Takeaways from the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama
The United States beat Honduras and drew with Panama for an important four points in World Cup qualifying, but the United States should have taken the full six points from these two games. Bruce Arena reverted to an overly conservative lineup against Panama with both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield, and Arena’s center back choices, Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream, looked bad against Panama. With Jones in the midfield, the U.S. lost the passing skill and attacking flair they showed with Christian Pulisic as the Number 10 behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
Here are some of the big takeaways from the United States’ two World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama:
Bruce Arena Is a Bigger Proponent of Skill Soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann
Bruce Arena is a bigger proponent of skill soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann, which is strange. Klinsmann is one of the all-time leaders in World Cup goals as a striker, but he never fielded the players and formations needed to really attack opponents. In every game that Arena has coached for the United States in his second coaching stint, he has fielded proactive lineups with as many technical and creative players as he could fit into the lineup. Arena had multiple injuries to deal with against Panama, so that lineup was not as technical, creative, and attack-minded as his Honduras lineup. Nevertheless, Klinsmann’s lineups were never as bold and attack-minded as Arena’s, who used to be known for always using the 4-4-2 formation with two defensive midfielders, except for his use of Sebastian Lletget as the other central midfielder for the LA Galaxy in 2016. With the U.S., Arena’s preference has been to use two forwards with three attacking midfielders and only one defensive midfielder, and Arena was even bold enough to let Christian Pulisic be the team’s Number 10 over both Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan.
Christian Pulisic Should Be the United States’ Permanent Number 10
As soon as Christian Pulisic was allowed to play the Number 10 role, he attacked opponents directly with speed, skill, and vision, and he created four goals for Clint Dempsey in two games. To be fair, one of Dempsey’s goals was a free kick, but Pulisic directly set up three of Dempsey’s four goals. Pulisic has already displayed a full array of passing and attacking skills in the Bundesliga, and as one media member put it, the fact that Panama instantly chose to hack and push Pulisic around was the ultimate sign of respect for his abilities.
Bruce Arena must focus on improving his defense
The United States was without three of its four defenders against Panama, but nevertheless, both Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream just looked not good enough to be playing for the U.S. Perhaps Ream was just a little nervy at times, but Gonzalez is not quick enough and fast enough to be starting. Arena will have to commit to using Walker Zimmerman and Steve Birnbaum when Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are out, and Arena must also look for some more center backs. Andrew Farrell is one option because his combines the defending, speed, and skill on the ball to play at the international level. Surely, the U.S. has some other center backs as well.
Clint Dempsey Looks Like He’s Still in His Prime
Fresh off of recovering from an irregular heartbeat, Clint Dempsey played like a monster against Honduras and Panama. Deuce benefited from playing with Pulisic, but all of Dempsey’s goals except the fourth one required a ton of skill; the fourth goals required coolness in front of the goal more than anything as the goal was all Pulisic’s work. Not only is Dempsey’s touch and finishing looking sharp, but physically he looked light on his feet and fast. Dempsey has never been lightning fast, but his overly all athletic ability has been underrated as many mischaracterized him as mostly a toughness player. Dempsey has stood out as an American for his skill on the ball, trickery, and clinical finishing, but his continued ability to run all game and beat people in a foot race are also important.