If you’re reading this, the USA has lost to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinal — their first loss to the Reggae Boyz outside of Kingston in the USMNT’s history, and the first time the U.S. has failed to make a Gold Cup final in over a decade.
The fan base is crushed. However, as American soccer fans reel from the devastating loss, it’s important to understand that this isn’t the end of the world. USA still has a shot to make the 2017 Confederations Cup and can now focus on qualifying for the Olympics. However, it’s worth exploring the age-old question: how did we get here?
For starters, it’s not the fault of the notable players in the USMNT. Michael Bradley was phenomenal, as he always is, which explains why he’s the only American to play every minute of the USMNT’s 2015 campaign. Despite losing the captain’s armband, Clint Dempsey played some of the best soccer of his career in the Gold Cup. Clearly Bradley and Dempsey were not the problem, as anyone watching that game from an American perspective could point to only one thing: defense.
As always, let’s start with the good, which in this case is left back Fabian Johnson. Johnson remains one of the most important players on the field for the United States, and showcased his skill against Jamaica by getting forward and quickly recovering if the U.S. attack did not go as planned. Even against the blistering speed of the Jamaican defenders, Johnson held his own, which is why he is the only member of the USMNT currently competing on a UEFA Champions’ League squad.
On the other side of the field was Brad Evans, who put in a very mediocre performance filling in for Timmy Chandler. Evans was solid defensively, but looked exceptionally timid going forward and struggled to recover on Jamaican counter attacks. Evans won’t ever do anything to wow you, but he will put in a solid performance, especially against CONCACAF competition.
Which brings me to the center backs, the weakest area of the USMNT defense. While Klinsmann seems committed to starting John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado every single game from now until the 2018 World Cup, it’s hard for me to understand why he doesn’t reconsider. Brooks, clearly the superior of the two, will one day be a star for the United States and sees regular Bundesliga minutes with Hertha Berlin. Unfortunately for USMNT fans, this is the same John Brooks, whose strength is using his big body to defend in the air, who could not stop Darren Mattocks from heading in a goal on a corner where the U.S. outnumbered Jamaica 4-2.
Alvarado may one day be ready for the international game, that day is not today, and his play constantly left fans clamoring for Omar Gonzalez. Beyond his speed, it’s hard to find good qualities in Alvarado, as he constantly makes poor decisions on the ball, doesn’t have the best touch and is constantly beaten in the air.
Ultimately, the United States lost to a better prepared team that was excited at the chance to play in their first ever Gold Cup final. Klinsmann will have to go back to the drawing board with his back line, because at this point in soccer’s growth in the United States, third place games aren’t going to cut it.