USMNT Report: No Answers Days Ahead of World Cup

The United States still has a lot to figure out after Tuesday’s match
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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

All the confusion, uncertainty and doubt that the United States Men’s National Team has brought in the last few years under coach Jurgen Klinsmann is still here with just about 2 weeks to go before the World Cup.

In a match that had players competing in their unnatural positions, poor performances from the top names and sloppy overall play, the United States narrowly defeated Azerbaijan with a 2-0 win in Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

But the win comes with some caveats, as the United States, maybe now more than ever, looks unprepared for this summer’s World Cup.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Brad Davis – Though he only played in the second half, Davis was miles ahead of any other American. He played on the wings well and offered exceptional crosses that led to multiple opportunities. At the very least, Davis has made Klinsmann’s decision about who starts as a left midfielder all the more difficult.

ANALYSIS: Klinsmann’s tinkering didn’t stop when he announced his 23-man squad for the World Cup. It was in full swing Tuesday night, as a game of musical chairs pursued with the Americans caught in a tango of trading spots. And for the 11th straight game, the USA started a different backline. Aside from goalkeeper Tim Howard starting between the posts, the Yanks were toyed with and moved around to fit Klinsmann’s desires. It looked like he cared more about putting players on the field than fitting them into positions.

The USA’s backline situation was an incoherent mess. Fabian Johnson started at rightback, though he’s been known to play on the left for Klinsmann. Geoff Cameron got the start in the center, but he was taken out and replaced with Omar Gonzalez (which was an odd substitution, given Gonzalez is usually the starter for the USA). Timmy Chandler eventually came in on the right, played well, but then moved to the left when DeAndre Yedlin came in. The only consistent defender was Matt Besler, who played an average game — which is considerably good since he had to deal with so much flux with the rest of the line.

Problems persisted in the midfield, too. Michael Bradley had an off night, offering turnovers and unable to finish in the final third. Jermaine Jones was decent in his defensive midfielder role, but a skirmish with the referees in the first half shows the problems that could arise for the German American, especially when the referees are less lenient at the World Cup. Graham Zusi and Davis were great on the wings, though they didn’t get many opportunities. Alejandro Bedoya, yet again, was invisible for the majority of the match.

And Jozy Altidore showed fans, analysts and pundits alike what he learned in England — nothing. He was rarely within the 18-yard box, and couldn’t get his foot at the end of the ball. At times he was behind Bradley and was almost another midfielder. Commentators pointed to his physicality and strength as a selling point, but Altidore shouldn’t be wrestling off defenders. He should be scoring goals. Plain and simple. A striker isn’t meant to be physical, tough and an assistant to the midfield. He’s supposed to put balls away.

Chris Wondolowski, who was an emergency starter when Clint Dempsey got injured before the game, played well with his headers early. He’s more on form than Altidore is, which is saying something about Altidore given Wondo didn’t appear too confident throughout.

The Americans took the victory after goals from Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson, both of which weren’t great scoring chances for the USA. Diskerud put one away on a sloppy, garbage scenario — and just moments earlier he missed a header — while Johannsson was completely left alone in the box without a defender, making it easy to score. It was hard not to see that these goals lifted the USA in spirit, but it wasn’t enough to conjure a real scoring opportunity. These chances are almost unconceivable on the World’s stage.

And that’s the disappointing thing about this game for fans. The United States should have handedly won this game. A team like Azerbaijan is not one that should keep the USA scoreless through two-thirds of the game, especially when the Yanks are playing at home. Put Germany or Portugal in this game against Azerbaijan, and it’s likely a very different outcome.

The United States has just about 2 weeks left before the World Cup kicks off, and still many of the questions that surrounded the team at the start of qualifying are still unanswered. Where will the goals come from? Who will fill the backline? Who’s going to play on the wings? These are questions that should have been answered months ago. Instead, Klinsmann is still tinkering and meddling with the roster.

Klinsmann deserves credit for what he’s done for the USA in the last couple of years. That run last summer was exceptional and a bright spot in the history of US Soccer. But currently, his side looks lost, shaky and sloppy.

The Americans, simply, do not look ready for the World Cup.

NEXT UP: June 1 – Friendly: United States vs. Turkey, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J. 2 p.m. EST, ESPN2, WatchESPN, Univision, Univision Deportes.


UMass Amherst
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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.