The stage that was set on Saturday in Chattanooga, Tennessee was not what you would expect from a city that is devoid of an MLS team. Not to mention the simple fact that the weather, despite it being January, was extremely chilly for what we’ve seen in the south this winter. Would the return of Bruce Arena finally culminate in a win for US Soccer, or would Jamaica continue to showcase the growing pains of the American squad? We braved the rather warm press box, informed a guy he had just spent the last thirty minutes chatting with Landon Donovan (and then thirty more laughing at him), and enjoyed a full 90 at the home of Chattanooga Football Club!
The first thing you noticed was that Finley looked a little empty upon kickoff, but a simple look around the stadium showed lines backed up around the stadium still trying to get in. It seems people wanted to avoid the cold for as long as possible, and the stadium was filled to the brim around 15 minutes into the match. This was a huge moment for Chattanooga soccer and bodes well for their visit from Atlanta United next weekend. If they can get a similar crowd for their upcoming CFC match, it could really put Chattanooga in a position to continue drawing these types of footy events.
The opening line-up showed Arena still trying to juggle his best 11 while also giving some youth players a chance. If Jordan Morris can find a small semblance of his Seattle form with the USMNT, he’ll become a fixture at the top of the formation. Benny Feilhaber and Dax McCarty were placed in the midfield to see if the old guns could be the answer to the UMSNT’s problems. Feilhaber occupied a CAM role while Dax sat deeper in more of a CDM position to protect the back four. The back four was very young, but Graham Zusi at right back made sure the combined age wasn’t too terribly low. A mish-mash of greatest hits of USMNT’s gone by and up-and-comers…
The first twenty minutes were teams trying to figure each other out. Jamaica had incredible defensive pressure, the USMNT controlled the possession, but neither team could create a meaningful chance. There was no quality in the final third until we got past the 30th minute, but we saw Feilhaber looked a little bit off the international pace, tackles flying in that suggested this wasn’t a friendly, no creativity from the USMNT or Jamaica when the game needed one last decent pass, and Zusi getting exposed every time someone attacked him at pace.
The first glimpse of a chance for the USMNT came when Jordan Morris showed that he can really move, but revealed his inexperience as his finish was straight at the keeper. This happened on 37 minutes, and then the ref decided that we shouldn’t really have any type of meaningful play to close out the half. 0-0 and not a wealth of hope for either team…the U.S. couldn’t finish chances and Jamaica couldn’t make chances.
Despite only changing goalkeepers, the second half was very disjointed. The United States continued to build everything up to that final pass to unlock the defense, but was unable to find the proper pass. Jamaica showed mounds of pace, but only troubled Zusi on occasion…nobody else. The struggle was ended when Feilhaber and Morris had a few quick exchanges near the top of the box that got Morris in on goal, and the Sounder made no mistake this time…1-0 to the USMNT. Not long after, the subs started flowing in. The biggest changes had to be McCarty for Darlington Nagbe and Feilhaber for Michael Bradley.
It would have seemed like Nagbe would have been a perfect switch for Feilhaber’s attacking midfield role, but Nagbe took up residence on the left wing while Bradley became the midfield fulcrum. Nagbe immediately makes every attacking move faster and is definitely going to be key for the USMNT going forward. If Morris and Nagbe can work out their Pacific Northwestern differences, they could become a fast-paced and lethal combination. Arena also has found some decent options to work into his defense, but I wouldn’t expect this particular 11 to be what gets the USMNT qualified for the 2018 World Cup.
It was an incredible night for Chattanooga, a great result for the USMNT, and a perfect ending to the winter camp for the new (old) manager and new (old) players. It makes us wonder what the USMNT can pull together with Nagbe, Pulisic, Morris, and Altidore on the pitch at the same time. The future was bleak for the USMNT at the end of the Klinsmann era, but Arena has brought some hope back to the fore. Vamos!