Wednesday, June 13, 2012

US Soccer WCQ: A&B, Guatemala

Antigua & Barbuda
With the 5 goals we dropped on Scotland fresh in our minds, a 3-1 win is as underwhelming of a win we'll ever get.  I still remember the 8 goals we put on Barbados back in the first WC Qualifier I've attended in 2008.  Since A&B seems to be the dead horse in our group that everyone is going to beat up on, final group goal differential might come down to how Jamaica and Guatemala do vs A&B at home.  We only managed a 2 goal differential.  That said, its a WC qualifier and we've got 3 points.

Klinsmann knew the need for goals, as he slotted in Jose Torres, an offensive-minded midfielder, into our injury-riddled LB position.  In this game, the best defense is a possession-dominant, probing offense.  (So this is how Spain feels in every game they play.)  We managed 19 shots on goal, but only came away with 3 goals.  Given how their short, chunky goalkeeper was handling the ball, I wish we took even more shots even if it was from long range.  With the 90 min we had in this game, 19 shots is nowhere close to enough.  Bocanegra tied Balboa as the highest-scoring defender in US history (13 goals) with a characteristically scrappy set piece goal, Dempsey slotted home a Donovan-earned penalty, and Gomez' perpetual motor earned the US a much-needed 3rd goal to put the game away.

Of course, I have yet to mention the constant buckets of rain that poured down throughout the game.  I'm not sure it gave either team a real advantage, but it surely could not have been beneficial for overall scoring.  What's clear is that Gooch's horrible angle to the ball lead to A&B's lone goal.  I remember him being a force last summer, but injuries this season seem to have put him out of sorts.  I'm not sure Klinsmann can risk playing him vs Guatemala.

I refused to pay the $30 that the Guatemala federation wanted to see our game, so I managed to find an internet stream that did the job quite well (as long as you carefully navigate through closing the virus popups along the way).  It was a game that left US fans likely frustrated that we were mere 10 minutes away from a full 3 points, but the reality is that a draw was the fair result.  Though Dempsey's beautiful footwork led to a goal reminiscent of his goal-winner vs Italy earlier this year and put us ahead in the 40th min, the truth was that Guatemala was sharper in the attack in the 2nd half.  We suffered an egregious foul call that negated a Altidore goal in which the referee should have allowed a play-on, but earlier, Carlos Ruiz had blasted an easy near open goal rebound over the top.  It should have been 2-2, a draw nonetheless.

Our ball movement was much crisper in the 1st half and we clearly were the better looking team, but we didn't manage enough goal scoring opportunities.  Dempsey is clearly our best offensive threat, as even Donovan has admitted in recent weeks, but aside from Clint, we still lack creativity in the final third.  Also, in my opinion, Donovan needs to look to score more.  He would sometimes have space but frustratingly decide on a difficult pass instead of taking his shot.  I like the Donovan we saw vs Scotland much better.  Jozy also strikes me as someone who lingers on the ball a little too much.  I wish he'd watch Van Persie, who seems to take a lash anytime he's facing the goal in the box.  We were actually outshot by Guatemala last night, 13-11 and Howard had to make more saves than the opposing keeper (3-2).

It gave me much relief to see Fabian Johnson back.  Defensively solid, he offers something offensively that no other LB not named Chandler does, and it was he who made the final pass in for Dempsey's goal.  Ironically, it was also his foul on Ruiz that setup Guatemala's free-kick goal, which strangely froze Howard.  I thought if Tim dove, he might have put a hand on it.  He probably saw it too late.

Formation-wise, we had Dempsey-Gomez-Donovan up top, Jones and Bradley under them and Edu playing deepest in the midfield.  This 4-3-3 (or perhaps 4-1-2-2-1) seems to be Klinsmann's preferred lineup.  It is notable that Jozy came off the bench again proving that Gomez has clearly done enough in camp to grab hold of the starting spot.  Defensively, Goodson was Klinsmann's first choice to pair with Bocanegra and this time, Cameron came off the bench instead of Gooch as the first center-half backup.

However, we find ourselves atop the group with 4 points and with the best goal differential.  True, we're tied with Jamaica, but our next two qualifiers are both against them in September and we'll have a chance to create some separation head to head.

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