by Michael H (@timhalpert)
It’s difficult to remember a USMNT soccer game when the first half and second half stood in such opposition to each other. The USA took on Ecuador in their second Copa America Centenario warm-up friendly on Wednesday night in Frisco, Texas. In the first half, the Yanks were flat, lifeless, vapid even. In the second half, after an injection of fresh blood off the bench, the US appeared lively, active, and, at the very least, interested. They finally found the breakthrough, a 90’ minute strike from substitute Darlington Nagbe, to come away with a win against a decent South American opponent.
There wasn’t much to get excited about in the first half. Both teams passed the ball between their defenders, trading possession in the midfield without much effort to get into the attacking third. The best chance of the half for the Yanks came through Gyasi Zardes. He took a long ball over the top into the Ecuador penalty area. Unfortunately, his first touch was atrocious and possession was immediately lost. He and the equally disappointing Kyle Beckerman would be subbed off at the half. For my money, the USMNT would be better off if these two never put on the US jersey again.
The second half began with two USA subs: Nagbe for Beckerman and Bobby Wood for Zardes. The impact was immediate. It’s not so much that the Americans generated shot after shot, but that they moved with purpose, putting together passes that led somewhere and had intent. The introduction of wunderkind Christian Pulisic and Ale Bedoya in the 63’ completed the transformation. The Yanks appeared to actually be dangerous. Quite a few chances came down the left side with Pulisic, Nagbe, Fabian Johnson, and Michael Bradley all stringing together passes and making runs to open up the Ecuadorian defense inch by inch. Wood also played an integral role in the center forward spot after Clint Dempsey made way for Pulisic. His being more active than Deuce goes without saying.
The winning goal, however, came from a broken play. Nagbe found himself inside the box as a DeAndre Yedlin — who shook the soul out the defender trying to mark him — cross was headed upwards by a Ecuador defender. Bobby Wood settled under it and headed it back across the box to a waiting Nagbe, who took it off his chest and volleyed low and hard past the Ecuador keeper from 8 yards out. With that, the USMNT came away with a surprise win and confidence boost as they head into Copa America.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) May 26, 2016
Hopefully Jurgen Klinsmann learned from this match (he usually doesn’t). Starting with a midfield three of Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley in a 4–3–3 is never going to work. After the second round of subs, the Yanks went to a 4–4–2 with Bradley in the number 6 position. The difference this change made was apparent right away. The days when MB90 the destroyer and pin-point long passer roamed in front of the back four had returned. Letting our younger, quicker, more talented players get some quality playing time against a decent opponent really highlighted the need for some of the old guard to sail off into the sunset. Sadly, I don’t think anything will break Klinsmann of his Michael Orozco obsession.
Nagbe was phenomenal. Pulisic is making it hard for Klinsmann to keep him out of the starting lineup. John Brooks all but locked up the starting left center back position. Dempsey, Beckerman, and Jones looked old and tired. It will be interesting (read: terrifying) to see what kind of decisions Jurgen makes after processing this information.
Man of the Match: Darlington Nagbe — 1 goal, 33/33 passes.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Darlington Nagbe completed every one of his 33 passes. Oh yeah, he scored too. #usmnt
— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) May 26, 2016
FOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD