In ancient Rome, the Colosseum proved to be the arena in which Gladiators fought in front of thousands of screaming viewers, creating a vortex of noise and intimidation for the opposing fighter. Last night, for the first time in a long time, Red Bull Arena, in essence, could be compared to the Colosseum.
But, to the dismay of the United States Men’s National Team fans, the environment didn’t reflect the performance on the field.
Despite needing a positive result against CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica, the USMNT put on an uninspired performance that didn’t fit the bill of the venue that it was in.
Although they were controlling the game for the first portion of the match, the USMNT failed to produce in the final third and let Costa Rica counter-attack their way to a 2-0 victory.
In fairness, there were possibly a few missed penalty calls, and a clear handball on Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz during the build-up play on Costa Rica’s opener. But, the blame still falls on Bruce Arena and the USMNT for losing this match.
Here are my three takeaways from the match:
1. Arena’s Tactics were off this match
From the start of the match, many questioned why Christian Pulisic was out wide and why Darlington Nagbe was in central midfield. Over the course of the match, that was brought into question more and more. Pulisic could not be influential when being swarmed along the sideline by the Tico defense and as the USMNT best-creating player, a move to the center could have been useful.
As for Nagbe, the Portland Timbers man would often sink back down into the defense, thus eliminating his playmaking ability in the midfield and attacking third. His midfield partner, captain Michael Bradley, didn’t play alongside him for most of the match, as Bradley often found himself as a third centre-back in between Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron.
Therefore, when watching the match, the USMNT never had control of the midfield, and Bryan Ruiz and Costa Rica made them pay.
When asked about the lack of numbers in the midfield, Bruce Arena snarked back and said that “it was eleven versus eleven.” Well, from the looks of the game, that wasn’t the case.
Oh, and this was a mistake made by “the back two” of the USMNT tonight.
Safe to say that isn’t the correct positioning for a centre-back partnership and the USMNT need to reassess their tactics.
2. Red Bull Arena should host another USMNT match, but likely won’t anytime soon
One stereotype that has echoed around the New York City Major League Soccer scene is that Red Bull Arena never fills up and doesn’t have big crowds. Tonight, that most certainly wasn’t the case, as the Arena shook with the screams and cheers of diehard supporters vying for their nation to win.
This support highlighted the potential of Red Bull Arena, showcasing its phenomenal acoustics and how it is a venue that should be in consideration for future critical matches.
“Red Bull Arena delivered a tight, loud environment, and not a single bad seat in the house,” said USMNT fan Seth Parks. “A USMNT home game, while often frustrating, is a beautiful reminder that this country is one built up of immigrants, for immigrants, and it was beautiful to see tonight.”
Regardless of the result, the fans came out in droves to Harrison, New Jersey. The atmosphere was electric, and the New York City media was there to cover it.
But, that doesn’t mean much when tonight’s match was a failure in the eyes of United States Soccer.
This match was slated to cap off an impressive revitalization of the USMNT by Bruce Arena. With a 2-0 defeat, an embarrassing one at that, it is unlikely to see the USMNT show their faces to the New York City media again for quite some time.
Hello, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park!
3. The road to Russia just got tougher, and there isn’t much time to fix it
On Tuesday, the USMNT is scheduled to take on Honduras down in Central America, which has proved to be a challenging environment to win in for the team.
As it standings, here is the CONCACAF “Hex” and their percentages to advance.
While the USMNT is likely to still qualify for the World Cup, three points in Honduras are almost necessary for everyone in the organization to remain calm.
After a disappointing performance in front of a great crowd, can Arena rally the troops to get three points? We shall see.