Ukraine vs. USA: 6 Things We Learned
The United States men’s national team took on Ukraine in an international friendly on Wednesday, losing 2-0.
The game represented one of the last opportunities for U.S. players based in Europe to make their case for inclusion on the World Cup roster, as the next U.S. friendly is not on an international fixture date and will be held in the United States.
Here are six things we learned.
The Back Line Was Downright Awful
Fielding an experimental back line of Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, Oguchi Onyewu and Edgar Castillo, the U.S. struggled right from the get-go against Ukraine.
Brooks and Castillo were particularly bad—Mykhaylo Fomenko's men found space on the left side time after time. Both players likely saw any chance they had at making the U.S. World Cup roster die in Cyprus on Wednesday night.
Sacha Kljestan Was Invisible
With Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud out of the squad due to injury, Sacha Kljestan was given the start and an opportunity to put his name back in the mix for a World Cup roster spot.
Unfortunately for Kljestan, he went long stretches uninvolved and had a giveaway that led directly to a breakaway for Ukraine on at least one occasion.
Making matters worse for Kljestan, Danny Williams was noticeably better in controlling the center of the pitch after replacing him in the second half.
Clint Dempsey Continues to Play Himself out of the First XI
After a terrible finish to 2013 with the Seattle Sounders, Clint Dempsey continued his horrid run of form this winter with Fulham. What many fans were hoping to simply be a minor slump now appears to be a full-blown drop in form.
Dempsey struggled to control the U.S. attack. As usual, he was forced to drop far too deep to get the ball, taking him away from more dangerous positions up the field. Some of this was due to the inability of the U.S.’s dual Nos. 6 to control the middle, and some was due to Dempsey’s apparent insistence that he needs to act as the team’s playmaker.
He was generally ineffective when he did have the ball, and when pushed into the No. 8 role late in the match, he became even less involved.
Tim Howard Was Terrific
As usual, the U.S. relied on goalkeeper Tim Howard to bail them out of trouble time and again. The final scoreline might not seem reflective of a fine night by Howard, but he repeatedly stoned wide-open breakaways as his defense let him down.
There was nothing he could do on either goal. Without him, the score could have easily been 5-0.
Some fans might want to point out the fact that the U.S. team was missing some key players, and it was, but it also started six of the players likely to start in Brazil. The other players the U.S. fielded, whether off the bench or in the starting lineup, were all fighting for World Cup roster spots and should have been highly motivated.
Jet lag also isn't an excuse, as the team was almost exclusively European-based. There was no home-field advantage for Ukraine, either, as the game was played in Cyprus. That’s saying nothing of the fact that the Ukrainian players might have had other things on their mind right now with their nation on the brink of war.
A Few Bright Spots
There wasn't much to take from the game on a positive note, but a few players and moments stood out.
Tim Howard is the only U.S. player that had a good game from start to finish, but Danny Williams looked bright in his limited minutes off the bench.
While he wasn't spectacular, Alejandro Bedoya had two very well-taken strikes in the second half and worked fairly hard to create chances for the USMNT. Brek Shea did what he does and ran at defenders, something sorely missing before he came in.
Finally, Aron Johannsson, who for some reason didn’t start, had a fantastic volley that was cleared off the line late in the match.
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