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USMNT Clinches First Place In Group A With Win Over Haiti

The USMNT overcame a sloppy effort and a feisty opponent during a 1-0 win against Haiti in Foxborough Friday night. The win gives the US six points in two matches, guaranteeing them the top spot in Group A and a place in the Gold Cup knockout round. Here are four quick thoughts on the match.

Clint Dempsey is invaluable

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: ‘Veteran forward carries the United States through the World Cup’. The following year, for one reason or another, he doesn’t make many appearances with the national team whether it’s due to injuries, coaches decision, or personal reasons. The team adapts to playing without that player, wins some big matches, and eventually that veteran player becomes expendable. That’s exactly what happened to Landon Donovan, and it’s exactly what isn’t happening to Clint Dempsey.

Sure, the US learned how to play without Dempsey and picked up big wins over the Netherlands and Germany without him, but as the Gold Cup has progressed it’s the clear as ever the United States is still relying on their talisman. While everyone else is seeming to struggle against weak opponents, Dempsey has been taking advantage of the few opportunities that have come his way, scoring all three US goals so far, and booking the US a place in the knockout round.

Aron Johannsson is the striker of the future

After a sloppy first match, US manager Jurgen Klinsmann made seven changes to his first team for the match against Haiti. Among those changes was the inclusion of Icelandic American Aron Johannsson starting up front along with Jozy Altidore.

While Johannsson didn’t score in the match (he did have a goal called back on a questionable offside call) he did go out there and prove he’s the best striker the USMNT has. There are some elements of his game that need improvement (his hold up play for one), but it’s clear that his other elements such as his passing, vision, and finishing instincts are far better than those of Altidore. Altidore is still recovering from a hamstring injury, but even when he’s been at his best, his secondary attributes have never been as good as what Johannsson showed last night.

Of course, Altidore will still be given every last chance to keep his place in the team because Jurgen Klinsmann LOVES him.

How will the US play against Panama

With the win over Haiti the US has guaranteed themselves the top spot in Group A, therefore their final Group Stage match with Panama means absolutely nothing for the US. In a situation like this you would think the US would take it easy in this game, maybe rest some key players and just go through the motions against Panama.

Wrong.

While Klinsmann may choose to rotate his squad a bit, maybe give rest to Michael Bradley or Dempsey, don’t expect the US to take this game lightly. Expect that whoever ends up on the field for the US will be going all out and looking to impress Klinsmann ahead of the knockout stage.

The US was in a very similar situation  at the end of World Cup qualifying in 2013 when they traveled to Panama for the final qualifier. The US had already secured qualification, and Panama needed a win to stay alive. In an interview given later, US midfielder Kyle Beckerman recounted how some of the Panamanian players were jokingly asking him to ease up since the US was already going to Brazil. Beckerman replied by saying that while the team was going to Brazil, he didn’t know if he was. The point being, these players still have something to play for on an individual level in times like this.

Many US players will find themselves in the same situation Monday night. At this point there are still several positions on the field where the US does not have a clear first choice player. Every player on the field Monday night will have a chance to claim a place in the starting XI for the knockout rounds. As of now the US is going to the knockout rounds, but we still don’t know what players will be on the field during the knockout round.

Field conditions 

As Americans we’ve grown accustomed to watching the United States travel to many of the smaller CONCACAF nations during World Cup Qualifying and complain about how terrible the pitch is in those nations. Well I think it’s time that we Americans lose the privilege to complain about field conditions until we are able to put out good fields of our own.

It’s unbelievable how we can host a tournament in this country every two years but still can’t get quality pitches in our stadiums. The condition of the field in Foxborough last night was a joke, the same way as the field condition was a joke last week in Nashville. The biggest reason for this is because most of these games are played in NFL stadiums, which have artificial surfaces and therefore they need to lay sod over the artificial surface, which usually ends up with a terrible field.

I understand that CONCACAF wants these games played at NFL stadiums rather then the smaller soccer specific stadiums because of things like money and that CONCACAF is pretty corrupt thing, but we still should be able to do a better job with the playing surface? It’s summer time, the NFL isn’t using the stadium right now, shouldn’t we be able to lay the sod several weeks in advance to allow it time to settle instead of hastily doing right before the game? The US has lost the right to complain about CONCACAF fields since they’re just as much a part of the problem as everyone else.

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