The United States men’s national soccer team defeated South Korea 2-0 in a friendly on Saturday afternoon on the back of two goals by Chris Wondolowski.
The game marked the end of the team’s annual January camp and the last time the squad will be together until a March friendly against Ukraine.
Here are six things we learned from Saturday’s match.
Since U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann switched the USMNT to a 4-2-3-1 back in March, Clint Dempsey has been his preferred No. 10. However, in this summer’s Gold Cup, which Dempsey was not a part of, Landon Donovan filled the role.
When Dempsey plays as the team’s withdrawn forward, he typically drops very deep to receive the ball, often finding himself playing in the same line as the two defensive midfielders. When Donovan plays the same role, as he did on Saturday and in the Gold Cup, he tends to sit much higher, making the U.S. often appear to be playing in a 4-4-2.
When Donovan receives the ball as the No. 10, he does a better job of working the ball out wide once he receives it. By forcing the opponent’s defense into a more narrow shape, he creates space. As was evident on Saturday, when he is paired with someone like Graham Zusi, who knows how to take advantage of that space out wide, the U.S. can find repeated opportunities on the flank.
For Klinsmann, it will come down to two questions. One, what does he want out of his No. 10? If it is a clinical finisher who will arrive late into the box, often unmarked, then his choice is Dempsey.
If it is a more classic playmaker, he should go with Donovan.
The second, and probably more important, question is: What setup suits the team the best? If Donovan takes up the No. 10 role, where does Dempsey play? He can play out wide, but most fans and pundits agree he is more effective when playing centrally.
The situation for the U.S. at right-back has been up in the air since Steve Cherundolo first began experiencing knee problems late in 2012. In 2013 World Cup qualifying, Brad Evans put together a number of solid performances and became the front-runner for the job.
However, most fans have been reticent to embrace him as the starter. Knowing the U.S. will be facing a bevy of talented and world-class attackers in the World Cup and seeing that he struggled at times against CONCACAF competition, the thought of Evans starting in the World Cup has become anathema.
Against South Korea on Saturday, those fears appeared justified as he struggled on multiple occasions to contain his man. He was beaten badly on the dribble twice in the first half, and the U.S. was lucky to see a poor shot on one occasion and a fantastic clearance by Matt Besler on the other to bail the team out of trouble.
Geoff Cameron seems like the ready-made replacement, and with no other candidate staking a serious claim in more than a year—and assuming Klinsmann doesn’t kiss and make up with Timothy Chandler—Cameron needs to be the starter for the U.S. in Brazil.
The competition for roster spots at outside midfielder within the U.S. squad is stronger than at any other position. With players like Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson, as well as potentially Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson, Jose Torres, Joe Corona and Brek Shea being in the mix, no one can afford to make a mistake.
Brad Davis has been on the fringes of the U.S. squad over the last two years, and an impressive display against Panama put him back in the discussion. Given the start on Saturday, he needed a strong performance to impress Klinsmann.
It didn’t happen.
While Davis did contribute to the opening goal, he gave the ball away repeatedly. Two of his lost possessions could have easily turned into Korean goals, and one has to believe that Ghana, Portugal and Germany—the Americans' three group-stage opponents at the World Cup—would have converted both mistakes.
With few opportunities left to make an impression, Davis missed a big one on Saturday.
Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wondolowski have been two of the most maligned players on the U.S. squad over the past few years. In previous games, Beckerman’s lack of speed and Wondolowski’s poor finishing etched an impression into most fans’ minds that both players weren't international class.
Over the past year, Beckerman has been in fine form for both club and country, leading Real Salt Lake to the MLS Cup and putting in excellent performances in the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying for the U.S. Wondolowski had a strong start to the Gold Cup—although he was eventually benched in favor of Eddie Johnson—and scored two nice goals on Saturday.
Beckerman is the more likely to make the World Cup roster—there’s too much depth at striker for Wondo to compete with—but both had strong games on Saturday and should be credited for their performances.
After a remarkably strong 2013 of contributing a number of key goals and assists for the USMNT, Graham Zusi appears ready to pick up right where he left off heading into 2014. On Saturday night, he was excellent, setting up both goals and connecting repeatedly with Landon Donovan. Zusi’s service from the flank was strong, as was his defensive effort—something the U.S. will need next summer.
Zusi should be penciled into Klinsmann’s starting XI for Brazil.
Although it’s unlikely he’ll get any playing time in the World Cup, Nick Rimando reminded U.S. fans once again how blessed they are at goalkeeper. Rimando may be third choice at the position, but he is a top keeper and made a number of key plays to keep the U.S. out of trouble on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, Mikkel Diskerud was given the start. It wasn’t a bad performance from the youngster but not a game-changing one either. If he was hoping to break the Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley lock on the two center midfielder positions, his performance on Saturday didn’t do it. Diskerud is a class player—one of the most technical players on the squad—but he failed to impose himself on the game like he would have liked to.
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