5 Thoughts on the U.S. Win Over Trinidad & Tobago
June 08, 2017
IT WAS FAR FROM A PERFECT GAME but it was a wonderful result. With the Hexagonal now halfway complete, the path to Russia becomes clear and style points are meaningless. Here are my thoughts on the game.
1. Pulisic continues to raise the bar
It's a thrill to watch Christian Pulisic play and what is remarkable is how he is translating his high level of club play over to the national team every single game. That is something that is not happening enough in recent years for the U.S. Pulisic is thriving in every environment. There are legitimate concerns about over-hyping young players but that is not affecting Pulisic at all.
The timing of Pulisic’s run were very smart against Trinidad & Tobago and his composure to finish the second goal was impressive. And his teammates were in synch with him tonight: DeAndre Yedlin’s pass on the opener was spot-on and Jozy Altidore’s assist to spring Pulisic on the second goal was pure class.
Pulisic is not going to carry this team alone but if his teammates can raise their games as well, Pulisic will shine for years to come.
2. When aggressive, Nagbe is a weapon
Nagbe is one of the most skillful American players of his generation. His first touch and control are truly elite. His problem is that sometimes he is just too passive and lacks fire. Other times he plays with passion and flashes his killer instincts. When he does that, he can dominate a game like few Americans can.
Against Trinidad & Tobago, Nagbe was a thrill to watch. When he had an open field, his head was up and he was looking to make a play to break the game open. He was instrumental in the build-up to the first goal but that only told part of the story. He helped the U.S. maintain possession and dictate the overall pace of the game.
It has to be a major priority for Bruce Arena to get Nagbe to play like this every game. He has the talent to do so. If Arena can pull that off, the rewards will be enormous.
3. Central defense was sloppy
A major cause for concern from this game is the John Brooks-Geoff Cameron central defense partnership. This pairing has been the top choice this cycle but tonight it was shaky and sloppy when dealing with crosses into the box.
Fresh off a huge transfer to Wolfsburg, Brooks is still inconsistent, vacillating between world class and error prone. Tonight, it was more of the latter. And Cameron was only slightly better.
This is one area of the field where the U.S. has no margin for error at this critical juncture. It will be interesting to see if this continues to be a problem and what Arena can do about it.
4. The Fullbacks added value
Right back DeAndre Yedlin and left back Jorge Villafana enhanced their grips on their starting roles Thursday night. In Arena’s formation, the outside backs are crucial, supplying width to the attack. The first goal came from the right side, as did many dangerous opportunities in the first half.
This is the first opportunity for Yedlin to play under Arena and so far he has made a positive impression. Under Klinsmann the fullback positions were always unsettled and constantly in a rotation. When Arena came in, he found Villafana quickly. Now it looks like Yedlin has the right back position fairly secure. Having this stability will pay off in the coming weeks and months.
5. Subpar from Dempsey and Johnson
Against both Trinidad & Tobago and the preceding friendly against Venezuela, veterans Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson delivered subpar games. It's too early to tell if it is just a temporary dip in form or part of a bigger problem.
Johnson is more problematic as this is his first time playing under Bruce Arena and the new coach is trying to find a way to get Johnson into his preferred midfield position. (Under Klinsmann, Johnson played left back, a secondary position for him). So far, the early returns have been underwhelming. Johnson brings enormous experience to the U.S.: He has played in the Champions League and in a World Cup. He should make more of an impact in games like this one.
Dempsey’s struggles are more expected as his form has dropped off with Seattle in recent months. Arena pulled Dempsey at the hour mark Thursday and Dempsey did not mask his anger toward Arena. Is trouble brewing? Will they patch things up ahead of Mexico? Will Dempsey, a former U.S. captain, be able to handle it he is asked to start the game on the bench?
It should be an interesting subplot.