U.S. beats Haiti in ugly fashion, but it's enough to win Gold Cup Group A
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Three quick thoughts after the U.S. overcame plucky Haiti on Friday night at Gillette Stadium on Clint Dempsey's goal two minutes into the second half, winning another physical game, 1-0, and advancing to the knockout stage of the 2015 Gold Cup with one first-round match to spare.
1. It wasn't pretty, but the U.S. is on to the quarters
As was the case in Tuesday's opener against Honduras, the Americans were mistake-prone and disconnected for much of the match. And once again, they could easily have found themselves down a goal early. But goalkeeper Brad Guzan and striker Clint Dempsey came to the rescue for the second consecutive game, this time against a Haitian team that was every bit as tricky as advertised.
Had the visitors' finishing been just a little sharper, things could've turned out much differently. None of it matters now. Jurgen Klinsmann's team still managed to pull out the win, and the U.S. booked its place in next weekend's quarterfinals in Baltimore in the process.
Before that comes the Americans' Group A finale against Panama on Monday in Kansas City, a tilt that is now meaningless for the hosts as far as the standings go. That won't be the case for los Canaleros, however, who will have everything to play for at Sporting Park.
It's an ideal situation for Klinsmann, who will be able to rest Guzan, Dempsey and Michael Bradley if he chooses, while giving others another chance to put forth a better effort and improve on what they showed in the first two games. That's important because ...
2. Reserves fail to grab their opportunity
Only three outfield players who started the Americans' Gold Cup opener against Honduras -- Bradley, Dempsey and Jozy Altidore -- started against the Haitians. Yet the seven newcomers in the lineup did little to convince Klinsmann that they must be in the lineup when the competition knockout stage begins next weekend.
The performances weren't all bad. The defensive line of Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream and Greg Garza -- a group that had never played together before and the 13th different back line the U.S. has used in the 15 games since last summer's World Cup -- settled down after allowing the visitors two golden chances inside the first 20 minutes. Garza -- who unfortunately for him appears to be competing this month with automatic starter Fabian Johnson for the left-back job -- picked up a gorgeous secondary assist two minutes into the second half with a beautiful ball to Gyasi Zardes (who had replaced Altidore at halftime), who set up Dempsey for the opener. And Ream, making his first U.S. start in over four years, acquitted himself well in place of John Brooks.
But Mix Diskerud was dispossessed repeatedly on the right side of the midfield, and Graham Zusi barely got a touch on the ball on the left until after the U.S. had taken the lead. And while Aron Johannsson showed flashes and was denied what should have been a goal by an erroneous offside call in the 36th minute, he didn't officially register a shot on goal all night.
3. Altidore still nowhere near his best
His first career match against his parents' homeland was supposed to be a special moment for the 25-year-old. Instead, it was a night to forget.
It's no secret that Altidore came into the tournament lacking match fitness after being slowed by the hamstring injury he suffered in May. But while Klinsmann talked about using both games and training sessions to build his target striker back up, one has to wonder how much Altidore -- who admitted to still being sore on Thursday, two days after the Honduras game -- will be able to help the U.S. given his performance on Friday. His mobility was clearly limited, both in making runs on the rare first-half occasions the home team was able to keep possession of the ball inside the Haitian half, and in pressuring defenders.
It was no surprise that he was yanked at the break. And given the immediate impact Zardes was able to make up front (he was deployed on the wing to much lesser effect on Tuesday), will the coach go right back to Altidore against Panama next week? If Klinsmann does, it's fair to question how much of an impact Altidore can reasonably be expected to make.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.