2016 Olympic Qualifying
Quick Attack, Stout Defense Help Lift U.S. Over Canada
October 02, 2015
KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Last night’s 3-1 victory over Canada highlighted the U.S. U-23 team’s strengths and weaknesses as the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament got underway.
Here are four thoughts on the contest and a look ahead at what Andi Herzog’s men need to do to step up their game and secure passage to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
Speed was the difference
The Americans may have won by two goals but it was a one-goal contest for most of the game. The U.S. prevailed because of its speed advantage—forwards Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter were simply too fast for the Canadian defense.
On the opening goal, which came just 34 seconds into the game, Kiesewetter burst down the right side and crossed to Morris who had also broken free from his defender. On the second goal, Morris outran his defender to receive a perfectly timed pass from Wil Trapp. On the final goal, Kiesewetter’s quickness drew the penalty.
At times the U.S. midfield lacked patience and tried to force balls to Morris or Kiesewetter. That accounted for the U.S. losing possession quickly and perhaps was a major factor why Canada won the possession edge 55%-45%.
Thanks to its speedy attack, however, it looks as though this squad will get its fair share of opportunities and give opposing defenders nightmares.
Central midfield chemistry lacking
Herzog utilized a 4-4-2 formation, with the U.S. playing in a narrow diamond that featured four players who prefer to play in central roles. Wil Trapp, Fatai Alashe, Emerson Hyndman, and Gedion Zelalem did not seem to be on the same page at times, and will need to do better as the competition gets stronger.
Zelalem, in particular, looked lost for most of the game before coming out for Marc Pelosi in the 57th minute. The Glasgow Rangers midfielder failed to connect with his teammates. Yes, he made some fancy moves and his talent is plain to see, but his link-up play left much to be desired.
Instead, the United States’ best chances came with direct balls up the middle—like Trapp’s assist on the second goal, or Hyndman’s exquisite long through ball to spring Kiesewetter into the box in the 19th minute.
“We have to settle the ball a little bit more,” Luis Gil said after the match. “Obviously they packed it in a little bit more at first in the midfield but we took advantage of the counter attack. This is the type of game where that was to our advantage. Every game is different and hopefully in the next game we settle the ball and keep the ball. It's never going to be pretty if we don't keep it on the ground.”
Herzog did not mention any specific names but acknowledged that the midfield requires some retooling. With Zelalem subbed out before the hour mark, perhaps his starting position on the team is not a lock.
“In our midfield with Gedion Zelalem and Emerson Hyndman, they looked really good in training,” Herzog said. “They are great technical players. That's why I wanted to bring them [here] together with the two young centerbacks and Zack Steffen. So we have a lot of talented young boys but now we have to find the right balance and the right mixture for the second game because today it was a tough game for everyone.
“We had to bring a lot of energy to win this game. So in two days, we have to find a fresh team.”
Polster filled in well at right back
Even before the Montreal Impact recalled right back Eric Miller on the eve of the tournament, the U.S. squad’s greatest weakness was at the fullback position. Miller, a right back, was replaced by Boyd Okwuono, who has struggled in recent training camps.
Herzog elected to start Chicago Fire rookie Matt Polster at right back against Canada—a position he had never played with the U-23s. The move also forced Polster to mark Michael Petrasso, Canada’s best attacker.
“He had a real tough opponent,” Herzog said after the match. “Michael Petrasso had a real good game. After his yellow card I was a little bit scared. But I have a lot of confidence in Matt Polster because he had a really great camp in England. He is very physical and very strong. You can see that if a young player is a regular starter in MLS, that he has a lot of confidence and a lot of power.
“I knew he would do a good job without receiving another yellow card. This was huge for us.”
Carter-Vickers and Miazga thrived
Following a stellar showing at the U-20 World Cup, Herzog decided to quickly transition Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers up to the U-23 team to take advantage of their budding chemistry.
Smart move. Miazga gave a strong defensive performance and demonstrated some clean passing out of the back. Carter-Vickers was also solid, winning nearly all of his aerial duels and coming up with some key clearances. Canada’s best chances came from the flanks and off set-pieces—it couldn’t do much of anything through the center of the pitch.
“Cameron and I have a really good understanding and partnership together,” Miazga said. “We've been playing for the past two years together. I think we played well together [against Canada]. They did not get many dangerous chances.”
Herzog praised his young central defense pair, but also suggested there is room for improvement.
“Both are very young but you can see a lot of their qualities,” Herzog said. “Overall I think they did a very good job. The problem today was we conceded a very easy goal off a set piece. That is something we have to avoid in the next games. The two young players did a good job today and I think they have a great future with the U.S. team.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.