What can USA take forward from first WCQ win?
ST. LOUIS --
Cast aside the desire to pick apart the particulars from the United States’ 6-1 victory over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday. There are no broad tactical insights or sweeping observations about personnel to take from the first match of World Cup qualifying. This match is a box to tick, not a puzzle to solve.
United States men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann said as much in the aftermath of the performance. He noted the awkward hurdle presented by a side willing to pack numbers behind the ball, praised his players for their patience and pointed out the professional nature of the performance. But he also reinforced the singular nature of this game -- a home match against a largely amateur side mostly seeking to mitigate the margin of defeat -- and underscored the more arduous challenge ahead in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
“I think we will see a completely different game on Tuesday,” Klinsmann said. “We expect a very physical in Trindad and Tobago. They are a tough opponent. They showed it in the Gold Cup. They showed it in their recent games. It’s going to be a completely different category that we have to deal with.”
The difference grinds away most of the usual talking points and leaves the broad, overarching themes instead. Those developments are the critical components to take forward as this World Cup qualifying campaign truly cranks into gear.
Comfortable victory creates separation from recent struggles
In the hours before the game, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the past few months constituted the most difficult stretch in Klinsmann’s tenure. The defeats accumulated. The performances underwhelmed. The criticism swirled around a team no longer meeting or exceeding expectations.
Those realities are inevitable in the ebb and flow of the game, but they needed addressing in this game. This saunter toward the points -- a methodical stroll barely thrown off track by Oalex Anderson’s opener -- constituted a necessary display of belief against inferior opposition.
Even during the fallow period, the Americans remained one of the top two or three sides in the region. Their performance allowed them to remind themselves of that fact and separate a bit from all of the difficulty or scrutiny. It did not provide a cure-all or a universal salve to the issues still at hand, but it served as a first step to get back on track and prepare for the more rigorous assignment ahead.
“I think we did everything necessary to win the game,” U.S. defender Matt Besler said. “I thought it was a professional performance. We moved the ball well. We spread them out. We scored on set pieces. We scored a couple of scrappy goals. And, at the end of the day, we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Low-pressure situation provides to build foundations and foster chemistry
There are few opportunities for this U.S. side to wield possession as completely as they did against St. Vincent. The state of play allowed Klinsmann to experiment with personnel -- Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin featured in the positions they play with their clubs, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones partnered in central midfield and Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga took the field for the first time -- and trust his players to sort things out on the field.
All of the time and space on the ball paved the way for further understanding. The combinations clicked more frequently. The movement on and off the ball improved. The rotations sharpened. The service diversified. The set pieces yielded dividends.
Some of those measures do not translate against stronger opposition, but other tenets do carry over. There is considerable utility in achieving a measure of success in comfortable surrounding now with the hope of deriving further benefits later.
“We have to find each other and play well with each other,” U.S. midfielder Gyasi Zardes said. “In games like this, it’s a like a stepping stone. We have to build these relationships so when we play Trinidad and Tobago, our relationships will be better. For example, with me and DeAndre, I think this is our first time playing together on the right. We have to build that relationship and make it better.”
Group C appears poised to follow expectations
The comprehensive victory ensured the Americans ended the night atop Group C on goal difference. Trinidad and Tobago joined them on three points after securing a 2-1 win in Guatemala. Both results reinforced the initial perception of this group with the U.S. and T&T heavily favored to progress.
“It feels good to have the win in the bag,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to take it over to Trinidad to get the three points.”
There are external demands on the U.S. to submit a good away performance and take all three points against a decent side, but those do not extend to the requirements in this group. One point in Port of Spain places the Americans in a strong position to advance with two home games and a trip to St. Vincent still ahead.