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