U.S. men survive Haiti, win Group A and advance to Gold Cup quarterfinals.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, July 10, 2015) -- Doing the bare minimum, the United States men outlasted stubborn Haiti for a surprisingly narrow 1-0 victory in Group A of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in front of 46,720 at Gillette Stadium tonight in Foxborough, Mass.
The U.S. is 2-0 and clinched first place in Group A and a berth in the quarterfinals against a third-place finisher from another group July 18 in Baltimore. First, the Americans must complete group play against Panama Monday at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. In tonight's other match, Honduras tied Panama 1-1, leaving Panama 0-0-2 with two points, and Haiti and Honduras 0-1-1 with one point each.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann switched the formation that he used in the opening 2-1 triumph over Honduras from a straight forward 4-4-2 to an odd 4-3-1-2 with the four midfielders in a loose diamond shape. To try to give his players some rest with a match every four days, Klinsmann also changed seven starters from the opening match including his entire defensive line. Brad Evans was at right back with Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez the central defenders and Greg Garza started at left back.
The result was the U.S. seemed disorganized for almost the entire match. It was especially bad the first half where several players in the midfield seemed to be running in circles, not sure of where they should be playing.
Haiti knew it was overmatched. The one thing it had was pace, so it took great advantage of this by laying back on defense. As soon as Haiti gained control of the ball, it counter-attacked at full speed. Time and again, especially in the first half, the U.S. narrowly avoided disaster.
Striker Jozy Altidore, still recovering from a hamstring strain picked up on May 16, is not ready to play full matches, especially with short rest in between. So Klinsmann replaced him with Gyasi Zardes at the start of the second half. The move immediately paid immediate dividends in the second minute after the break.
Zardes took a looping pass from Garza and advanced quickly down the left side. Rather than shoot, he pulled the ball back to forward Clint Dempsey, who scored with a right-footed shot from about 12 yards.
As it was, that was all the Americans needed. The second half continued much like the first with the U.S. advancing the ball into the Haiti end, losing it to the packed-in defense with Haiti then jetting into attack mode. To show how weak the U.S. attack was, Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide was forced to make only one save.
The U.S. midfield was constantly backpedaling to meet quickly advancing Haiti and thus was not available to push the American offense. The U.S. defenders, who had never played together before, were repeatedly running to and fro to make stops. When all else failed, there was U.S. keeper Brad Guzan, who made a pair of point-blank saves, one on Duckens Nazon in the 57th minute to protect the advantage.
All this would have been fine, and a one-goal win would be acceptable, if it were against a top team, but against Haiti is was unacceptable.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 7.5: He had a surprisingly busy night, making four saves, including two from close range, while trying to organize a defense that, at times, seemed to have great difficulty handling Haiti’s quick counters. This was his 11th international shutout, moving him up to fifth place on the American list.
Defender Brad Evans – 5: He was the strongest U.S. defender in the first half, but seemed to wilt under the pressure of the Haiti’s pace in the second.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 6: He had a uncharacteristically shaky start that, in fact, lasted through most of the first half, but he bounced back in the second half and was the best American performer on the back-line.
Defender Tim Ream - 5: He had a difficult time of things. He was caught out of position a number of times in the first half. He seemed unsure of where he should be. But then, he steadied and he made a number of key stops, especially in the final15 minutes.
Defender Greg Garza - 4.5: He made a great pass to start the play that resulted in the U.S. goal. That was far and away the high point of his night. He made all kinds of errors, made bad passes and gave the ball away in this his first start in an “official” match , which now ties him to the U.S.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: His usual fine game. He steadied the Americans . during the shaky first half and helped provide both defensive stops and sharp passes throughout the match.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud - 5: His performance was very much a tale of two halves. In the first, he was awful, seemingly not knowing where he was supposed to be and making repeated errors. Twice, he committed fouls that gave Haiti free kicks just outside the penalty area. In the second half, he was much better, making good passes and playing strong defense.
Midfielder Graham Zusi– 5.5: His job tonight was to provide offense coming down the flank The problem was Haiti was taking advantage of his being in the offensive end to attack down his side. He made two great defensive saves by running down Haiti attackers from behind, no easy feat. In the second half, he was forced into a more defensive role which he handled well, but he was unable to add much on attack.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6: He had a nicely-taken, game-winning goal, but otherwise he did not stand out, even when in the second half he played more on top after Altidore left.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 4: His hamstring might have been bothering him more than anyone suspected. He barely made it through 45 minutes and did very little. He passed instead of shooting on several occasions and seemed to be protecting the bad leg. That is a shame because he comes from a Haitian family which was in the stands in addition to many from the American . Haitian community in which he grew up.
Forward Aron Jóhannsson - 7: He might not have scored, but he had a terrific game. His runs kept the Haiti defense busy as he consistently put himself in good positions. On Dempsey’s scoring play, he made a diagonal run through the box that opened space for Dempsey, coming out of the midfield.
Midfielder Gyasi Zardes (46th minute for Altidore) - 7: He played the kind of match that has European teams looking at him closely. He was able to match Haiti’s quick pace and was a problem for them coming down the flank while he was still able to get back on defense.
Defender Fabian Johnson (67th minute for Garza) - 6: He settled down the outside of the U.S. defense after Garza’s erratic play.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (87th minute for Zardes) – no rating: He was sent in to help close out the match, which he did with two good defensive stops.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Brad Guzan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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