The USMNT’s quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia moved along with a lifeless 0-0 draw against Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain Tuesday night. The match will most likely go down as just another forgotten performance, as the U.S. struggled to mount any consistent attack all night. The draw gives the U.S. four points and keeps them at the top of Group C in the quest to advance to the final round of qualifying.
As expected, the match was ugly, and while many people would have liked to see the U.S. move past a much weaker T&T side, it’s important to remember that a draw is exactly what the U.S. needed. The way CONCACAF works, there are currently three groups of four teams with the top two in each group advancing to the final hexagonal, a road draw is exactly what you need.
This current round is very similar to the Champions League group stage where-in no matter how much better you are than your opponent, winning away from home is always tricky, especially in this case where you’re often playing on the sub-par fields of CONCACAF nations. Thus the goal is always simple: win your home games and try to get a point away from home.
Ten points is usually enough to qualify, though if St. Vincent and the Grenadines fails to gain any points it could become much trickier. Nevertheless, winning the three home games, the point against T&T, and another win against St. Vincent would be more than enough to send the U.S. to the next round regardless of what they do in the away game against Guatemala. It should also be noted that there is no benefit to finishing first rather than second in the group.
If there is one thing you can criticize U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann for it would be his team selection. It’s always expected for away games that a manger would select a more defensive team, but Klinsmann elected to start six natural defenders among his 11 outfield players. He started four center backs in his back four with Fabian Johnson, who does play as a left wing for his club team, and DeAndre Yedlin as his wings.
The decision to start Michael Orozco at right back over Yedlin makes sense. While Yedlin is a natural right back, he still has a lot to learn defensively and a team like T&T could have exposed him. Yedlin has shown moments of brilliance when being pushed up to right midfield, but most of that has come off the bench. Yedlin has typically struggled when starting on the right wing and it was no different last night as he struggled to really establish himself as an attacking point for the U.S.
The other residual effect of starting Yedlin on the wing was it forced Gyasi Zardes to move into the second striker’s role, relegating Bobby Wood to the bench. It was a curious move from Klinsmann since it seems like Wood has done everything he possibly could to deserve a spot on the field. Meanwhile Zardes, who is a pretty solid striker in MLS, has never taken that success over to the national team. When playing for the United States, he has been much more successful on the wing.
As a whole the striker selection was curious from Klinsmann. Zardes had two genuine chances that he headed off the crossbar and many people have wondered whether Clint Dempsey would have finished those chances had he been selected to the team and in the game.
The United States’ other striker, Jozy Altidore, once again got the start over Wood despite not deserving it. Altidore did little to suggest he deserved to be in the game as well. Several times the U.S. played through balls that Altidore either had little no interest in going after, or he just wasn’t skilled enough to make the play on. People will be quick to point out all the other ‘intangibles’ Altidore brings to the table but the bottom line is strikers have one job and that’s to score goals. If Altidore scored goals with any consistency his ‘intangibles’ wouldn’t be such a constant talking point.
At the end of the day the U.S. got the away point they needed in Port of Spain, and more importantly it puts an end to what has for the most part been a disastrous 2015. While people may be upset about this now, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind and in international football the big picture is the World Cup. You don’t want to be playing your best football the year after the World Cup, you want to be playing it at the World Cup.
Right now the only thing that matters is getting to the World Cup and on Tuesday night the United States took another step in achieving that.