The US national team is deep into preparation for the 2017 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. As part of their preparation the US played a team today that could be better than any they face once the actual tournament begins. The Black Stars of Ghana faced off against the Yanks in East Hartford Connecticut for what was a chippy and physical affair.
The history between Ghana and the US is well documented in the annals of World Cup lore. The Ghanians eliminated the US from soccer’s top tournament not once, but twice, in 2006 and again in 2010. In 2014 the US received a measure of redemption when in the opening game of their group stage, the US earned their first victory against Ghana thanks to a John Brooks header in the dying minutes of the match. To beat Ghana today 2-1 is a solid result worth being proud of and pulls the countries level with 2 wins a piece after four meetings.
While this match was nothing more than a friendly, there is plenty we can learn from it as the US prepares for their opening Gold Cup match against Panama on Saturday, July 8th.
I hate SKC’s Dom Dwyer...but I love the national team’s Dom Dwyer:
The vitriol between Dom Dwyer and basically everyone on RSL is well documented. He has gotten in spats with our players both on the pitch and in social media. I hate Dom Dwyer because he is arrogant, brash, and relentless when he plays against RSL. For that same reason, it was surprisingly easy to cheer for him in a US kit. When you have grown accustomed to watching the seemingly laissez faire attitude of Yura Movsisyan, it is extremely refreshing to watch a forward who never gives up on a play and gives all-out effort.
Watching Dom Dwyer with hand over heart during the national anthem was one of the most patriotic things you could see this Independence day weekend. Here is a guy who immigrated to the US after being born and raised in England. He fell in love with the country as well as one of her premier female soccer players and chose to make the US his home. With so much that is said in the media and by politicos on both sides of the aisle, it was extremely refreshing to see the American dream in action as Dom Dwyer got to fulfill his own dreams of playing for the national team.
From the opening whistle Dwyer was threatening as he had multiple opportunities to score in the first 15 minutes before striking a beautiful volley in the 18th minute to put the US up 1-0 over Ghana. Only 5 minutes later Dwyer was fearless as he earned a dangerous free kick, and what should have been a straight red card for the Ghanian keeper as he was taken out at the top of the 18 yard box.
More than anything, it was so refreshing to see a forward impacting the game through hustle, holdup play, distribution, and shot creation. While this is not an article about RSL, it highlighted the stark contrast of who we have playing up top compared to other teams in the league.
Real Salt Lake’s representation on the US national team is in danger:
Believe it or not, Real Salt Lake has been well represented in the national team pool for over a decade. It is hard to remember the last time the US played in a major tournament without at least one RSL player on the roster. From the early days of Eddie Pope (2006), to Robbie Findley (2010), to more recently Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando (2014), we have had RSL players representing us in every World Cup since the team joined Major League Soccer. Unless Rimando gets called up for Russia 2018 (he will turn 39 during that tournament), or somehow Justen Glad or Brooks Lennon can crack the roster (not likely at this point) we could see our very first World Cup next year without an RSL player on the roster.
In fact, the 2007 Gold Cup was the only major tournament other than the Confederations Cup that the US has not had an RSL player in the squad. To put that in perspective, since RSL joined the league there have been 6 Gold Cups, 3 World Cups, 1 Copa America and 1 Confederations Cup. Of the 11 tournaments, 9 have had an RSL player take the pitch. This speaks volumes of RSL’s ability to attract and develop top talent worthy of national team call ups. I think it also reflects perfectly the transitional period that RSL is now in as the old stalwarts inch towards retirement and the young and exciting players are not quiet ready for that next step onto the international stage. Now if we could somehow convince Sporting Kansas City to trade us Dom Dwyer we could kill two birds with one stone.
The USA’s B-team is good:
Much has been made of the US’s struggles to build a deep pool of players. In tournaments gone by the US has struggled mightily any time that a starter has left with injury (see Jozy Altidore in WC 2014) or been suspended. As I watched the US play against a very athletic and strong Ghanian team, I couldn’t help but smile at how the US team played organized and with purpose. After some critical WCQ’s in June, Bruce Arena opted to call in many young and less experienced players.
I think this was a smart move for a number of reasons. Mexico, the US’s biggest competition in the tournament is also bringing a “B-squad” as their preferred squad is currently in Russia for this year’s edition of the Confederations cup. Likewise, the US is now 11 months away from the World Cup and this is the perfect opportunity for lesser known players to make a case to be on that World Cup squad. Players like FC Dallas’s Kellyn Acosta who has been a revelation this year and had his first goal for the US today as well off this scorching free kick.
Something that stood out right away is that everyone seemed to know exactly where to play and exactly what their responsibilities were. The 2015 edition of the Gold Cup saw the US embarrassingly eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals. In that tournament the US brought its strongest squad but was plagued by a coach that couldn’t decide on a formation or where to play his players.
Bruce Arena’s team today played a very good Ghanian team today with a group of players who have never played together and it didn’t seem to phase them a bit. Just like a company, a team’s culture and organization start at the top and trickle down. Bruce Arena has done a phenomenal job stepping into a pressure packed situation and has done a fantastic job over the course of 5 months. He has now lead the national team through 8 games since taking over the top job from Jürgen Klinsmann. In those 8 games he has 4 wins, 4 draws, and no losses. All while taking the team over during a time where there has been no margin for error and World Cup qualification has hung in the balance.
Thanks to Arena’s hard work, the US “B-Team” looked extremely organized and ready for this month’s tournament as they beat a very good Ghanian squad. If they can continue with more of the same, there is no reason that the US shouldn’t be in the Gold Cup final on Wednesday, July 26th.