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USMNT vs Paraguay Preview

From a ‘must win’ to a ‘can’t lose’ for Klinsmann and Co.

United States v Trinidad & Tobago - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images

When put in a must win situation, the United States found the ability to overcome their slow start and blow past Costa Rica. They will need to stay on their toes as they now face a ‘can’t lose’ game against Paraguay.

Paraguay came off a game against Colombia that looked much like the US/Colombia match with Colombia up 2-0. Even after a sending off, 10 man Paraguay was able to fight back to not only score one but push for an equalizer. That should provide them with ample confidence heading into the final group stage match.

USMNT Outlook

The build up to the Costa Rica match seemed like the final word on Jurgen Klinsmann’s future with the USMNT, but this Paraguay match is just as important. If Klinsmann and Co. fail to earn at least one point against Paraguay they would miss out on the knockout round which is the bare minimum goal of this team. Paraguay is no easy task as they not only fought valiantly against Colombia, but just last year, got the better of Brazil on their way to the semi-finals of the Copa America. So the question once again, is how do the USMNT approach the match. Do they sit back and play not to lose, or push on for a win, which might give Paraguay more chances to find goals.

Things We’ve Learned From the First Two Games

The USMNT can be successful, even when Michael Bradley isn’t great.

To be completely honest, Bradley was awful against Colombia. The common opinion was he needed to be at his best and in his best position for the USMNT to be most successful. Then against Cost Rica, the Bald Eagle (why hasn’t this nickname caught on yet?") played better but was more of a passenger than a driver of the 4-0 rout. What he did though was quietly stay home, allowing those around him who were playing well (i.e. Jones, Bedoya) to push forward and take over the game. He very well could have tried to press himself on the game and try to force a good performance, but as a good captain should he read the game and filled in how the team needed him. I do expect more from Bradley though moving forward.

The 4-4-2 is more fitting than the 4-3-3

Klinsmann surprised most onlookers by running out the same lineup that looked so poorly against Colombia, but was rewarded by a great performance against Costa Rica. One thing Klinsmann did much earlier in the second match though, was move the team from the 4-3-3 to the 4-2-2. It paid off and allowed the USMNT to press their advantage and look dangerous throughout.

The 4-4-2 allows both Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey to play centrally. Both look rather lost and out of place when forced wide (Wood) or expected to play as a target, sole striker (Dempsey). Will Klinsmann start with the 4-3-3 with the plan of switching it midgame, or will he bring the team out in the 4-4-2 to start? Either way, I wonder if an earlier switch in the first game could have made a difference in the outcome.

Is Gyasi Zardes’ Time Up?

No I’m not alluding to Zardes not being good enough to be on the national team. What I’m questioning is his starting spot. He’s shown moments of why he can be such a dangerous player, but that is all it has been. Brief moments. Overall he’s been pedestrian on the field, not making a difference and his first touch has been amateur at best.

Note: I was going to share a link to a compilation of Zardes’ awful first touches with the national team over the last 3 years, but it has been removed from YouTube due to a "copy rights infringement claim from US Soccer." Hmmm....

For probably the first time in recent history, the team has multiple options that are up to starting quality that can step in. The name everyone is eagerly waiting to see on the starting line up is Christian Pulisic. This seems like the perfect opportunity to unleash him and let him prove he’s a 90 minute playmaker. There’s also the option of Graham Zusi. I was ready to move past Zusi as a national team contributor before this tournament, but his play against Costa Rica forced me to reconsider that position. He was full of energy and was effective in his substitution appearance. He had a chance on goal and took the opportunity perfectly. Either option will be better than another Zardes start.

Predictions

  • It won’t be easy. Paraguay will create opportunities and Guzan will be tested. Paraguay will probably even be winning at one point in the game.
  • Klinsmann will start with the 4-3-3 and then move to the 4-4-2 in an attempt to throw off Paraguay.
  • Clint Dempsey will step to the challenge and score 2 goals today.
  • Klinsmann will leave Philadelphia with a smile on his face.

USMNT 2-1 Paraguay

Lezcano 34’

Dempsey 64’

Dempsey 88’