Clint Dempsey: Still a United States Starting Forward

Clint Dempsey: Still a United States Starting Forward

Clint Dempsey should still be a starter for the United States, and his starting allows the United States to have the all-important Dempsey-Christian Pulisic partnership. Although Bruce Arena recently used Dempsey as a super sub due to the quick turnaround in between Gold Cup games, nothing about Dempsey’s play suggest that his fitness level or skill has dropped at all.

In the American player pool, Christian Pulisic is the only other player with the same type of individual skill and ability to win games. There are other American players who can score impressive and important goals, but Dempsey’s creativity and individual skill is still needed; it’s not just nice to have.

Until there is some indication that Dempsey shouldn’t be starting anymore, there’s no reason to even consider it. Bruce Arena has liked starting only one defensive midfielder in Michael Bradley so that Arena can start two forwards, and this means that one of those two forwards should be Dempsey. While Jozy Altidore continues to improve as a player as evidenced by his fabulous freekick goal in the 2017 Gold Cup Final, he probably shouldn’t be starting over Bobby Wood who is more dangerous, more clinical, and more aggressive.

One of the keys for the United States playing at a higher level under Arena is Pulisic and Dempsey playing together, and not starting Dempsey gets rid of this potent combination. For years Dempsey has been playing for the United States with players who are way below his skill level, with the exception of Landon Donovan, and now that Pulisic has arrived, it would be foolish to not use the combination that has seen the United States playing a better brand of soccer. The U.S. is more likely to win with Pulisic and Dempsey playing together, and this partnership is especially needed against elite combination like the competition that U.S. will likely face in the 2018 World Cup.

 

Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

It felt like the United States eked out its 2017 Gold Cup victory, rather than truly outplaying its competition. There were plenty of positives to take away from the tournament and the championship, even if the rotation of players led to a lack of excellent team passing and creativity most of the time.

Jordan Morris, Kellyn Acosta, and Paul Arriola all either reaffirmed their talent or they showed more of what they were capable of. Acosta and Arriola oddly received some criticism for not showcasing enough talent and special qualities, but Acosta looked smooth, skillful, and involved, while Arriola looked fast and dangerous.

Without Christian Pulisic acting as a Number 10 behind the forwards, there definitely was a lack of playmaking and creativity in the attack that saw Jozy Altidore dropping back into the midfield to receive the ball and playmake. Luckily, Clint Dempsey was around to win the semifinal and break the deadlock in the final, but Bruce Arena deserves some criticism for cutting Kelyn Rowe after the group stage and not always starting someone to operate as the team’s playmaker. Arena has several quality playmakers to choose from in the field, and he arguably didn’t have any of them on the roster for the group stage or knockout rounds.

Against a weak CONCACAF field of B Teams, the United States should have been more dominate and impressive. Arena did what was necessary to win the tournament, but the U.S. barely won most of its games. The only rotating of players that made sense was not starting Dempsey in the semifinal when he had just played 90 minutes a few days before. Other than that, there was too much meddling with the starting lineup, which affected the team’s performances negatively. Not starting Dempsey in the final didn’t make much sense either since Dempsey only played some 20 minutes in the semifinal.

After so many years of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones not pairing well as the team’s holding midfielders, Acosta proved himself to be a box-to-box midfielder who partners well with Bradley. Acosta plays with graceful skill and easy athleticism, and he passes well. Arena now has the option of either using two holding midfielders or two forwards, and this allows him to field a more attack-minded or slightly less attack-minded lineup whenever he wants. Morris continues to be a direct and aggressive striker who scores goals and unsettles opponents with his speed, so the United States has another striker like Bobby Wood who can get behind the defense and score.

Without the first-choice center backs, right back, striker, and playmaker, the United States’ Gold Cup squad wasn’t it’s A Team, so this wasn’t a chance to see if the United States has built on its progression under Arena. Nevertheless, at least the United States won the tournament, which should have been much easier to win. The real lesson is that the United States should always be starting its very best lineup until they are more dominant.

 

Bruce Arena Taking United States 2017 Gold Cup Competition Too Lightly

Bruce Arena has been a better national team coach than Jürgen Klinsmann in terms of his player selection and tactics, but Arena has taken the Gold Cup competition too lightly. In the 2017 Gold Cup, the United States has been drawing or barely winning, and in the semifinals, it took Clint Dempsey coming on in the 69th minute to break the deadlock with an artistic assist and a masterful free kick goal to finally beat Costa Rica.

Arena’s coaching decisions in this Gold Cup haven’t been poor, but they haven’t been excellent either. Arena has been taking opposing teams too lightly by shuffling lineups and auditioning players too much while also failing to start a playmaker behind the strikers to fill Christian Pulisic’s Number 10 role. Pulisic is already back with his club team Borussia Dortmund, and the United States’ passing, creativity, and attack has been subpar compared to previous recent U.S. National Team games.

The second-time U.S. coach was close to fielding a strong lineup against Costa Rica in the semifinal, but again there was no real attacking midfielder or playmaker until Dempsey came on late in the game. Pairing Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley as the holding midfielders behind the more attacking players was an improvement for the squad as Bradley could sit deeper in front of the defense and Acosta was free to go forward more. On the other hand, starting Graham Zusi once again at right back was suspect at best. Arena is apparently going to insist on having Zusi as a right back option, and Arena has really dug his heels in on this questionable decision.

Against Jamaica on Wednesday in the 2017 Gold Cup Final, Arena will likely start Dempsey rather than saving him for the end like last game which was done on purpose to account for Dempsey’s 90 minute performance just a few days prior to the semifinal against Costa Rica. Look for Dempsey to play alongside Jozy Altidore up top in the attack or to play as the center attacking midfielder behind Altidore and possibly Jordan Morris. We could see the United States drop Acosta in order to go with the more attack-minded 4-1-3-2 formation, but maybe not.

Arena has been taking the United States’ Gold Cup competition way too lightly in the 2017 Gold Cup, but against Jamaica in the final, Arena would be wise to not start the likes of Zusi or Gyasi Zardes. It will be interesting to see if Paul Arriola or Joe Corona starts in the final, but with many first-choice attacking players like Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget, and Kelyn Rowe not on this roster, one of Corona or Arriola should start.

 

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic should be the first name on the United States’ team sheet, and he should be on the team sheet in the Number 10 role.

When Bruce Arena first deployed Pulisic as a Number 10 beneath Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, what Arena did was set the United States up to showcase its best passing and best attacking play ever.

Recently, when the United States tied Mexico 1-1 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Arena was somewhat forced to not use his first-choice players because they were operating on only a few days rest from a previous World Cup qualifier, but Pulisic nevertheless started. In the 3-4-3 formation used by Arena, Pulisic was operating out on the left wing in an attacking triangle, and this lessened his impact to attack Mexico and facilitate the American attack. Pulisic didn’t have as many touches on the ball out left, and he wasn’t in a position to feed Bobby Wood up top at striker as much as Pulisic could have in the middle.

Rotating players was excusable, but there was no need to use Pulisic out left or to use one less midfielder. Arena made the wise decision to start Kellyn Acosta in the center of the midfielder with Michael Bradley, and with Acosta helping out Bradley, there was no need to use three center backs instead of two. With the set-up used, there was a big gap between where Acosta and Bradley were and where Wood was up top.

This game against Mexico, while a good draw for the U.S., nevertheless showed how much the U.S.’s passing and attacking ability weakened with Pulisic out wide instead of behind the striker or strikers, and the team’s passing was certainly worse with Darlington Nagbe on the bench as one of the rotated out players.

Given Pulisic’s abilities and importance for the U.S., some minor criticism of Arena’s tactics against Mexico is warranted. The U.S. did earn an important point for the draw, but that point likely mostly came from an incredible and sensational golazo from Bradley.

Starting Pulisic as the center attacking midfielder should take precedence in an Arena lineup for the United States, and the real decision for Arena going forward will be whether or not he starts Acosta again with Bradley in more of a 4-2-3-1 or if starting two forwards is key for Arena. Whatever Arena goes with, Pulisic must be used centrally to orchestrate the American attack and to score and create goals.

 

 

Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley scored a stunning golazo against Mexico in Sunday in World Cup qualifying when he chipped Mexico’s goalkeeper Memo Ochoa from some 40 yards out while sprinting. Bradley’s goal was worthy of Francesco Totti who lived to score by the cucchiaio, as it’s called in Italian.

Several minutes into the game against Mexico, Bradley stole a pass from Mexico weaved right in between two defenders and more or less immediately hit a soft chip while sprinting over Ochoa who was near the top of his own penalty box.

Shawn Francis had it right when he posted a photo of Michael Bradley on Twitter with the caption, “Remember when you thought my dad got me this job?”

Bradley’s goal was impressive for several reasons. First, he hit his chip without any hesitation when he possibly could have tried to score by hitting his shot low and hard into the corner. Second, Bradley hit the chip from some 40 yards out, and, third, it’s very difficult to get the weight of the shot just right off a chip. Finally, Bradley hit his chip while dribbling at a sprint which makes the chip so much harder not to hit too hard over the crossbar.

In many ways, you can’t help thinking that Bradley should still be playing in Serie A if he’s able to score that caliber of an international goal. MLS offered Bradley a huge salary, but Bradley’s abilities are better maximized in European club soccer. In Serie A, Bradley proved himself to be an excellent dead ball specialist, and his chip against Mexico further showcased this control of the ball.

Before Bruce Arena took over as head coach of the United States, fans and the media had been lamenting Bradley’s play with the national team, but with better players deployed in a more logical tactical setup, it appears the Bradley’s struggles might have been caused by playing with subpar players.

After a goal like he just scored, Bradley might have silenced a small minority of his critics who unjustly blamed him for the U.S.’s poor play before Arena took over.

 

Christian Pulisic Represents a New Level for American Soccer Players

Christian Pulisic Represents a New Level for American Soccer Players

Christian Pulisic is the first American soccer player to be starting at an attacking position for a top European club team. That already makes him different than other top American soccer players in the past.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder from Pennsylvania Pulisic is not only technically-skilled enough to play for a club like Borussia Dortmund, but he also has electric speed, creativity, coolness under pressure, and great vision. Just for clarification, Borussia Dortmund is one of the top German club teams in the Bundesliga, which is a league that is much better than say the English Premier League in terms of overall skill and quality of play.

Pulisic has mostly featured as wing for Dortmund, but he has played centrally as a playmaker, which is where United States coach Bruce Arena started playing him several games ago. Using Pulisic as a Number 10 opened up the American attack making it more dangerous, and it also allowed Clint Dempsey to have a playmaker playing behind him that could actually feed him the ball in scoring positions and play on his level. The U.S. National Team has had the problem where Dempsey and Landon Donovan were much better than all of their teammates, but now Dempsey has an attacking player player playing with him who seems even better than Donovan. It could even be said that Pulisic is a better passer and assist man than Donovan, as Pulisic has displayed more creativity and trickery than Donovan who didn’t used to attempt the kind of bold and audacious passes that Pulisic has routinely been pulling off without any hesitation.

While the players on the national team are much better than in years past, Pulisic has been a revelation for the team not only for his playmaking and ability to set up Dempsey but also for his own scoring ability. Pulisic is clinical in front of goal and he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger with either foot. Based on the type of skill and movement that Bobby Wood and Pulisic have shown in the attack, it’s fair to say that the United States is a more skilled and creative team than it was in the past, and Pulisic is the orchestrator and driving force of the United States now. Dempsey is still likely the best player, but Pulisic is the key to creating more opportunities for Dempsey and the teams other forwards.

When you watch Pulisic play for the United States, what you see is a player who plays with the combination of skill and speed need to beat defenders, and the U.S. didn’t used to have that. Donovan was skilled and fast, but it wasn’t at the same level as Pulisic, plus Donovan was also not quite as aggressive and direct against top competition. Dempsey was and is very technically-skilled and quick, but he lacks the extra gear of speed and quickness that Pulisic uses to blow past defenders.

 

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Except for starting Jozy Altidore over Bobby Wood at center forward, coach Bruce Arena got his United States lineup right in the World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago in Denver. The United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 as they should have, and the U.S. should obviously be playing for the win against Mexico in Mexico City.

Altidore played well for the United States in the last game where he even set up a goal, but Wood is the more dangerous player and the more difficult player to defend and contain. Arena also has the option of altering his formation, but he seems content with his 4-1-3-2 formation which has worked very well for the U.S. It’s even an attacking lineup, which the United States and Arena never used to use.

Wood over Altidore may be the only lineup change for the United States, and having Wood and Pulisic running at the Mexican defense in Azteca should be a more electric attack than the U.S. has ever fielded in Mexico’s enormous Azteca stadium in Mexico City. There is a possibility that Kellyn Acosta will start against Mexico with the logic being that the United States will need another center midfielder to keep possession and recovery possession, and both Bradley and Acosta cover a lot of territory.

Fabian Johnson didn’t play particularly well in either of the last two U.S. games, but nobody doubts his talent, speed, or experience. Nevertheless, Arena should play somebody over Johnson, and that somebody should be Acosta.

Using Acosta would alter the Americans’ formation, and just maybe Dempsey plays tucked in on the left rather than playing as a second striker. Pulisic moves all over the attack and all over the field for that matter, and rigidly confining Dempsey or Pulisic to wide or central roles on the field is a misunderstanding of how they play and how the sport is played.

A strong option for Arena against Mexico therefore is to insert Acosta into the lineup and not use a three-man defense with three center back, which is something the U.S. is comfortable enough with to really use against Mexico. Even though the U.S. just played Thursday, switching up the center backs or the defense at all feels risky. If a player or players get tired, then that’s what substitutes are for. Going with the 4-3-3 formation would help with the fatigue from the recent game since the 4-3-3 would have Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta as a three-man midfield with three center midfielders to keep possession and recover possession, which would make for an attacking three of Pulisic, Wood, and Dempsey who are all fluid and versatile attackers who know how to move into space and show for the ball. Rather than trotting out some unproven and new defense, Arena should play a three-man midfield of Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta

Here’s who World Soccer Source believes the United States should start against Mexico:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: John Brooks

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Right Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Left Center Midfielder: Darlington Nagbe

Right Wing: Christian Pulisic

Center Forward: Bobby Wood

Left Wing: Clint Dempsey

 

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Whatever Bruce Arena does, he should be sure not to change the attack-minded nature of the United States’ lineup that beat Honduras 6-0. Arena only used one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley, as opposed to using a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, and this allowed the United States to overload its lineup with attacking players without having too little defensive coverage in front of the defense.

There’s no reason to change goalkeepers, especially since Brad Guzan isn’t even on the roster, so Tim Howard should start in goal again. However, the rest of the defense will have some changes as one of the two starting center backs, John Brooks, is unavailable. Arena was using Geoff Cameron at right back, but Arena may need to move him back to center back because otherwise the center of the American defense may be too week.

The U.S. could start Cameron with Tim Ream, and this would give the United States two athletic and technical center backs to try to get three more points against Panama. Omar Gonzalez is a decent center back, but he frequently looks prone to be wrong-footed or outfoxed with lateral quickness and speed. Likewise, Matt Besler, the only U.S. center back option, is fast but somewhat mediocre for international play. If Arena wants to be really bold again, then he could use Walker Zimmerman who is fast enough, technical enough, and aggressive enough to make for a quality center back in international play. Compared to Gonzalez and Besler, Zimmerman is likely harder to get past and more intimidating for attackers.

In the Front Six, which would include the defensive midfielder, the three attacking midfielders, and the two forwards, the United States should change as little as possible from the lineup that pounded Honduras. For one of the first times ever, the United States looked like they were playing skill soccer, and that lineup produced quick passing, creative play, and goals. Since one of those starters, Sebastian Lletget, cannot start against Panama due to injury, Arena should let Paul Arriola start at right wing over Alejandro Bedoya. Arriola is playing great for Club Tijuana, and Arriola plays the type of free-flowing soccer that Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Darlington Nagbe play.

Here’s who the United States should start against Panama:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: Omar Gonzalez

Center Back: Tim Ream

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Right Wing: Paul Arriola

Attacking Midfielder: Christian Pulisic

Left Wing: Darlington Nagbe

Forward: Jozy Altidore

Forward: Clint Dempsey

 

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

The United States Routs Honduras with Attack-Heavy Lineup

Bruce Arena fielded an attack-heavy U.S. Men’s National Team lineup with only one defensive midfielder, and it allowed the U.S. to destroy Honduras 6-0. Previous coaches of the United States, including Arena, were always reluctant to field lineups with multiple creative attacking players who could facilitate possession and proactive play, but Arena’s lineup allowed for lots of combination play and goals. He started Sebastian Lletget, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all at the same time. American soccer fans have been waiting for the United States to beat a decent opponent with skill instead of just hustle and heart for a long time.

Max Bretos of ESPN commented on social media during the game that Clint Dempsey had been waiting for five years for a player like Christian Pulisic who could feed him passes and combine with him, and how true this is. Dempsey and Pulisic were also combining with Lletget, Nagbe, and Altidore, who displayed a massive improvement in his ball control and deftness in tight spaces with little time to think and react.

Even without Bobby Wood starting, the United States was stretching the Honduran defense as Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore, and Lletget all took turns making runs. Arena deserves lots of credit for fielding such an attack-minded lineup, and the decision to use Pulisic as a Number 10 or attacking midfielder rather than using Sacha Kljestan was key to opening up the Honduran defense and getting the most out of Altidore and Dempsey.

Arena was also fairly bold in his decision to let Jorge Villafaña start at left back where he displayed attacking skill going forward along with the endurance, speed, and defending to mark Honduras’ attackers. Villafaña always slowed up his attacking counterpart either by getting in front of him or dispossessing him. Even when Villafaña was beaten or out of position, he recovered enough ground to prevent any dangerous advances on the USA goal.

The United States will be without Lletget for the next World Cup qualifier against Panama, but Arena should be praised again for calling up Paul Arriola to replace him, as Arriola brings many of the same attacking and technical qualities that Lletget brought to the right wing. Alejandro Bedoya did a fine job of subbing in for Lletget after Lletget was hacked and injured, and using Bedoya against Panama would be acceptable since he showed more impact and effectiveness than in recent previous appearances.

Whether the coach of the United States uses Kellyn Acosta in the midfield with Bradley or goes with Bedoya or Arriola in a line of three attacking midfielders, the U.S. should have more than enough quality, speed, and verve to beat Panama on Tuesday in Panama. Look for Arena to field a similar type of proactive lineup again, even if that means using Acosta as a central midfielder to be Bradley’s deputy because Acosta brings aggressive, direct, and skillful play to the team.

Big Bruce overloaded the USA lineup with technical and creative attacking players against Honduras. Will he do it again against Panama, and will it signal a change in the United States’ playing style?

Who Should the United States Start against Honduras?

Who Should the United States Start against Honduras?

The United States Men’s National Team faces Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tomorrow, and coach Bruce Arena has several crucial lineup decisions to make. There’s a possibility that he’ll trot out a mediocre and lackluster lineup that won’t possess enough skill to impose its will on Honduras. After a rash of injuries, Arena has called up several mediocre and unexciting players like Graham Zusi and Chris Wondolowski as replacements, and only Zusi is a possible starter.

Tim Howard will definitely start in goal, and he should start in goal. Arena has to play musical chairs with his defense as his starting right back DeAndre Yedlin is injured, and this injury could force Arena to move his starting right center back to right back, which forces Arena to start someone else at right center back. These means that the Back Four could be from right to left: Michael Orozco, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, and Jorge Villafaña. Both Gonzalez and Brooks are tall enough to be prone to being wrong-footed and thrown off balance by quick and crafty attacking players, and Villafaña hasn’t been a regular starter for Santos Laguna, his club team. Maybe letting Walker Zimmerman start at center back isn’t as risky as using Gonzalez and Brooks in the center of the defense.

Once Arena figures out his defense, his Front Six of four or five midfielders with one or two forwards has better options. Michael Bradley will play as the defensive midfielder, and starting Kellyn Acosta as the box-to-box midfielder would be an inspired choice. Acosta has been active and decisive in all of his games, and since Acosta is even netting free kicks from outside of the box, just how risky is starting him? Acosta is exactly what Bradley needs: a skilled and athletic box-to-box midfielder who can truly play the position correctly.

If Bradley and Acosta start as the holding midfielders, then Arena can start Sebastian Lletget, Clint Dempsey, and Christian Pulisic as the line of three attacking midfielders behind Jozy Altidore or Jordan Morris. There is lots of public and media support to start Darlington Nagbe on the left wing with Pulisic in the middle, but Nagbe doesn’t really use his left foot. Starting Lletget gives the U.S. a better passer, a better 1v1 player, and more of a scoring threat.

Not starting Dempsey against Honduras seems crazy. Dempsey has played 90 minutes in each of his first three games this season for the Seattle Sounders. Pulisic will probably be the U.S.’ best player within one or two years, but Dempsey is still far and away the best American player with the exception of Bobby Wood, who is injured.

Why wouldn’t Arena start Dempsey? Whatever Arena does, he must be sure to field the players who can keep possession, create scoring opportunities, and score.

World Soccer Source backs the starting of this lineup: Howard; Cameron, Zimmerman, Brooks, Villafaña; Bradley, Acosta; Lletget, Dempsey, Pulisic; Morris.

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: Walker Zimmerman

Center Back: John Brooks

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta

Right Wing: Sebastian Lletget

Attacking Midfielder: Clint Dempsey

Left Wing: Christian Pulisic

Striker: Jordan Morris