Over the past three weeks, the United States Men’s National Team has played what USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer have called a “Five-Game Tournament”.
In that run, the U.S. opened up with friendlies against Scotland, Brazil and Canada and followed those games up with its first two official 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
Here are the winners and losers from those games.
Winner – Fabian Johnson
Johnson was terrific through the U.S.’ recent set of games, showing his attacking skill repeatedly and showing U.S. fans how much an outside back can truly contribute to a team’s offense.
Now that Johnson has played in an official qualifier, he is also cap-tied for the USMNT and U.S. fans no longer need to worry about Johnson bailing on the U.S. as many suspect Timothy Chandler is about to do and Giuseppe Rossi did several years back.
Winner – Clarence Goodson
Although Klinsmann did not start Goodson in either of the first two friendlies against Scotland or Brazil, Goodson was able to take advantage of poor performances in those games by center backs Geoff Cameron and Oguchi Onyewu to earn the start against Canada.
After a solid performance against Canada, Klinsmann trusted Goodson in the heart of the U.S. defense for both qualifiers. Goodson played well in both games, even though he was cautioned in the Guatemalan game and removed at the half.
Winner – Eric Lichaj
Ok, it may seem odd that someone who wasn’t even on the roster comes out of this stint of USMNT games as a winner, but the Americans lack of depth at outside back proved he needs to be included on future rosters.
Steve Cherundolo didn’t play poorly over the stretch, but he will be 35 by the 2014 World Cup and with Timmy Chandler looking like he’s going to book for Germany and Michael Parkhurst playing very poorly in the games he got in, Lichaj is next in line.
An added bonus for Lichaj is that he can play left back and even though it looks as if Fabian Johnson has that spot lined up for as long as he likes, as this stretch of games proved, when Johnson went down injured, the Nats have little depth at the position.
Winner – Michael Bradley
Bradley was the only player on the USMNT roster that played all 90 minutes in all five games over this stretch and, overall, he had a solid match each time out.
His passing in approaching a world-class level and his ability to get his head up and find passes two or three levels deep in becoming scary good.
The bonus for the U.S. is that Bradley is only 24 and will be there to command the U.S. midfield for years to come.
Loser – Edgar Castillo
During the warm-up of the Canada game, Fabian Johnson went down with a calf injury and Edgar Castillo was slotted in as the replacement.
With little time to warm-up, Castillo started the game brilliantly, making fantastic attacks down the left flank, setting up nice combinations of passes and even testing the Canadian goalkeeper with a 40 yard volley that only narrowly missed.
However, as the game wore on, Castillo’s possession became a major liability for the Nats, especially in the defensive third. He gave the ball away in bad spots on a number of occasions and the U.S. was lucky not to lose the game because of it.
In the Antigua and Barbuda game that followed with Johnson still out injured, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann preferred to play center midfielder Jose Torres at left back, obviously not trusting Castillo to get the job done even against the lowliest of CONCACAF competition.
Loser – Michael Parkhurst
For years, many USMNT fans (myself included) cried out for the inclusion of Michael Parkhurst in the U.S. roster.
Parkhurst’s hard-working style, success in Europe, experience in the Europa League, ability to possess the ball out of the back and ability to play any position along the backline made him seem like the perfect fit for a defense constantly lacking depth, reliability and experience.
However, given his chance, Parkhurst was torched when he was put in, first by Brazil, then by the Canadians.
By the time the five-game series got to the World Cup qualifying games, Parkhurst never saw the field.
Loser – Oguchi Onyewu
How did it all go so wrong for Gooch? After a successful loan stint to FC Twente last spring and a full season of starts for Sporting Lisbon, it seemed that Onyewu had finally put a rough patch of his career following his patellar tendon tear behind him.
Gooch had even benefitted from some strong appearances with the USMNT in the October friendlies and received some sparkling reviews for his performances.
However, during this stint of games, Onyewu suffered from a number of poor performances particularly in the Brazil and Antigua games, the latter of which he was responsible for the lone goal against.
Loser – Jurgen Klinsmann
Most U.S. fans heading into these games against Scotland, Brazil, Canada, Antigua and Guatemala would have been likely to predict the U.S. record at the end of the stretch would stand at 4-1. Perhaps a few optimistic ones would have predicted an upset of Brazil and a 5-0 record and perhaps a few pessimistic ones would have seen the draw coming against Guatemala and said 3-1-1.
Few, however, would have said the U.S. would finish this stretch 2-1-2 with a tie to Canada and an exceptionally poor performance against Antigua.
American fans are excited at the prospect of their team playing a more creative style of football under Klinsmann, but at the end of the day they expect wins. If the U.S. were to fail to qualify for the World Cup in 2014, not an unreal possibility if the U.S. can’t beat Canada and better Latin American teams like Honduras and Costa Rica, it would be a major blow to the growth of soccer’s popularity in America.
John D. Halloran