The United States Men’s National Team went into their two-game World Cup qualifying stint sitting in a rather precarious situation. Looking up from the bottom of a self-dug hole in the Hexagonal with a freshly fired Jurgen Klinsmann holding more than one shovel, the U.S. stepped onto the pitch in San Jose two Fridays ago with a clear message from countless football media outlets: win or kiss the World Cup goodbye.
The moments and days that followed were an emotional roller-coaster for Americans. A glorious three-point dismantlement of Honduras was followed by a mediocre performance in Panama City, where the USMNT left with but a single point.
There have since been countless debates and opinions dispersed by professional publications and major sports networks on what the U.S. did right and wrong, on what decisions Bruce Arena must make going forward. However, if anyone knows anything about Arena, it’s that (not unlike Klinsmann) there’s no sure bet on what strategy or formation he will employ next match.
However, after the Honduras and Panama games there are some clear points and opinions agreed upon by the overwhelming majority, showcased not by big-money sports news outlets, but by the fans at home who have emotionally invested themselves into a team they desire to see succeed as much as (or possibly more than) Bruce Arena himself.
So, one week later, here are four takeaways as – told by fans – on the USMNT and their crucial four points earned against Honduras and Panama:
According To Twitter: Pulisic Is Encroaching Super-stardom
— Autumn (@autumn_soccer) March 29, 2017
— Vinny Marchionni, SJ (@sj_vinny) March 25, 2017
Pulisic is the U.S.A.’s next star, without a doubt. Against Panama, he wa’s one of the few shining stars (as in Stars and Stripes, get it?) on a team that couldn’t seem to handle the intensity of Panama’s chippy play. At the end of the match against Honduras, the 18 year-old had one goal and two assists, both of which helped Clint Dempsey earn himself a hat-trick in his comeback performance. Speaking of Dempsey…
According To Twitter: Don’t Doubt Clint
— Jim Kaufman (@Jim_Kaufman) March 25, 2017
— Zoila Melendez (@zoitastic) March 25, 2017
— Backup Allstars (@BackupAllstars) March 25, 2017
In his first match back to the squad following a nine-month absence due to an irregular heartbeat, there were many doubts on whether the U.S.A.’s veteran striker could still supply that same spark, could carry that notorious balance of grit and delicacy that he has showcased time and time again for the USMNT. Fast forward to two games and four goals later, it’s safe to assume he’s back.
According To Twitter: Jones Doesn’t Fit Anymore
Bradley looked great against Honduras, awful against Panama….when he was partnered with Jermaine Jones again #JustSaying
— Jimmy R (@NN_Gooner) March 29, 2017
#USMNT players who struggled vs. Panama:
1. Jermaine Jones
2. Graham Zusi
3. Tim Ream
— Aaron Cranford (@akcranford) March 29, 2017
In a match that lacked any direction for the United States, there were few other players that looked as out of place on the field as Jermaine Jones. Back from yellow card accumulation suspension, Jones was fitted in his otherwise usual role alongside Bradley, but there was little evidence during the match that would have supported their long-time pairing in center midfield. Fans spoke, and Jones heard and responded:
“The criticism is always on me. It is never somebody else, it is always me. And sometimes, I’ll be honest, it pisses me off. I say ‘Wait a minute! When we play the big tournament, I am always the best player on the field for this country,’ but then, end of the day, they try to kick me out when we lose games? That is not fair, you know? I cannot change it. I know what it is.”
Despite Jones’ comments, the match result might make Arena consider abandoning the flat-four midfield lineup in favor of the hugely successful diamond shape that was utilized against Honduras. The question is, will Jones still be in the equation, or will Arena go forward with a Lletget or Bedoya option?
According To Twitter: Without Nagbe And Pulisic, The U.S. Is Vulnerable
— James Montgomery (@The_Full_Monto) March 29, 2017
Panama not exactly being sly about these kicks and trips. Full-on foul-with-aggression every time, particularly on Nagbe/Pulisic.
— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) March 29, 2017
— John Spranza (@JohnSpranza3) March 29, 2017
Panama focused their high-energy pressure on where the U.S. was most effective against Honduras: Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe. Americans have been chanting those two names in unison for quite some time, and Klinsmann’s blatant ignorance of the demand left plenty of fans justifiably frustrated.
Arena’s fulfillment of the request when he started the pair together in the midfield against Honduras was no stroke of genius. Rather, it was a move that everyone and their mother knew was clearly the right one, except apparently for poor Klinsmann. The prophecy of the duo’s mutual success came true against Honduras, but Panama’s cut-and-dry game plan to immediately trip or foul either player before they could do anything with the ball showed that the U.S. will have trouble moving forward if they can’t find production value elsewhere on the field.
The next time the USMNT will be back in action won’t be until June 8th, when they take on Trinidad & Tobago in Colorado to further keep their World Cup hopes alive. Alas, no matter how much speculation, cheering and groaning American fans throw out onto social media, only on that Thursday will Arena’s vision take a clearer shape as the U.S. continues to discover its own identity along the road to Russia.