By Jon Levy
If I didn’t know better, I’d start this post by touting the merits of the “learning experience” the USMNT got on Saturday night in Tampa. After all, team leader and frequent spokesman Landon Donovan was branding the Panama match as such in the wake of the disappointing 2-1 loss. So it stands to reason that a match in which the Yanks had early defensive breakdowns, played to the level of their opposition, and reverted to on-ball panic rather than build-up, should serve as a parable about what not to do.
But insanity is frequently described as repeating a pattern of behavior and expecting different results. We’ve heard the “learning experience” song before, and it’s about time we get realistic and stop expecting some permanent remedy to the mostly psychological issues endemic to this group. Knowing is truly half the battle, but if you don’t use that knowledge to make corrections, well, then you’ve only won half the battle. I’m not saying I expect the US to come out and lay an egg against Guadeloupe on Tuesday night, but I’m wary of the chronic issues returning in future matches; that’s what chronic issues do. And that’s why the US is currently taking a ride into the “danger zone.”
What to watch for from the Yanks:
I’m not an over-reactionary fan or journalist, but Saturday’s loss against Panama, the first ever loss for the US in Gold Cup group play, was a big deal. And it reminded us that so much can change in five days. Can I please be transported to that happy day last week when the US had beaten Canada 2-nil and we were all making tainted chicken and drug testing jokes at Mexico’s expense? Those were good times. Today’s reality is much harder to take for US Soccer fans. America will try to recover from one of the worst losses in the Bob Bradley era, while it looks like Mexico won’t miss Memo Ochoa at all, because even Alfredo Talavera can protect a four goal lead.
But Mexico and possible future opponents are not the concern right now. Thanks to the El Salvador and Guatemala winning their final group stage matches, the US isn’t in line for a third place “wild card” spot unless they secure a draw. Granted, that draw could land the Yanks in second place in the group if Panama beats Canada, and a narrow Canada win over Panama coupled with a USMNT win in Kansas City would vault our boys into the first place finish we had penciled in before the tourney. Simply put, I expect the Yanks to do what’s needed to advance, at the very least. They may have to battle hard for every inch, but after Saturday night’s woeful display, every man on the team should be more than ready to do just that.
As for tactical or personnel changes, I do believe Bob Bradley will make one or the other, but most likely not both. My money’s on Jermaine Jones giving way to Sacha Kljestan in the middle of the pitch, and a possible return to central defense for Carlos Bocanegra. Tim Ream would be most likely to give way for the captain, and as much as we’d like to see Eric Lichaj given a shot at left back, it’s probably once again Jon Bornstein time for the USMNT. General rule applies: when Bob is pressed against the wall—he responds, but typically with what is familiar. Bornstein is. Lichaj isn’t. I can’t overstate the speculative nature of these changes though. Bobbo could very well start the same lineup as he has for the past two games.
And what will we see out of Guadeloupe?
First off, it must be mentioned that Les Gwada Boys have a great nickname. They’re a “z” instead of an “s” at the end of “Boys” away from a making it into Puck’s pantheon of nickname greatness, obviously an esteemed destination. Guadeloupe’s not FIFA sanctioned, but what does that really mean? The Catalonian national team isn’t FIFA sanctioned either, and they’re managed by Johan Cruyff and feature guys like Puyol and Victor Valdes. Guadeloupe’s no Catalonia, but make no mistake, this team is dangerous. They looked the more threatening team going forward when down to ten men against a well-organized Canadian team. A match before that, they pulled two goals back against Panama, also when down to ten men, and they certainly aren’t short on ball skills. Which brings me to…
Guadeloupe Player to Watch: Brice Jovial
Just as impressive as his finishes in the Panama match was what he did with the ball at his feet in Saturday’s tilt with Canada. The 27 year old successfully ran at (and around) Canuck defenders multiple times. If the Canadian team wasn’t so steadfast in its defensive responsibilities, Jovial probably would have found an opening to score, but Les Rouges weren’t having any of that after giving up a soft goal against the US.
The above assessment, leads me to a few concerns:
1. The Gwada Boys looked pretty good on the attack against Canada, who were seemingly bailed out by their responsible and organized approach. If they weren’t a defense-first, offensively methodical squad, they most likely would have conceded.
2. Brice Jovial has shown that he (and some of his compatriots) can create opportunities by running at defenders with the ball. How will the Yanks’ young center backs, veteran fullbacks, and suddenly under fire defensive mids deal with an attack that builds through a skilled dribbler? Will they be shell shocked by a bad loss, or back to their confident and effective selves?
3. Guadeloupe has played the bulk of this tourney down-a-man. Despite having no points to their name, they’ve impressed a fair bit. How will they function for 90 plus minutes with a full compliment of players? You have to know the US isn’t catching that red card break, hell it might even be the other way around.
No one would ever call Guadeloupe steadfast in defense; they shouldn’t anyway. But the above concerns must be answered.
US Player to Watch: Landon Donovan
Having never previously selected Lando as the Yank to watch, I’m now picking him for the second time in three games. Weird. But this has been a weird tournament. And it is time to beat a dead horse.
It breaks down like this, USMNT players that had bad nights against Panama:
One of those guys is going to have to answer the bell for his team and lead by example. Lando is a team leader, and the guy with the greatest ability to influence the game. He’ll show up. He better.
Prediction: Guadeloupe 2 – 3 USA
I think we’re due for a surprisingly open game; easy on the eye, but nerve-wracking. But as I said earlier in the piece, I expect the US to do whatever it takes to get it done. Granted, that could mean a draw, but I think they’ll manage the full three points in this one.
Washington DC US Soccer Maneuver
The Yanks Are Coming will be joining the DC chapter of the American Outlaws at Laughing Man Tavern in DC (1306 G Street Northwest)! TYAC MLS specialist Andrew Villegas and I (Jon Levy) will be arriving at the bar shortly before kickoff, and we’ll be ready to party as we support the Yanks! Come out and hang with us while we enjoy the 3-2 victory!
And if you haven’t read this set of oral interviews about Livestrong Park, well—just check them out. Great job by Adam Spangler over at This is American Soccer.