By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)
|13-Jul||9:30PM||Kansas City||Sporting Park||PAN||USA|
On July 7th the United States Men will play their first competitive match in nearly a year, and in so doing begin their defense of the Gold Cup. A successful run through the final in Philadelphia would guarantee their place in the Confederations Cup in 2017, and confirm them as the dominant force in CONCACAF. Failure to win would not be the end of the world, but it would put a damper on the momentum the team has recently built with a positive World Cup run followed by overall strong performances in this cycle’s friendlies. In the end, a Gold Cup win keeps the U.S. on Jurgen Klinsmann’s aggressive path to improvement. An exit of any kind will start to raise doubts if the team has the talent to make a serious run this cycle.
|Country||Avg Age||Avg Caps||ELOrank||FIFArank|
What Group are they in?
They are in Group A, along with Panama, Haiti, and Honduras. The winner of which will play the Group B/C third place team, the runner-up will play the Group B winner and third place will be weighted against other third place teams for the chance to play the Group C winner. If the USA is able to win the group (you should be rioting if they don't), they'll likely face Canada or Jamaica in the first knockout round.
The USMNT roster
|Brad Guzan||GK||Aston Villa||England||30||30|
|Nick Rimando||GK||Real Salt Lake||USA||36||21|
|John Brooks||D||Hertha BSC||Germany||22||12|
|Timmy Chandler||D||Eintracht Frankfurt||Germany||25||21|
|Brad Evans||D||Seattle Sounders FC||USA||30||19|
|Omar Gonzalez||D||LA Galaxy||USA||26||25|
|Tim Ream||D||Bolton Wanderers||England||27||12|
|Fabian Johnson||D||Borussia Mönchengladbach||Germany||27||32|
|Kyle Beckerman||M||Real Salt Lake||USA||33||45|
|Michael Bradley||M||Toronto FC||Canada||27||98|
|Brad Davis||M||Houston Dynamo||USA||33||17|
|Mix Diskerud||M||New York City||USA||24||30|
|DeAndre Yedlin||M||Tottenham Hotspur||England||21||17|
|Alfredo Morales||M||Ingolstadt 04||Germany||25||10|
|Gyasi Zardes||M||LA Galaxy||USA||23||7|
|Graham Zusi||M||Sporting Kansas City||USA||28||28|
|Jozy Altidore||F||Toronto FC||Canada||25||80|
|Clint Dempsey||F||Seattle Sounders FC||USA||32||112|
|Chris Wondolowski||F||San Jose Earthquakes||USA||32||27|
The roster composition shows that Klinsmann fully understands the sense of urgency. Over the course of the dozen friendlies since the World Cup, Klinsmann has capped 24 position players that were not on the World Cup roster. However, only five of those experiments did well enough to make this Gold Cup roster; Tim Ream, Brad Evans, Ventura Alvarado, Alfredo Morales and Gyasi Zardes. William Yarborough is the sixth new player since the last competitive match, coming on as the 3rd goalkeeper. The other seventeen players have recent World Cup experience. Despite testing a lot of players over the past year, Klinsmann has ultimately stayed with the core group that he already had success with.
The USMNT against CONCACAF
Since the World Cup, Klinsmann has put together a rigorous set of friendlies with three games against CONCACAF nations, three games against CONMEBOL and six against UEFA nations. They managed a 2-1-0 (W-D-L) record against CONCACAF and an impressive 3-2-4 against the tougher competition, with all but two of those latter games being played on the road.
Their passing attempts against CONCACAF teams are nearly the inverse of their experience against the other continents. They managed 56% possession against the three CONCACAF teams and just 44% the rest. Interestingly the U.S. was less efficient with their shot creation against CONCACAF, likely because those opponents sat deeper and played more conservatively.
This apparent inefficiency against CONCACAF did result in an advantage for the opponents who outshot the U.S. 30-23. But that’s where the advantage ended. Despite 56% possession, the U.S. averaged fewer than 8 shots per game, but the USMNT was more selective with their shots (consistent with their performance during all of the last twelve friendlies). The U.S. put 10 of those 23 shots on frame and scored five times, boasting much higher efficiency than the average team.
Meanwhile, the CONCACAF teams put just five shots on target. Yes, that’s right, 30 shots taken, just five on target. How is that even possible? Well, the U.S. did a terrific job limiting the shots taken by forwards. Here is the difference in shots taken by position.
Part of the reason for the USMNT’s defensive success is because the amount of shots they allowed by defenders. So while their opponents are taking more shots, they are not being taken by their best shooters. This could be due to the fact that the CONCACAF opponents were playing primarily from behind and were more desperate, but the fact that the U.S. was able to dampen the virility of the strikers is very impressive.
Given they will be playing all home games, expect the U.S. to take possession as they have in the past CONCACAF friendlies, which were also at home. But expect them to continue to be very selective with their shots. Their shot on target rate of 44% since the World Cup is exceptional. They may allow more shots as they have consistently this cycle but there will be a big disparity in quality.
The position battle out wide
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline from a position perspective is the play on the wings. Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya are the World Cup incumbents, and while Bedoya's work rate is legendary, few would argue the U.S. needs a major upgrade on the wings if they are to take the next step. Zardes picked up five caps recently, mostly on the wing, and DeAndre Yedlin was listed as a midfielder on Klinsmann’s roster. How much time will Yedlin, Zardes, and even defender Fabian Johnson get on the wing compared with Klinsmann’s favorites? The spine of this team with Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, and John Brooks appears solid, but the wing play will define how far this U.S. team will progress this cycle.
There really is only one outlook. Anything less than the Gold Cup Final would be a major disappointment, and even a loss in the final would disappoint most. The tournament is theirs for the taking. They will play in front of rabid fans who are thirsty to see their team win. They have a seasoned roster and are coming off an impressive string of friendlies. But for now the focus is on July 7th and Honduras, who was the one CONCACAF team to draw the U.S. last year. If they can put together a statement game against Los Catrachos there will be few who doubt they will win it all.