So that pretty much stunk. England dominated early, let its foot off the gas a bit in the middle (and still didn’t concede), and then finished strong to hold off any hopes of the Americans making things look pretty on the final scoreboard.
The Americans came out with something pretty close to a first-choice group (given the options available), whereas England was young. See?:
- 25′ ENG GOAL – 14 Jesse Lingard (right foot), assisted by 11 Dele Alli
- 27′ ENG GOAL – 2 Trent Alexander-Arnold (right foot), assisted by 7 Jadon Sancho
- 45’+1 Half time
- 46′ ENG Substitution – On 21 Alex McCarthy, off 1 Jordan Pickford
- 58′ ENG Substitutions – On 22 Eric Dier, off 3 Benjamin Chilwell; On 16 Jordan Henders, off 11 Dele Alli; On 10 Wayne Rooney, off 14 Jesse Lingard
- 62′ USA Substitution – On 4 Tyler Adams, off 16 Julian Green
- 70′ USA Substitution – On 23 Kellyn Acosta, off 20 Wil Trapp
- 73′ ENG Substitution – On 23 Ruben Loftus-Cheeks, off 8 Harry Winks
- 76′ USA Substitutions – On 14 Sebastian Lletget, off 8 Weston McKennie; on 15 Kenny Saief, off 11 Tim Weah
- 77′ ENG GOAL – 9 Callum Wilson (left foot), assisted by 4 Fabian Delph
- 79′ ENG Substitution – On 19 Marcus Rashford, off 9 Callum Wilson
- 88′ USA Substitution – On 18 Shaq Moore, off 19 Jorge Villafaña
- 90’+3 Full time
Thoughts and observations
This game was – as much as any other under interim coach Dave Sarachan – marred by… being led by interim coach Dave Sarachan. That’s not a rip on him specifically (though obviously his specific choices in the situation were not ideal), as much as the concept that an interim guy doesn’t have a specific plan. Is he building for the future? Is he trying to get a result? Like so many of the Americans’ friendlies in the past year, he just sorta came out coaching the game, with no designs on a bigger picture – while also not really making the lineup and tactical choices to best ensure a result.
Each choice by a manager has to be for one purpose (build to the future) or the other (win the dang game), and all too often Sarachan has been stuck in between, ending up doing neither. With no specific system to install or tactical plan to build for the future, there’s really no excuse for it.
Some of the choices in the starting lineup were shining examples of this:
- Brad Guzan as starting keeper. I understand (though don’t much care for) the fact that he’s going to remain a part of this squad into the future. In a game like this, however, he’d either give you the far better chance to win the game, or you try a younger guy. I don’t think he was the former, so go for the latter. Horvath wouldn’t have done worse on the three goals – which I don’t think were Guzan’s fault – and you’re giving him international experience and an opportuntiy to show his club that he deserves to be playing.
- Julian Green as the No. 10. I do get wanting Pulisic on the wing (where he plays for his club team and has built comfort), but we’ve seen a lot of Green in various roles over the past few months. He hasn’t done a whole lot to separate himself as the option that gives the team the best chance to win on a given day, nor has he shown much that indicates he’ll be that in the future. I’ve been a Green supporter (more like defender) for a while, but in this game at the very least – and going forward more generally – this didn’t seem like an implementation that had much purpose.
- Trapp and McKennie next to each other in the central midfield. You sort of have a good central defensive mid and then a similar (but not as good) version of same next to each other, if you’re not going to let McKennie release forward a bit. Two No. 6s is fine, if not ideal. For one of them to be Trapp if you’re going to have both be strictly defensive… meh. I do understand (despite a lot of bitching about it around the USMNT-verse about it yesterday) not starting Tyler Adams. His job is with NYRB, and to risk injury by giving him too many minutes in an overseas exhibition match while his day job is on the brink of entering its stretch run is silly. But either play Kellyn Acosta next to Trapp/McKennie, or at least let McKennie push forward a bit. He did have that opportunity a bit later, but if you’re gonna get a three-spot put on you with two CDMs, might as well free one up the whole game anyway.
A little film breakdown here on some items about the goals. First, Christian Pulisic has somewhat inexplicably been blamed for the first one on account of his failed attempt to score on the other end creating a break. First, uh, not only was there not a counterattack by England off the shot, there was a secondary break for the USMNT that led to a goal kick after Bobby Wood’s attempt went over the bar. That’s no counter-attack.
Secondly, the finish has been roundly criticized, but I don’t really see it. Yes, Pickford made the save, but it was a pretty nice save on an attempt to finish that doesn’t deserve the grief it’s gotten.
The best finish ever? No. But bad? Certainly not. As a side note, check out Wood and McKennie there. Wood made the right choice in not playing Pulisic’s initial ball forward (he was probably being held onside, but couldn’t see that), but he needs to keep playing after that and either give Pulisic a passing option – if only to create space for the shot rather than actually receive the ball – or be ready to make a play on the rebound if Pickford saves the shot across the face of goal. Pickford’s save pushed the ball back in Pulisic’s direction, yes, but Wood couldn’t have known that before the shot. He needs to be in the right spot, even if it hindsight shows it wouldn’t have accomplished much.
ANYWAY, Pulisic was one of a couple players culpable on the ensuing goal. The live shot of it was poorly directed so you couldn’t tell what the heck was going on, but fortunately ESPN gave us a replay of the wide angle afterwards (I had a nice little video breakdown but UEFA doesn’t believe in fair use):
This mostly boils down to neither Wil Trapp nor Matt Miazga trusting DeAndre Yedlin defensively (they’re both positioned to take care of a run from Alli on the assumption that he’s going to toast Yedlin), and Pulisic not getting back to help cover Lingard.
Trapp is giving directions, and while you can’t really tell who they’re for, context would seem to imply Yedlin (calling him off, and saying to sink while Trapp takes the man mark) or maaaybe Miazga (telling him to stay deep in front of the goal, which he does). Both Trapp and Miazga are in positions where they’re not accomplishing much – you could argue Miazga is remaining in position to cut out Sancho’s run if McKennie can’t do it – and it seems to be because of that lack of trust in Yedlin. In the abstract, they turn out to be wrong: Miazga can’t recover quickly enough to stop Lingard from getting off a good shot, Trapp isn’t in position to shut down any passing or dribbling options for Alli that Yedlin doesn’t theoretically have taken care of already. But if you assume the context of thinking Alli will get past Yedlin if he wants, they’re trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, in some ways.
Pulisic could certainly help by getting back defensively into that passing lane to Lingard, or at least being in position to help on Chilwell if the ball is played back. He seemed to be frustrated with his giveaway that started the offensive opportunity, instead of embracing the chance to make up for it (he’s also more used to having less defensive responsibility in a three-man mid/forward line than as a wide mid in a 4-4-1-1, which was among the many reasons the team played better when the look became more of a 4-2-3-1).
The second goal was a more overt ball-watching opportunity by Tim Weah, which again was putting a player (forward/winger) into a position (left midfielder) that gives him responsibilities he’s less comfortable with, particularly defensively. Neither Pulisic nor Weah is used to the defensive role that comes from being the wide guy in a flat-four midfield, and it was curtains on both of those.
Other thoughts: As I mentioned above, the Julian Green thing is done for me. A 4-2-3-1 with Pulisic in the middle (while he doesn’t play there for Dortmund, he’s mentioned that’s where he’s comfortable for the United States, and the opportunities he had in this one showed he doesn’t need to be isolated on the wing to win one-on-one dribbles… or several in a row) and Weah/Saief on the wings. Depending on how you want to play and who you have available, That’d be Saief on the left and Weah on the right with more stay-at-home fullbacks behind them, or with the balls-to-the-wall experience that is Antonee Robinson (who left this camp with injury) and DeAndre Yedlin at fullback, flip the sides so Weah is inverted.
I’ve been thinking it without wanting to say it for a while, but I saw others mentioning it yesterday (so don’t give me any credit for it, since I needed others’ courage to put it out publicly), but… is John Brooks… not good? He certainly hasn’t played well lately for the US, even with Sarachan mostly giving him the opportunity to get comfortable next to Miazga. Mark me in the “worried” column, and I certainly want to keep a closer eye on his performances going forward to confirm or (preferably) disconfirm the thought. Give me some CCV on Tuesday, though.
I’ve seen complaining about Tyler Adams not starting on the field (addressed above already), with the comparison to Wil Trapp, who also played in the NYRB/Columbus series. Yo, his team lost and he doesn’t have more season to not be worn out for. “They both had long seasons” doesn’t make sense as a hilarious roast of Sarachan when Adams’s season is still in the present tense.
Pulisic’s finishing has been criticized, and I addressed the one play above, but there were other instances that have been cited, too. I’m not thrilled about it, of course, but given this is just his second appearance with the US in 2018, he’s been banged up a bit (and otherwise out of action with Dortmund thanks to great performances from the guy who played right wing for the other team in this one), and it hasn’t been a persistent issue in the past. His take-on form was great; I’ll believe that it’s worth his finishing/end-product form being a little off unless and until that becomes a persistent issue.
Kellyn Acosta has a good beard.
As I mentioned at the top, this stunk. The gameplan wasn’t good, some individual performances were mediocre (or worse), and the key moments all went England’s way. To a certain extent, that’s what happens when you play against a World Cup semifinalist (albeit one who was playing a bunch of guys who got minimal time – if any at all – in Russia).
It’s more depressing because these teams were on relatively even footing in the international world just a few years ago. The US lost steam by getting old without having new guys step up (or without that next generation even existing to be able to step up), missing the World Cup, having a couple coaches who were flawed in opposite ways and being unable to survive the whiplash of switching between those flaws, etc. No need to relitigate all of that.
Largely, this could (almost certainly would) have gone better – or at least been more productive for the future – with a permanent coach in place, and a plan to either “do what we’re gonna do and win this game doing it” or “let’s use this as a scratchpad to build for the future and develop our style along with some young players.” Sarachan, for the vast majority of his time in charge, has done very little of the former, and an underrated amount (but I’d say still not enough) of the latter.