USMNT Report: Building a Blueprint Begins in Glasgow

The United States looks to continue its successes away against Scotland
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, November 15, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States won’t finish the year at home, where it’s done the most damage this year.

Instead, the Americans travel to Europe for a pair of friendlies against Scotland and Austria.

Though these friendlies will be a good test for some players, is the United States headed in the right direction now that it has qualified?

THE ROAD TO NOW: The last time fans saw the USA, the Americans pounded Panama 3-1 to help rival Mexico qualify for a World Cup Qualification play-off with New Zealand. Before that, the United States played to an uninspiring 2-0 win over Jamaica. Both matches came after the USA qualified for the 2014 World Cup in September.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann spoke with US Soccer for a Q&A earlier this week. Even though he’s preached about consistency by players in the squad, Klinsmann said he’s seen a growth in competition.

“We made it clear it’s all about competition, it’s all about performance,” he said. “It’s not about how many caps you played in the past, what you did in the past, it’s always about the moment, the present and the future. They came quite a long way.”

Rightback Eric Lichaj, who was recently recalled to the US squad after more than two years away, also had a Q&A with US Soccer. He said these upcoming games are crucial for the Americans.

“These are two good games in Europe,” he said. “We always talked about playing in these kinds of games in Europe on these kinds of nights where everybody is tested at the highest level. We need to use these opportunities to see where we’re at individually, where we’re at as a team, and where we can improve now in the last few months before the World Cup.”

ANALYSIS: Unlike its neighbor to south, pressure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup is gone. The United States finished at the top of CONCACAF qualifying and can now cruise through the end of 2013 with a pair of friendlies.

These two exhibition matches are important for the US to develop while on its way to Brazil. Friday’s match against Scotland shouldn’t test the United States too much competitvely, seeing as the Americans bullied the Highlanders to a 5-1 win in 2012. Landon Donovan netted a hat trick in the win, as Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley also nabbed goals to secure the victory.

This time, though, there is no Donovan, and Bradley is coming off an injury that put him away from the squad in September and October. Jones has been inconsistent in recent months, too. Much of this lineup is dissimilar to 2012's team.

And, unlike in 2012, United States will be playing abroad, which will be a good test for the Americans. It’s easy to forget that the 12-game winning streak the US went on, which included capturing the 2013 Gold Cup, was mostly done at home in easy environments. Heading into the thick of Europe will be good for the USA to get acclimated to playing in more-hostile environments. It won’t be a South American environment, but playing in Europe will offer the USA some discomfort and will be a good test as the World Cup nears.

Instead of facing a highly competitive opponent, Klinsmann, much like he should, is using the Scotland friendly to gauge how crucial some of the bubble players are to the lineup.

Like any international coach, Klinsmann wants to build the right squad for the World Cup and he’ll have a chance starting Friday to fine tune the team. Players like Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson and Sacha Kljestan have been called to the team throughout the year, and it’s clear with these next two friendlies that Klinsmann is testing to see if they’re legitimate USA players for the summer World Cup.

As time ticks closer to the 2014 World Cup, the opportunities for teams to chisel out their rosters narrows. Some squads, like Portugal, Sweden, Mexico and Uruguay, have yet to officially qualify for the World Cup. The USA has an advantage in that it has already qualified and can play these friendlies, allowing Klinsmann to create the best lineup possible going forward.

Though wins are important, these friendlies are more about building confidence and making sure the right players play well in the right environment at the right time. Some of Klinsmann’s inclusions are suspect given how close the World Cup is. And that he still hasn’t solidified a backline isn’t doing the team any favors.

Lichaj’s surprise inclusion adds some interesting discussion to that backline. Lichaj is a natural defender and has warranted praise for his play with Nottingham Forest across the pond. It’ll be interesting to see if he can bring success to the US and work his way into that back formation.

Throughout Klinsmann’s tenure with the US, we’ve seen him switch out players like an indecisive kid in a discount toy store. It’s true that national teams cycle through a list of players en route to the World Cup, but Klinsmann’s continuous carousel hasn’t done this team any favors. A true team, no matter the size or skill, competes better with chemistry. Right now, the US would struggle to put together a lineup that has that kind of cohesive bond.

If the USA is to truly take advantage of already qualifying for the World Cup and having extra friendlies to build it’s side, Klinsmann will need to come back from this trip abroad with a firm plan in mind. This should be the last time he experiments with players, and he should have a strong strategy moving forward.

NEXT UP: November 15 – Friendly: United States vs. Scotland, Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland. 3 p.m. EST, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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