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.