USMNT Report: An Uninspiring Sellout Awaits

The United States will face South Korea in a lackluster friendly game that does little for long-term American goals
by Herb Scribner   |   Saturday, February 01, 2014

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

The United States Men’s National Team, after a moderately successful 2013, takes the field for the first time on Saturday when it goes head-to-head with South Korea in front of a sellout crowd at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad have prepared for this game since the beginning of January, and it’s surely going to be status update on many of the US hopefuls and shoe-ins as the 2014 World Cup draws near.

THE ROAD TO NOW: The last time the Yanks took the field, they were downed 1-0 by Austria in a disappointing showcase. Right before that match, the US drew Scotland 0-0 in a horrendous affair. After winning the Gold Cup and going on a 12-game winning streak, which included a Gold Cup trophy win – the longest in US Soccer history – 2013 ended on whimper.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: Klinsmann said his January camp, which was held in Brazil and California, has been extremely competitive.

“What we see is a very competitive group in this January camp,” he said. “Guys that badly want to give you an impression. The training sessions have all been intense; they all came physically prepared for this camp. We tested them right away the first week and we never had these results before, very good. We left it to the players, saying, ‘build your case’.”

Saturday’s match is also about showing where the United States is ahead of the World Cup, Klinsmann said.

“The couple of months before the World Cup, everybody wants to set a tone, not only for themselves individually but as an entire group you want to get positive results wherever you can because that always helps the atmosphere around the National Team,” he said. “At the same time, we know it’s only part of preparation towards the World Cup, but when a game like Saturday’s comes along and then Ukraine in March, it gives you something to focus on and give the players the opportunity to prove where they are right now as of today.”

ANALYSIS: The USMNT has an enormous, and likely underestimated, challenge ahead with South Korea.

Though the Koreans were recently downed 4-0 by a revived Mexico, the team is still a World Cup team and can sneak in results, like the 1-0 decision over Costa Rica last week. It’s not a team to be taken light by the USA. We’ve seen the US play flat against teams in the past, like Scotland, and poor results came in. For the USA to beat this South Korea side, everything’s going to have to be in high gear.

But what’s the benefit of this game? We might get a better look at how MLS stars DeAndre Yedlin and Mike Magee do in a national team environment, but that only tells so much. Taylor Twellman was on a hot streak during the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign on top of his prolific MLS success, but even he didn’t do enough to make the eventual World Cup roster. Earning a starting position this late in the World Cup cycle doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a slot on the Brazil roster. Players who have been around and competing consistently in a USA kit are more likely to get the nod. So while we may see Magee and Yedlin take the field – as they should, given their immense talent in their natural positions – it likely won’t mean much come this summer.

This game is really a placeholder for the United States before final decisions are made and the real push for the World Cup begins. It's about buying time. Klinsmann will use this time to get a better look at players like Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman, who 2 USMNT B squad shoe-ins that are trying to solidify their spot in the A team. This game’s about looking at those kind of bubble players, and determining whether they’re fit for the summer tournament or not.

Bringing an MLS All-Star Team-like squad to face South Korea also opens the USA up to a possible disaster. If the US were to lose against South Korea, immediately the team appears less superior to a side that many don’t expect to do well in the World Cup. It will not only make the USA appear weak and unlikely to advance, but it could dim the confidence and hope of many players – and the fans, who have championed the US in 2013 for their success on the pitch. A loss to South Korea to kick off a World Cup year will only cast a shadow of doubt and uncertainty from USMNT followers and supporters.

Like Klinsmann said, these camps and these games in the early months of a World Cup year are about building confidence and poise before the world’s tournament starts. But the US can’t truly gain that when most of its squad is packed with secondary players, and is certainly at chance to fall to South Korea. Some of these players, no matter the confidence they get for this win, likely won’t be with the USA in the summer, which does little for the attitude and tone of the team come World Cup time.

It’s a game that doesn’t mean much in total. But there are damaging effects that could arise should the USA play poorly and fall to South Korea. That’s something Klinsmann and his team – given their World Cup draw and run of results to close out 2013 – can’t afford.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Friendly: United States vs. Korea Republic, StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. 5 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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