For some reason, right after the United States’ 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, Kasey Keller on ESPN declared that the United States hadn’t fouled Costa Rica enough. Many people have a hard time accepting the fact that better soccer with better passing and more technical ability directly leads to more wins. Bad passing and not a lack of fouling led to the U.S. loss.
Here are my takeaways from the USA’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying:
The United States’ passing against Costa Rica was poor
The U.S. didn’t seem capable of stringing more than two or three passes together against a Costa Rican side who bunkered. The space was there for the United States to play through balls or build up a passing rhythm, and Fabian Johnson, Darlingon Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic all had the dribbling ability to open up space for incisive passing and final balls.
Not starting Clint Dempsey took away the creativity and attacking threat of Pulisic and Dempsey playing together
Once Pulisic started playing for the United States with Clint Dempsey, the level of the U.S.’ creativity, technical ability, and attacking play improved dramatically. Why Bruce Arena would not field those two players together when he could is anyone’s guess. Surely, using Dempsey as a substitute when Arena doesn’t need to is a bad idea.
There’s also still a sense among too many that the United States is good enough to not really need Clint Dempsey, or at least there’s a sense that not playing him when he isn’t tired is some how a good idea.
Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream were scapegoated
The two U.S center backs didn’t play as bad as many people believed they did. Certainly a bad pass from Geoff Cameron allowed Marco Ureña to have something of a breakaway and score easily on Tim Howard for the second goal, but the first goal was something of a billiards shot from Ureña, which Howard probably should have stopped.
Darlington Nagbe isn’t a playmaker, and he didn’t provide incisive passes from his central midfield position
Darlington Nagbe has showcased plenty of individual dribbling skill and scoring ability, but he’s yet to showcase much in the way of final balls and through balls. This might be an area where Nagbe can improve, but he hasn’t shown himself to be a playmaker as of yet. When Arena used Nagbe out left, he was able to cut inside and blow past defenders, but as a central midfielder with Michael Bradley, he didn’t make sure that the team played through him. Pulisic is really more of a playmaker, and the 4-4-2 Arena used relegated Pulisic to too much of a wing role where Nagbe didn’t have the passing ability needed to pull the strings from the center of the midfield.
Bobby Wood’s movement, pace, and directness were on full display
The Hawaiian striker hit a couple of passes too heavy in the beginning of the game, but he did start combining well with his teammates and getting behind the Costa Rican defense. On at least two occasions, Wood blew by the Costa Rica defense, and on one of those occasions a non-existent foul was called on him, and on the other his shot was blocked by a Costa Rican defender immediately after it left his foot. Nevertheless, Wood was again showed how dangerous he is, and how the United States has never had another striker with his combination of pace, skill, and movement.
Fabian Johnson looked dangerous and active despite receiving criticism
On multiple occasions, Johnson played dangerous diagonal balls in front of the penalty box and continued his runs only to not receive the ball back. Johnson was active the whole game looking to push the pace and get the ball into Zone 14.