The USMNT defeated Honduras 2-1 Tuesday night in their opening match of the 2015 Gold Cup, improving to 13-0-0 all time in Gold Cup openers. The United States battled through shaky play and a late Honduras onslaught to escape with all three points and move to the top of Group A. Here are a few quick thoughts on the match.
God Bless Clint Dempsey
After defeating the Netherlands and Germany without their biggest superstar it was only natural to wonder how the USMNT dynamic would change when Clint Dempsey came back into the team ahead of the Gold Cup. Furthermore, one could also wonder if manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to take the captaincy away from Dempsey and give it to Michael Bradley would have a negative effect on the striker. The answer in the friendly against Guatemala was a solid maybe, as Dempsey turned in a lackluster performance.
However when the games started to matter Dempsey did what he does best–score goals. Dempsey didn’t play the best of games against Honduras, and he ended up getting only a few chances. But what makes a great striker isn’t how many chances he gets, it’s how many he finishes and Tuesday night Dempsey was clinical scoring both US goals. As always, one of Dempsey’s best skills is being in the right place at the right time, which is exactly what happened on his first goal when Honduras keeper Donis Escobar parried a rebound right into Dempsey, who headed it into the net. Dempsey added a clinical second half header, and the US was off and running.
Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin need to be better
In my post about the USMNT Gold Cup warm up friendly against Guatemala, I was full of praise for US youngsters Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin. Both of them were given starts in the midfield for the US against Honduras and both were, well, pretty lackluster.
While Zardes and Yedlin offer a different dimension to the US attack, the US doesn’t actually need them to be at their best in order to win this tournament. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an important tournament for both of them. Both players have made great strides in the past year for the national team and with a solid showing at the Gold Cup can really improve their club careers (Yedlin’s future with Tottenham looks unsure at the moment while if Zardes continues to play the way he did vs. Germany and Holland can possibly secure himself a move to a European club). Getting consistent playing time in Europe would do wonders for the development of both players games, and would certainly benefit the national team going forward.
The United States wasn’t at their best, but that’s OK
Heading into this game it was widely expected that Honduras would come out very defensive and make it difficult for the US to break them down. Therefore, the US would likely dominate possession and be forced to patiently wait for their chances. However, right from the opening kickoff it was clear that was not how this game was going to go as Honduras stepped on the gas right away to bring the game to the US.
The US had trouble maintaining possession early but never lost faith and eventually found their breakthrough. After a second half Clint Dempsey header, it looked like the US would cruise to a win but things changed when Honduras pulled a goal back shortly after and kept the US under siege for the rest of the match but failed to equalize.
On paper, the US should have cruised to an easy win as they came in on great form and were playing against an inferior team who entered the game on terrible form. But of course the games aren’t played on paper and for 90 minutes Honduras actually looked like the better team, making the US lucky to come away with all three points.
That doesn’t mean it’s time for the US to hit the panic button either. They clearly weren’t their best, but even not at their best, they are still by far and away the best team in their group. With Haiti and Panama playing to a 1-1 draw, it’s almost impossible for the US to miss the knockout stage in this tournament, giving them plenty of time to work out the kinks, find their form, and play their best football in the later stages of the tournament–just like the women did in the World Cup.
This game got very CONCACAF-y very quickly
I’m not usually one to complain about the referees as I understand how hard the job is and I think bad calls tend to balance out over time. But my oh my was the referee in this game an absolute joke. Right from the start it was clear the referee had lost control of the game as Honduran players seemed to be mauling the US every time an American touched the ball. This was the exact type of game where a referee needs to give out a few yellow cards early to get everyone under control, yet it took him 86 minutes before a Honduras player went into the book. In fact there were only two total yellow cards given out in this match despite there being numerous fouls from both sides that warranted a caution. Hell, early in the match DeAndre Yedlin received a hard (and late) challenge that saw him fall to the turf for over a minute and somehow the referee didn’t even allow the US trainer on the pitch to treat Yedlin, what a joke.
Despite it being present in almost every competition around the globe and easily available nowadays, CONCACAF somehow isn’t using goal line technology for the Gold Cup (there was a situation that called for it in the second half, though I do think the ref got it right). That should tell you everything you need to know about CONCACAF. When the DOJ and FBI went after FIFA back in May, some American fans were shocked to see that CONCACAF was actually one of the most corrupt regions in FIFA. After last nights match, that seems totally believable now.