Nagbe's Late Goal Lifts U.S. to 1-0 Win Over Ecuador
May 25, 2016
FOLLOWING ONE OF THE WORST halves of soccer you will ever see at the international level, the United States men's natonal team played a strong second 45 and was rewarded with a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, the 12th-ranked team in the world.
The decisive play came in the 90th minute when DeAndre Yedlin absolutely destroyed his marker with a deceptive move on the right wing. His cross eventually found its way to Bobby Wood, who nodded the ball to Darlington Nagbe. The Portland Timbers midfielder trapped the ball with his chest and blasted a right-footed shot into the back of the net to give the Yanks a well-deserved win—only its third against a South American team in 21 matches.
It was a great result but it was not a great game, and the less said about the first 45 minutes, the better.
Jurgen Klinsmann sent his team onto the pitch in a 4-3-3 alignment that featured Gyasi Zardes, Clint Dempsey, and Graham Zusi up top. His three-man midfield consisted of Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones—three defense-first players who are not particularly fast or inventive on the ball.
And it showed.
During the opening interval the U.S. could not maintain any possession in the Ecuador half of the field, showing a complete lack of ambition and cohesion. Klinsmann's three-man midfield deserves much of the blame, failing to connect with one another or the three forwards.
The Yanks' only legit chance came in the 29th minute, when Dempsey received a pass at the top of the box, turned, and looped a clever pass over the Ecuador defense and to the feet of Gyasi Zardes. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker displayed a brutal first touch, however, kicking—kneeing?—the ball so far forward that Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez pounced on the ball and quashed the chance.
Fabian Johnson, who plays on the wing with Germany's Borussia Moenchengladbach, started at left back and gave the most anonymous 45-minute performance of his U.S. career. Yedlin, who plays right back with Sunderland but usually plays on the wing for the U.S., started at his preferred position Wednesday and engaged in a gritty first-half battle with Ecuador's Jefferson Montero.
The Americans played with a complete lack of urgency and ambition, and Ecuador didn't do much better. Players on both teams jogged around like they were at training, and the focus seemed to be on staying healthy rather scoring a goal or winning a game.
Klinsmann, to his credit, tried to liven things during the break by bringing on Wood and Nagbe to replace Zardes and Beckerman. From an energy standpoint, the moves paid immediate dividends. Nagbe held onto the ball, made smart passes, and showed some defensive fire. Wood was a huge improvement over Zardes, bringing his teammates into the action and providing a big target. Johnson, for his part, woke up from his first-half nap, pushed forward, and got into the attack.
By the one-hour mark, the Yanks began to look like an actual soccer team. After Christian Pulisic and Alejandro Bedoya replaced Dempsey and Jones a few minuts later, the U.S. took control of the contest.
The U.S. nearly took the lead in the 71st minute on a lovely string of possession: Pulisic worked the ball from the end line to Nagbe, who found Zusi at the top of the penalty area. Zusi, who had not accomplished much before this point, surged forward and crossed the ball across the face of goal. Bedoya got on the cross and returned the ball right back through the box—an excellent display that had everything but a toe-poke to put the Americans ahead.
Ecuador, for whatever reason, could never find that second gear. The South Americans displayed abundant skill in the middle third of the field, but couldn't do much of anything near Brad Guzan's goal.
Does the U.S defense deserve some credit for stifling the visitors? Some, certainly, but Ecuador's unforced errors—sloppy passes and bad timing and general torpor—seemed to be the root of its problems.
So the Americans did well to take advantage of a opponent that had an off night, created chances late in the match, and secured the win.
Will Klinsmann acknowledge that he got it all wrong with his Starting XI, and that his subs absolutely outplayed many of his first-team selections? It's impossible to say—the guy can be a bit stubborn.
But hopefully for U.S. fans the defiantly confident Klinsmann will recognize that Nagbe, Wood, and Pulisic transformed a previously lifeless side into a vital, attacking squad. Next up for the Yanks: a third and final Copa America Centenario warm-up vs. Bolivia on Saturday.
What did you think of the match? Share your take in the comments section below.