Gold Cup Preview
Can the U.S. Men Raise Their Game Against Haiti?
July 10, 2015
THE UNITED STATES MEN'S national team's Gold Cup campaign kicked off with a less-than-stellar performance against Honduras on Tuesday night. The post-match chatter centered on the difficulty of getting results against CONCACAF opponents eager to upset the applecart of regional dominance.
With that in mind the Honduras result shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. Los Catrachos have had the Americans' number the last few years—securing a 1-1 draw after the last year's World Cup and, of course, the now-infamous San Pedro Sula collapse in the opening match of the 2013 Hexagonal.
After Tuesday's narrow 2-1 over Honduras, captain Michael Bradley put the new world order of CONCACAF in perspective.
“They have all the traditional qualities of a difficult CONCACAF opponent,” Bradley said before taking a thoughtful pause. “These games are never easy. We’ve played Gold Cup games against teams, on paper, much worse than Honduras and had hard times. No one is our group expects an easy game…in the end the only thing that matters is points, and we’ll take our three.”
True, but the Americans showed some distressing tendencies in Frisco, Texas—as the highlight below reveal.
Tonight the U.S. will face Haiti in Foxborough, Mass. (8:30pm; Fox Sports 1, UniMas) and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is expected to trot out some significant personnel changes ahead of the second group match. A win ensures passage to the knockout round, but as we’ve seen through the first round of matches, things in CONCACAF don’t always go according to plan.
After Tuesday's game, it’s clear that Klinsmann recognizes the challenges of the tournament—many of them specific to his chosen squad.
“It is always tricky to get everybody on the same page,” Klinsmann said, citing league breaks in Mexico and Europe. “There will be struggle…but at the end of the day, with this tournament, you have to move on right away.”
And then there are the injuries.
In the waning minutes on Tuesday night, fullback/winger DeAndre Yedlin took several hard shots to the leg and was visibly limping on his way out to the team bus, bypassing the media in the mixed zone.
There are also fitness questions circling Aron Johannsson, Alejandro Bedoya, and a not-quite-100-percent Jozy Altidore—three players expected to make key contributions in this tournament.
Altidore, in particular, looked nowhere near his explosive best against Honduras. The perpetual lateness of his runs is a real concern—and eventually prompted Klinsmann to bring on Chris Wondolowski early in the second half.
Klinsmann had this to say about his first-choice striker: “Jozy is still in the phase where we have to build him. The only way we are going to get him stronger each day is by giving him minutes, playing him, and working him hard in training. Here’s not there yet, which we knew. He came from that hamstring injury, so we’ll do everything possible to get him to top form as quickly as possible.
"But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
During his almost four years at the helm of the U.S. national team, Klinsmann has shown a willingness to move players around the pitch. On Tuesday he once again played forward Gyasi Zardes as a wide midfielder. The decision fell short of resounding success status.
Despite showing some good offensive flashes from the wing, the 23-year-old can be a defensive liability. This was especially true on Tuesday night. Honduras head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, praised by both Klinsmann and Bradley after the match, focused his team's attack on the flanks and Zardes and Yedlin both struggled with their defensive responsibilities. Honduras' Mario Martinez scorched the L.A. Galaxy forward on numerous occasions.
Also noteworthy, Timothy Chandler did not have a good night against Honduras. Klinsmann tried to soften the criticism post-game, but only completing 16 of 32 passes doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Chandler tends to play well in Europe but has had uneven results in CONCACAF. (Could the heat and humidity be contributing factors?) Lack of support from his partner on the right wing, Yedlin, certainly didn’t help. Whatever the reason, Brad Evans brought composure to the back line after being subbed in and could very well get the starting nod tonight.
As far as the goal: I’m not sure how much you can blame Ventura Alvarado, who received his first official cap on Tuesday. He should’ve done better with the challenge, but he was caught on an island after Honduras’ Mario Martinez pulled John Brooks out of the play with a nice dummy run. It happens.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM HAITI
Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what the Americans did against Honduras. Panama is a good team too—at least by CONCACAF standards—but the Central American squad couldn't find a way to beat Haiti in Tuesday night's curtain-raiser at Toyota Stadium.
“I think they surprised a lot of people with their game against Panama,” Klinsmann said. “That will not be an easy one either.”
Panama controlled the run of play and came away with a majority of the chances but in the end Los Canaleros could not pull away and had to settle for a 1-1 draw. A late-game counter attack and an exceptional individual effort from substitute Duckens Nazon saved the point for Les Grenadiers.
Examining the roster, it’s clear that Haiti's players are far from scrubs. Haiti's squad boasts players from a remarkable 16 different professional leagues, running the gamut from Poland, Argentina, and Switzerland all the way to India and even the American fourth-tier, NPSL.
“Now it’s very hard for a big team to beat a so-called little team because football is international now,” Haiti coach Marc Collat said Thursday. “Players are playing everywhere.”
The side is anchored by the experience backline duo of Ligue 1 veteran Jean-Jacques Pierre and MLS journeyman Mechack Jerome, currently with USL’s Charlotte Independence. On Tuesday night the duo absorbed all the creative flair Panama could muster, absorbed it again, and then absorbed some more. Pre-tournament assertions by Klinsmann should hold true in this case: Haiti will live and die by the counter attack.
The midfield features a quality duo of Wilde Donald Guerrier, who features regularly for Polish club Wisla Krakow, and veteran Jean Sony Alcenat, who has 57 caps. Alcenat recently earned a contract for Romanian treble winner Steaua Bucarest for the 2015-16 campaign.
Up front Haiti isled by Cyprus-based strike Kervens Belfort, the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in 19 national team appearances. In goal is former French international and team captain Johnny Placide, who currently plays for Ligue 1 club Stade de Reims.
Recent results don’t reveal much about this team. While suffering just one defeat in its last nine matches, Haiti rarely lines up against anyone outside CONCACAF. After a strong showing in the Caribbean Cup, where the team fell to eventual champions Jamaica before taking third-place honors, Haiti took a rare trip overseas for a March friendly against China that ended in a 2-2 draw.
On paper, the U.S. are heavy favorites but don’t be surprised if it’s closer than expected: 3-1 for the Americans.
PROJECTED STARTING XI
Brad Guzan; Evans, Alvarado, Brooks, Greg Garza; Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud, Bradley, Bedoya; Zardes, Clint Dempsey
Give us your thoughts below, please, and create your very own U.S. men's Starting XI with our drag and drop tool.
Josh Deaver is an ASN 100 panelist and contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.