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USA v. Ireland: What we Learned

Because “nothing at all” is too short for an article about that loss. Coincidentally, there is actually stuff to talk about.

Republic of Ireland v The United States - International Friendly
Sometimes, you just need a hug after a bad day.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Well that wasn’t great. The US fell late against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin 2-1. It wasn’t a successful endeavor, but this represented a more significant test of the midfield and defense. This was basically a full strength Ireland side, more comparable to a team that the US would play in the Hex or knockout stages of the Gold Cup. Also, there was no Pulisic. This represented the sternest test for the rebooted, super youthful USMNT. And it didn’t work out quite as we had hoped. Let’s break it down.

Squeezed a Little Too Hard

From the start, Ireland offered an opportunity to test that backline. While Bolivia was passive and ineffective, Ireland decided to press and pressure the defenders. And, for the most part, it worked. In particular, Cameron Carter-Vickers looked out of his element. He consistently made errors in distribution. He frequently put himself or a teammate in a position for emergency defending. All together, he looked out of place, especially compared to the other center backs we’ve seen at this level. He still has a lot of growing to do before he can really play in the international game.

Miazga was better, but still poor. He misplaced 8 passes (almost all of his forward passes). But he did at least seem to be a calmer presence than Carter-Vickers. Still, the only defender who looked like he was actually defending was DeAndre Yedlin. Others will point to the foul that Yedlin conceded right in front of goal, offering Ireland a very dangerous set piece. And, you know what, fair enough. But I feel the need to ask why Yedlin was there in the first place. He was there because the center backs needed saving. Because he did not trust them. That doesn’t feel like a positive sign. We can’t have the right back swinging off to the other side of goal in order to bail someone out. It automatically leaves a glaring gap in the field and puts Yedlin in a bad position to move forward into the attack. And speaking of attack... While Yedlin covered for others defensively, he was ineffective in possession and on attack. He didn’t overlap well. His passing could be described in the range between mediocre and very poor. Ireland’s pressing shut him down, even as the USMNT needed width from the team’s fullbacks.

The defense was not the only part of the team neutralized. Ireland essentially completely neutralized Wil Trapp. On the ball, they forced almost all of his passing to be backwards or square. On defense, they breezed past him like a piece of wet cardboard. McKennie and Adams didn’t alleviate the situation, often taking up positions where they weren’t receiving the ball from Trapp.

As a whole, the kids need to learn to handle some pressing. Ireland is a decent side. They are certainly comparable to teams at the World Cup, and playing away in Dublin looked like it brought along some of the same discomforts that playing in Central America brings. This is something that the team needs to learn to confront and deal with in the long term. In this match, Ireland wasn’t really able to capitalize much on the openings they created. They only put three shots on goal. With some better goalkeeping, the US could have held them to a clean sheet. But better teams will be far more ruthless. It’s important that the young players out there recognize this now before they get burned in Honduras or Costa Rica.

Speaking of questionable goalkeeping...

You Aren’t Getting Top Bill-ing

Probably the single most disappointing part of the game was Bill Hamid’s performance. He didn’t actually have all that much to do, but when something turned up, he often didn’t do a good job. Hamid flubbed a cross early in the game. Ireland weren’t able to capitalize, but it served as an inauspicious sign, as Hamid would let in the equalizer early in the second half in a similar way. Towards the end of the game, Hamid ended up unable to save the winner even as the ball shot straight above him. His distribution was mediocre. It simply wasn’t good. The whole performance reeked of a lack of game sharpness and a lack of confidence. And you can’t have that in a keeper. Goalie is a position, the position really, where there can be no second guessing. If you are going to come out of your net, you have to commit. You have to come flying out and get that ball. Or you don’t come out at all. Hamid didn’t have that. He came out short. And the USMNT was punished for it.

Unfortunately, this leaves keeper wide open for the national team, for the first time in almost 30 years. Hamid has long been held as the upcoming starlet, the next torchbearer in a long line of stellar, bald American keepers. But at 27, he’s no longer a prospect. It’s time to either get results or sit down. And if Hamid can’t get his act back together, he’s going to be sitting far, far away.

Right the Wrongs

I made a note of this in the Bolivia game, but it was noticeable here, too, particularly in the opening minutes. This team has a significant right-side preference. I don’t know what’s going on to make this happen, whether it’s something to do with Rubin on the lefts, or because of a connection with Adams/McKennie and Weah. But the team consistently showed that they wanted to play down the right wing. And Ireland shut that down.

This is a pass map for the USMNT’s attacking players: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Timothy Weah, Rubio Rubin, and Bobby Wood. Notice the concentration of passes on the right. And notice how many of those are failed passes.

I don’t really get this. The team’s ostensible strengths are from Adams and McKennie in the middle. Playing only down the right make Rubin and Villafaña non entities. Yet, they seem intent on trying to push through obvious blocks with Weah. It doesn’t make sense. Indeed, when the USMNT started to look to the center and the wings, they began to see a lot more success.

It should be noted, Weah is not a traditional winger. He’s a wide forward. He doesn’t try and burn players on the dribble or stretch the field. Playing through him thus can be a problem as it gives the opposition to pin the USMNT back against the sideline and suffocate any forward momentum. As we saw in this game.

New Players, Old Plans

The USMNT’s first goal against Bolivia was off a set piece. The goal against Ireland was also off a set piece. Now, is this a pattern we are seeing here?

Even with all the new faces, the USMNT is back to dominating on set pieces. Ireland wasn’t able to generate any real danger from their many threatening free kicks and corner kicks, and that’s a compliment to the organization and defense of the team. Still, the lack of threat from the run of play suggests the need for a focal point to serve as a creative outlet. And that’s a lot to expect from a teenager like Pulisic.

All told, this was a painful, but probably necessary experience for these players. There will be times when the team will need to be able to grab a goal and grind out a result. Against Ireland, they couldn’t. But steps like this help pave the way for better performances in the future. And, to be honest, it’s hard to say that a more senior team would have done better. The last time the USMNT played in Ireland in 2014, they got pasted 4-1 in a superbly dispiriting match, despite a line up full of senior players. I think it’s best to say that things will get better again. The kids will learn from this and be more cohesive as a result. Progress is not guaranteed and it is not always linear. But, hopefully, progress was still made.

What do you think? Did you have different take aways from the USMNT’s trip to Dublin? Tell us in the comments below.