Late Nagbe tally lets U.S. edge Ecuador in Copa America prep.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, May 25, 2016) -- The United States men used a 90th-minute goal from reserve midfielder Darlington Nagbe to defeat Ecuador 1-0 in a Copa America tune-up for both countries in front of a disappointing crowd of 9,893at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas tonight.
With the clock ticking down in a match that saw little offense from either side, defender DeAndre Yedlin crossed into the Ecuadorian penalty area. The ball was cleared by a defender straight up into the air. Reserve U.S. forward Bobby Wood went high to head the ball down to Nagbe, who controlled it with his chest and hit the ball out of the air with a side kick putting it just inside the right post and out of the reach of substitute goalkeeper Esteban Dreer.
Athe Americans managed only two shots on goal for the game, while Ecuador had only one.
As often is the case in friendlies where each team is allowed six substitutions, the match shifted as those reserves entered. The U.S. was better in the second half after Nagbe and Wood after intermission. Ecuador, on the other hand, saw its play degraded as better players were replaced.
Ecuador was the better team over the first 45 minutes. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann deployed a 4-1-2-3 formation with a front line with Clint Dempsey as the central striker with Graham Zusi and Gyasi Zardes deployed on his right and left, respectively. Kyle Beckerman was used as a lone defensive midfielder in front of the back four with veterans Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in front of him.
On paper, this allowed either Bradley or Jones to attack with the other covering or, at times, for moth to move forward. The reality was that only Jones seemed to take advantage and over the first 45 minutes, the American offense was confused, to say the least.
Things improved with Nagbe and Wood in the match. Wood was consistently in the attack and he caused problems for Ecuador where Dempsey, the man he replaced, failed to accomplish much.
The breakthrough U.S. goal came as a bit of a surprise since both sides seemed ready to accept a scoreless draw.
Ecuador was a solid opponent. Eight of its starters have started in Ecuador’s so-far successful World Cup qualifying campaign. However, it was without probably its two best offensive weapons and their replacements were ineffective.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper – Brad Guzan 6: Little-tested, he was still active controlling his area on crosses and set plays, and did well to collect his clean sheet.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin - 6: He seems to have settled in as Klinsmann’s first choice as right back. Played solidly on defense and, in the second half, he was able to get forward more, making the cross that led to the U.S. winner.
Defender Steve Birnbaum – 5.5: He seemed to be nervous through the first few minutes, making several errors that could have cost the U.S. but didn’t. He then settled in and was solid for the rest of the match.
Defender John Brooks - 6: Like Birnbaum, he made several costly giveaways in the opening minutes, but then he, too, settled down. He made several stops and clearances in the second half.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 5: It seems an open question as to whether this attacking midfielder can be turned into an outside back. He was clearly the poorest defender tonight. As the match progressed, he was more able to move forward, but still was lacking both offensively and defensively.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: He was solid in breaking up the Ecuadorian attack and he worked quite well with the back-line in clearing balls.
Midfielder Michael Bradley – 6.5: This was another performance that showed Bradley is more comfortable in a defense role. When Beckerman went out at halftime, Bradley took on more defensive responsibilities and responded with a better 45 minutes.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 6: Despite an early yellow card, he was forced to break up an Ecuadorian attack. He was the most active American before intermission, repeatedly cutting off plays. He also managed some offense. His booming second-half shot from distance was the only other American shot on goal.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 5.5: He was much better in the second half. This might have been true because of the lesser quality of the players he was facing. He was able to push forward more easily.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 5: He was better when he drifted back and attacked from midfield, but he disappeared for long periods.
Forward Gyasi Zardes - 4: He made a strong case that he should play in the middle. He was invisible for most of the 45 minutes he played and added little to the attack.
Forward Bobby Wood (46th minute for Zardes) - 6.5: He immediately changed the U.S. offense by pushing forward. He could have done better with several passes from Dempsey, but overall, his was a confident 45 minutes of play.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe (46th minute for Beckerman) - 7: He immediately lifted the attacking play, controlling the ball well and working well with Wood and Pulisic. His goal was a gem. made possible by hard work.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic (64th minute for Dempsey) - 6.5: The 17-year-old showed he is ready to play at this level. He confidently pushed the ball up the left side, causing the Ecuador defense multiple problems. He did everything that was asked of him and more.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (64th minute for Jones) - 5.5: He showed he is fully fit, which will be important for the U.S. in upcoming competition. He appeared a bit rusty, but played better after the first few minutes.
Defender Matt Besler (78th minute for Brooks) - 5.5: He got into the action quickly and did fine.
Midfielder Michael Orozco (87th minute for Zusi) - no rating: A brief appearance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Darlington Nagbe.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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