ball and then doing stuff with it (full disclosure: I've got a lot of Rowe stock). Having one of those dudes in there would've changed the shape of the team from a boilerplate 4-4-2 to something significantly more dynamic, and that would've changed the shape of the game, and that would've increased the value of the experiments Arena is justifiably conducting.
• One Last Note
It's the second game of the group stage of the B Team Gold Cup. Chill.