Friday night the United States Men’s National Team put together a thoroughly unimpressive 3-1 win over CONCACAF minnow Antigua and Barbuda to open up the team’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
In a game fraught with frustration and mistakes, here are eight things we learned about the U.S.’s 2014 World Cup campaign.
Is Jurgen Klinsmann aware Jose Torres is a center midfielder?
Of course, this is a rhetorical question, but for the fourth time in four games, Torres was deployed out of position.
In the three friendlies leading up to this World Cup qualifier, Klinsmann played Torres as a winger, preferring Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the center midfield options.
In that winger role, Torres played fairly well, connecting passes and linking play, but also drifted in and out of the game unable to influence the play as much as he would have in the middle of the pitch.
On Friday, Klinsmann played Torres as a left back. And, while Torres was not a liability as a defender, the U.S. offense once again stuttered and looked starved for Torres’ type of creativity.
Where can the U.S. find depth at the left back position?
The crux of the Bob Bradley era was finding a competent international left back. And, one can imagine many U.S. fans still waking up in cold sweats in the middle of the night imagining Jonathan Bornstein is back in the team.
In recent months, with the success of Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler and Eric Lichaj at the club level, it looked as if the U.S. had finally closed that gaping hole in their lineup.
However, Chandler bailed on the team, not accepting the call-up, Eric Lichaj (in a move that now seems to be a major error on Klinsmann’s part) was left off the roster and Johnson is now injured.
Edgar Castillo’s possession leaves much to be desired, Michael Parkhurst has looked awful in recent friendlies and Jose Torres, deployed at left back against Antigua and Barbuda is now hurt.
Klinsmann is now faced with several unpleasant options heading into the Guatemala game if Torres and Johnson remain injured.
He can play Castillo, or Parkhurst despite their weaknesses, play Carlos Bocanegra on the left which will weaken the center of the defense (and force the inclusion at center back of either Geoff Cameron or Oguchi Onyewu who have both been shaky in their own right), or play Oguchi Onyewu on the left (Gooch played left back during his loan stint to FC Twente last year).
Herculez Gomez’ work rate is excellent, but he needs more end product
No one can doubt Gomez’ work rate over the course of the last few games. He makes good runs, closes down defenders well and creates chances.
However, the U.S. has usually had a good supply of strikers with those traits. And while Gomez has scored two goals in his four appearances over this stretch of games, they have been more a reflection of his hustle than his quality in and around the goal.
As hot as Gomez has been with his clubs over the past few seasons, it would be nice to see him create more goals for himself and the team.
The overall quality of play by the USMNT was poor
Excitement over having Jurgen Klinsmann as manager of the USMNT has centered largely around the idea that he could help the U.S. play a more attractive brand of football instead of the more pragmatic straight-forward approach of former manager Bob Bradley.
However, against Antigua, the team looked neither attractive, nor particularly creative. The play was slow, the U.S. took way too many touches on the ball and the team looked thoroughly out of ideas. When opportunities did arise, many U.S. players opted to pass rather than take wide-open shots.
Oguchi Onyewu was poor again
Coming off two relatively healthy years, a strong loan stint last season at FC Twente in the Eredivisie and a solid season with Sporting Lisbon this year, many fans were excited to have Oguchi Onyweu back in the team.
However, Gooch has looked poor in recent matches, most notably in the Brazil friendly last week.
Against Antigua, Onyewu was beat badly costing the U.S. a goal and putting the result in danger as the score became 2-1.
The team has gotten worse over the last two weeks
With a roster full of almost all of its healthy and in-form stars, many U.S. fans were energized coming into this slate of friendlies and qualifiers.
When the U.S. got off to a great start with a 5-1 drubbing of Scotland, many U.S. fans went into the Brazil game believing the U.S. had a chance for the upset. And, despite some poor defensive play and a bad loss, the U.S. did still look creative against Brazil and created a number of good chances that were wasted.
However, since then, the U.S. has continued to wither. The team followed up the defeat to Brazil with a thoroughly boring display in a 0-0 result against Canada and then struggled to beat Antigua and Barbuda, a nation of only 81,000 people.
How much of this is the fault of Jurgen Klinsmann remains to be debated, but whether it is tired legs or poor tactics, the question has to be asked how a team full of players who just enjoyed the best club seasons of their careers have turned into a squad of underachievers so quickly.
Where is Jozy Altidore?
Coming off a career season in the Eredivisie where he scored 19 goals in all competitions, one wonders why Altidore has been relegated to a series of cameo appearances, especially in games where the U.S. has lacked an offensive spark.
While Jozy has had plenty of games where he has left something to be desired, there is no doubt he is in form at the moment and has played well recently for the U.S. where he has showed increasing growth in his game.
As opposed to the past when he frequently put his head down and tried to go to goal even when it was the wrong decision, over the past year Jozy has showed an improved ability to get his head up in traffic, provide assists (as he did to Clint Dempsey for the goal in the U.S.’ recent 1-0 victory over Italy) and Jozy still remains a strong physical presence in the air, does well to draw fouls and holds the ball up well.
He deserves a start against Guatemala.
This was a Poor result
Despite the win, this is the type of game the U.S. should win handily. The fact that the score was only 2-1 late in the 2nd half was embarrassing.
The fact that the play was so static was even more troubling, especially considering the quality of the competition.
It is also very worrying that the team seems to have receded over the last two weeks under Klinsmann’s leadership.
The U.S. needs to put in a better display on Tuesday as a victory in a hostile Guatemalan environment is no given.
John D. Halloran