With a desperate Haitian team coming to Foxborough to face a USA “C” team any result was on the table. But sadly when a match of this magnitude is played on artificial turf, it is difficult to make evaluations about the play and specific players with much certainty. While fans of MLS or USL often defend turf, those games are played at a slower pace which is less affected by the odd bounces of turf and are quite frankly more often than not, less important than this game was to the Haitians.
The USA started about as well as could be expected given the makeshift lineup and the odd bounces of what appeared to be a worn out carpet in Massachusetts. Stuart Holden set Davy Arnaud up beautifully with a vintage through ball which Arnaud took calmly with his weaker foot to score the type of goal American struggle to finish typically at the international level.
Haiti seemed to lack composure all game long and couldn’t find their feet on the turf. Their squad made up of USL players and some semi professionals showed little quality or tactical awareness but some freaky moments of great skill. USL players Fabrice Noel, James Marcelin and Leonel Saint Preux all played key roles for the Haitians.
Bob Bradley got his tactics almost perfectly today. His substitutions were outstanding as well. But the turf cannot be controlled by the coaches. The US achieved a remarkable result tonight playing with reserves against a Haitian “A” side and yet doing what it needed to do to win the group. This will as always be construed as a hateful statement, but MLS is simply not a good enough league to take an entire team of player from and expect to have any success internationally.
As I was reminded yesterday in the press box at FIU Stadium, Canadian media and fans are concerned about having too many MLS based players in their first team, and despite the remarkable success of Toronto FC in selling the league to the Canadian public, many fans of the Canadian National Team would like to see as few MLS based players on their team as possible. When you consider Canada has missed the last five world cups while the US has made each of the last five, you understand reliance in any form on MLS players is simply something Bob Bradley isn’t going to do in a serious match that the US needs to win. Thus Bradley cannot in any way be held responsible for the results tonight in what he clearly saw as a throw away match.
Bradley set up his team well and gave them excellent tactical guidance. That is all he can do with a group of players who had, at most three starters who would even be selected in a 23 man squad for the USA in a serious match. I have seen Haiti in person as many times as I have seen the USA in person since the 2006 World Cup (5 times each in both cases). For many an MLS/USMNT fan to simply assume any assorted group of MLS based USA players are more talented than the Haitians smacks of ignorance. I quite frankly am tired of American fans assuming any group of players from a poorer CONCACAF nation can be beaten by a C squad or a squad of players with little or no experience outside the relative bubble of MLS. As it turns out I think Haiti’s side yesterday may actually be more talented than the side the US put out (this is based on actually having seen this Haitian team in person with the same players a few times) but home advantage combined with a good tactical setup by Bradley given the team selection salavged a draw for the USA, which after all was the result the US needed to win the group.
As readers of this site know, I do not believe that there is a huge gap between MLS and USL. Playing a group of MLS players on an unnatural surface against a team whose top players are from USL is bound to result in a tight game. Throw in an inexperienced goalkeeper for the USA and four players making their first ever international appearance and a draw was always in the cards.
While it will be noted by skeptics that the USA had only previously drawn one match in the Gold Cup group stage, remembering most of those matches as I do (in fact having attended several of them) the US had never fielded such a weak team against a decent side who could advance with a draw before. So this was a game that based on the squad selection and the level of the opposition that was always going to be difficult to win. I believe this is the type of result in a competitive match that Haiti may need to build their program for the 2014 World Cup cycle. Surrounded as I am by Haitians in South Florida, I have taken a keen interest in their football fortunes.
Regular readers of this site know that I am very critical of the USMNT even in wins if the performances based on the circumstances are subpar. I still maintain the first two matches in the Confederations Cup with the US playing an “A” squad were embarrassing. The 1-0 wins the US recorded at Cuba and Guatemala last year were also poor. But this Haitian team needing a result facing a “C” US side is not an equal circumstance to those matches previously mentioned. This game is quite frankly a throw away especially when played on such a horrible surface.
The US left it late, which is the one concern. Were it not for an unfortunate Haitian touch and the magic of Stuart Holden one of the most skilled Americans currently in MLS, Haiti would have achieved a momentous upset. But the US did what it had to do to win the group as did Haiti to advance. Credit all around for this one, except to the Krafts who insist on keeping turf at Gillete Stadium.
- Being a star in MLS doesn’t translate to anything when it comes to international play. Of the players who have never played club football outside the US in the current player pool, only Jimmy Conrad, Brian Ching and Davy Arnuad are worth any sort of consideration after this tournament ends.
- Michael Parkhurst looked poor in the Olympics last year and has looked completely lost in this tournament. His transition from a 3 man backline which he is used to playing to a 4 man backline accounts for some of the difficulty.
- Without Jimmy Conrad, the US loses, perhaps handily today. I know Conrad is getting long in the teeth but his work ethic, tactical discipline and general good natured personality as well as World Cup experience need to be incorporated for the next year by Bob Bradley.
- Kenny Cooper looked poor but the technically gifted striker struggles often on turf in MLS.
- Stuart Holden has the energy, skill and enthusiasm to make the World Cup squad. But he still makes some mistakes similar to his fatal one last year in the Olympics. My advice (sorry Dynamo fans), get to Europe in January and convince Bob Bradley that you deserve a World Cup spot.
- The Minnesota Thunder have been a disgrace thus far in USL-1 this season, but Leonel Saint-Preux tonight showed that the Thunder have one player with an incredible amount of class on their squad. Too bad for the Thunder he’ll be gone for another week at least with Haiti’s advancement.
- James Marcelin played a key role for the Puerto Rico Islanders in the CONCACAF Champions League and is now using that experience to bring Haiti to a new level.
- Luis Robles looked confused and didn’t organize his backline well. Too bad, because he’s a good keeper with great instincts. But today was not his night.