By IVES GALARCEP
It is probably the last thing you want to do, isn’t it? Look back at Tuesday night’s horror show of a scoreless draw delivered by the U.S. Men’s National Team against a Canada side that had no intention of just laying down and being anybody’s punching bag.
It was forgettable, drab and disappointing, at least for a good majority of the very players Jurgen Klinsmann was counting on to show they were ready for future consideration for the national team. Instead of a showcase, Tuesday night turned into a criminal case of underperforming ineptitude.
The result itself doesn’t matter, at least not for the U.S. team. It will matter to a Canadian national team program in desperate need of something to build on and be positive about after last year’s horrific World Cup qualifying elimination against Honduras (an 8-1 humbling that should to this day keep Canadian fans from feeling all that emboldened by Tuesday’s draw).
No, the result didn’t matter, but the individual performances did and there just weren’t enough good ones to leave anybody feeling like the January camp was all that successful.
It was far from a waste of time though. The camp helped mold some defenders and give Klinsmann a front-row seat to check out some top young talent (even if he chose not to use all of that young talent on Tuesday). There were also some good individual efforts amid the mediocrity against Canada. You also have the fact that the January camp allowed some regulars (like Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi) a chance to get fit during the MLS off-season in order to be in line for consideration for next week’s crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hex opener against Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
So what did we learn from Tuesday night’s draw? Here are some observations on the match, and some conclusions we can draw from the performance:
GONZALEZ AND BESLER LOOKED SOLID
It’s a tricky one when considering how centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler fared on Tuesday night. They pitched a shutout, and faced no serious threats, but they also faced a Canadian team playing a 4-5-1, with the lone striker being a midfielder in Dwayne DeRosario. Truth be told, we didn’t see all that much in the run of play to give us a ton of added confidence that either Gonzalez or Besler is ready to handle a starting role in qualify.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen eventually. Both defenders look poised, and dealt with the situations that came their way. Gonzalez showed that he can be a threat on set pieces while Besler showed his sharp passing skills.
VETERANS DIDN’T DO ENOUGH
When you don’t make the most of your chances to impress a national team coach, you can sometimes find yourself waiting a long time for the next chance. That’s something Brad Davis was already aware of, and on Tuesday night he had a decent but still disappointing showing against Canada. On a night begging for a starting American midfielder to impose himself, the U.S. attack simply didn’t have the ideas or ability to break down the Canadians.
Davis was among the guilty in that regard, and while nobody could expect him to carry the U.S. attack on his own, he simply didn’t show an ability to be a factor against a mediocre Canadian side. That doesn’t really bode well for Davis being able to be a factor in World Cup qualifying.
Chris Wondolowski didn’t fair much better. He tried to be active, which is one of his hallmarks, and he saw some chances, but he failed to convert yet again and a player who is trying to erase the stigma of being unable to score for the national team absolutely needs to finish chances, and even convert a half-chance or two.
Some proponents of Davis and Wondolowski might argue that Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi didn’t exactly light the world on fire either. That may be so, but neither of those players came into the match having to prove that they belong on the national team. Both showed that in qualifying just last fall.
BECKERMAN and FEILHABER IMPRESS
He didn’t do anything extremely flashy, and the casual observer might not have even noticed him, but Kyle Beckerman had a good case for being the U.S. team’s best player. He handled his role as midfield anchor perfectly, thwarting any midfield threats from Canada and keeping the ball moving for the U.S. attack (even if it would eventually sputter in the final third).
Beckerman was likely a safe bet to make the qualifying squad even before Tuesday night, but now you have to wonder if Klinsmann will consider Beckerman for a starting role against Honduras. That might sound crazy to some, but with Danny Williams struggling for playing time at Hoffenheim, and with Beckerman having shown successful form against CONCACAF competition in the past, Klinsmann just might go with Beckerman in the defensive midfield role against Honduras.
Benny Feilhaber is also looking like a good bet to at least make the trip to Honduras after his outstanding second-half performance against Canada. He helped spark the U.S. attack, created chances and moved the ball around well despite Canada putting numbers behind the ball. It wasn’t a game that will catapult Feilhaber into first-team minutes, but it does pump up his standing in the USMNT depth chart.
THE KIDS SHOWED FLASHES
Josh Gatt and Alfredo Morales were two of the youngest American players on the field on Tuesday (along with Juan Agudelo) and both showed glimpses of why they are considered bright prospects for the future.
Gatt is an absolute burner, with the kind of speed we haven’t seen since Landon Donovan’s early years. Morales didn’t get many minutes, but in his brief cameo he looked sharp on the tackle and he tried to make things happen with incisive passes.
Gatt is an especially intriguing prospect because of the lack of wing options for Klinsmann. He is still a bit raw, and expecting him to play a role in the early part of the HEX may be a bit too ambitious, but it is definitely going to be exciting to see how Gatt progresses in a year when he should at the very least play a key role in the Gold Cup.
KLINSMANN’S LINEUP DIDN’T HELP
Coming into Tuesday’s match there was so much anticipation about the U.S. attack and what it could do against a weak Canada side. The stable of forwards on hand figured to have a field day.
Then Klinsmann started Brad Evans as the squad’s attacking midfield.
No offense to Evans, who is a very good player, but casting him as the attacking tip of the a diamond midfield against an opponent playing an ultra-defensive 4-5-1 was the definition of a futile exercise. The result was about as ugly a 45 minutes of soccer as we have ever seen from the national team.
That’s why it came as no surprise that Evans wound up looking so much better when deployed at right back, and the offense showed so much more life when Benny Feilhaber was inserted into the midfield.
Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if Klinsmann makes decisions like those to test his team and put them in adverse situations. It’s either that or Klinsmann really can be tone deaf when picking lineups sometimes.
WHO GOES TO HONDURAS?
Jurgen Klinsmann stated repeatedly that around eight players from the January camp could be expected to take part in the Honduras qualifier. Who are the most likely candidates for the eight spots? Here is a look:
Graham Zusi, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Juan Agudelo, Josh Gatt, Benny Feilhaber
What did you think of Tuesday’s match? Agree with these observations? Which eight players would you bring to the Honduras match from the January camp?
Share your thoughts below.