By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
The United States still has not played close to their best soccer in the 2015 Gold Cup, but they still secured first place in Group A with a 1-0 win over Haiti in their second Group match. After Haiti’s 1-1 draw against Panama you got the suspicion this game would be tighter than expected, but it was even tighter than that. Haiti battled the entire match in impressive fashion and earned chances, but in the end the quality in their finishes abandoned them. The U.S. ultimately scored the winning goal in the 47th minute from their only shot taken inside the 18-yard box - a one-time strike from Clint Dempsey off a nice back pass from Gyasi Zardes. This is yet another case of take the win and move on, but Klinsmann has to be concerned that the team is unable to control opponents this early in the tournament.
Haiti sat deep in a 5-4-1 formation and relentlessly counterattacked off of U.S. miscues. They took 21 shots and nine from inside the 18-yard box, but only four were on target. According to Fox Sports, Klinsmann slightly tweaked his 4-4-2 diamond formation from the prior match and moved it to a 4-3-1-2. However, instead of Michael Bradley manning the position under the two strikers like against Honduras, he kept Bradley as the deeper midfielder in the central 3. In doing this Klinsmann added another offensive player to the lineup in Aron Johannsson, which should have made a big difference in the first half. As poorly as the U.S. played, especially in the first 30 minutes, Johannsson did score a goal in that first half that was incorrectly called offside. (I mentioned Fox Sports' take on the formation because mlssoccer.com did show the formation as a 4-4-2 diamond with Dempsey at the top of the diamond and Zusi and Mix Diskerud as the shuttling midfielders. It played more like a 4-3-1-2 with Bradley and Mix swapping positions and playing centrally.)
The U.S. controlled 64% of the possession, but that was less than Haiti was willing to concede. The U.S. failed to penetrate Haiti’s nine man defensive block and only managed six shots. It should be said that the turf was quite poor and definitely benefited the Haitians. Trying to possess the ball on a choppy turf is a challenge while the turf is less likely to slow down a counterattack.
Here are the shot charts of both teams. No doubt Haiti’s is a hot mess, but the U.S.’ is downright lackluster, especially since both teams spent the same amount of time in the final third (123 v 125 pass attempts in that area). This is a very different story from the game against Honduras.
To give a sense of the way the game was played by both teams just look at this distribution of passes attempted:
While the U.S.A.’s passes are more balanced, Haiti was very quickly getting the ball out of their defensive half and pushing to score. The U.S. attempted more passes in Haiti’s half than Haiti attempted the entire game. That shows the U.S. was constantly pressuring Haiti, but in the end they really failed to crack their defensive wall effectively.
Below are the passes it took to take a shot in the final third. Haiti was much quicker to take shots but was also more efficient in getting shots inside the 18-yard box, which are much more effective.
If the U.S. were playing a team that had quality finishing these numbers would spell total disaster. But the U.S. lucked out and did just enough to earn their win and the Group A title.
Next up for the U.S. is a game against Panama where the U.S. has chance to knock Panama from the tournament. Klinsmann will have one more chance to get his team controlling possession effectively and making those key passes in the final third, which are still lacking. Will he tinker further with the lineup that saw him completely replace his back four in game two? Will he put Bradley back in a more offensive role? Johannsson was more effective than Altidore. Does Klinsmann favor Johannsson going forward as Dempsey’s scoring partner?
Following Panama they are set to play the 3rd place team in either Group B or C. The likely teams are either Guatemala, Canada, Jamaica or El Salvador. So the U.S. still has time to get this straightened out.