US-Haiti preview: Gold Cup match tonight at Gillette


FOXBORO - The US Men's National Team got the result they wanted in their CONCACAF Gold Cup opener Tuesday night against Honduras, holding on for a 2-1 win, but it was far from the performance they wanted. Simply said, to win this tournament, they have to be much better in all areas.

Now, to win Friday night against Haiti at a sold-out Gillette Stadium (830 p.m. kickoff) won't require their absolute best but Jurgen Klinsmann is expecting much more from his squad. And as motivation, he's threatening changes to the roster. Not just starters to the bench, but Thursday night, he said that he is thinking about taking guys off the roster all together.

He has a pool of 35 players previously submitted to CONCACAF, only 23 are on the roster now, but between the group and knockout stages he can add/remove players to remake his 23. The message to the team is simple, if you want to be part of this squad, the results aren't the only concern. Your performance everyday matters. That said, Klinsmann will most likely make changes to his starting 11 for the Haiti match.

The Haitians are coming off a surprise 1-1 draw with Panama. They're a tough, athletic squad that is going to make creating chances difficult for the US. Over their past eight matches, Haiti has only lost once, but they aren't very battle tested. They've only played twice in 2015.

Among what needs to needs to change Friday night:

The back four has to be much better. Fabian Johnson turned in his usual solid performance and was good going forward while Brad Guzan made some big saves in net. The rest of the defensive unit was terrible. Timmy Chandler was awful at right back. He constantly gave the ball away and getting abused by Andy Najar all night until Klinsmann replaced him with Brad Evans in the 63rd minute.

While Evans played well, he's not the answer at RB in terms of the style they want to play. I'd like to see Greg Garza brought in at Left Back and move Johnson over to the right side to play behind DeAndre Yedlin. Those two paired well in the World Cup and are dynamic in the attack.

The central defensive pairing of Ventura Alvarado and John Anthony Brooks are young and both looked the part Tuesday. Alvarado got his first competitive appearance for the US team, so he is now cap tied going forward (he was also eligible to play for Mexico). That's good news as I think he'll develop into a good player but Tuesday was not evidence of that.

He was out of position constantly, was left flat footed on the Honduras goal and rarely looked comfortable. Both he and Brooks are 22, are strong athletes and comfortable with the ball at their feet. Klinsmann wasn't pleased with the way they played in the opener, but I think he will stick with them in the second match. This could be the central defensive pairing of the future and Klinsmann may be willing to give them more time to gel.

The US offense was pretty paltry, as well. Their ability to retain possession (49 percent) and link up play was poor. Honduras pressed the US often and they were unable to handle the ball and show the technique needed to break them down. Friday, they need to show more composure and simply make better decisions and passes.

Jozy Altidore did not help the US retain possession or create chances. Altidore is a target forward, if he does not hold up the ball and link up with guys, he's essentially useless and that's what he was Tuesday.

He also lacked effort and movement all match. Normally, I'd like to see him replaced, but this illustrates the dearth of options the US have as attackers right now. Chris Wondolowski came on for Altidore but he's not the answer long term and Aron Johannson is a promising young player, but his not the target forward the US want to play with.

This was the problem the US ran into last summer when Altidore pulled a hamstring 22 minutes into the World Cup opener. They have no other options, so Altidore will get the start again. His parents are Haitian and he grew up supporting their national team. Maybe that will be added motivation to not just play better, but actually turn in a full effort for 90 minutes.

The last and most important thing to watch is the system Klinsmann deploys Friday night. They played a 4-4-2 diamond on Tuesday. He's tinkered with the system a lot in the last few months and may change it up Friday night. They may revert more to a 4-2-3-1 with Clint Dempsey playing underneath Altidore up top. This would provide more cover to what was a shaky back line. That said, against an opponent like Haiti that would be a rather defensive move.

Regardless of the system and the personnel changes, the Yanks need to collective turn in a much better performance.
After all the goal isn't just winning Friday, it isn't just wining this tournament, but instead to compete among the world's elite.

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