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Good and not-so-good: Taking inventory of the U.S.’s qualifying week

Mar 27, 2013, 4:39 PM EDT

Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

Four points in their bag, it’s time for the U.S. to move forward, a process that will involve assessing what they learned from their week of qualifiers. Having gone 180 minutes without allowing a goal, it’s not difficult to find the positives, nor is it hard to nitpick at ta team that didn’t generate many chances.

So let’s take inventory and look at some of the good, not-so-good, and mixed bags from the break that was:

Good

  • Central defense – In each game, the team’s best performers where at the back. Omar Gonzalez replicated his MLS dominance, Clarence Goodson reasserted his place in the pecking order, while Matt Besler’s qualifying debut proved he can perform in the most tense of situations. Particularly once Geoff Cameron can move back in, Jurgen Klinsmann will have a full, viable core of central defenders. That may not be great news for Carlos Bocanegra, but at a spot that’s seen the captain and Oguchi Onyewu diminish in relevance, those are reassuring options.
  • Brad Guzan – Given the lack of work he got during the Costa Rica and Mexico games, I’m not convinced there should be a battle for Tim Howard’s No. 1 shirt; however, if somebody wants to point to Guzan’s work in Birmingham and note the job he did in the second half against Mexico, I’ll point to some iffy moments in the second half against Costa Rica but think “maybe they have a point.”
  • Jermaine Jones - There’s a portion of the U.S. fan base who is never going to like the combative German, and with possibly good reason. But even though he missed Tuesday’s game in Mexico, this was a good week for him. In Colorado, his versatility and experience helped the States’ midfield control a match played under strange conditions, and as his replacement Maurice Edu was ridden off the ball on consecutive second half possessions, you could see where he would have been valuable in Mexico.
  • Depth – It was so long ago you may not remember, but when the U.S.’s squad was named nine days ago, there were legitimate worries as to whether Klinsmann would be able to account for a rash of injuries, particularly at the back. Two games, four points, and no goals allowed later, the U.S. haves shown their system can paper over a lot of holes. When Klinsmann talks about adaptability, that’s it, and given the coach set expanding the player pool as an explicit goal of his tenure with the States, the (formerly?) maligned boss deserves some credit.

Note: We’ll get to Jurgen Klinsmann in another post.

Not-so-good

  • The attack, as a whole – The disappointment of two goals in three games is mitigated by the front-loaded schedule. Early games in Honduras and Mexico were destined to make these early numbers would look skewed. Still, the pure lack of chances has to be disturbing, particularly since the attack was a problem in third round qualifying. The U.S. has become a team that can compete with most opponents while controlling few, a state that’s inevitable when you can’t score goals.
  • Graham Zusi – By the second half at Azteca, Zusi was finally falling back to give Cameron the help he needed. His late header to deal with a Giovanni Dos Santos ball from the endline was one of Tuesday’s highlights. But that play came after a game and a half of being a defensive liability. Bryan Oviedo was able to consistently get past him and onto Cameron in Colorado, while Dos Santos and Andres Guardado were able to get balls in from their left throughout the match in Mexico. Two nice second half plays can’t offset 135 minutes of struggles.
  • Geoff Cameron – Like Zusi, Cameron struggled badly along the U.S.’s right in Colorado. In Mexico, he was much better, but he still left too much room behind him, and when Dos Santos moved through the channel and behind the right back to attack with Guardado and Jorge Torres Nilo, the U.S. struggled. The most disappointing part of Cameron’s performance: Right back is where he plays at club level. Now that Besler has been be tested, you wonder if Cameron’s positional uncertainty (not getting reps in the middle for Stoke) could eventually see him passed on the depth chart.
  • Maurice Edu – He played a part in nice first half movement, and his tracking runners into the back helped the U.S. withstand Mexico’s first half onslaught. But woe, those times he got caught on the ball. And woe, the penalty that should have been. It might be time to consider who else can step in when Jermaine Jones is out. “Dear FIFA: What say you about Osvaldo Alonso?”

Mixed bags:

  • Jozy Altidore – A lot more positives than negatives for Altidore this week. The Costa Rica game was one of his best under Klinsmann, while he played a part in a couple of nice first half movements in Mexico. At some point, the U.S. is going to need more from their first choice No. 9, whomever that may be. But for Altidore, it’s all part of a process of getting where the coach wants him to be.
  • Clint Dempsey – He scored the goal in Colorado and did some decent work in Mexico (feeding Herculez Gomez for an early first half ball that was blocked out for a corner), but the U.S. is still lacking a danger element at their playmaking position. Put simply, there are no plays being made. Dempsey is a resourceful goal scorer, and his experience underneath the striker helps, but the U.S. just isn’t as dangerous as they should be. Dempsey and Altidore need to generate more chances.
  • DeMarcus Beasley - It’s not that DMB was great (though in Colorado, he was pretty close). It’s that he showed he can be an option, something that’s valuable for a pool that has had to ask José Francisco Torres to play left back this cycle. Yes, he was torched in Mexico, but that’s Mexico. If he’s needed against other teams in the group? He might be viable.
  1. tridecagon - Mar 27, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    What the US is lacking up front is Landon Donovan.

  2. btrocco - Mar 27, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    The US is lacking a true playmaker/distributer. Jozy needs to be fed more chances. Can’t criticize him too much.

  3. creek0512 - Mar 27, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    I disagree that Beasley was torched by Mexico, he always recovered quickly and all of Mexico’s chances came from Cameron’s side, despite Beasley facing more pressure.

    • wandmdave - Mar 28, 2013 at 4:08 PM

      Thats just a blatant falsehood. Gomez provided Beasley with a decent bit of help and even despite that Aquino ran him in circles almost every time he went at him. That resulted in a yellow for DMB and several dangerous shots and crosses from that side. The only thing that saved Beasley was the fact he’s still got the pace to recover and at least make the shot or cross contested but that isn’t what I want my defender’s primary strength to be, can recover after being beaten regularly.

      • wandmdave - Mar 28, 2013 at 4:11 PM

        Cameron didn’t have nearly the same level of support from Zusi as comparison but only one or two dangerous crosses came in from that side. It just happened they were the most dangerous ones.

        DMB is our best emergency replacement at LB but nothing more.

  4. player169 - Mar 27, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    I thought Zusi’s positioning on offense was off a few times and he can’t seem to get up the right side to the end line, but I didn’t see him out of position on defense. If anything he was consistently pressuring and coming back further then he should have to, which is either on Cameron or Mexico’s speed on offense.

    I thought the US could have been served better to have Zusi taking all of the place kicks and not Gomez, because a few chances were wasted…

  5. boscoesworld - Mar 28, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    I agree that Zusi is not the answer on the right side. There are three magical words that are needed out there………speed, speed, and speed! There are other options but injuries get in the way. I would love to see Stuart Holden come back to form. Maybe work Brek Shea out there? There is no denying that this team needs a dynamic play maker. What we have is a bunch of poachers up top but nothing to poach. I love the way JK is getting a lot of players some looks. That worked for these two games and now the depth is better than ever. IMO those that don’t see what he is doing are blinded by personal issues.

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