The US Men’s National Team loss to Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final Wednesday night is a shock to the US Soccer system, and it’s indicative of many tournament specific failures. However the big picture is still a different matter.
In this particular tournament, the US was not good enough by any measure. It was plain to see against Honduras when the team struggled to find any sort of footing out of the gate. Honduras, like Haiti, could not take advantage of a staggered start from the Americans and later succumbed as the match went on. Panama, a slightly better team than both of those, caught the US sleepwalking but were unable to hold their lead. Jamaica has been best team in this tournament thus far and deserve every bit of credit for tactically outthinking Jurgen Klinsmann tonight.
Winfried Schafer set up his side with the same structure as he did in the first four games of the tournament, which allows for an easy counterattacking game, suiting the strength of the team. They are not the most technical team in CONCACAF, but they are one of the most well-disciplined and fittest. They just about withstood the surge from the US at the start of the second half and were never really troubled again. They picked correct times to pressure the ball higher up the pitch, causing mayhem in midfield and also causing Kyle Beckerman to have one of his worst halves of soccer in a US shirt. And once it was clear the gameplan wasn’t working, the only plan B was Route 1.
In many respects, the US is in a similar position to Mexico two years ago. Their semifinal loss to Panama was quite shocking, but it came on the heels of a disastrous Confederation Cup run and with a second-string squad. The US hasn’t won a full-strength Gold Cup now since 2007, which is alarming. However, with the Confederations Cup playoff that will take place in October, the US can make amends, if they get their act together by then.
Jurgen Klinsmann will now find himself in the eye of a brewing storm, and rightfully so. Bob Bradley was sacked as USMNT manager for a loss in a final to Mexico in a glorified road game in which his best player was injured and he was being incredibly ambitious tactically. Jurgen Klinsmann’s offense, on paper, seems far worse. But in terms of the bigger picture, this loss will only be perceived as disastrous if the US fail to qualify for the Confederations Cup. But, there are legitimate questions to be asked.
The Ventura Alvarado/John Brooks experiment at centerback has clearly failed. It is possible that either could succeed independent of each other, but together they have failed. Thirteen different back four combinations in 15 games is also not conducive of success, and has put so much onus on the defensive midfielder that on nights when he does not play up to capabilities, the US is in big trouble. Jozy Altidore’s fitness is also a worry, and a fit Altidore certainly would have changed the look of the team in this tournament (sound familiar)? The constant tinkering and toying with the lineup not even just in this Gold Cup but ever since the World Cup has been maddening. There is little chemistry or understanding between almost anyone considering the wholesale changes made almost by game to the XI, and it shows itself on nights when you’re tactically second best. Friendlies exist for tactical and lineup experimentation, but building chemistry is also critical in short tournaments, and it seemed like none existed in this Gold Cup.
Even with all of that being said, the US is not as bad as tonight indicates. Nor are they as good as the wins in Amsterdam and Cologne indicate. They fall somewhere in the middle. They ran into a structured team with a tactical gameplan that befuddled them, and lost as a result. These happen, and even though on paper it’s a shock, based on tournament form it isn’t (even if Jamaica have been lucky to face some dreadful finishing by their opponents).
As for Klinsmann, this defeat will not cost him his job. But the pressure has now intensified. He was the one who put the importance on this tournament specifically, and avoiding a one game playoff for the Confederations Cup berth. Now, it is he who will have to answer questions about why, as the chorus of chatter begins to get ever louder.
The 2015 Gold Cup will not go down in the record books as one of US Soccer’s finest moments. But that can be glazed over… only if the ultimate goal isn’t squandered in the end.
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