The United States
Mutant Ninja Turtles Men’s National Team would take on Curacao in the quraterfinal of the Copa Oro in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sunday night. The US had made it to this point in the tournament with its best ever showing in the post-Caligiuri era. Somehow it seemed underwhelming though. Despite scoring 11 goals in three games and keeping 270 minutes worth of clean sheets it seemed like the results weren’t quite dominant. The US opponents never really challenged the team and the wins weren’t in doubt, but it took the Americans some time to settle into its opening three games to find a breakthrough and ultimately, at least against Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, with a tougher time at finding the net against Panama. Surely, Curacao would be different and the team would at least show progress in implementing Gregg Berhalter’s style - right?
Ultimately, the US would survive against the tiny island nation. A goal before the 30 minute mark would be the best the team could muster as Curacao managed to actually take the game to the US for much of the match. Ultimately, Weston McKennie’s goal would be the difference in the otherwise “meh” game to end the weekend.
Will I make a lot of Room puns, I do have so much space for activities here...
The US had a few early chances, Christian Pulisic forced Eloy Room to make a fingertip save, there were some threatening looking interchanges that looked promising if they had come off, and at one point Nick Lima lofted a cross from the byline that went totally over the entire 18 yard box and flew into the night sky as far as it traveled across the pitch. Still, a breakthrough would eventually come.
In the 25th minute Pulisic would do some fancy stuff on the left wing, cut into the top of the 18 yard box and loft a cross toward the Insanity Wolf himself Weston McKennie. The Schalke man would find room to head it past Room and the US took a 1-0 lead.
Overall, that is the exact kind of goal that Gregg Berhalter’s system is set up to create. It’s quick one touch passes involving the central midfield, defense and even Gyasi Zardes coming into midfield from striker to set up the eventual pass to Pulisic who has the space that he does thanks to Paul Arriola dragging a defender out wide and clearing a channel for the Chelsea man to receive the ball on the wing. After that it was just a matter of how many stepovers Pulisic would have to do before setting up the cross to McKennie.
For their part, Curacao had been organized-ish defensively and even brave in going forward. The US did a poor job of pressing effectively and the team in blue managed to exploit the ineffective tactics by the Americans to generate a number of solid chances in the first 45. Still, as the half ended, Curacao managed to keep the score close and not look terrible against a team that has three guys playing in Europe and the best mid-priced domestic talent in MLS on its roster.
The US would begin the second half apparently content to do exactly what it had done during the first half, though Curacao did not have the same “goal is coming” look they did to end the first half. As the half wore on though... not a whole lot happened. In attack, the Stars and Stripes were extremely sloppy with the ball - especially in the middle of the pitch where that sloppiness led to turnovers and Curacao charging forward with reckless abandon only to have the final ball lacking. Overall though, the ball was stuck in midfield with neither team able to grab hold of momentum or even score against the run of play.
The US would make a change at about the hour mark bringing in middle reliever Jordan Morris for Tyler Boyd just to make sure that everyone was still awake. The team is watching Boyd’s minutes so it makes sense, but the real problem area in the match was in central midfield where the Bradley-McKennie partnership looked similar to how another one did under Jurgen Klinsmann. The former manager had the more adventurous Jermaine Jones paired with the sometimes adventurous but also stretched thin between his responsibilities in keeping possession, attacking, and covering for his midfield partner Bradley over the years, at times it had a similar effect, though it seems like a more agile and energetic no. 6 would pair well with McKennie [insert Tyler Adams Wolverine meme]. Though if Berhalter would have made a change it would have been brining in Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan, or Djordje Mihailovic so maybe just letting the midfield be a huge mess was the right call.
That would be about it... the US defense was put on its heels a bit in the later stages of the game, Morris and Zardes would whiff on chances to end the game and Pulisic couldn’t do enough individually to kill it off either. It’s not like the US was sitting back and absorbing pressure. Curacao was taking the game to them a bit and the Americans were having trouble building out of the back and moving the ball through midfield... against Curacao.
Despite the fact that none of the attacking options were that effective and that the opponents were getting space to fire in long range shots and were maybe a pass or a good run away from equalizing, Gregg Berhalter made just one change. That is until putting in Omar Gonzalez for Paul Arriola in the 92nd minute, which... yeah - it’s a move that makes sense but I laughed out loud and woke the dogs up when it happened.
In the end, Curacao would be seen out of the tournament, but the fact that they made it as far as they did is a good accomplishment for the team. It will be very interesting to see how they do once World Cup qualifying opens up as they have the look of an Iceland like Cinderella story that will have everyone demanding to know why a country of 160,000 people with little soccer history can figure out how to play decently when the US can only manage to beat them 1-0.
American hero of the night - Adonai Escobedo González
For blowing the whistle at the end of the game. Thank you good sir, thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s the best thing a referee has done in the history of soccer.
¡ÁRBITRO HISTÓRICO!— Goles y Cifras (@golesycifras) October 20, 2018
Adonai Escobedo González en su partido 42 en Primera División se convierte en el primer silbante en hacer uso del VAR en la Liga MX, al marcar un penal a favor del Atlas. pic.twitter.com/G9uxP1uxus
OK - I’ll pick a real one and we’ll do a bonus Box Score thing too. In the end the difference in the game was Zack Steffen. He had to make five saves including this game preserver in the 83rd minute.
The goalie was the hero of the night against Curacao.
How much room does a mushroom need to grow?
AS MUSHROOM AS POSSIBLE.
Yep, I stayed up later than I needed to so I could steal that joke and make that in Paint.
The US will get a chance to make it to the final as they take on Jamaica... a team they lost badly in a friendly against to try and perfect the tactics used to get a 1-0 win against Curacao.