Will Herculez keep Jozy off the field?
At the end of the day, the United States won 3-1 and Mexico won 3-1 in their opening matches of World Cup qualifying against small Caribbean nations. But in the press, Mexico was in control for the entire game while the United States gritted out a tough win against a team they shouldn't have had this much problem with. For the United States, it was a struggle to impose their will on Antigua and Barbuda until they finally started bombing shots from outside the 18 yard box.
The game started in almost the same 4-3-3 that played so well against Scotland, with only Herculez Gomez in for Terrance Boyd and Jose Torres in for Fabian Johnson (and Edgar Castillo). Against Scotland, this team was able to ping short and quick passes around the field, always moving forward and looking for the shot. In the first 70 minutes against Antigua and Barbuda attacks would often stall 35 yards from goal, with players standing over the ball not able to find any space against the packed in defense. However, the United States seemed to take this as a challenge, continuing to try and work the ball in on the ground rather than loosening up the defense with some long range shots. The US had the vast majority of the possession, but would go for long stretches where they didn't threaten the Antiguan goal.
The word shoot might as well have been trending in the US, because Herc seemed to be the only one who put shots on goal for the majority of the game. In the 70th minute, however, a light seemed to flicker on; Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley smashed dangerous shots from outside the box, the Antiguan defense got spread out trying to defend, and Gomez was able to score the insurance goal to put this game away. He had forced good saves from the Antiguan keeper throughout the game, and was well rewarded with this goal.
With all of this said, I am still confident in their chances against Guatemala on Tuesday. They may have played down to the level of their opponent, but now Klinsmann and the new players on this team will see what Concacaf qualifying can really be like. That game, and how the team reacts to it, will be a better indication of where we are at this moment. Three points are three points, and getting them in a monsoon is never the easiest task. After the jump, let's talk about the positional battles that are revolving around the team right now.There are positional battles in three spots right now: center forward, left back, and center back. There seems to be a real competition between Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore right now which has brought out the best in Gomez. In theory I still prefer him as a 70th minute substitute, the very minute in which Jozy was often subbed up during his club season, but his play so far has made it hard for Klinsmann to take him off.
Much like how the Perry Kitchen in defense experiment is over for D.C. United, the time for Carlos Bocanegra at left back has passed. This is not a reflection on Bocanegra's play there last night, which in general was good, but more of a comment on the center backs that are behind him. Whether he was rushed back too soon from a knee injury (again) or whether he is just done on the international level, Oguchi Onyewu should not be with this team right now. Clarence E. Goodson IV has won the other center back position for now and I'd rather see Geoff Cameron as the next center back on after him.
Despite his performance in the Brazil game, my thought would have been to put Michael Parkhurst in at left back, where he has played at times for F.C. Nordsjælland (a team that will be in the Champions League next season). He's not a world beater, but he's no Bornstein either. With Fabian Johnson healthy, he is the obvious starter; after that, I would rather have Parkhurst or (ideally) Eric Lichaj over Edgar Castillo or Jose Torres.
While it may not be quite a positional battle, there are people who want to see changes in the center midfield as well. Michael Bradley is an obvious starter, but some people are clamoring for either Mo Edu or Jermaine Jones to sit on the bench. I do not think anything will change here against Guatemala, especially with the injury to Jose Torres, but I do wonder if we will see him in the middle over either Jones or Edu when this team is back to full health.
What do you all think about this game or any of these positional battles? Who do you want to see start on Tuesday in Guatemala?