USMNT Report: An Experiment in Ennui

An inexperienced USMNT earns scoreless draw with Canada
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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

The United States Men’s National Team played to a scoreless draw with Canada last night in Houston, and not much of it was pretty.

It was an unexciting game full of youth and inexperience. Players appeared disconnected and out of touch despite spending several weeks together in training camp. And the draw does raise a lot of questions about what players manager Jurgen Klinsmann will hold onto moving forward.

CANADA HIGHLIGHTS: The USMNT was dominant in the first half, even if the team didn’t score a goal, as the team had 70% of the possession. Canada relied on its defense to stay in the game, with Kyle Bekker, who was recently drafted by Toronto FC, doing much of the work.

MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski owned the first half with his scoring chances, including a close one that stemmed from back-and-forth play with midfielder Brad Davis that fell short of the back of the net. The two MLS-heavy sides showed excellent chemistry in the opening minutes.

Canada had one solid chance in the first half, giving US goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had his first international start between the two posts, a relatively easy outset. Johnson swatted away a shot by Dwayne De Rosario in the sixth minute, an early good chance to score for the Canadians.

Some life came on for the US in the second half with Benny Feilhaber, who replaced Tony Beltran. Feilhaber worked well with free kicks and runs up the side, but still couldn’t get anything going for the Americans. Forward Eddie Johnson crossed the ball up to Davis in the 53rd minute, but the Houston Dynamo left midfielder’s shot fell far wide of the post.

De Rosario had another header about a minute later, which sent Johnson sprawling to his right, but the ball bounced out of bounds.

Arguably the closest opportunity of the night came when Omar Gonzalez, who made his highly anticipated re-debut for the USMNT since his injury in Jan. 2011, in the 66th minute when the big LA Galaxy defender sent a screamer off a header from a free kick. But once again, the goal was left empty.

The US did have an opportunity in the final moments of stoppage time with a free kick just outside the box. Instead of crossing the ball inside, though, it was laid off and the shot went well wide of the post.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Klinsmann wasn’t totally upset in the post-game conference, but he was disappointed his team couldn’t get it done.

“You could see that three and a half weeks of a lot of work wore on their legs, and they were missing the last little piece to it in creating final chances, playing the killer ball into the box, and finishing things off,” Klinsmann said of his players. “Unfortunately, we couldn't do that tonight against a very defensive-minded Canada, but overall we were very pleased with the way the players presented themselves. They tried to do it in a couple of different formations and we tried all kinds of combinations, and it was good to see the players trying ways to score that one goal that didn't come."

He was happy that his team has spent three weeks in training camp.

"I'm not disappointed because you just hope that after those three weeks of hard work that they get that moment to shine, and you wish it for them,” Klinsmann said. “I think we saw over the past three weeks that we have a pretty good picture of where they are at. You wish that they can finish it off in a friendly game, but it's always difficult to start the season with your first game and have only training scrimmages before. With Canada staying back and being very defensive-minded, you just hope that sooner or later it opens up, but that was not the case."

Tonight’s game didn’t impact Klinsmann’s plan for picking players for the upcoming WCQ against Honduras next week.

"We have a pretty clear picture of who we want to take to Honduras, but you have to be patient with us for a couple more days,” he said. “We also need to see where our Europeans are at, where our guys in Mexico are at. Some have an injury problem, some have rhythm problems from not playing that much. We're going to evaluate that over the next two or three days, and then get that entire group together in Miami, but that was not depending on tonight."

Davis, who didn’t play as well as he did in MLS games this season, hopes to make it back in the red, white and blue.

"That's up for the coaching staff to decide,” he said. “I think it was a good training camp. I got some positive feedback. I know that I'm a piece of that puzzle, but where I fit I'm not quite sure yet. I think it's going to take a little bit more time to get integrated with everybody and get a few more opportunities to see where that goes, but another opportunity will be there down the road."

Gonzalez was proud to be back on the pitch after being away for more than two years.

"It felt great to be out there,” Gonzalez said. “Wearing the crest on my shirt was amazing, and I want to be doing that a lot more often."

FROM THE STANDS: The BBVA Compass Stadium was filled with 11,737 faithful. It was a rainy and warm night with temperatures in the 70s.

ANALYSIS: This team just didn’t work. I get it was a friendly against lowly Canada and it wasn’t meant to show a big-time US side. But there was so much disparity between players that this USMNT side just isn’t going to work moving forward.

And luckily for all of you, I don’t think we’re going to see much of this side together again for quite some time.

I said this in my column yesterday – the USMNT is filled with a lot of players who are successful on their own, but can’t seem to do well when put together.

Wondolowski is the premier MLS scorer for the last 3 season. He set the single-season goal record and won the MVP award for his performance throughout the year. Yet his chances during the game went well oof-the-mark or at other times he was a ghost. I’m tempted to call this the Jozy-effect.

Same goes for Brad Davis, who has been on Beckham’s level in terms of crossing and playing the midfield. He had several opportunities in front of goal, but the balls weren’t close to going in.

Johnson, after doing surprisingly well for the USMNT at the end of 2012, looked like his 2006-2011 self, while Feilhaber was the best on the pitch for the Americans in the second half. That’s an interesting switch I never saw coming.

I was pretty excited Kyle Beckerman, who deservedly was deemed captain for the match, was going to be the lone defensive midfielder for the game. But Canada showed this system won’t work and the US style calls for at least another defensive mid to hold down the center of the pitch with Beckerman.

There were some more positives other than Feilhaber’s resurgence. Gonzalez provided impressive defense when called upon and Josh Gatt, who also earned his second appearance with the USMNT, showed himself to be a speed demon. He couldn’t hold onto the ball and didn’t get the chance to run forward too often, since he was caught in the midfield. But the speed is there, and time will tell if he’ll get another shot.

That’s the important thing while looking at this mostly MLS experimental US side – we don’t know who’s coming back and which players will get another chance. The Canada side, which had a great defensive effort come from Bekker, just got pounded 4-0 to Denmark a few days ago. Many might hope the US could provide a similar result.

I don’t think Wondolowski is done yet with the team. He hasn’t produced, true, but I have a feeling he’ll have another shot. Klinsmann’s got to find the right matchup/set-up man for Wondo to score.

With World Cup qualifying on our doorstep, I wouldn’t be surprised if newer USMNT “trialists” like Gatt, Bruin and Houston Dynamo midfielder Alfredo Morales didn’t make it back to the team for a while. There is just too much at stake and there are seemingly better, more experienced options, near the surface of the player pool.

It was certainly a dull game, and one many will probably, and thankfully, forget. But it did show Klinsmann the separation of skill between the A and B team, and what the future may hold for the Americans.

NEXT UP: WCQ – USMNT vs Honduras, Feb. 6, 2013. Estadio Olimpico, San Pedro Sula, Hondruas. 3 p.m. CT, beIN Sport.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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