For those of you keeping score at home, we are now four games into the tournament and yet haven’t really played an actual match yet.
“The Magic of the Gold Cup™”
Indeed. Well, that changes tonight. Time to start getting your mind right.
Reminder of results since the official Gold Cup actually got off the ground on Tuesday:
USA vs El Salvador
The world’s briefest recap of the game against those dirty, dirty (not in a racist way) Salvadorians
is that we had bunch of our A-squad join the mix and – *gasp* – the team looked rusty and disjointed for much of the game, but still managed to control play and ended up netting a couple to win 2-0. Haters will complain we didn’t look impressive against an admittedly inferior opponent. Optimists will say the team will improve by playing together so we’ll peak when it matters, a la Germany in every international tournament ever in history.
Quick and dirty player grades (for starting XI) vs El Salvador:
Tim Howard – B+ (slow day but made the one big save asked of him)
Justin Morrow – B (he was there… which, as a defender, is usually the mark of a job well done)
Omar Gonzalez – B (scores goals vs crap teams and can’t defend for shit… starting to think he’s the second coming of Chris Wondolowski)
Matt Hedges – D (Robert Mueller needs to drop the witch hunt against Trumplenutts and start looking into why Hedges started over Miazga or Besler)
Eric Lichaj – B- (nice finish on goal #2 but made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes that would have been fatal against a better competition)
Paul Arriola – C (worked hard but too often couldn’t find final pass)
Gyasi Zardes – C (worked hard but too often couldn’t complete final pass)
Michael Bradley – A- (controlled the midfield and served up well-placed set piece cross to Gonzo for goal #1)
Darlington Nagbe – B- (lively but not nearly creative enough in the final third)
Clint Dempsey – B (pretty turn to set up Lichaj)
Jozy Altidore – C- (used body to hold up play but rarely looked dangerous)
USA vs COSTA RICA
Time: 9:00 pm CT
TV: FS1 (and Univision)
Costa Rica – Scouting Report
1-0 win over Honduras; 1-1 draw with Canadia and 3-0 win over French Guiana in group stage followed by 1-0 win over Panama. Against the only common opponent (the Panamanians), Costa Rica actually fared better than the US (1-1 draw). However, the Central Americanos will quietly be without a handful of their most influential players who either returned to the European teams (Bryan Oviedo, Christian Gamboa) and/or got injured (Joel Campbell, Johan Venegas) so the fact is this is going to be a weakened side versus the one the US will play in WCQ this fall.
This Costa Rican side was already built on defense but, especially given the absences of the aforementioned players, will be all the more reliant on holding down the fort and looking to nick something on either a counter or set piece.
To be honest though, this ain’t even about them.
Barring awful individual performances, you’d have to imagine that Arena has pretty much made up his mind on who he wants to rely on going forward so we likely won’t be seeing too many changes to the starting XI.
DEFENSE: Having said that, if Hedges starts again today there needs to be some sort of national inquiry given how much better Besler and Miazga have looked. In fact, I would prefer to see Besler AND Miazga at CB but have resigned myself to assuming that Arena has always been a “Gonzo Guy” and Pachuca man has scored a couple goals so he’s at least got that going for him, which is nice.
MIDFIELD: Speaking of Arena’s affiliation for LA Galaxy guys, Zardes has been seeing a lot of time recently, and to his credit he gets up and down the field like crazy but I’d prefer giving Kellyn Acosta another shot. Zardes gets a lot of stick for his bad first touch (and rightly so) but it is bad final touch – be it a cross or a shot – that makes my head hurt. Acosta is more dynamic when he’s on and, despite having some poor performances of late when playing with the B-squad, deserves a look when surrounded by the likes of Nagbe, Dempsey and Altidore.
UP TOP: Deucidore
Left to my own devices, this is probably the starting XI that I’d go with tonight:
POSSIBLE TWEAKS: In truth though Gonzo and Besler at CB is a more likely pairing (though if Hedges is in there we may have to riot). And yes I’m sticking with Kelyn Rowe on one of the wings because he absolutely deserves to be there, though I assume that Arriola will probably get the nod again.
THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
– Flat start against El Salvador almost saw the Americans fall into a 1-0 hole that, if repeated again today, would be all the more difficult to climb out of given Costa Rica’s comparatively stingier defense.
– Avoid stupid mistakes. Easier said than done. Lichaj and Gonzo were guilty last game. The Ticos are more apt to punish mistakes.
– Everybody loves to hate on Bradley but he was the best player on the field last game. Then again, that was El Salvador. Perhaps that goal against Mexico was the spark he needed to regain the confidence of his Roma days. Time will tell.
– Nagbe needs to be more willing to dribble guys and make diagonal through-balls in behind the defense… and – *importantly* – Dempsey, Deuce, Arriola, et al. need to be FAR more aggressive about making runs to find make space for themselves and open windows for teammates. This is not a strength of Altidore, who prefers to play with his back to goal, or Dempsey, who tends to sink back into more of a playmaker role these days. That means the onus will be on Arriola and/or Acosta/Zardes to find the right times to put pressure on Tico defenders, though it is also worth noting that there is absolutely no reason Altidore shouldn’t do this more as well.
Costa Rica [+310]
USMNT to win 2-1.
And there we have it. Time to go watch the Chicago Fire spank NYCFC to remain unbeaten against MLS competition for the 12th straight game and 85th day in a row. Assuming the United States of America takes care of business tonight, I’ll be back with another preview of the finals against our good buddies from Mexico
or Jamaica next week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, boys and girls.
Reminder: today’s game should not be taken as a like-for-like preview of the WCQ game on September 1st at Red Bull Arena. For one thing, Costa Rica will have some important players back from domestic duty/injury. On the other hand…