Heading into tonight’s game there were a lot of questions and even more nerves. With a new coach, a slippery pitch, and a deceptively fast Honduras team, this had all the makings of a trap game for the United States.
All of that went out the window when Sebastian Lletget smashed home a Christian Pulisic rebound and the U.S. never looked back. With a score of 6-0, the largest goal margin in U.S. World Cup qualifying history, the national team faithful have to feel confident in our ability to qualify for Russia 2018.
With tonights win the U.S. jettisoned from the 6th and bottom spot of the table up to 4th place, passing both Trinidad & Tobago as well as Honduras on goal differential. Almost as important, the locker room will be brimming with confidence as the Hex moves on.
Let’s break down the three things we learned from tonight’s historic game:
Dempsey is aging like a fine wine
At the ripe young age of 34 years old, Dempsey played like a man on a mission. After suffering through months of medical issues connected to an irregular heartbeat Dempsey got healthy just in the nick of time to be called up by Arena. According to Arena, Clint was to be a super-sub who would provide a lift coming on for the younger Bobby Wood or Jordan Morris. Both youngsters suffered injuries in the week leading up to the game with Jordan missing out on the start and Wood staying in Germany to rest and recoup.
Any concern people had about Dempsey’s ability to contribute, and to go a full 90 for that matter, was quickly erased as Dempsey posted the 5th ever hat trick in WC qualifying. This bodes extremely well for the Nats as they will need his veteran leadership and fearless nature as the hexagonal drags on.
He has now scored 55 goals all time with the national team, only 2 away from tying Donovan for top goalscorer of all time for country.
Pulisic is the real deal
I understand why coaches cringe every time they hear someone in the media draw a comparison between a young, up and coming player to a well decorated legend. That being said, Pulisic is better at 18 years old than any other American player has ever been at that same age, period. This is not a Freddy Adu situation people, the kid can flat out ball. If he can stay healthy throughout his career we may just be witnessing the birth of the greatest soccer player in USMNT history. Is that hyperbolic enough for you all?
Pulisic was instrumental in tonight’s win as he got the start as the creative fulcrum of the 4-4-2 diamond formation that Arena opted to go with. He made a great play early on to get open and take the shot that would rebound to Lletget for the first goal (5’). Not more than 18 seconds into the second half Pulisic scored a goal of his own as he made a great run down the right side and cooly slotted a goal pass the Honduran keeper. For good measure he added 2 assists, setting up Clint Dempsey twice (32’, 49’). In fact, the connection between Pulisic and Dempsey was exceptional all night as they gave the 5 man back line of Honduras headaches with their quick touches and movement off of the ball.
It is easy to forget that Pulisic is only 18 years old. The sky is the limit for Christian and he has cemented himself in the starting 11 for many years to come.
If you put players in positions they are comfortable with, they will produce good results
I promise that the comparisons between Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena will stop at some point. To be fair, this is technically the first meaningful game that Arena has coached in the post Klinsmann era so you will just have to tolerate the comparisons for now.
One of the most infuriating things about Klinsmann’s tenure as coach was his propensity to play so many players out of their natural positions. The counterargument has always been, “these are professionals, they should be able to play multiple positions.” Sure, I agree with that to an extent, however, there is no replacement for repetition and familiarity. These guys practice day in and day out in one or two spots on the field for their clubs. If you bring them into a one week camp, throw a new formation and new position at them, you are not setting them up to be successful. It appears that Bruce Arena gets that.
Arena did a fabulous job of putting players in places to succeed. An example is that Altidore and Dempsey are more comfortable playing with another forward up top, Arena accommodated that. Another example is the long history of Klinsmann asking midfielders to play fullback. Tonight there wasn’t any of that either. He put players in position that felt comfortable and the fruit of that was a dominate performance in each area of the pitch.
Two quick parting thoughts:
Soccer giveth and soccer taketh away
Sometimes the game can be exceptionally cruel. As I mentioned previously, Sebastian Lletget opened the scoring when he smashed home a 5th minute rebound. It seemed like a dream start for Lletget as he featured in his first competitive match for the United States. Only ten minutes later he suffered a crunching tackle that he tried to shake off. It became clear that something wasn’t right and only 3 minutes later in the 18th he was subbed off, clearly dejected.
Likewise, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks were both subbed off with knocks of their own in the second half which will be something to keep an eye on as our defensive backline is starting to look thin on options.
Don’t forget some love for our defense
The U.S. posted their first shut-out of the hexagonal after giving up 6 goals in their first two games. Scoring 6 goals will do great things for our offense, but getting a shutout will be just as important for the psyche of our defense.