USMNT vs. Venezuela and Panama: 10 Things We Learned From These Friendlies

January 30, 2012

Although both games were played against under-strength squads, the United States Men’s National Team was able to pick up two 1-0 wins last week against Venezuela and then Panama using a squad primarily comprised of Major League Soccer players with relatively minor international experience.

Here are ten things we learned.

Brek Shea still has some work to do to prove he’s going to be a difference maker

While Shea has had a number of quality moments, earning caps in all nine games Jurgen Klinsmann has been in charge, the output has been a paltry zero goals and one assist.

More worrying was the fact the both the Venezuelans and Panamanians failed to roster their best squads. And if Shea can’t be a dominant player at that level of competition, how much will he help the team against better teams?

To be fair, Shea has been one of the most overworked players for the USMNT over the past year, participating in every national team camp, playing in every match and training with Arsenal over the winter MLS break.

It could be down to “tired legs”, but Shea will need to prove his worth as the U.S. faces some big friendlies against Italy and Brazil in the coming months.

Finding depth at center back remains an unanswered question

When healthy, the U.S.’s best center back combination remains Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. But when either of them can’t feature, the U.S. struggles.

Many U.S. fans, not 100% confident of Clarence Goodson’s quality as a backup, have loudly called for George John and Omar Gonzalez to be given a chance and both were called up into the January U.S. camp.

However, both left the camp early to pursue opportunities in Europe. Gonzalez picked up an ACL injury in his first day with Nurnberg and will be out of the picture at least through this summer and Michael Parkhurst and Geoff Cameron were less than convincing in the role, particularly against Panama.

The one player who has quietly been putting in a case for a call-up is Zak Whitbread of Norwich City in the English Premier League. Whitbread is a consistent starter in the best league in the world and was a major part of Norwich’s shutout of Chelsea only last week.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s focus on fitness is misguided

In his short stint in charge, Klinsmann has made a major issue of the team’s fitness, claiming it is vital to the team’s success in Klinsmann’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.

However, the team’s fitness has never been a major concern, as the team’s consistent last minute heroics game after game have demonstrated.

In camp after camp, Klinsmann has insisted on running two-a-days, only to wear his players out before the real competition.

All of the players called into a national team camp are seasoned professionals, not high school athletes coming in from a long off-season.

Two-a-days do nothing but wear the players out, cause resentment among players being treated as less than professional and leave the players vulnerable to overuse injuries.

Michael Parkhurst could give the U.S. depth as an outside back

Against Panama, Parkhurst demonstrated why a 5’10” center back is not the best idea as several Panamanian services went over his head to strikers lurking at the back post.

However, Parkhurst’s quickness, positioning and particularly his skill on the ball make him the perfect outside back, especially considering how weak the U.S. is at the position. Plus, Parkhurst routinely plays outside back for his club Nordsjaelland in the Danish Superliga which also competes in the Europa League.

With the exception of Steve Cherundolo, the U.S. has no established outside backs. Yes, Timothy Chandler has looked good in recent starts and should become a regular part of the squad, but it is still very early in his national team career.

Eric Lichaj should also add some depth once he returns to full fitness, but after that, the options are thin and full of players who have already proved they can’t hack it at the international level.

Fans will have to watch the U-23’s in March to see the next generation of stars

Usually the January friendlies are a good opportunity to see the next generation of American stars. However, this year, many of them were training with the U-23 team that is preparing for Olympic qualifying.

Some exciting prospects include Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Josh Gatt, Luis Gil, Joseph Gyau and a host of promising defenders.

Jermaine Jones and Ricardo Clark failed to control the midfield against a U-23 team

Jones and Clark have both had plenty of ups and downs both with their clubs and their country.

Jones was only available for the game after he received an eight week suspension for intentionally stamping another player in the Bundesliga and only started playing with the U.S. after it became clear the Germans didn’t want him.

Clark was only available for the game because his club, Frankfurt, in the middle of their season, rate him so poorly they wouldn’t miss him if he left. With the USMNT, Clark’s most memorable moment, fairly or not, is when he gave the ball away against Ghana leading to the opening goal in the round of 16 of the 2010 World Cup.

It is hard to imagine either Jones or Clark in a center midfield for the U.S. that has the possibility of starting players such as Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jose Francisco Torres and Stuart Holden.

C.J. Sapong may be one of the only players from this roster to the see the U.S. shirt for awhile

Sapong, who did not start either game, looked very solid coming in in the 75th minute of both contests. While he certainly wasn’t spectacular, he did simple things that had been lacking before his introduction.

He battled well in the air and, more importantly, held the ball well, extremely important for a U.S. team that often struggles to effectively possess the ball out of the defensive third.

Seeing his performances, one wonders why Klinsmann didn’t start him in the first place, preferring an ineffective Teal Bunbury in both contests.

The 4-3-3 has got to go

At this point, the statistics could not be any clearer. Under Klinsmann, the U.S. is 3-0 when playing with a 4-4-2 formation (counting the last few minutes of the Venezuela game when the team went to a 4-4-2). By comparison, the U.S. is 1-4-1 when using the 4-3-3 formation.

The U.S. has scored five goals while playing in a 4-4-2 in approximately 180 minutes of play. By comparison, the U.S. has scored two goals using the 4-3-3 in approximately 630 minutes of play.

Klinsmann has created a new level of appreciation for Bob Bradley

This statement is sure to draw the ire of many U.S. fans, especially those who prefer Klinsmann’s look good, but lose tactics to Bradley’s winning ugly tactics.

And no, this appreciation is not without recognizing some of Bradley’s more prominent mistakes, like his perpetual reliance on Ricardo Clark, Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley.

However, Bradley realized what the U.S. was, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. He set the U.S. up to play solid, compact defense and pick and choose moments to go forward looking for counter-attacking opportunities while maximizing their effectiveness in a 4-2-2-2.

Chris Wondolowski is incredibly unlucky not to have scored for the U.S.

Wondolowski, who is probably best remember by most U.S. fans for his amazing miss against Panama this summer in the Gold Cup, had multiple chances to pick up his first international goal.

In the Venezuela game, Wondo played very well, having one header just miss, being dragged down in the box without a call on another and forcing the Venezuelan keeper into two very good saves.

In the Panama game, Wondo had a spectacular chance denied by a sprawling Panamanian keeper in what looked like a sure goal after Wondolowski smartly followed up a chance looking for the rebound.

John D. Halloran

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7 Responses to USMNT vs. Venezuela and Panama: 10 Things We Learned From These Friendlies

  1. DE Dupuis on January 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    I’m not sure if a agree with you or not.
    1st: anyone who actually thinks Shea is an “international” either doesn’t know football or is convincing themselves of something. If you want to see someone do what Shea is supposed to do, watch Gatt or Donovan.
    2nd: Whitbread is a starting centerback on a good team (midtable) in the BPL. As such, he should not be waiting for a call, he should be begged on our collective knees to play for us. Zak must be wondering what the hell is going on – and the heck with JK. We are NOT thin at CB, we have Whitbread, Gooch, and Boca – and perhaps Ream. I don’t know what JK is doing.
    3rd: 2-a-days are in fact good for something, they are good for injuring players. The best way to increase footballers’ conditioning has been well worked out, and it has nothing to do with 2-a-days – see the work of J. Helgerud, J Hoff, and Billat.
    4th: IMO Lichaj is our best wingback – we are a bit thin at wingback, maybe O’hara would play for the men’s team.
    5th: the future is now, Wilshire plays on England’s senior team, for me its crazy stupid that Gatt and Diskerud (I’m not familar with those other guys) are not on the senior team instead of an endless stream of mediocre MLS journeymen.
    6th: Sapong is fun to watch – just very little quality – an old fashioned American soccer player, superior athlete, not much of a footballer.
    7th: Jones and Clark are not even as good as Shea.
    8th: without a quality playmaker and a team that can play possesion football, 4-3-3 is a bit of a stretch. Since, so far under JK neither of those things can be said about our team then yes, 4-3-3 feels hopeful. However, with Holden and Torres back (or Diskerud and Gatt), and Deuce, Donovan, and Altidore up from the 4-3-3 feels better.
    9th: about Chris W, he does get himself into good positions in the box, however he doesn’t seem to have enough quality to finish the chances he gets, and he isn’t a lot of help in getting in the box. If the best we can do at striker is Chris, we are in a lot of trouble against say, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Holland, Italy, France; even England and Mexico.

    • John Halloran on January 31, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      To be fair to JK about Whitbread, Whitbread was hurt in the fall when he missed out on the 1st set of friendlies and just coming back to form when the roster for the 2nd set of friendlies was announced.

      I am hoping he gets a deserved call-up for the Italy game.

  2. Tyler on January 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    My goodness there are many questionable statements listed in the comment above me, but I’ll get to that later.

    JD you hit the nail on the head when you said Brek still has work to do. He’s young. He will benefit greatly from this season in MLS. Jurgen worked him very hard this year, perhaps harder than Brek has ever been worked in his life and he hasn’t had a break. When his body adjusts to this he will be not only in phenomenal shape but poised to make great progress in his career.

    Torres will be a fantastic asset for our depth, as Stuart Holden can’t seem to get healthy for the time being. If Stuart can regain his form then we will cause quite a few problems with the many different looks we will be able to give opponents.

    I would agree that we are not necessarily as short at CB as we might believe. With Omar unfortunately out for about a year and then probably needing another 8-12 months to regain his form we still have Whitbread, John, Cameron, Boca and Gooch as viable options as we begin WC Qualifying.

    The emphasis on fitness isn’t misguided at all. We are currently working with world renown fitness experts who will help our players progress in this area (that being said we are probably one of the top 10, more than likely top 5, fit national teams in the world) and as we seek to implement a more uptempo style it will only be to our benefit to be able to run circles around the opposition from start to finish.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to trying Parkhurst at RB, your logic makes sense to me there.
    You have it all wrong with Jones though he is a REGULAR starter on a team that plays at the highest level (Champion’s League) in the world. He gave the ball away a few more times than I might have liked for a player of his caliber during the friendlies but his hustle, grit and overall skill level was still superior to the naked eye. Edu is quite similar to Jones but Jones’ class is just a tad higher than Mo’s. Rico obviously has no place in the squad going forward but it was quite nice to see him grab the winner the first game.

    The 4-3-3 isn’t the right fit for us right now, couldn’t agree more. Although we never really truly play a 4-4-2 either. If you look it’s more of a 4-1-2-1-2, with Jozy uptop and Clint just behind him.

    To the commenter above me, you are out of your mind if you think Gatt and Mix Diskerud are ready for the senior team. Neither one of those players is remotely close to Jack Wilshere’s level ha. They are right where they need to be, playing for the U23 team proving themselves there. NO FREE PASSES TO THE FULL NATIONAL TEAM! Everything must be earned.

    He is also wrong about Sapong. He is a young footballer who will blossom with more time spent in MLS. He excels in holding the balll uptop with his back to goal, an invaluable quality for a striker to have. This allows the rest of the team to push up the field while he holds the ball for us as we seek to attack. He probably won’t see time in many camps until this time 2013 but he will have plenty of MLS matches to gain experience and continue implementing what he learned here and what the coaching staff expects of him on an international level.

    • John Halloran on January 31, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Like everything you said. A midfield of Bradley, Holden and Torres would be fun to watch.

      Still disagree about Jones, though. I agree he has a lot of class, but too much other baggage considering the other options we have. He has fallen out with multiple managers, gets into yellow/red card trouble too often and can be wildly inconsistent (both fantastic and terrible). For me, I’d rather have consistently above average with a player like Edu.

    • DE Dupuis on February 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Tyler terrific stuff, I love it that you care.
      I wouldn’t argue that Gatt & Diskerud are as good as Wilshire. The point is that youth should not work against you being on the senior team. I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. I would argue that playing for a team that goes to CL or Europa League (Molde and Stabaek) is a superior indication that you are ready for the USMNT than playing in the MLS. These guys prove themselves every week in a good senior league. So, I don’t really know if those two young men are ready for the senior team, but IMO their play has already earned them a prolonged call up. By way of a reminder, Diskerud didn’t do so bad on the senior team in SA.

      You could be right about Jones. I don’t watch the Bundasliga very often and he may be great there. For the USMNT he’s had some rough patches. JD’s pretty sharp.

      And no I am not wrong about Sapong. His technical ability is not international class, not close. I hope you are right that he will grow and get better. He is a fantastic athlete, and he has great spirit and loves to battle, if his technical ability got anywhere near as good as his athleticism he will be super. I think he would get better faster in Europe, e.g. Holland, Portugal.

      I’m glad there are other people who care.

  3. Maureen on February 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    One thing that we learned, as we have learned over and over agaain — they will put every fracking USMNT friendly on TV, but the USWNT can’t even get a broadcast for Olympic qualifiers.

    • John Halloran on February 10, 2012 at 9:30 am

      I actually had to watch both of the January men’s friendlies on the Spanish channel, but got to watch 4 of the 5 women’s Olympic qualifiers on USN in English. Ironically, the one women’s game I had to watch online was the final because Directv cut NBC Sports channel out of my package.

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