USA vs. Ecuador Takeaways
The US Men’s National Team began their road to Copa America Wednesday night with a 1-0 win against Ecuador in Dallas. The game had the feeling of a tune up friendly from start to finish. In the end, it was good to see Klinsmann’s group out there for the first time against a formidable opponent as they inch closer and closer to the opening match against Colombia.
The first half was one to forget for the US. They were absolutely terrible and had us all worried as we watched on in fear of how badly Colombia might embarrass us. They lined up like this.
Steven Birnbaum made just his 5th appearance with the US National Team in this match. He started off the match with several nervy plays before settling in and looking the part. Luckily for Birnbaum, he had John Brooks playing next to him in the back who provided us with arguably his best performance in a US shirt to date. Brooks made several crucial clearances in the 1st half and was the main reason that the US was able to get to halftime without allowing a goal.
Jefferson Montero was the player giving the United States the most problems in the first half. Rather than track back to help defend Yedlin’s runs going forward, Montero stayed high to create space for himself. The lack of possession and quick turnovers from the US meant that Yedlin was consistently being caught out of position and playing catch up with Montero. This could have all been solved had Zusi pinched into the middle to allow Yedlin to run up and down, Jones or Bradley dropped off deeper, and Beckerman drifted out wide right to provide cover for Yedlin. There were times where you saw this player movement begin to develop but it never came full circle and was a consistent problem for the US throughout the first half of play.
The other major tactical problem in the first half that the US faced was due to playing Clint Dempsey as a lone striker up front. Dempsey has never been and never will be a lone forward. He is at his best when he and another striker can work off of each other. Having an extra striker up front allows for Dempsey to move more freely and lets the US get their most creative player on the ball more often. Dempsey loves to drop off into the midfield to get on the ball. When he does that as a lone striker, it gives the opposition’s central defenders nothing to do but step up and close the space for the US to play in. A great lone forward is someone that is patient in the build up and makes himself available as an outlet. Dempsey does not do either of those things. He is at his best when he is running at players on the backline or positioning himself in the right spot at the right time as he floats. Playing as a lone forward limits how much he can do those things. The one time we saw him pick up the ball and face the backline in the first half, he played a brilliant chipped ball in behind only for Zardes to screw up with his first touch, what else is new.
It felt like we saw a completely different team in the second half. Klinsmann brought on Darlington Nagbe in place of Beckerman and dropped Michael Bradley off into the defensive midfield role Beckerman was occupying. He also brought on Bobby Wood for Zardes in a straight swap on the left side of the attack. Nagbe changed the game completely for the United States. His mobility, vision, and passing accuracy opened the game up for other players. Fabian Johnson was irrelevant in the first half. Nagbe brought Johnson into the match by drifting between the center and left side of the pitch. Whenever he would drift out left, it gave Johnson freedom to push up the pitch and get on the ball in the middle and attacking thirds like he wants. Nagbe also went on to score the game-winning goal by getting into the box but his performance was great even if you discount the goal.
Midway through the second half, US fans got what they wanted as 17-year-old Christian Pulisic entered the match for Clint Dempsey. Pulisic occupied the left side of the US attack pushing Bobby Wood into Dempsey lone striker spot. Pulisic by no means looked out of place and got on the ball often. He got out of tight spots on several occasions, showed his pace, and was tidy in possession. It was a good day for the young man with so many expectations.
If the US is going to play a 4-3-3, they are better off playing Bobby Wood as a lone striker over Dempsey. Clint is obviously going to need to be on the field but Wood offered much more to the team in that spot. He ran tirelessly for his teammates and was a constant outlet with his hold up play. His headed pass to Nagbe on the goal was fantastic and showed that he has the physicality to match up against opposing central defenders. US fans should be excited about what he might have to offer this team in coming years.
In the end, the game was pretty much what we were expecting from both sides. There was not a whole lot of grit or determination and it was easy to tell that it was a warm up match. We should not forget that Ecuador is a respectable opponent that is currently doing very well in South American World Cup Qualifying. Job done for the United States. The second half was a step in the right direction.