USMNT defense looking sharp after latest shutout

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Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

When CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying began back in February, there was no shortage of questions surrounding the U.S. Men’s National Team’s defense.

Some of those questions may still linger today but by and large most have been answered, with Friday night’s victory over Jamaica serving as the latest bit of proof of that.

The U.S.’s 2-0 win over the Reggae Boyz at Sporting Park did not just clinch a first-place finish in the Hexagonal for the Americans, it further fortified the notion that the defense has come a long way since the start of the year. The U.S. have impressively pitched a shutout in each of its five home games in this final round of qualifying (and six out of its nine games in total if you include the memorable scoreless draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca back in March), and did so despite fielding a back line that was constantly in flux and still in a maturation process considering the lack of chemistry between the players that comprised it.

From the emergences of Brad Evans and Matt Besler to the string of steady showings from makeshift left back DaMarcus Beasley, the U.S. defense received contributions from players few observers would have predicted to play such integral roles this year. That speaks volumes to the players’ abilities and also the Americans’ continued growth as a team, especially since the U.S. booked its World Cup place earlier than most other nations.

“We are very pleased how things kind of developed defensively,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after Friday’s victory in Kansas CIty. “Obviously, it’s a learning process, it’s an adjustment process every time you have a new back line and probably we’re going to have another one in Panama again (in the U.S.’s final qualifier on Tuesday). … Here and there you will concede goals based on mistakes that you make, but it definitely speaks for all of them keeping cleansheets and sooner or later having that feeling that we’re going to score up front.”

Of course, defending is a collective effort from the entire team and the Americans did benefit from the defensive bites of the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. But seeing stats like the one above is a source of pride for the U.S. defenders and goalkeepers, especially given how much scrutiny they faced throughout 2013.

“That for me and for Brad and the rest of the boys in the back, that stat means more than anything,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard, who, along with Brad Guzan, helped anchor the defense with quality saves and solid communication with the back four. “Without that (defensive) foundation, you can’t move forward and I think we set the bar really high. I don’t know if it’s been done before, but it feels good and it’s very tough to do.”

As tough as it may be to do and as good of a job as the U.S. defense may have done, there is a belief among some fans and sections of the media that the current defensive unit is not good enough to get the job done next summer in Brazil. Calls for the likes of Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler and John Brooks are common during every roster selection even though their lack of experience with the current U.S. back line is clear for all to see.

In any case, having those options and others in regulars like Geoff Cameron and Edgar Castillo ahead of next June is a plus for Klinsmann and the U.S. coaching staff. After all, it is part of what made the American defense so successful in qualifying in 2013 and what has the U.S. guaranteed to finish atop the Hexagonal despite there still being one qualifier left to play.

“It’s a good problem to have, because as I’ve said before, you start getting into World Cups and hopefully you’re playing four or five games and it’s hard to have the same lineup all the time due to injuries and cards and suspensions,” said Howard. “You want to have guys that feel comfortable stepping in, that aren’t going to be shaken by the environment. It’ll be interesting to see how it works over the last six or eight months of preparation.”

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Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com

 

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28 Responses to USMNT defense looking sharp after latest shutout

  1. danny says:

    Can we please see more of the Cameron/Besler CB partnership? I like OG, but he is not as skilled as Cameron and he is guaranteed to make at least one BIG mistake per game.

  2. blokhin says:

    I guess looking back on results from last Hex, the USMNT has been looking shaky for a long time now… the GF/GA in 2010 were 19-13 and in 2014 are 12-6- better defense and worse offense on the whole of it, but altogether pretty much in the same place with 20pts last time and 19pts this time going to Panama… if anything’s different is that Mexico is much worse now than 4 years ago when they had a slow start but more thna made up for it with a strong run…

    last cycle the defense gave up 9 goals on the road and 4 at home in the Hex, but also scored 19 total…this cycle, a shutout at home and 6 given up on the road going to Panama

    I remember fearing that if the USMNT defense could only post 3 out of 10 shutouts in the Hex, that how would it be able to hold in WC 2010 and sure enough the defense gave up 2 goals twice, one goal once and the Algeria shutout to squeeze into the knockout round by the slimmest margin…

    are USMNT’s odds that much different this time around?

    • NC Jeff says:

      Not really, but I tend to think that the USA’s depth is a better now, though. Remember how downtrodden so many were about their chances with Davies’ injury?

      Best joke I’ve heard: Mexico’s Raul Jimenez has a new nickname – “Father Raul” … because he forgave A LOT of sins last Friday.

    • HoboMike says:

      You forgot to mention how tough this year’s Hex is. There’s no Trinidad for everyone to beat up on.

      Everyone’s beaten Jamaica, but they are definitely more dangerous than T&T.

  3. ATX_Colin says:

    I dont really agree with the premise of this article. I do give credit for the shutouts but when we play a higher level of competition I feel our defesinve unit is the weakest link when compared with mids and forwards.

    *note*This isnt a post for pro Lichaj support

    • GW says:

      For me the biggest difference in the Klinsmann era is that this team is better and more reliable about scoring when necessary.

      As for this defensive “unit” being the weakest link, I disagree. Remember how they could not score goals when JK first started? They scored 8 goals in the first 10 games.

      This team looks bad and loses when it loses focus, gets disorganized, and gets taken out of its possession game. When that happens, and that is not just on the defensive unit, they give up goals. Eventually they get their organization and focus back but against Honduras and Costa Rica in the Hex it was too late.

      As for discounting good performances against CONCACAF opposition, it is certainly better than doing poorly against them. Going into the Hex most of you thought Mexico was a very good team, an offensive juggernaut featuring SweePea, Peralta, and de Nigris. Many of you thought they were better than the US. Well, maybe but this USMNT did an awful lot better against those CONCACAF weaklings than that vaunted unit.

      The US is not going to make noise in this tournament by having a better team man for man that the other guy. Who is our best player, Mikey? He may well be out of a job and be sold by the January window.

      If the US is going to make noise it will be because they will be a better organized, better disciplined, hungrier and will want it more than the other team.
      So the results in the Hex are encouraging because the team showed signs of understanding what they were being told to do and then applying it. That builds discipline and confidence and it shows that the team is growing as a unit. Hopefully they will peak in Brazil.

      Was the competition Champion’s league level? No, but that is not likely for most World Cup qualifying teams.

      What makes CONCACAF WC qualifying easier is not so much that the competition is weak, rather it is the FOUR slots. For most of the Hex Mexico has been playing so poorly that Chivas USA could beat them but they could still place third and will probably at least make the playoff game. There are a lot of teams in Europe that are playing much better than Mexico that would switch places with them in a New York second.

  4. Tony in Quakeland says:

    I guess we differ on what “sharp” means.

  5. PD says:

    sharp for CONCACAF, sure… but we’re not going to Brasil to play CONCACAF teams, are we?

    • ex_sweeper says:

      Agreed – It’s a concern having a back line of field players with zero meaningful experience in international competition outside of CONCACAF (not counting Beasley, who is playing out of position). Of the quarterfinalists at WC 2010, only Uruguay got there without World Cup experienced defenders. But we are what we are – none of the potential replacements on the roster change that situation except for Bocanegra, who is clearly out of the picture. As Klinsmann said, we’ll hope to get out of our group, and beyond that, it will depend on the matchup. If we run into a top team, such as Belgium, it will take a perfect defensive game to get through.

  6. Oliver says:

    It seems strange that the problem of full backs is so severe. It seems quite self-inflicted. We have two pretty good full backs that play regularly at that spot for their clubs, don’t we? I mean Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson (I think he’s playing full back, but I am not sure if that’s true at the moment). If those are really are weakest spots (and despite having great fondness for Demarcus Beasley, I think that might be true), why not play a back line of Cameron, Gonzalez, Besler, and Johnson? We have no shortage of midfielders, and could certainly do worse than a midfield line of Jones, Bradley, Zusi, and Donovan, or put in Mix or Klejstan or other if you want five midfielders. To finish it off, Dempsey and/or Altidore up top.

    Not only are most players at their club positions, but you basically get all ten of the highest rated US players, according to, for instance, this page: link to americansoccernow.com

    I’m not saying that site is gospel, but it does seem strange that we have full backs that we insist on playing out of position, and then leave ourselves with a glut of midfielders and out-of-position, less skillful full backs.

    • beto says:

      I think that starting with the Scotland game thru the WC we will see the introduction of the actual World Cup team and the back line: F.Johnson-Besler-Gonzalez-Cameron. The only problem is that Evans and Beasley have been excellent all year and have never given Jurgen a reason to replace them.. it is a tough call but I would make it soon so they have time to gel in the 5 or so games before the WC.

      • HoboMike says:

        Agreed. Beasley stepped up in Denver vs. Costa Rica, and reaffirmed in Mexico 4 days later, and hasn’t done anything to warrant being dropped. Same with Evans in Jamaica.

      • HoboMike says:

        The only thing I would change, if everything works the way it should, is Cherundolo instead of Cameron.

  7. Marcelo Balboa's Mustache says:

    Hey Ives, how about some player grades?

  8. Jake says:

    Our defense looks solid against the powerhouses of CONCACAF.

  9. louis z says:

    If we are that good in the back, how come we gave up 3 to CR, 3 to Bosnia, 3 to Germany and 4 to Belgium. I would think we are going to run into teams like these in the World Cup. We need to improve!

    • blokhin says:

      shhh… don’t let “facts” get in the way of a good narrative, this is sports journalism 1.0…

      a story needs to be written with a particular bent, all evidence to the contrary is to be disregarded…

      if anything, one can argue that Klinsmann’s defense performed better against WC quality teams in 2011-2012, when road trips to France and Belgium yielded only one goal, Mexico was shut out at the Azteca and Slovenia/Russia scored two and the only major faceplant was Brazil at RFK…

      in eight games versus those teams in 2011-2012 USMNT gave up 11 goals
      in the four games you cite USMNT gave up 13 goals 9even throwing in 2 mexico games and the snow game still makes it 13 in 7- still worse than prior level

  10. whoop-whoop says:

    I am beginning to think that it is Sigi that is playing Brad Evans out of position, not Klinsman.

  11. Paul Miller says:

    I think SBI is saying ‘comparatively’ sharp; and the comparison is not between USMNT and perenniel powers from Europe and South America, but rather between the USMNT this year and USMNT last year.

    Defense is still top concern heading into the World Cup. We can score on anyone. Not that we will, but we can. The question is whether we can stop the stronger teams from scoring on us.

  12. TomG says:

    Ha! Could you have possibly found a photo that made Besler look like he wasn’t a gawky, uncoordinated 8 year old about to trip over the ball?

  13. Dennis says:

    I think the thesis of this article is bogus. You can only be called good defensively in comparison to the offense you face. The comparison with CONCACAF offenses is meaningless for WC competition, Mexico had its share of problems scoring aginst Jamaica.. As others have pointed out Belgium and Germany scored plenty of goals against the US.

    To say the jury is still out regarding the US defense is an understatement!

  14. Nate Dollars says:

    franco,

    i like you, but you’re crazy.

    yes, the defense has done well at home against concacaf teams. that does not mean that there should be anything like an air of confidence about them.

    1) we won’t be playing at home in the world cup
    2) we most likely won’t be playing any concacaf teams in the world cup
    3) when not playing concacaf teams at home, our defense has not done well.

    as for the ‘calls for the likes of Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler and John Brooks': do you hear anybody saying we should replace bradley, or jozy (or besler, for that matter)? we call for other options not *just* because fans are fickle and over-critical sometimes, but because the current players may not look good enough for the highest stage, and it’s better to take care of that (or at least have a solid ‘plan b’) before we get to the cup.

    • Very well said , The World Cup will be a completely different ball game . The US will be in good shape if they play the way they did against Costa Rica , after the 79th minute . Until that minute , they were lost in the pitch . Every one of them including Howard were playing like school kids or worse . This is the problem with the US National team , they are so inconsistent .

  15. ?????????????? what happened I just wrote a comment and ….where is it . Are you kidding me?

  16. To his collection of new players , Klinsmann has forgotten to bring Osvaldo Alonso , that formidable defender , midfielder and what ever else you would want him toI do . That an sang hero of countless Seattle Sounders games . This is a man of character , a powerful player who never gets padded in the back , for all the good work he does , ( I don’t think he would care), he just does his job quietly , working hard and with dedication .