Five Points: Ireland exploits flat USA to secure victory in Dublin

BY Kyle McCarthy • November 19, 2014


Warning signs emerged shortly after kickoff. The professed desire to match Republic of Ireland stride for stride never quite materialized. Anthony Pilkington provided the home side with the opening goal after just seven minutes compounded the concerns.

The night -- outside of a decent spell to produce the equalizer shortly before halftime -- never really improved for the U.S. national team. This affair offered a chance to end the year on the proper note. It instead reinforced some of the lingering traits present through the five post-World Cup friendlies in a humbling 4-1 defeat.

"We came out here and said it's important to start out aggressive and impose ourselves physically," U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "We know Ireland can be a physical team. You saw that their guys gave us trouble in the back in terms of holding the ball up and everything. We weren't able to match them, I guess."

Bedoya subsequently noted the continued focus on the learning curve and the importance of playing difficult matches away from home. Five Points explains why the Americans found this particular test so daunting and measured up so poorly in the end.

Extended spells in possession provided a foothold ...


Sept. 3 Czech Republic (Prague) W, 1-0
Oct. 10 Ecuador (East Hartford, Conn.)
D, 1-1
Oct. 14 Honduras (Boca Raton, Fla.) D, 1-1
Nov. 14 Colombia (London)
L, 2-1
Nov. 18
Republic of Ireland (Dublin) L, 4-1

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill essentially invited the Americans to take control in midfield by making 11 changes from the 1-0 defeat in Scotland on Friday. The visitors accepted those terms and found ample time and space in the middle third to knock the ball around.

The slower tempo -- at least in comparison to the match against Colombia -- allowed the Americans to operate deftly in the middle third and retain possession for extended spells. It marked a decent step in the direction of asserting control over the proceedings, but it did not prove particularly effective in the end because the Americans simply weren't able to produce much from it.

... ultimately squandered by a lack of ingenuity

Most of the possession petered out as the U.S. attempted to carve open the fairly resolute Ireland shape. Ireland didn't do anything peculiar here. It simply kept a decent shape, remained organized as the Americans operated in the middle third, stood firm and then whacked away the resulting service.

On this particular night, those tactics proved more than enough against a U.S. side lacking dexterity, fluidity and incisiveness. The best forays came from the flanks – Alejandro Bedoya floated into dangerous areas from time to time – and from set piece situations, not from those extended spells on the ball. It showed in the results: The only goal arrived from an astute piece of pressure from Mix Diskerud (a recurring theme during the fall slate of friendlies) and a tidy enough combination to prompt Diskerud's goal before halftime.

Ireland pounces once possession is won ...

The relatively fruitless possession and the effort expounded to garner it left the Americans exposed to the counter. They used the ball well enough for most of their night (80.6 percent passing accuracy, per Opta statistics), but those occasional lapses and the flimsiness throughout the side ultimately proved costly.

Once the ball turned over, the Americans found themselves stretched almost immediately with little hope of recovering the necessary solidity. The first goal -- created by a slack square pass in the attacking half -- highlighted the inherent issues caused by the desire to push forward without retaining the necessary focus on structure.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann watched his side struggle to recover once Ireland won possession.

... to exploit the stretched defense ...

The lack of a cohesive framework created genuine issues once Ireland started to break quickly. O'Neill has cobbled together a side capable of countering directly and placing teams under threat with a brisk series of passes from back to front. It isn't always flashy, but it is particularly effective under these circumstances.

By relying on those traits and using the space afforded, Ireland consistently placed the back four under pressure when it tried to move into the attacking third. David McGoldrick, in particular, placed himself in good areas to influence the game and slice through the U.S. defense.

On another night, the Americans might have coped with the threats. Their emergency defending constituted a strength against Colombia on Friday, but their one-versus-one efforts here fell short of the expected standards. Klinsmann chided his defenders for individual errors on the second and third goals. And the third and fourth goals, of course, led to more questions about those late-game issues.

... and punish the Americans for another late fade

Most of the issues here stemmed from the way the second half unfolded. Robbie Brady's goal 10 minutes into the second half to restore the advantage arranged the game perfectly for the home side. It shifted any and all pressure to alter the calculus onto the U.S. and tempted the Americans to commit extra numbers forward.

Those exertions extracted a significant toll in the late stages once again as Ireland – bolstered by the introduction of several regulars in the final half-hour – took full advantage. James McClean fired home from distance eight minutes from time with the aid of a deflection. Stephen Quinn procured a foul and Brady then swept home a stunning free kick to punctuate a good night for both player and country.

It proved anything but for the visitors, though. This performance lacked the coherence, the gumption and the quality necessary to secure a result away from home, even against a weakened Ireland side. The final result offered a stunning rebuke to send the Americans into 2015 with plenty of ideas to ponder.