USMNT Report: Euro Experiments Flop in Friendly

Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine spells trouble for still-experimenting United States
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, March 07, 2014

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

Before the United States played Ukraine on Wednesday, pre-match reports and promotions highlighted Ukraine’s current political crisis and how much the USA contest would mean to the Eastern European country.

But while the Ukraine and Russia are embroiled in a dicey struggle over Crimea, it was the USA with the, much less important, evident turmoil on-field falling 2-0 to Ukraine in Cyprus. A mere 90 days away from the World Cup in Brazil, the Americans suffered their first loss in 2014.

POST GAME-REACTIONS: USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t very complimentary of the USA’s backline.

“It would be totally wrong now to criticize what went wrong,” Klinsmann said. “It was clear to us that playing a completely new backline, playing players that come out of the club system, who are in a difficult situation not having the same confidence they usually have, there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot to build on.”

Klinsmann also said he plans on European players being away from the April 2 affair against Mexico, which could cause some problems for the Americans.

“Definitely if you don’t have your main group together – and it’s a mix between MLS players, European players and Mexican players – then there’s a bit of drop in quality that’s just natural, it’s just normal,” he said. “That’s why our job at the end of the day is to zoom in and name 23 guys who are up to the task for the World Cup.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Tim Howard – Only one man made enough plays to warrant honors for the match. Howard made a couple of key saves throughout the match. And, more importantly, he led the team from the back and really captained the squad.

ANALYSIS: Few positives can be extracted from the error-filled encounter between the United States and Ukraine. Wayward passes littered the field, erratic defensive play allowed the Ukrainians to slice through and score, and a general lack of vision and foresight put the USA in a deep hole without the possibility of escape.

Dressed all-in-white in their uninspiring new Nike kits and in an environment akin to a high school match at neutral Cyprus, the Americans floundered and flopped across the field without putting together any semblance of a world class soccer game. A couple of attacks looked decent at points, but when it wasn’t Geoff Cameron booting the ball high into the stands, it was Dempsey dropping to the ground and losing momentum. Jozy Altidore was just a player on the pitch, providing nothing valuable except a hopeful header that went high above the post. Alejandro Bedoya had a nice opportunity, too, but that went well wide of the target.

And the running story of the past 4 years – if not longer — of the USA having a broken backline that bellows mediocrity continued in Cyprus. Oguchi Onyewu and John Brooks had no chemistry and often played too close together, Geoff Cameron sprung too far forward and left his side exposed, and Edgar Castillo was, similar to previous games he’s played in, invisible. It was easy for Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Devic to cut through and embarrass that lackluster defense. Even goalkeeper Tim Howard, as much of a stalwart as he is, couldn’t hold off the continual attacks from the Eastern Europeans.

So far in 2014, the United States has played 2 matches. The first game was against South Korea with a roster packed with MLS players, which the USA won 2-0 behind Chris Wondolowski’s pair of goals. This second match was filled with European-based Americans and ended in a 2-0 loss to Ukraine, which is a much better side than South Korea despite not qualifying for the upcoming World Cup.

There’s much experience to gain from both matches, of course. Like Klinsmann has said in the past, it’s better to play a high caliber opponent once than play a lower CONCACAF minnow over and over. But little experience, knowledge and understanding can come when the 2 rosters for these 2014 games are so vastly different. What the hodge-podge assembled Euro-based squad learned in the loss is nowhere near what the mostly MLS Americans took from winning the South Korea affair.

Right now, the USA is split, as it has been since the spring of last year. It’s nearly impossible to predict who will be paired with whom next when it comes to call-ups, and there’s little cohesion and less stability being built though the player pool might be wider.

The Americans are less than 100 days from the World Cup and a centerback pair has yet to be solidified. Talks still continue on about whether Fabian Johnson will convert to leftback, or if Cameron will take over for Brad Evans on the right. If you move Johnson, what does that say about Beasley’s continued work in the backline? Cameron, though better than Evans in the rightback position, still isn’t in his natural spot and will need time to adjust, too. And how will that all work out when Portugal’s Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo comes steaming down that wing in their group stage match against the USA?

There are far too many questions remaining for the United States with such little time left before the world’s tournament. Ukraine’s thrashing of the Euro-based Yanks was a clear indicator that this USA team’s best abroad players can’t get it done in an international setting. And even if you add in MLS players, many of them haven’t played much alongside these overseas Yanks. Which all means time will be needed to get this team attuned and there just isn’t much of that left anymore.

There’s no real USA team right now, still. It’s merely players being called up to represent their country in a one-off match and wishful hoping it works on the day.

Even with only 3 months to go before the World Cup, and actually only 2 before the camp needs to be assembled, Klinsmann continues to test new and long-shot players and experiment with un-natural positioning. But it’s now too close to the World Cup with precious few practice runs left to be making these kinds of hasty roster choices and bizarre positional decisions. And if Klinsmann doesn’t stick to and galvanize a set roster soon, the USA will only find trouble this summer, when it actually matters.

NEXT UP: April 2 – Friendly: United States vs. Mexico, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. 8 p.m. EST, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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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.