2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Featured, July 2015, USMNT

Yanks Tuneup for Gold Cup against Guatemala: The TYAC Preview

Captain MB 90.

Captain MB 90.

Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon

USA v. Guatemala: Your TYAC Preview

How do you follow up exhilarating wins on European soil against global power Holland and World Cup Champion Germany? Challenge yourself against longtime rival (that part is true) and(Central American) power (in baseball) Guatemala, of course.  The US are world beaters now, so keep the challenges coming? Or maybe Matthew McConaughey put it best for Lincoln: sometimes you have to return to where you’ve been to appreciate where you’re going…

In all seriousness though…

Two ways to look at tomorrow night’s friendly in Music City (7PM ET, Fox Sports 1) against Los Chapines. The first is to ask why for any other reason than money would US Soccer play a match against the world’s #93 four days before its toughest group stage match at the Gold Cup? And that’s probably a reasonable takeaway. 

The other, more logical reason for the friendly is that in many ways, it’s a better tuneup for the Gold Cup than Holland or Germany. The Yanks learned they can pick their spots and attack against the world’s best in Europe. That’s tremendous for confidence and a great experience, but it isn’t a Gold Cup simulation because the US won’t see teams on the front foot and attacking them in their continental championship unless they are playing Mexico (even Costa Rica is much more likely, on US soil, to absorb pressure and counter). Instead, the United States will face plenty of sides playing nine to ten behind the ball, trying to remain compact and and refusing to give the US the chance to cut them apart on the break. Hard fouls and tough tackles, disciplined defenses and the occasional counterattack.  That’s what you see when you are the best team on your continent playing at home.

And in that respect, playing Guatemala makes way more sense than those McConaughey Lincoln Ads. But that’s not a really high bar.

Let’s kick the usuals around and then do the particulars…

Series: 25th meeting. United States lead 14-4-6. Guatemala’s last win against the United States came in 1988. Los Chapines won the first four meetings between the two nations, and haven’t won since. Guatemala did earn a draw in one of the two World Cup qualifying fixtures between the two nations in 2012 (more on that shortly), but that was one of only three times in the last ten that the US haven’t seen full spoils when these two nations meet. On US soil, Guatemala has only one tie to show for itself- a 0-0 draw in 2007 in Frisco, Texas.

Weather: 75 and chance of rain. Very unusual weather for Nashville, Tennessee on Fourth of July weekend. I don’t think either team will complain much given the heat they’ll see over the next few weeks of Gold Cup play. With the humidity, let’s put the Fabian Johnson Misery Index at 5. Could be better, but will be worse this month.

What to watch for from the Yanks:

 The USMNT is coming off its best half of soccer thus far in 2015, and that’s down to more than just an excellent Bobby Wood goal that beat the Germans. Oh, you wanted to see that again? Sure.

In a calendar year in which this team has been fading hard and fast in second halves, these guys followed up on a miracle win over Netherlands by taking Germany’s best shot, saying “we’re still here,” and earning possession through the midfield in the second half. As you might have guessed, “earning” is the operative word in my assertion. A team like Germany gives nothing away cheaply. It takes a special pass (or a thirty pass sequence!!) like the one from MB90 to Mix Diskerud to beat them. Or you can do it the less glamorous way, by winning a pitched battle for control of the midfield, and generating chances through good old fashion attacking build-up. That’s what the US did in the second half in Cologne, and that’s why I’m deeming it the best sustained period of play since the Yanks took the game to Portugal for about 80 minutes in between conceding goals in Manaus.

Diskerud says he's ready to take on more with the Yanks. It starts tomorrow.

Diskerud says he’s ready to take on more with the Yanks. It starts tomorrow.

 

Yes, you could argue about the US being more dominant in the first half against Czech Republic in September or in the recent Panama friendly, but those teams ceded control of the midfield much more easily than Germany’s B+ squad or Portugal’s World Cup selection. So how does this US team carry a style of play that delighted manager Jurgen Klinsmann into this Gold Cup tune-up match against Guatemala?

The short answer should be “relatively easily.”

Historically Guatemala plays bunker defense on the road against the US, looking to soak up pressure before opportunities start presenting themselves. As noted above- that makes it tactically a decent Gold Cup test. If that happens in this match, we should see plenty of possession and offensive opportunities, though the team will have to worry less about earning the midfield and more about generating grade A scoring chances in a crowded final third. I look for Jurgen to play two strikers, as has been his default lately. And as we’ve seen, the double forward front allows newly anointed captain Michael Bradley to be impactful as the team’s most advanced central midfielder. When he (our best player) is asked to dissect defenses from further up the field, and with just one passing option in front of him and little lateral help to the side, he looks well…truly out of position… because he is.

As for style of play itself, you know Klinzy wants to see the same sharpness the team displayed in Cologne, but faster, Faster, FASTER! The man is all about turning calm, cool possession into frenetic attack, and this is the match to floor the gas and see how fast this veteran squad can spin it. I won’t pretend to know who’s feeling good, who needs to rest, or who gets how many minutes in a tournament tune-up match, but let’s not forget that this match marks the unofficial two year anniversary of the Wondolowski Extra “W” hat trick against Belize.   

And what will we see out of Guatemala?

New manager, new star, same Guatemala. Iván Franco Sopegno is a former star goalkeeper and manager in Guatemala’s domestic football league. He’s now the manager of the national team, and despite his Argentine heritage, he’s steering this team toward the same respectable but not particularly competitive reputation that Guatemala is now known for in CONCACAF. So of course that means La Furia Azul (see, they have multiple nicknames!!) recorded clean sheets in their last two matches… but that they were all-important World Cup Qualifiers against lowly Bermuda, and Guatemala only managed one goal over 180 minutes. See, doesn’t that sound like the Guatemala we know and harbor tepid feelings for?!

Meanwhile, team captain Carlos Ruiz is now roughly 100 years old, so while we should still expect him to commit underhanded crimes against Yank defenders when the referee has his back turned, Guatemala appears to have a new talisman. Winger/attacking mid/Seattle Sounders star Marco Pappa has been stirring the drink for the national team ever since his fraudulently awarded free kick sent the US Soccer community into a tailspin a few years back (NEIL PLZ LINK  Remember that?

I can tell you no one was laughing at DC’s Laughing Man Pub after that rocket.

So if you’re like me, an American soccer fan that doesn’t root for Seattle or Chicago’s MLS franchises, you probably dislike Marco Pappa. The good news? In this match, and in the Gold Cup, Pappa doesn’t have a lot of talent around him to help. So this good, skilled MLS player will most likely be asked to shoulder the lion’s share of Guatemala’s offensive creation responsibilities, whether he’s deployed on a wing or behind the forward(s). That doesn’t exactly constitute a “dynamic attack,” so the US should be able to handle this team, provided Pappa doesn’t get a chance to put his foot through the ball from anywhere near the American goal. If he does, you might just find yourself screaming “YOU HAD ONE JOB!” on Friday night.

Americans know all about getting production from people in the German third division.

Americans know all about getting production from people in the German third division.

Guatemalan Player to Watch: Stefano Cincotta (Chemnitzer FC)

 What? You’ve never heard of left back Stefano Cincotta or his third tier German club Chemnitzer FC? Where you been livin’ man? After all, nobody knows more about getting production out of the German third division than Americans. Bobby Wood, Julian Green in five years (that was to see if you are reading still), Alfredo Morales… I digress.

As you may have noticed in the section above, I was all set to make Marco Pappa my Guatemalan player to watch in this match. That’s before I studied up on one Stefano Cincotta; you know, the Italian-Guatemalan kid that represented Germany at three different youth levels up to U20 before switching his nationality? Okay, I had absolutely no idea who he was either, but if you thought Germany youth mainstays were a luxury for the USMNT, you know they’ve got to be ultra rare for Guatemala. They don’t have quite as many military installations in Germany as we do.

After being frozen out of Germany’s senior national team for a few years, 24 year old Stefano seems to have assessed his situation, realized that the reigning champions of the universe don’t usually play fullbacks– and when they do- they aren’t from the German third division. Credit him for figuring that out, and promptly switching his  competitive nationality to Guatemala.

In his two matches with his new national team Cincotta helped keep the aforementioned clean sheets in World Cup Qualifying against Bermuda, and scored the lone goal to eliminate the island and keep Guatemala alive. Not bad for a new defender still feeling out his place in the squad. Friday against the USMNT will be an entirely different proposition. I’m excited to watch and assess Guatemala’s shiny new thing.

Tim Ream has been Bolton's best player for two years. Is that the one club in Europe Klinsmann doesn't value?

Tim Ream has been Bolton’s best player for two years. Is that the one club in Europe Klinsmann doesn’t value?

US Player to Watch: Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)

Bolton’s reigning player of the year (again) was a surprise call-up to the Gold Cup team, given that his national team appearances come, on average, once a year or so and typically involve the following scenario:

Get called into camp. Train. Don’t play despite the team having six substitutes available. Go back to Bolton. Play great. Read story where Bolton manager (Neil Lennon, for a few more days or so) griping about Klinsmann not respecting Ream’s talents.

I don’t know if Klinsmann and Lennon hugged it out over cold St. Pauli’s or Jurgen just decided he didn’t want to keep calling in Michael Orozco, but Ream made the team and has certainly earned a look tomorrow. 

Ream offers positional flexibility- he’s good enough with his feet to play either CB spot for a manager who seems to value a LCB and a RCB; he can play fullback in a pinch and he’s always been decent on the floor- a characteristic not widely shared in the US player pool. The US had success building possession in the back while in Europe and Ream can help do that while providing capable defense against teams like Guatemala that are limited in the ways they can attack you. 

From time to time, Ream has demonstrated a tendency to look jittery, like he “wants it too much” at this level. He’s certainly a quality enough player. It would be good to see him take his chances for country as well as he has for club.

Prediction: USA 3 – 0 Guatemala

The US defense pitches the shutout it seemingly needs, lulling Jurgen Klinsmann into a false sense of security, and possibly causing him to trust the wrong group of defenders in the upcoming Gold Cup. Yeah, I know that’s a pretty fatalistic line to start off a three-nil match prediction, but you gotta write what you feel, right? Taylor Swift taught me that. Goals for Mix and Aron Johannsson. Let’s fire up The Dred Pirate Beckerman’s guitar and party in Nashville!

Enjoy the match, and Go USA!

Jon Levy is Co-Founder of the Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TYAC_Jon.