By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
The USMNT held off a confident and gritty Honduras team and started Group A play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 2-1 victory. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side was not sharp, holding less than 50% of possession against a team that was sitting back in a 5-4-1 formation, but they earned two goals off set pieces that found the magnificent head of Clint Dempsey, and broke up enough counterattacks by Honduras to survive.
The U.S.A.’s struggle with possession was part Klinsmann, part poor play and, of course, part Honduras. The troubles started tactically with Michael Bradley being placed at the top of the 4-4-2 diamond formation. The usually strong possession link between Kyle Beckerman and Bradley was broken up leaving the shuttling duo of Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin to bring it back together. Both players are playing in an unnatural role and are not possession oriented players to begin with. Couple the midfield issue with just 50% pass completion percentage from right back Timmy Chandler and you have the recipe for a choppy performance.
|Shots on Target||44||37|
Despite the inconsistent play, the USMNT continues to blow up TSR models around the globe, as they maintain remarkable restraint on offense. I will continue to beat this drum as long as they keep it up, but the U.S. is very selective when it comes to taking shots, and it’s working. Honduras outshot the U.S. 16-6, but both clubs managed just 4 shots from inside the 18-yard box. The U.S., consistent with their recent play, put more shots on target than Honduras by a count of 5-3. Consider the table above, which shows the shot results of the last nine matches they’ve played, and the chalkboards below, which show the USA and Honduras' attempts on goal.
In eight of their last nine matches they’ve been outshot by their opponent, the lone exception remarkably being the Germany match. However, they have had at least as many shots on target in six of the matches, an impressive turnaround. Their finishing lately, even when comparing finishing rates of shots on target, is 20% better than the competition (38% versus 32%).
The U.S. just continues to value quality over quantity and it’s hard to argue with the results.
Given this perspective, the U.S. simply continued the offensive and defensive game plan we’ve been seeing recently against Honduras and earned the win. But in reality, Klinsmann had to expect more possession and control of the match. The last time the U.S. met Honduras they had 60% possession, attempted 530 passes, 102 of them in the final third. This time around the possession was just 49% with just 373 passes attempted and 83 in the final third. Definitely a less impressive performance despite the set pieces, and of course, the three points.
It wasn’t so long ago that the USWNT started off their World Cup tournament with a less than spectacular performance against Australia. Clearly there is a long way to go for this men’s club, but we can be comforted by the fact that the women made more than a great recovery. Klinsmann appears focused keenly on this moment. Many people were scratching their heads at the Chris Wondolowski sub in the 59th minute, but Klinsmann is clearly valuing experience now over experience for the future. Dempsey’s aging head proved the difference as well. Klinsmann’s goal is clear, even if the fans want to see their future develop in competitive matches, and took the first positive step toward his goal on Tuesday.