The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) began the defense of its CONCACAF Gold Cup title with an underwhelming and fortuitous 2-1 victory over Honduras in Frisco, Texas on Tuesday evening. This match came just two nights after the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) wowed the nation and won the hearts and minds of Americans from coast-to-coast with a 5-2 victory over Japan in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final.
Expectations for the USMNT are never quite as high as they are for USWNT, but nonetheless the poor play of the US men stood in direct contrast to how the US women — in spite of tactical criticisms — played during the entire World Cup. The USMNT appeared to lack any sense of urgency or the basic intensity required to deal with inferior opposition on home soil. Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann fielded a lineup that perhaps represented his best XI, but was a mishmash of veteran players and youngsters who have impressed in recent friendlies. Simply put, it didn’t work and the manager failed to make required tactical changes during the entire match.
Klinsmann’s opposite number Jorge Luis Pinto is an open book. His teams press high at times but during most of the match sit deep and break quickly. In the first twenty minutes of the game, Honduras implemented this philosophy, pressing high at times and forcing some loose passing by the US midfield and backline. But at other moments the Hondurans sat deep and appeared organized and extremely dangerous in counter-attacking situations. Only a set piece undid the Hondurans in a first half they largely controlled.
The second half was much of the same, save the US goal. Klinsmann’s failure to make meaningful tactical changes stands in direct contrast to USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis who was open to changing style and ideas during games even in the group stage when the USWNT arguably underperformed.
Another striking contrast between the teams is in technical ability and tactical understanding. The United States men’s players yesterday often exhibited a bad first touch, poor passing rhythm and a lack of understanding of what their teammates were doing. The US lacked imagination and ideas throughout the match, and lacked the type of passion required at the international level. Ultimately being on home soil and facing opposition incapable of taking full advantage of the USMNT’s ineptitude and indifference allowed Klinsmann’s men to claim all three points.
By contrast, the US women have players that are technically and tactically adept. Players that are aware enough to find space in the opposition half and figure things out on the fly if they aren’t going well. Unfortunately, beyond Michael Bradley, the US men lack such savvy players on the pitch. Often times simple hustle and dumb luck drive the USMNT to get results – the former was lacking against Honduras on Tuesday night.
Ultimately, given the commitment level most nations exhibit to their men’s program over their women’s programs, it’s unfair to compare our progress in one to the other. Here in the United States, we have attempted to be egalitarian about this sport even though at times we fail falling into the sexist notions that men should be given more resources than women.
But one thing is for sure – after watching the US women for the last month, the USMNT seem to be difficult to watch and perhaps even a chore to cover and write about. That’s unfortunate but it’s the reality from where I sit.
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