Many people have had many scapegoats over the past few days. To some, Jurgen Klinsmann is the architect of this lumbering manatee of a team, and should be vilified accordingly. To others, certain players needed to be taken to task, as the midfield only looked disjointed and no one particularly covered themselves in glory on the night. There will also be those to whom the Colombia game was symptomatic of the entire U.S. development system and the way we have come to the state of the current player pool: maybe we just don't have any really, really good players.
I would like to propose that not one of those things was the problem with the U.S. against Colombia, but all three at once. Sorry for the gloom and doom, but that's what I keep coming back to re-watching that game. The U.S. seemed to go out looking to press, but there was no organization to it and nearly all moves to pressure opponents in the attacking third looked reactionary and not in sync with other teammates around it. Klinsmann's lopsided midfield shaded all the way to the left to help out Fabian Johnson (the player with the most glimmering credentials on this team), but he still had problems with Juan Cuadrado all night, and the midfield never really got any sort of meaningful linking play going into the attack. Bradley made rookie errors in possession. Gyasi Zardes, a man who played one of the worst passes I've ever seen at this level, might have been one of our best attacking threats.
One flick of the boot and Nagbe's in on the backline, doing what he does best. Really. The guy who made that decision was one of our better players. The U.S. were just about a complete disaster against Colombia, who weren't particularly good themselves on the night and never looked troubled. Now the U.S. will play Costa Rica, fresh off a draw against Paraguay. We should beat them, right? Wrong. The last four matches with Costa Rica have been a split affair, two wins apiece, and one of the USMNT's wins came in the 2013 "B-Team" Gold Cup. We simply don't live in a world where a victory against Costa Rica is an assumption anymore. It's a coin flip, and one the U.S. will need to hope lands their way if they have any hope of advancing out of the group stage.
L (0-2) - Colombia - Copa America
W (4-0) - Bolivia - Friendly
W (1-0) - Ecuador - Friendly
W (3-1) - Puerto Rico - Friendly
W (4-0) - Guatemala - WCQ
D (0-0) - Paraguay - Copa America
W (2-1) - Venezuela - Friendly
W (3-0) - Jamaica - WCQ
D (1-1) - Jamaica - WCQ
L (0-1) - Venezuela - Friendly
What to Watch For:
Who does Klinsmann put out - This is really my only section here, because I think that bouncing back is going to be difficult against a Ticos side that see the U.S. as being very vulnerable, and will no doubt come blazing out of the gates to take the game to the Stars and Stripes. On the other hand, just like the infamous "SnowClasico" in the last installment of CONCACAF's Hexagonal, this game has the chance to galvanize a shaky-looking U.S. team and propel it onwards in the tournament. So what does Klinsmann do here? Will he change formation altogether after the flat performance against Colombia left the U.S. attack down to Clint Dempsey dragging himself in front of defenders and winning free kicks? Is Michael Bradley shifted around the field yet again after another disappointing performance against top competition? Does Klinsmann give the keys to Darlington Nagbe, or Christian Pulisic, or even introduce someone like Edgar Castillo into the mix to get Johnson out of defense and into the midfield where at least we'll have an actual winger playing on the wing? Klinsmann's got a mess on his hands, and the Ticos have the goods to exploit that mess the same way Colombia did: strong defense and quality attackers who will punish mistakes.
I have a sneaking suspicion Klinsmann might capitulate entirely and roll out a 4-4-2 almost identical to the one that so categorically sucked in the Gold Cup and last year's CONCACAF playoff against Mexico, but it's hard to tell how he plays this one. That would be a pretty direct admission that he had been playing Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes out of position, which is impossible in his book. So, here goes nothing:
Sadly, I think Bobby Wood gets punished for not playing very well on the wing (who could've seen that coming). Jermaine Jones gets put in the sin bin for questioning the tactical approach against Los Cafeteros and Kyle Beckerman comes back again at D-Mid. I really do think Darlington Nagbe will start this game. I don't know for certain whether that will be on the field, but I think it's time. Clint Dempsey can do no wrong for Klinsmann, and he's determined to make him the target forward that Dempsey will never be, so he leads the attack again, while Bedoya slots back out to the right wing after a bit of an anonymous outing against Colombia.Will it work? Meh. Maybe. As a bonus, here's the lineup I would prefer to roll out against the Ticos.
Free Bobby Wood. Let the man play where he scored 17 goals for this season. Rest Dempsey and let him wreak havoc as a sub after a physical outing on Friday. Nagbe and Jones patrol the middle as an 8/10 hybrid and pure 8, respectively, with Bradley hanging behind them. Finally, get Fabian Johnson into the attack. It's one thing to try to shoehorn all of your best players into the same lineup, and another to not have any left backs. But if this team can't put the ball in the back of the net anyway, keeping a clean sheet won't even matter. The U.S. aren't exactly at win-or-go-home mode yet, but it's close enough at this point that I'm throwing caution to the wind. Let your best attacker attack, and see what happens.