Not the international tournament you want; the international tournament you got – back for more. Who’s pumped?
Yeah, well, you’re apparently not the only one based on the USMNT’s “effort” last weekend [we’ll get to this in a minute]… but time to buck up cause we got ourselves another game and, given Saturday’s result, this puppy is suddenly an absolute must-win in order to ensure we avoid the most embarrassing implosion in US soccer history. (Not even an exaggeration, unfortunately.)
Sounds pretty exciting, right? Right.
Here is how the groups look as of right now:
Quick reminder of the different pots the 12 nations are split into:
Teams capable of winning the damn thing – USA and Mexico
Teams also probably capable of winning the damn thing but who I am compelled to throw shade at because FIFA consistently rates them as better than the US – Costa Rica
Teams capable of pulling off an upset here and there – Jamaica, Panama
Teams that consider themselves capable of pulling off an upset here and there but in reality rarely do – Canada
Too focused on getting rum drunk/avoiding gun violence and/or other random sacrificial lambs – Martinique, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, French Guiana, Curacao
USA vs Mighty, Mighty Marty
In the preview for the US/Panama game, this is how I described it:
“There are must-win games. There are must-not-lose games. And then there are games like today’s matchup against Panama, which I would characterize as should-win-but-if-we-don’t-that’s-embarrassing-but-not-the-end-of-the-world.”
Bout sums it up. In case you did a little too much dartying on Saturday, here’s a brief recap:
Second half: FINALLYYYYYY… nice run by Rowe who sets up Dwyer for a nice one-time finish:
Did you blink? That’s too bad, cause the Panamanians just equalized:
My thoughts on the game overall:
Hugely disappointing performances from midfielders Joe Corona, Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty, who – far from controlling the ball and dictating the pace of play – were largely nonexistent factors. Omar Gonzalez did that thing where he looked like a lost toddler wandering around a grocery store looking for mommy. And everybody else was pretty meh at best. (And tbf, even Kelyn Rowe had some rough moments, such the one directly above when he got beat to the touchline on Panama’s goal.)
Yes, this is a B-team. No, most of the guys don’t have much experience playing with one another. Doesn’t matter. That was a disgusting 90 minutes of soccer. Have to be better, period.
USA vs MARTINIQUE
Time: 8:00 pm CT
Location: Tampa, FL
As a demonstration of how forgiving the current qualifying format it, the sad truth is that the US could actually lose this game and still possibly (if the chips fall right) qualify for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup since two of the four teams in each group move on. However, (a) anything but a big win against some rum-drunk Caribbeans is unacceptable and (b) finishing second in our group would have some unfortunate ramifications in the sense that it’d assure us having to play Costa Rica and/or Mexico sooner than we would otherwise. Likely gonna have to beat one, if not both to win this puppy anyway, but no reason to have to do so before we have to.
Martinique – Scouting Report
I donno, man. They somehow managed to win their first game against Nicaragua and sit on top of the group – CONGRATS! – but we are talking about a country with as big as Colorado Springs. Big Cat has taken dumps bigger than Martinique. Mapmakers include not just one zoom-in box, but TWO zoom-in boxes just to identify which speck it is.
I think they got these guys:
These guys may or may not be on the team, too:
They also – allegedly – have some fans, though by the looks of it they are just a roving band of disaffected hipsters whose blood-constricting skinny jeans and latent hate for their parents has left them lashing out against the country who bore, bathed and bred them:
Anyway, even more than Saturday’s game, this one ain’t even really about Martinique – or Marty to their friends.
As a quick reminder, given the premeditated absences of deities like Christian Pulisic, this is the group from which Bruce Arena will select his starting XI for tonight:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, ENG), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, ENG), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, MEX), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)
LESSONS FROM PANAMA
To go into slightly more detail on the shmershmortion that was the Panama game, the much-maligned Brad Guzan was probably man of the match and validated Arena’s continued confidence in him despite the rough couple seasons he has endured as a firing squad test dummy at Aston Villa and then Middlesbrough. Tough to conclude much from one game alone but it does fit with my presumption that he will be our #1 keeper by the time Puty’s WC18 rolls around next summer.
Dom Dwyer has scored in every game he’s played for America since becoming an American, which is a pretty okay strike rate I guess. Plus he has a cool accent and married a major MILF.
The big question marks to emerge on Saturday were with the back line (woof) and in midfield (WOOF). Arena has intimated that we can expect “a lot of changes” for the Marty game, which is in part because he will undoubtedly use a much more attack-friendly lineup, but also (I like to think) as a form of punishment for some of the woeful efforts last time out.
I didn’t take notes of individual performances but if I did they would have looked something like this for the starting XI:
Brad Guzan – you can stay
Omar Gonzalez – boy, BYE
Matt Besler – did ok considering he spent much of game making up for Bambi on Ice, his fellow CB
Graham Zusi – GZ as RB = fetch
Jorge Villafaña – not terrible but not possible-starter-in-Russia quality either
Joe Corona – horrible, just horrible
Kellyn Acosta – bad, really bad
Dax McCarty – not great, very not great (but better than guys like Acosta and Corona given what is expected of him as more of a DM role)
Alejandro Bedoya – meh
Kelyn Rowe – showed spunk here and there
Dom Dwyer – converted one of few looks he had
Subs: Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo were thrown on in second half and made little impact
THOUGHTS ON XI
Given the plethora of alternative options at Arena’s fingertips, I expect a big defensive overhaul, while in the midfield he might make some changes but more importantly players just plain need to play better. It sounds simple because it is.
By the way, I say it every time but will reiterate it for the people in the back: people often get too caught up in what the formation looks like on paper – is it a 4-4-2? 4-2-3-1? 4-3-3? – when what tends to matter more is the players on the field. That will be ESPECIALLY true tonight when defenders and midfielders will often have the freedom to look at a lot more like midfielders and strikers, respectively.
– Matt Hedges in for Besler and/or Justin Morrow in for Villafaña would be understandable
– tweaking formation and inserting Christian Roldan instead of Agudelo wouldn’t be a big surprise – though not going with multiple strikers against a tiny Caribbean island would depress the shit out of me
– Rowe came off vs Panama with what was described as cramps so I assume he’s good to go again tonight, but if not then Bruce could juggle it up a bit and add someone like Jackass star Chris Pontuis (or Chris Arriola)
USMNT to win 5-0.
And there we have it.
You may be asking yourself right now, “Holy shit, did I just read 1,000+ words about a soccer game involving Martinique?” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But that, my friends – like Portnoy swooping in trying to steal Nate’s millions halfway through the World Series of Poker – is The Barstool Difference™.
Anyway, I’ll be back on Saturday with a preview of the third and final group stage game against everybody’s favorite “former” banana republic (and one-time Banana War participant) Nicaragua.