By Jon Levy
The Yanks’ one-nil victory over a mix-and-match Honduras squad this weekend didn’t inspire passionate feelings of indomitable hope or incredulous consternation, and that’s probably a good thing.
The summer of 2011, the summer of everything for the national teams took the American soccer community on a ride we won’t ever forget, but those highs and lows should be rightfully relegated to the rearview for the time being. In the lead-up to World Cup qualifying, Coach Klinsmann is trying to cobble together a foundation for a team that will be expected to acquit itself well on the largest stage. The process of laying that foundation involves plenty of trial and error, and will likely create more mixed performances before it yields the CONCACAF domination that many are quietly expecting.
In this environment of rebuilding, maybe a one-nil result that was a valid representation of action on the pitch is preferable to a gilded three goal win that masks deficiencies, or a panic-inducing undeserved loss. It’s early days for Jurgen’s Yanks– we’ll have plenty of time for frenzy in the near future.
What to watch for from the Yanks:
At the very least, Saturday seemed to prove that the passing and possession game that the USMNT wants to play when they have the ball is coming along. To borrow some American football terminology, the Yanks racked up more quality possessions than they had in any previous match under the new regime, even if most of those possessions didn’t lead to red zone opportunities. But as any NFL fan can tell you, quality possessions leave your opponents at a disadvantage when they finally get the ball back, particularly deep in their own territory.
But color any excitement about the progress with a bit of reason, and don’t expect Klinsmann to throw a party, content in knowing that if his team wins the possession battle, Clint Dempsey will eventually produce a moment of brilliance to earn his team the spoils. Clint, Shea, and even the resurgent Jozy Altidore all looked good, and increasingly comfortable, in the Honduras win, but the final ball is still a problem. Expect the US to attack more creatively, more relentlessly, and with more forward runs from the midfielders and fullbacks. The onus will again be on the back four and the
designated defensive midfielder to help keep possession without risking too much in terms of ball movement or positioning. They did a good job in this department on Saturday night, despite what can only be called adequate performances from Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman.
And what will we see out of Ecuador?
After a disappointing Copa America, Ecuador seems to have found itself again. They’ve won their last three matches by a combined score of 9-2, thumping CONCACAF contenders Costa Rica and Jamaica, before defeating the plucky Venezuelans two-nil on Friday in their CONMEBOL WC qualifying kickoff.
Reinaldo Rueda’s Ecuador squad utilizes a balanced attack similar to his Honduras side in the last World Cup cycle. There’s no secret formula to beating Ecuador, other than not letting them get comfortable in passing sequences, and pressuring the suspect back line. And then there’s this guy…
Ecuador Player to Watch: Christian Chucho” Benítez
The consummate energy player, and the guy with the worst haircut of all time, Benítez took his ball and left the EPL in a ten million dollar move that broke the transfer record for a Mexican club. He’s already notched seven goals for Club América, and he bagged another against Venezuela on Friday.
He stands just 5’6’’, but Chucho is a bastion of strength and frantic activity. He’s that pug that never leaves you alone while you’re eating at your friend’s house. And just like that annoying pug, Chucho’s activity is usually rewarded with production. With Ecuador’s World Cup qualifying matches already started, there’s no telling how much Benítez will play, but he’ll cause problems for
static American center backs if they don’t endeavor to change that description. Throw in the fact that the Yanks best one on one defender is still Carlos Bocanegra, and yes, Captain America appears to have lost a half-step, and you could have reason for concern.
US Player to Watch: “American” Danny Williams
Okay, so I just gave him that nickname, but I think it works. First off, it makes him sound like a boxer. And secondly, read this interview! The young German-born midfielder talks about the stars and
stripes with the passion of an immigrant free from oppression, or a philosopher admiring the audacity of our lofty ideals. His outlook is both welcome and refreshing. “American” Danny Williams. Don’t like it? Go start your own website, you can make up all the nicknames you want.
To hear Klinsy sell it, Mr. Williams can play anywhere in the midfield, and after watching him play in two matches at two different positions, I’m inclined to believe him. I watched Danny play a textbook center mid for Hoffenheim a couple weeks ago, always distributing safely and getting the ball to the playmakers. And then he turned around and did well as a right sided player on Saturday night, even running at defenders, something he didn’t show in the Bundesliga match. I don’t expect Danny to play as many minutes as he did against Honduras, and he probably won’t even start, but I’m very interested to see where he’s played and what he’s asked to do in his second match as an American international. And look- maybe you (rightly) have some concerns about his distribution Saturday night. But think of it this way: it was his first match as a starter in a new system, and his work rate was outrageous. The distribution should improve.
Prediction: USA 3 – 1 Ecuador
Call it the law of averages if you like, but I don’t see Ecuador rolling into New Jersey and winning their fourth match in a row. Along those same lines, the American forwards are going to score at some point. This is probably the match where they (and yes, Jozy Altidore) get all the goals, before going back into scoresheet hibernation of course.
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.