It’s me! Sam! I know there’s nothing like a Saturday foot fairy blog to get the comment section nice and riled up so here we go. “Big” game coming up this evening wherein America’s best 11 soccer players will…….. be watching on TV with you and me as a handful of our next best players try to impress the coaching staff and beat up on Ronald Reagan’s old Central American amigos.
Sounds exciting, no? Yer darn tootin, so let’s get to it…
To get everybody up to speed, this is how the standings look right now:
Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras have advanced to the quarterfinals while French Guiana have been eliminated. The better two of the three third place teams will also move on – remember before when I said the structure of the tournament is incredibly forgiving? Yeah, this is what I was referring to – hence why the Hondurans (despite not scoring a goal all group stage) are also moving on thanks to a forfeit win over the Mini Frenchies. That leaves one spot left for the third place team from either Group B and C.
At the moment this is how the brackets have tentatively shaken out:
Now on to the good stuff…
USA vs NICARAGUA
Time: 6:00 pm CT
TV: **FXX** (and Univision)
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Fun fact: the USMNT has never played Nicaragua in soccer. How the hell is that possible when we play Panama and T&T every other month? I have no idea. Ask the fine, upstanding, totally not shady at all folks over at CONCACAF.
More importantly, you might be wondering if it is possible for the USMNT to somehow get bounced from the Gold Cup at this point – and the answer is yes, yes indeed that unfathomably embarrassing outcome is indeed still mathematically plausible. It would require us losing to Nicaragua by several goals and Martinique beating Panama by one. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much since there’s no way the stars and moons and planets could possibly align to hand us the biggest L in US soccer history…
Anyway, moving right along…
Nicaragua – Scouting Report
They lost to Martinique.
So what have we learned so far about America’s B-team? It has become clear that the talent pool may not be quite as deep as we thought. To be fair, these are guys who for the most part have rarely if ever played with most if not all of the guys around them. That lack of cohesiveness has been as painfully obvious as Portnoy’s eye herpes.
It has already been confirmed that Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore will be joining the squad for the knockout stage, and as much as a lot of people like to complain about both of those guys, adding them to the mix is going to be huge. There have also been unconfirmed murmurings about the likes of Tim Howard and Darlington Nagbe joining up as well.
Bradley, despite having fallen out of favor with 99.9% of fans (rough estimate), and Nagbe will be especially welcome additions given how disjointed the midfield has been the past two games.
But that is in the future. For now let’s focus on tonight…
…by starting with a quick recap of the Martinique debacle. In fact my twitter feed from Wednesday pretty much tells the story (and represents the five stages of grief that I experienced that night):
Long story short, squeaking by Martinique – a team of rum-drunk semi-pros from an island smaller than Honolulu – is shambolic, even playing with a B-team. Also, I have no words to describe my emotions about the fact that we conceded not one but two goals that game.
Notes on individual performances from starting XI vs Marty:
GK: I’ve been defending Guzan left and right but my god that first goal was ugly. I mean, my god.
DEFENSE: Lichaj played well. Morrow was okay. Gonzalez scored a goal but other than that was poor (a lot of people seem to disagree with me on this but unfortunately they are wrong and dumb). Hedges – WOOF.
MIDFIELD: Arriola and Zardes pushed the play and put themselves in good places all night but (Zardes assist to Morris aside) were incredddddddddibly wasteful. Acosta apparently forgot how to play soccer. Hopefully it’s a temporary condition. Roldan was good enough defensively but added little going forward.
ATTACK: Morris had two nice finishes, which is all that matter as a striker, though it was actually Agudelo that looked more dangerous all game. Of all the four “phases” of the team, the forwards were the only ones that would have gotten a passing grade.
I’m not even going to attempt to guess what Arena is going to do because he has been all over the place with his team selections so far but here is the XI that I personally would like to see:
GK: If Arena gives Hamid a look instead of Guzan, it’d be understandable given the howler last game.
DEFENSE: Matt Miazga needs to get a look, period. I prefer Besler over Gonzo as the other CB but not married to either. Villafaña and Lichaj are the two best wing backs on the roster at the moment.
MIDFIELD: Rowe needs to play and Arriola should be rewarded for at least trying to take guys on vs Marty (one of the few guys, along with Agudelo, who did so). Lots of options in the middle and I don’t have strong feelings but think Acosta backed by McCarty seems to be the best duo – on paper anyway.
ATTACK: Tough to leave Morris out coming off a brace but (1) I want Dwyer on the field and I personally think these two are too similar to play both together, and (2) as I mentioned before Swagudelo was actually more dynamic than Morris. Unlike with guys like Miazga and Rowe, however, I wouldn’t be all that disappointed if Arena goes another way (though using a one-striker formation would chap the hell out of my ass).
USMNT to win 4-1.
And there we have it. I have heard a lot of complaints about the game being on FXX but the fact is FOX has live programming on its flagship and FS1, and FXX – believe it or not – is available in more homes than FS2. So it is what it is. FOX gonna FOX. Anyway, assuming the unthinkable doesn’t happen, I’ll be back next week with a preview of our quarterfinal matchup. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, boys and girls.