With a 1-0 victory over Honduras last Saturday and 1-0 defeat to Ecuador on Tuesday, Jurgen Klinsmann was able to notch his first win with the American team, but also add another loss.
Here are 10 things fans of the United States Men’s National Team learned from the October friendlies.
Jurgen Klinsmann is Either Mad, or a Mad Genius
Forsaking results for experimentation, Jurgen Klinsmann has taken the importance of winning to a new low.
He has experimented with many new players, finding a gem in Brek Shea, and most likely allowed some others (Michael Ozorco Fiscal, Tim Ream, Jonathan Spector, Kyle Beckerman and Edgar Castillo come to mind) to play themselves off the roster.
US fans won’t know for sure until the roster is announced for the November friendlies, but it appears Klinsmann has had the courage to use the friendlies for what they should be used for—talent evaluation.
Gooch is Back!
Following a frustrating two years of starts and stops, Oguchi Onyewu finally seemed to have a breakthrough last spring as he was loaned out to FC Twente in the Dutch League, where he got some much needed playing time.
After a summer transfer to Sporting Lisbon, Gooch quickly got settled in and has become a regular starter with the club. In his performances with the Red, White and Blue this week, he has made his case to regain his starting place in the lineup.
At 29, Gooch is at the prime age for center backs, and with perennial center back stalwart Carlos Bocanegra being 34 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, having Gooch back in the lineup comes at the perfect time for the US.
Brek Shea is Ready
American fans are always quick to declare debutantes as the next great player, (Think Freddy Adu, Eddie Johnson, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud and Teal Bunbury) only for that declaration to have been made too soon, or in error.
After the Mexico game in August, USMNT fans were quick to say the same about Brek Shea. However, his performances over the September and October friendlies have shown, in Shea’s case, the declaration is correct.
Shea still has some work to do, but his work down the left flank and his ability to connect some attractive passing combinations make him look like the real deal.
The Center Midfield Position May Not Be as Deep as Previously Thought
Coming out of last summer’s World Cup, American fans were quick to point out how deep the U.S. was at the center midfield position.
But with injuries to Jose Torres and Stuart Holden, and subpar performances from Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu, the position might be more up for grabs than fans assumed.
Both of the new German-American additions, Daniel Williams and Fabian Johnson, have played center midfield in Germany and Klinsmann may now be looking at one of them to partner Michael Bradley, who was clearly the best of the center midfielders this time around.
We have a left back!
Timothy Chandler, who had some up and down moments in his first few appearances with the Nats, looked very settled with the team during these last two friendlies.
Although he is naturally right footed, and provided most of his service by cutting in on his right, he did provide a couple of good services with his left.
Fabian Johnson, who also has experience at left back, is expected to be a part of the next set of friendlies and will provide increased depth at the position.
Chandler’s performances are also good considering that Steve Cherundolo is increasing in age, Chandler appears to be the heir apparent at right back.
Eric Lichaj is also expected to be healthy again by the New Year and the U.S., for the first time in recent memory, will have quality depth at outside back.
Jonathan Spector will struggle to make future rosters
Jonathan Spector, who had a bit of a revival last year at West Ham as a midfielder, and who has seen regular starts in the English Championship with Birmingham City, looked off the pace in his appearances this time around.
Spector has had moments which have made him look like a capable player, but he has been moved around the pitch into many positions with his clubs without ever making one home.
He does not have the pace to be an effective outside back at the international level, and faces even stiffer competition for any of the midfield positions.
Jozy Altidore has gotten better
Jozy Altidore, who has had plenty of naysayers over the past few years, has clearly gotten better and increased in confidence during his short stint with AZ Alkmaar.
Goalscoring will do that for a striker, and Jozy has seven goals in 12 appearances with his club.
While Altidore was starved for service at times in Jurgen Klinsmann’s lone striker formation, when Altidore did get the ball he passed well, drew fouls and helped create dangerous chances.
Dempsey is the team’s best option up top
Who should partner Jozy Altidore has been one of the biggest question marks since Charlie Davies was injured in his car accident in 2009.
Bob Bradley auditioned a number of partners including Juan Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski, Connor Casey, Jeff Cunningham, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley as forwards, with Altidore as well as Landon Donovan, Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber and Brek Shea underneath him.
With Herculez Gomez not included on any of Klinsmann’s rosters, Buddle and Agudelo are the ones Klinsmann has tinkered with so far. While a solid player, Edson Buddle is not an impact player at the international level, and while Agudelo shows much promise, he is not ready yet.
Clint Dempsey looked good playing underneath Altidore this past week and offers the team a diverse skill set. He is strong in the air, very good playing with defenders on his back and is the biggest scoring threat on the U.S. roster.
Landon Donovan, injured for this set of friendlies, is another potential withdrawn forward, but has seen his biggest impact with the team on the wing.
Jurgen Klinsmann needs to look at some more options at center back.
With Michael Orozco Fiscal and Tim Ream proving they are not ready for the international level, and the realization that Captain America Carlos Bocanegra won’t be with the team forever, Jurgen Klinsmann needs to start calling up some of the center backs American fans have been clamoring for.
Among the favorites are Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst, Zak Whitbread and George John.
Only time will tell.
Until the roster is announced for the November friendlies, no one will know for sure whether or not Klinsmann is willing to pull the trigger on the changes that need to be made.
Over the past week, pundits have ranged from already calling for Klinsmann’s head (a seemingly gross overreaction) to declaring that Klinsmann’s first five games have been perfect (a seemingly delusional observation).
Of course, the only games that really matter will be those when the U.S. begins World Cup qualifying next summer. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess.
John D. Halloran