On Tuesday night, in Dublin, Ireland, the United States men's national team was drubbed 4-1 in its final international game of 2014.
The loss marked the fourth straight game without a win for the USMNT under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and means the team will finish out the calendar year with only one win in its last eight games.
Here's what went wrong for the U.S.
Lack of Playing Time
One of the big stories to start off the 2014-15 club season has been the lack of playing time for many U.S. internationals. And the effects of that accumulated rust seemed patently obvious on Tuesday night as a combination of simple mistakes resulted in the unflattering scoreline.
Geoff Cameron, who was a starter for the U.S. at the World Cup, started 97 percent of Stoke City's EPL matches last season but has started less than 20 percent of their games this year.
Against Ireland, Cameron made a number of major errors which led to repeated defensive breakdowns. Despite some positive moments from the center-back—who, ironically, usually plays as a holding midfielder, or right-back for Stoke—Cameron was at least partially culpable on three of the four goals scored against the Americans.
The lack of club playing time was also apparent for Fabian Johnson and Jozy Altidore. Altidore's work rate was once again high, but he also had a number of bad touches and, at least once, lacked the confidence to drive to goal when an opportunity presented itself.
Johnson, for his part, despite being seen by many as the U.S.' best player, has struggled in his last two appearances. He was poor in both November friendlies, uncharacteristically giving away possession and failing to significantly contribute to the attack.
The lack of match fitness also appeared to be an issue once again as, for the fourth consecutive game, the U.S. conceded goals in the final 10 minutes.
On the other hand, at least one U.S. player appears to have had too much playing time of late. Matt Besler, who according to one source has played 83 matches for club and country over the past two years, once again looked a shadow of his former self, replicating a number of poor performances for both the USMNT and Sporting KC since this summer's World Cup.
A fair amount of the blame for Tuesday's debacle must fall on the shoulders of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. It would be one thing if the U.S. had fielded a largely experimental lineup and come out with this sort of a result, but the starting lineup for the United States against Ireland featured nine World Cup veterans.
Klinsmann, however, didn't seem to recognize this fact when he said (via ESPN's Doug McIntyre) after the game, "When you introduce new players into the group, there will be growing pains along the way.”
The decision to start Chris Wondolowski also seems to be a mistake. Despite the fact that Wondo did pick up the assist on a beautiful knock down to Mix Diskerud on the U.S.' lone goal, Wondolowski struggled for most of the one half he played. He went the first 15 minutes without being involved in a single significant play and, when he did finally work himself into the match, he struggled to hold the ball up effectively.
One has to admire what Wondolowski has done in his career with fairly limited physical gifts. One also has to feel bad for the cross he will bear for the rest of his career for his stoppage-time miss against Belgium in the World Cup. But continuing to keep him as part of the lineup despite the fact that the U.S. has a number of other quality options at forward is foolhardy on the part of Klinsmann.
But the biggest mistake Klinsmann made on Tuesday involved his tactics.
Against Ireland, the coach deployed the team in his oft-preferred 4-1-2-1-2 formation (a formation in which the only width comes from the full-backs) with Johnson starting on the right and Timmy Chandler on the left.
But Johnson and Chandler's natural tendencies killed any width the U.S. might have gotten.
Johnson is naturally right-footed, but watching him play, it is obvious how much he prefers to cut in to his left. And Chandler, who is naturally right-footed, continued to cut in from his position at left-back onto his right foot all game long. Those tendencies, combined with the U.S.' already narrow starting formation, made it difficult to find any width and nearly impossible to play out of the back.
Fans showed their displeasure after the game as #FireKlinsmann began trending on Twitter, although that seems to be a gross overreaction. For better or for worse, U.S. Soccer is committed to Klinsmann's vision at the moment.
A lack of effort also proved fatal to the U.S.' hopes of winning on Tuesday. On Ireland's first goal, Chandler can be seen casually jogging back on defense after the U.S. lost possession in transition. Although Chandler's overall game was positive, with many fine services put into the box, these moments of laziness have become standard fare for him in a U.S. jersey.
On Ireland's second goal, the same can be seen from Johnson who, after losing possession, was slow to get up and recover into the play. This lack of effort helped create a huge space for the Irish attackers to run into, in an onside position.
Some of what happened against Ireland was simply bad luck for the U.S. The third goal against the U.S. came off a deflection, although it's fair to say goalkeeper Bill Hamid should have done better.
The U.S. also hit the woodwork twice with Altidore putting one off the crossbar just before halftime and a shot from Johnson kissing the post midway through the first half (to be fair, Ireland striker Shane Long also slammed one off the post).
The U.S. also missed a chance when Bobby Wood got in behind the Irish back line on a great run midway through the second half. Wood's shot was saved, but it marks the fourth clear chance for the 22-year-old in the U.S.' last four games—none of which he's put into the net.
It's not entirely unexpected for a striker who is out of form—Wood's last goal came in May 2013—but it does call into question why Klinsmann continues to give Wood call-ups when Andrew Wooten can't make the team.
Despite the terrible score line, there were a few positives for the U.S.
Diskerud proved once again that he can be the spark for the American attack, scoring the team's only goal in the contest. If Klinsmann can get him some help and play Diskerud in the No. 10 position in front of two holding midfielders, there's hope that the U.S. can be more stout defensively and create chances on the attack.
Alejandro Bedoya also had a strong game, working extremely hard defensively and creating opportunities on the attacking end. According to a report by Fox News Latino's Andrew O'Reilly, Klinsmann has stated that Bedoya is now one of the leaders of the team, and it was good to see another strong effort from the midfielder.
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