The United States Men’s National Team eked out a 2-2 draw against No. 9 Russia on Wednesday, coming back twice in the match after going down.
The U.S. goals came from a world-class strike from Michael Bradley in the 76th minute and a deflected shot hit by Mix Diskerud in the 93rd minute.
Here are six things the USMNT learned as it now heads forward into the January camp and its early February World Cup qualifier.
While many fans were extremely happy with many of Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster decisions, especially seeing names like Mix Diskerud, Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd and Josh Gatt, Klinsmann’s defensive selections left much to be desired.
Instead of trying out some new players, the U.S. fielded Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron for most of the match at center back, and the pairing combined for a rather poor overall effort.
Goodson, in particular, who has suffered from some poor outings of late with the USMNT and has struggled with his club as well, may be on the outs with the national team. His performance on Wednesday was an absolute shocker.
With the World Cup only 18 months away, the U.S. needs to find some depth at center back and needs to do it right now.
Carlos Bocanegra is still the U.S.’ most consistent defender and its best leader, but at 33, may not even make it to Brazil.
Geoff Cameron shows promise, but still makes too many mistakes. He will still likely improve over the next year and a half, especially with more experience in the Premier League, but he has played primarily as a right back for Stoke City.
Maurice Edu has been listed as a defender on the last two U.S. rosters, but both times has been used in his normal center midfield role. More confusing, if Klinsmann is serious about giving Edu a run out at center-back, why did he replace Carlos Bocanegra, who was injured in the 16th minute, with Goodson and not Edu?
The best option right now is probably Omar Gonzalez, who has been playing very well with the LA Galaxy this season and was unavailable due to LA’s playoff run.
Another option is 6’7” John Anthony Brooks, another one of the many dual German-American nationals currently playing in the German leagues.
Finally, this game may have been a good time to look at Zak Whitbread, who just a year ago was playing center-back in the best league in the world.
Both Boyd and Diskerud are clearly two of the top U.S. prospects and both are now getting regular playing time for their clubs in Europe as well as Europa League experience.
Although they both came on in the 86th minute, they both impacted the game and were involved on the U.S.’ game-tying goal in the 93rd minute.
Boyd used his strength to disrupt the Russian clearance of a Michael Bradley long ball into the Russian box and Diskerud hit the open chance home.
At 21 and 22 years of age, respectively, Klinsmann needs to get both of these players integrated into the full squad as soon as possible.
Those who like to bash American soccer are quick to point out that any substantive American victory in international competition was “lucky.”
The U.S. “luckily” beat Italy, the European Championship runner-up, in Genoa in February.
The U.S. “luckily” beat Mexico in Mexico at Estadio Azteca in August.
Now, those same people will be quick to line up and say that the U.S. was “lucky” in tying Russia, the No. 9 team in the world, in Russia.
Even Fabio Capello, the Russian coach, was seen laughing on the sideline when the U.S. scored its second goal.
Was the U.S. outplayed for long stretches in all three of the aforementioned matches? Yes.
Does U.S. soccer still have a long way to go before it can compete with the level of beautiful, creative, artistic play prevalent in many areas of the world? Yes.
But, does playing with heart, competing to the final whistle and finding a way to win despite being outplayed still get you results? You betcha.
Jermaine Jones is quickly becoming a polarizing figure in the USMNT fan community.
On the one hand, fans of Jones will point out that he is a regular starter for Schalke, one of the biggest teams in the Bundesliga, and plays regular Champions League football. He also has moments of pure class that few others on the USMNT are capable of.
On the other hand, Jones produces often frantic displays with the USMNT, fouls unnecessarily, is prone to theatrics and makes mistakes that could easily cost the U.S. games.
Wednesday was no different.
At times, Jones provided beautiful service, connected on some great 1-2 combinations and made strong runs.
At other times, he couldn’t seem to get on the end of simple passes, didn’t recover defensively and wasted his chances.
However, when the U.S. went away from its 4-3-3 to a 4-1-3-2 with about 25 minutes to play, Jones ended up sliding out to the left side of the midfield and instantly became an attacking force for the U.S.
It’s certainly not his natural position, or one that he plays regularly for his club, but he did a good job driving to the end line, running hard and providing good service into the box, something that had been missing from the U.S. for most of the match.
It’s sad to say because he has provided solid depth at the center-back for the USMNT and always seems to put forth an honest effort.
However, after a declining set of performances over the past few months for club and country, it appears Goodson is beyond his peak.
He struggled against lowly Antigua and Barduda in the October World Cup qualifiers, and against Russia Goodson lost possession repeatedly, made bad decisions, was beat on the dribble and was poorly positioned.
It’s time to move on and begin looking at some new options for center-back.
There is a vocal, and growing, crowd within the U.S. soccer community that wants the U.S. to fully adopt a 4-3-3 system.
And, while the U.S. had adopted the jist of a 4-3-3 when it has played 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-1-3-1-1 under Klinsmann, the U.S. has always looked best with two dedicated strikers.
It is a worthwhile goal to copy Spain’s/Barcelona’s tiki-taka, but the U.S. simply doesn’t have the personnel, comfort level or coaching to make it work properly.
It is also important to remember that part of the reason tiki-taka became popular in Spain is because they struggled to compete physically with other teams and needed to develop a style that took advantage of their ability to possess the ball to death.
The U.S., as much as it has grown technically and tactically, still has superior athletes to much of the world. Combining that athleticism with the USMNT’s traditional competitiveness and work rate with an increasing technical foundation and tactical awareness is the road to success for the U.S.
For better or for worse, the U.S. can be most successful combining the skill and creativity of players like Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud with the raw pace and power of players like Josh Gatt and Terrence Boyd. However, it must be in a system that brings the best out of the talent available and that the players are comfortable in. And that system is still one with two strikers.
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