In one of the better outings under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team fell against Ecuador, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night.
Taking away the defensive lapse that led to Ecuador’s game-winner, there were several bright spots for the USMNT to continue its progression towards the style of soccer Klinsmann wants his team to play.
It may not have been the ideal display of soccer that fans want to see out of the U.S., but here are five lessons that fans can take away from Tuesday night’s loss.
Landon Donovan has been known to take most set pieces, and occasionally Clint Dempsey will have a crack at goal through free kicks like he tried early against Ecuador. Further than that, the game exposed the USMNT’s lack of depth of capable players to deliver good crosses to create some dangerous chances on goal.
For a team that for years was known to score mostly off set pieces, much was left to be desired. Right back Steve Cherundolo couldn’t find his touch and sent several corners short or to locations where the big men, like Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, couldn’t capitalize on.
The second half saw Michael Bradley take over free and corner kick responsibilities, but to no avail. For the exception of a 75th-minute free kick that floated dangerously in front of Ecuador’s goal and was eventually cleared for a corner, Bradley’s services weren't spectacular.
Most likely Donovan will be taking on the task to deliver most of the set pieces, but when he isn’t available, there needs to be someone else who can deliver.
To the relief of many fans, and probably Oguchi Onyewu himself, the inclusion of the 6’4” center back into the starting line-up was one of the brightest notes from Tuesday’s game.
Onyewu played a pivotal role in keeping the Ecuadorian side scoreless for 78 minutes. He kept up with a fast South American offensive line by blocking and clearing crosses, as well as out-muscling players. In turn, also lessening the burden on goalkeeper Tim Howard.
His keen prowess to attack was also refreshing. He timed his runs up towards the attacking third wisely, at times challenging the back line with some nifty moves.
Onyewu looked fit, strong and most surprisingly, very agile since suffering his ruptured tendon against Costa Rica in 2009. Look for him to be once again a regular in the center back slot.
The midfield has always been a section of depth for the USMNT. However, as the previous crop of midfielders become older, Klinsmann called upon a new generation. Summon Brek Shea and Danny Williams.
Shea was one of the better players on the field, creating chances with quick give-and-goes, finding players on a run, and not being afraid to test Ecuador’s goalkeeper from distance, as he did with his fifth-minute strike from just outside the 18-yard box. Shea also has the speed to beat his defender along the flanks, and has shown good accuracy with his crosses.
Shea is young, and he is hungry. Very much like Donovan was leading up to and during the 2002 World Cup.
Danny Williams, although new to the team, made a great impression with his 64 minutes of play. He controlled the ball well, and connected with Edu to string some passes toward the attack.
Klinsmann now has to be able to find an effective way to integrate these two youngsters with the more experience midfielders, like Bradley and Donovan.
Long gone are the days of allowing early goals and playing from behind, only to get an exciting equalizer with ten minutes left to play. Against Ecuador, the US came out with all engines running, controlling many parts of the first half and dictating the pace of the game.
Most of it was due, in part, to the style that Klinsmann is teaching this American side to play: creative, quick and fun. It showed in the movement of players like Shea, Williams, Dempsey and Edu.
The United States doesn’t need to sit back from the opening whistle. It doesn’t need to play the long ball and hope for a counter attack. A loss is a loss and it hurts, but what is more important is the confidence this team is gaining by learning how to impose their style on the opposing side, instead of adapting to the opponent’s style.
It’s a goal that any coach, including Klinsmann, wants for their team.
With all the aforementioned, there still lies the question: Who will score?
Since Klinsmann took over, the USMNT has scored twice in five games.
No one in the US attackers has shown the consistency to find the back of the net enough times to be relied on. Jozy Altidore played the holding target forward Tuesday night, but wasn’t able to get any clear looks at the goal after his chance in the first minute.
Dempsey got the game-winner against Honduras last Saturday, but couldn’t repeat his luck against the South American side. He was more involved in the attack through the first half, but with the inclusions of Edson Buddle and Juan Agudelo in the second half, he drifted more into the middle and disappeared from the game.
Klinsmann needs to find more efficient ways of using his forwards because let’s face it, leaving one man alone up top has yet to work for the United States. The USMNT must develop a partnership with two forwards in the attack, and it must do it quick.