We know what Bruce Arena thinks of Jermaine Jones. He thinks that he’s got an engine, that he’s experienced and that he’s the type of player that can help the United States qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The 35-year-old was arguably America’s best player at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Copa America Centenario.
But, as evidenced by the U.S. national team’s 6-0 victory over Honduras on Friday night, there’s simply no place for him in the starting XI anymore. The midfield axis of Michael Bradley-Jones has overran its course. There’s no questioning Jones’ desire to get forward and influence matches, but with his ability to do as much on the wane, there are some obvious questions over the effectiveness of such a player.
To speak of the 71 minutes Jones put in alongside Bradley at the heart of the midfield in Costa Rica’s 4-0 dismantling of the U.S. is to speak of the demise of Jurgen Klinsmann. It was shambolic in every sense of the word. He offered next to no support to Bradley in the face of Costa Rica’s attacks, he misplaced 14 of his 30 passes and didn’t manage to complete a single pass in the attacking third.
Called to January camp in preparation for the States’ friendly against an extremely youthful Serbian side, Bruce Arena’s first match in charge gave absolutely no inkling of what was to come against Honduras. With Jones and Bradley forming their derelict pairing in the middle, the 0-0 result only came with one positive, the performance of Darlington Nagbe.
Nagbe’s poise, threat and technical ability are an asset that Klinsmann laughably overlooked, but Arena appears to have remedied that mistake. In the following match against Jamaica, Dax McCarty displayed another alternative for a setup that had grown incomprehensibly comfortable.
With the return of MLS, week one gave us another example of the strenuous maturation process of the all-action Jones. It could be a long season out in LA.
— Luis A. Manrique (@manriquehawaii) March 9, 2017
With Jones out for the qualifier against Honduras due to yellow card accumulation, we saw a refigured midfield that wasn’t so much a breath of fresh air as it was a renaissance of the American spirit. It was just one match but finally, finally the interplay between the lines appeared harmonious.
Nagbe got the start on the left, and I really can’t fathom why he wouldn’t start again on Tuesday. Lletget looked promising on the right, but an early injury forced Bedoya to replace him.
But in the middle of Avaya Stadium there was a coherence and complexity of tapestry that made you believe Bruce Arena had the touch of King Midas. The truth is, the simplicity of the diamond formation just obliterated Honduras.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 25, 2017
Bradley and Pulisic enjoyed a revelatory codependency — Bradley working with near perfect precision in the no. 6 role and Pulisic always knowing where to operate to ensure such rhythm was maintained. Here's Bradley's work on the defensive side of the ball in his preferred position.
Here's Bradley's successful distribution from that deeper role. He was extremely effective in getting the ball forward to the other players in the diamond, particularly Pulisic.
Where Bradley's work typically ended in the middle of the park, Pulisic's began.
Pulisic also completed four successful dribbles in and around the area of the Honduran center backs, a key to disrupting any defense that's setup to foil attacking play. There will be more difficult opponents than Honduras, but another promising aspect of Pulisic's play was that he didn't negelect his defensive responsibilities.
Pulisic was quick to help in the area that tactically stood out as being the most vulnerable, the inner-left channel.
Against Panama on Tuesday, it seems inexcusable to not go with what worked against Honduras. Christian Pulisic’s arrival necessitates the demise of another, and that almost certainly has to be Jermaine Jones.