The United States Men’s National Team played poorly against Costa Rica and Honduras, but the problems are fixable with a formation change. Bruce Arena used the 4-4-2 formation for both games, and there was little creativity or team passing.
Christian Pulisic was left to carry most of the creative load from a wide position in both games, and his individual dribbling was impressive. Without Clint Dempsey starting against Costa Rica, the United States had very few ideas or combination play in the final third.
Passing was the real problem against both opponents, despite the defense understandably getting much of the blame.
The United States Finally Faced Appropriate Domestic Criticism for their style of play and performance
Plenty of pundits, journalists, and fans laced into the United States for their poor performances, and none more so than Alexi Lalas. Lalas was clearly looking for his rant to go viral and rile people up. Nevertheless, nothing in the rant was really off base. Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Clint Dempsey were taken to task for various reasons.
Howard was criticized for not saving the first goal against Costa Rica, and Cameron for a bad pass, which led to a goal. Bradley’s zen mentality was questioned, presumably because he always tries to appear calm and level-headed. Dempsey’s leadership was oddly questioned as he only started the second game.
Bruce Arena’s Tactics Have Been Bad Recently
Despite the Lalas rant, Arena got his tactics wrong in both games. By using the 4-4-2, the United States had no playmaking in the center of the midfield against Costa Rica. A 4-2-3-1 formation against Honduras would have given the United States more midfield defending in the second game. But Arena went with the 4-4-2 again resulting in the same problem.
Perhaps the problem was that Arena didn’t go with just one striker against Honduras when he added Kellyn Acosta as another center midfielder with Bradley. The same hole between the midfield and attack existed in both games, and Pulisic tried his best to make up for this.
Looking Toward the next World Cup Qualifiers
In the next World Cup qualifier, Arena should go with the 4-1-3-2 or the 4-2-3-1 formation in order to fix the creativity and passing weaknesses. Pulisic is certainly versatile enough to play wide in a fluid attacking three allowing he and Dempsey to move around.
Arena does have the option of calling up Lee Nguyen of the New England Revolution. With Sebastian Lletget and Kelyn Rowe injured, Nguyen along with Benny Feilhaber is the only playmaker with the skill set and pace to play at the international level. Both playmakers are proven at the international level.
Amidst all of the criticism of the U.S. team, the talent is still there to possess the ball well and score goals. Arena has reverted to the prehistoric 4-4-2 formation, but maybe he has come to his senses.
The United States should be able to put in a much better performance against Panama, and they will have to. To be on more solid World Cup qualifying ground, the U.S. needs all three points, and three more points against Trinidad and Tobago.
In a formation where Bradley and Acosta sit behind Nagbe, Dempsey, and Pulisic with Wood up top, the United States have no excuse for not keeping possession and scoring more easily.