5 Takeaways from USMNT's Win over the Czech Republic in International Friendly
When you possess the football resume of United States men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, you have leave to be brash.
Even Klinsmann may have gone too far this time, though.
"This is our goal going towards Russia, not to stop at the Round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal. To say clearly, listen, we have four years to prepare this cycle. Our goal is going to a semifinal in a World Cup," Klinsmann told NBC Sports Network's Arlo White, per Nate Scott of USA Today.
That's interesting, because the last World Cup match the Americans played featured Belgium forcing now-on-leave U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to make dozens, not handfuls, of saves.
Deposing the likes of Germany, Argentina and Brazil from the World Cup is probably still well beyond the Americans' realistic goals. Then again, as George told Jerry on "Seinfeld" with reference to beating a lie detector, "it's not a lie if you believe it."
The march to Russia began with a friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague. Here are five takeaways from the Americans' 1-0 victory over the Czechs.
This Friendly Had an MLS Feel, Which Is Not Meant as a Compliment
Generali Arena in Prague holds upwards of 17,000 spectators. The stadium was just a bit past half-full for this friendly between the Czech Republic and the United States.
Much of the narrative surrounding this match referred to how the Czechs needed a result more than the Americans because the Czechs' World Cup qualifying matches begin with a brutal test against the Netherlands next week.
But the intensity, to the extent it existed at all, was with the Americans. Neither the Czech supporters nor the Czech side seemed overly motivated to grind out a result, at least until the last 15 minutes.
Watching this match felt like watching a regular season Major League Soccer match between two mid-table sides. That is not meant as a criticism of the Americans as much as it is an indictment of the Czechs.
Klinsmann's Decision to Bury Julian Green During the World Cup Looks Dumb(er)
Jurgen Klinsmann took Julian Green to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and then somewhat inexplicably did not play him until the cause was basically lost.
Green's late goal against Belgium invited questions as to why Klinsmann did not deploy the 19-year-old before the Americans were losing 2-0 in extra time in an elimination match.
The past is gone, of course, and Green should not be stranded on the American sideline too often in the future. Green is just about the only American forward who can create space with his speed and ball-handling, and work in tight spaces.
Will Green occasionally turn a ball over in a bad spot, as he did in the first half against the Czechs? Yes, and the 3-on-2 that the Czechs failed to convert off the Green turnover was arguably their best chance of the night.
But creative players will make those mistakes now and again. And the more Green plays at the level, the fewer of those mistakes he is likely to make.
It should not have taken this long for Klinsmann to feature Green.
Petr Cech Sank His Own Ship
Elite goalkeepers like Petr Cech love to demonstrate their command and control by distributing the ball after handling it. That is a fine tactic, but only when it works.
When it doesn't work, the results are generally catastrophic.
Cech over-egged a two-hopper to his midfielder Vladimir Darida, who had his back to the oncoming Americans Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya. It would have been a nifty bit of skill for Darida to corral that pass. That's why Cech never should have tried it.
When in doubt, the goalkeeper owes it to his field players to boot the thing 60 yards and let them chase it down. At worse, the defense in front of the goalkeeper has adequate opportunity to get set up.
Cech's error was the difference in the match.
Tim Howard's Absence Does Not Figure to Be a Problem for the Americans
Much was made of Tim Howard's decision to take a year away from the USMNT. Lost in some of that conversation was how stacked the Americans really are at that position
The tandem of Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando combined to blank the Czech Republic in their own building. Rimando had more to do (actually, a lot more) as the home side finally found their attacking verve late in the second half, but both American goalkeepers were composed and on top of their respective games.
In truth, Howard may not much want to compete for a spot on the Americans' 2018 World Cup squad. Howard will be 39 in 2018, and he already has one foot in the broadcast booth.
The Americans must be thrilled to see that, with or without Howard, they are set in goal.
The Kids Are All Right
The Americans went to Prague without Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and several other battle-tested veterans.
Jurgen Klinsmann must be thrilled to see how well his younger players bore up under the strain of carrying their colors into a hostile (well, sort of hostile) stadium in an international friendly.
John Brooks broke up the 3-on-2 created by Julian Green's turnover in the first half. Joe Gyau was energetic and solid in his hour on the pitch. Green's night was certainly far more positive than negative as he displayed a confidence in attack that the Americans frankly lacked in Brazil.
Some of the Americans' World Cup stalwarts are apt to be replaced between now and 2018. This friendly against the Czechs suggested that the Americans will not lack for the talent needed to move forward as a team.