USMNT look to answer lingering questions vs. Ukraine

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Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

Three months might be all that separate the U.S. Men’s National Team from the World Cup, but there are still plenty of lingering questions that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will try and get answers to in the final friendly before this summer’s pre-World Cup camp.

From seeing where several of his regulars currently stand in terms of form and fitness to which role players will make a deep push for the World Cup roster, Klinsmann has several things to look out for when a U.S. team comprised of mostly European-based players takes on Ukraine in a match that will be played in Cyprus on Wednesday.

The form of U.S. captain Clint Dempsey is chief among them. Dempsey has been on loan with Fulham since the start of the new year, and has not had the best of times there. Dempsey did not make the type of impact at the club that was expected of him or that was the norm back when he was playing for the Cottagers two seasons ago, and it led to him being benched towards the tail-end of the loan stint.

Regardless of Dempsey’s struggles at Fulham, his performance against a tough and somewhat underrated Ukraine team will go a much longer way in giving Klinsmann a clearer idea of where the veteran is at ahead of this summer’s tournament in Brazil.

Another pair of key players that will attempt to deliver a strong performance in a match that was originally scheduled to be played in Kharkiv but moved because of the violence in Ukraine are Jozy Altidore and Jermaine Jones. The two U.S. mainstays will not only try and lead the U.S. squad to its latest victory on European soil, but also make cases for why Klinsmann should not start considering other options at their starting spots.

For Altidore, the last few months have been plagued with subpar performances for relegation-threatened Sunderland. Altidore is also on a scoring drought that has drawn heavy scrutiny from media and fans on both sides of the pond, and he will try to snap that scoreless streak while reminding fans of the type of striker he showed he can be last summer when he was scoring in bunches for the U.S.

Jones needs to make a statement of his own. The veteran center midfielder has not convinced in recent outings for the Americans and only recently played in his first match for Besiktas (he suffered an injury that delayed his debut shortly after signing with the Turkish club).

Jones’ fitness is likely not in tip-top condition, but how he fares against a talented Ukrainian midfield that includes Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Oleh Husyev in the early parts of Wednesday’s match will serve as a real measuring stick to where the German-American is right now.

The friendly against the Ukrainians, which is the European-based Americans’ last until Klinsmann selects his preliminary World Cup roster in May, is not just about the veterans. Fringe players like in-form Danny Williams and Juan Agudelo should also have a chance to make a case for themselves, something which Klinsmann has stated he wants to see from the current group of players.

The ones that seem to have the biggest chance at doing that are the centerbacks. With starters Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler with their clubs ahead of the beginning of the MLS season, the door is wide open for the rest of the centerback pool to try and impress Klinsmann. Veteran Oguchi Onyewu and youngster John Brooks are among them, and there is a chance they start alongside each other in their first games back into the national team fold.

With so much at stake vs. Ukraine for the U.S. players, this is not your average friendly. The Americans will look to show well not only as a team that high presses, maintains possession and creates scoring chances, but also as individuals who are determined to make the World Cup roster.

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84 Responses to USMNT look to answer lingering questions vs. Ukraine

  1. Kctc says:

    While unrelated to the actual game, does anyone (Ives or otherwise) have a line on how Julian’s camp went and where his head is at. And for the record, 3-1 US. Brace for Jozy and a rebound goal for Sacha.

  2. John Doe says:

    First

    • UclaBruinGreat says:

      First of all, who cares? Is being first to post a thing or something? Second of all, you weren’t first. Chin up though, I’m sure one day you will fulfill your goal of being first to post in the comment section of an internet blog. Cheers.

    • Ian says:

      Every time I see something like this, I picture a child sitting in a grown-up chair, barely able to reach the keyboard.

  3. John Doe says:

    Second

  4. Lost in Space says:

    Those with the most to gain from this game:
    Danny Williams & Kljestan are fighting to beat out Beckerman…can they do it?
    Agudelo & Boyd trying to be that last striker selection (Against each other & EJ)
    Gooch…is he able to play at this level? If so he could knock Brook or Goodson out of the squad.
    Those with the most to loose from this game:
    Jones, if he plays poorly does JK start to think about a different partner for Bradley?
    Dempsey, can he be the player we need him to be, or is his current form pushing him towards the bench.
    Shea, last gasp chance to make an impression and be the 23rd player for the squad.
    Hopefully this match answers these questions for the coaching staff, and implants the seed for Green to file his switch to represent the US.

    • josh says:

      Apparently, your name should be Loost in Space.

      Otherwise, pretty good summary of the article.

    • Bac says:

      Good points, from the perspective of this particular game I’d add it will be curious to see where he plays Cam.
      From the perspective of the final roster, I am going to continue to stick with my two predictions:
      1- Expect the unexpected from JK, there will be one shocker/surprise move
      2- I think he only carries 3 forwards,( unless you count Deuce as the 4th) Jozy, AJ, and probably EJ….and brings an extra midfielder

      • Increase says:

        I really don’t think there will be 4 forwards either. Dempsey and Donovan are basically forwards… 6 guys who can play forward might be a bit much.

        • Scweeb says:

          Well i think when it comes to it you can play both AJ and Juan can both be played wide if they did a 4-3-3 or even both in clints spot. As far as just pure strikers go we really just have Jozy, Boyd, Wondo, and Herc.

    • UclaBruinGreat says:

      I agree. I’m looking right at you Sacha K and Danny Dub to see what you guys can show tomorrow. Prove to me that you are better than Beckerman. Please prove it to everyone! Or else I will be slightly depressed.

      • Neruda says:

        I feel confident about Beckerman’s chances to make the WC team but should JK and his coaches find that Danny Williams or Sasha are better defensive mid backups to Jones then so be it. I trust JK’s eye for talent even if he zags when we all think he’s going to zig.

        My money is the only one here that can give Beckerman a run for that backup role is D Williams. Sacha is too attacking minded and in the end it will be Beckerman as Jones backup.

        • Increase says:

          Ya, Danny has to have a show stopper to get in. I mean its possible. I watched Reading once? So I really can’t tell you if He can or not.

        • Bac says:

          Agreed Neruda, and that goes along with my point that I think an extra midfielder makes the final 23. I also think that’s why we saw Mix & Sasha flip flop roles, Zusi & Bedoya switch sides, etc… I think JK is looking for both flexibility and specifically for our best match ups vs Ghana and Portugal, and none of those guys have consistently stepped up and grabbed a spot away from the other. I think Beckermans a lock regardless, and a year ago I swore he was never going to make it

        • Dennis says:

          Really, there will be a camp in May likely with around 30 players. Beckermann will be in that camp. Sasha and Williams are basically interviewing for a chance to be among that 30. (As are Agudelo, Gooch, JAB, Castillo, Packwood, Spector and Shea.)

          The final 2 for Brazil and the ticket for Beckermann, Sasha, Williams, Wondo, and several others will be decided upon during the May camp, not before.

        • Chris2 says:

          D-mid backup has a very good chance of playing. Against Germany. So, whoever, it’s important.

    • John says:

      Jones has played poorly so many times and it makes no difference to Klinsmann, why would it now? At least this match he’d have the excuse he is just returning from injury.

  5. soccerhorn says:

    Jones is under no pressure. Klinsmann has stated, in word and deed, that he’s married to the guy. For whatever reason. For better or worse. Dude’s a lock. I wish I was wrong, because I’ve always felt that Kljestan is the better player, especially in the attack, and would make a more fluid partner for Bradley. But he doesn’t speak German, so very likely it’s back to Brussels for Sasha while Jermaine accepts his starting spot.

    In fact, Dempsey has more to worry about than Jones. Dempsey hasn’t shown his world class form for over a year now. Duece has got to step up. He sucked in Seattle and he sucked at Fulham. Hardly even remember the guy that was an elite premier league scorer. Love him, but again, if you don’t speak German, you have to prove yourself every day to Klinsmann.

    Same goes for Altidore. While everyone on the planet (other than Jozy and Jozy’s agent) knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that moving from high scoring AZ Alkmaar to offensively inept Sunderland was a terrible idea, Jozy still can argue that it’s Sunderland’s system, and not his ability, that is keeping him off the scorer’s sheet. But if he doesn’t produce in these last few friendlies, Klinsmann will have no choice but to think about moving someone more in-form into the strike force.

    Now let’s just hope Klinsmann doesn’t still decide to add Timmy Chandler at the last minute!

    • HoboMike says:

      Donovan is fluent in German and had to prove himself with a B team in a C tournament. Jones starts over Kljestan because Kljestan….wait for it….isn’t as good.

      Enough with the German crap.

      • Increase says:

        Yup, Sadly Klejstan just isn’t quite there. Jones seems to be fading.(That knee injury?) But Sacha has never done it. We pretty much gotta hope Jones gets hot again just at the right time.

        • Dennis says:

          No question Jones is a better pit bull and probably quicker than Klejstan. However, I think Jones’ decision making has hurt the US from time to time and he has a penchant for trying to make passes he does not have quite the talent to pull off, which result in needless turnovers. Sasha, certainly has weaknesses, but I think he has shown that in the middle he can be strong and make better passes than Jones. I suspect the decision will not be based on which is “better”, whatever that means, but upon what JK thinks the player will bring to the team that it needs most.

      • Birgit Calhoun says:

        Right now this team is also a B team. This European contingent is not at all an A team. The A team is likely at least half US-based. But we’ll see tomorrow. The way things look to me, I see either a 0-0 tie or a loss. I don’t see a single reliable playmaker in this squad, and I can see the Ukrainians in a fighting mood.

    • Landon Klinsman says:

      Sasha never impresses me. I don’t see his club matches and I understand he does o.k. for his level, but he doesn’t put his stamp on the game for the Nats.

    • arsenal says:

      Plus, Kljestan isnt consistently starting for his club anymore. He has started, but not a consistent lock anymore. Jones, on the hand, is better and always starts, unless of injury or yellow card accumulation.

      People need to stop with this German garbage. The Klinsmann has won a world cup and played at a higher level than anyone of our players have. He has a better judge of talent than any of us. And if your argument was true, then Williams, Morales, Boyd, Brooks, and Chandler would be starting. But, that is not the case. He has left all these players off when they weren’t starting or playing well.

      • beachbum says:

        not saying anything about Klinnsman’s ability to coach or judge talent here, however just because a player won a World Cup does not necessarily make him/her a good coach nor a good talent evaluator

        • Nate Dollars says:

          +1, i can’t stand this line of reasoning. i’m assuming these same people would also love having maradona as our manager.

    • Josh D says:

      Jozy can argue all he wants about the lack of service. But the simple fact is that when he does get it, he misses the goal. Any striker playing for a relegation-threatened team learns to fight tooth and nail for goals. And I’d point to Borini as a striker who is making a difference on that team. I’m sorry, but I’m getting bored of the Jozy excuses. Face it: He’s bombing out for a second time.

      And going to Sunderland wasn’t as bad of a move at it seems in hindsight. They brought in an attack-minded manager who was very good in the Championship; they spent a ton of money; and on paper, they have a team that can stay up. They just can’t pull it together.

      People expecting him to land at a giant team forget how many strikers have come from Dutch league at Jozy’s age (and older) and failed. As Jozy is now realizing it: EPL defenders actually defend and body up.

      • Duke says:

        If Jozy had 1/2 the heart that Twellman had he would have no problems. Twellman would put his head in a meat grinder trying to score. In the end, it was the cause of his career ending injury but he had 100 times the heard and drive that Jozy has

      • Increase says:

        Naw, Sunderlands best midfielder is on loan there from Swansea. A team like 10 points ahead of Sunderland is giving them hand me down players. That team is a hot mess.

        I’ll agree that Jozy isn’t helping. I feel like he is playing at the level of the rest of the team rather than above it.

        • Bobby B says:

          Jozy suffers from a lack of service (i.e. chances). He also suffers from a lack of marksmanship.

          In the Dutch league, that is ok. Unfortunately, in the EPL its impact on his scoring rate is detrimental.

          When he started to get better service (i.e. more chance) with the USMNT, he started to put a few away. Not an exact comparison, but the concacaf and friendly level of competition is more akin to that of the Dutch league than the EPL.

      • Nate says:

        Who cares? The same could be said for Michael Bradley who “bombed out” of midtable Aston Villa and Gladbach and now, Roma. No one was deriding the Dutch league when Bradley was scoring freely there.

        True, Borini leads the forward line with 5 goals. Thats right, 5 in all comps. And if by making a difference, you mean reducing the goal differential in a losing cause, then sure, you have a point. That team, quite simply, cannot possess the ball, and does not create many goal scoring opportunities. The reality is that relegation threatened strikers dont end up on the top scorers table, because their teams suck. Name the last striker from a relegated team to finish top ten in scoring?

        Bottom line is that Klinsmann would be idiotic to sit Dempsey, Bradley, or Altidore based on a recent run of bad form for their clubs. These guys are known quantities for the National Team and have produced on the biggest stage. Quite simply, they, along with Donovan, put the US in the best position to win. imagine sitting altidore and/or dempsey in favor of, who? Agudelo and Johansson? Two guys with 3 national team goals between them, and zero experience in international matches of any consequence?

        Dont get me wrong, I love AJ’s creativity and fearlessness. It reminds me of Beasley and Donovan in 2002. but I like it alongside the experience of Dempsey and Altidore, not instead of.

      • Nate Dollars says:

        borini does not play the same position as jozy. he plays on the outside (like adam johnson). sunderland tries to move the ball patiently up the field until they’re crowding the box, where their mids/fullbacks can take potshots from 30 yards away, or the wingers can cut in and take shots.

        that’s why no one in their striker role has many goals.

        and it’s doubly annoying to watch because 1) sunderland’s not good enough to play a possession game in the epl and 2) the usmnt went through the *same exact thing* a couple years ago (2012?) before klinsmann realized we (and especially jozy) play better with lots of quick attacks, rather than in a slow buildup.

        • beachbum says:

          excellent post. I tire of explaining these things to folks here tho

          • Nate Dollars says:

            yeah, i just figure the only reason they don’t see it is because they haven’t watched enough sunderland games this year, but really–who could blame them? honestly, they’ve probably made the better choice in the long run. :)

    • soccerhorn says:

      gentlemen, I concede the point. I was trying to be funny. Obviously not. It has nothing to do with being German. Still, it does seem that Jones has gotten a pass many players – stronger ones like Donovan and Altidore, as well as weaker ones (ok, if you insist, Kljestan) – haven’t.

      I still would argue that Jones is Klinsmann’s darling, and that few players on the roster sit prettier than Jones, and that Altidore and Dempsey still have more on the line than Jones tomorrow or in the remaining three months.

      And I still reserve the right to be indignant is Timmy Chandler’s name is ever whispered again in the halls of Soccer House!

      • arsenal says:

        I have to agree Jones has the least to lose, but I think for good reason. I think he brings something no other u.s. player brings — nastiness, grit, serious fight and backs down to no one. Yes, he has had a few bad games, but everyone on this roster has had them. But, on every other ocassion I would always take Jones over everyone except Bradley. But, even in that respect, they are different players as well. Jones is a true hard nose DM, which sadly is a dying breed.

        On a side note soccerhorn, I respect your opinion and would like to be your friend….friends? :)

        • Increase says:

          At the very least we need Jones for Ghana. Were gunna need him to smash em up a bit. African teams are really physical.

          I watched the last African cup of Nations. Half the games were a contest of on the ball running strength. Ugly but effective.

    • Louis Z says:

      Why Jozy and anyone else thinks is Sunderland’s system that is at fault. If it was true, he should have continue to score for the national team which he is not.

    • tom says:

      Agreed that Jones will be on the field, and I think that he should be. We have to look at his indirect benefit when compared with another player like Kljesten – Jones and Bradley pair similar to Diego Chara and Will Johnson in Portland. By having more of a pure destroyer in Jones/Chara it allows Bradley/Johnson to be a true box-to-box. Sometimes Bradley is back as a defensive mid, but he also has the freedom to move where needed and pick times to overload the attack (which Bradley does brilliantly…it’s when he’s at his best). Bradley has that level of confidence and freedom because he’s not the lead d-mid/destroyer, Jones is.

  6. Ryan says:

    For the world cup would a 5-3-2 be feasible?
    Chandler- Cameron -Omar- Besler-johnson
    Bradley- Donovan-Dempsey
    AJ Jozy
    Our best players will be on the field. We have the speed and crossing from the wings. Strong center backs and a trio of mids that are good on the ball and can interchange subs work well with Jones for Bradley. Mix for landon, Zusi for Dempsey. Beasley for Johnson Evens for Chandler goodson for a center back… what are the draw backs?

    • Benjamin C. says:

      If you started that group of players, Cameron would simply be a defensive midfielder paired with Bradley rather than a third central defender, creating a 4-4-2. It actually produced some pretty good results during qualifying. However, with Chandler being injured right now, I think it is essentially too late for him to grab a spot for this cycle; hence, Cameron is out best right back option by a lot (Evans has been wretched there for the National Team lately) and will likely be at that position in Brazil.

      • arsenal says:

        If Chandlers healthy, I see him being on the preliminary roster because of our terrible depth at RB. Its Cameron, and them a pretty far drop off after that. Evans just won’t cut in Brazil with the speed of the Ghana and Portugal. I see even Cameron struggling with the speed.

        • Benjamin C. says:

          I agree with you, the talent level between Chandler and Evans is not particularly close; if both were healthy and in form, Chandler would easily win that battle. However, that doesn’t mean Klinsmann would make his decision based on those factors. Personally, I rate Chandler, Lichaj, and even Parkhurst ahead of Evans at RB.

          • Clevelandfc says:

            I like that group. Put Cameron as a def mid. I agree w putting our best players out there and giving us a chance.

        • g-dub says:

          I disagree with this. Cameron is a highly capable RB proving himself week in and week out against world class talent in the EPL. Evans has proven himself as a solid backup level RB, who’s game translates to international play as a safe and sound type RB. (No he’s not going to threaten going forward but he will not make positional mistakes and he is not prone to dangerous giveaways).

          Chandler is a. Injured and b. Eternally in JK’s doghouse.

        • ronniet says:

          No, no, no……if Cameron can shut down eden hazard for a whole game, he most definitely can handle any problems the Ghanaians will pose!!!!! Do your homework kid!!!

  7. crazy ideas says:

    we need to breed MESSI?

    get 100 drunk college girls to get him drunk and let the offspring grow

  8. crazy ideas says:

    Leave DONOVAN. He’s washed up.

    Bradley is our midfield linchpin. He will lead us to GLORY

  9. Sabella says:

    There should be no more tinkering at this stage. Klinsi should have called in his starting 11. I don’t care if some of the guys are a few days from starting their MLS season. This is the World Cup we are talking about and starting to gel as a unit is of paramount importance. Our starting 11 need to be playing together as much as possible from this point forward. I’m sure Danny Williams will show his hunger but he ain’t a starter in Brazil. Let’s move on and start putting on our game face.

    • Benjamin C. says:

      I would agree with you, but you never know what will happen to some of those starters between now and this summer. God forbid it happen, but Besler or Bradley or anyone else could take a wrong step, be the victim of a rough tackle, whatever, and have a blown out knee. Klinsmann has to worry about figuring out who the backups are, who the alternates, etc., not just chemistry between the starting 11. Also, it is highly unlikely the same players will start every game at the World Cup. The coaching staff has to know about every single player they are even considering taking to Brazil.

    • bryan says:

      disagree entirely.

      • Jesse D says:

        I’m somewhere in-between your opinions. Yes we are still looking for alternates and trying to narrow the 23. Yes the best way to do that is see how the top 11 work with other members of the 23. An A- or B+ tells you much more than a B team ever does. How many “not ready” centerbacks do we want to see? I’d rather see how Cameron performs with Omar and Besler, than match him up with Gooch. There are still roster spots to be won, but MLS being dumb and placing opening weekend on an international date is their own fault.

        • Benjamin C. says:

          MLS has always been stubborn concerning international dates, and their product has suffered short-term on the field because of this. If you market American, CONCACAF, and South American players, yet they are all playing qualifiers for a couple of weekends, you have a problem. Never understood that policy.

    • Dennis says:

      First, No injury actually prevents that in Bradley’s case. Second this game is not about a 2 day camp and one match to build togetherness, it is the last chance to see some of these players in the context of other USMNT players to decide which are those who either can be a positive sub move or who can replace a starter without a big change in style of play or drop-off in quality. Bluntly, can Williams slot in for Jones, can Klejstan sub in for Bradley without changing the team’s dynamic a lot or will Beckermann be the guy backing up Jones and Mix backing up Bradley (Mix was at the Jan. camp so the trade-offs there are apparent already). Not sure JK still has BEasley as the starting right back, but the question of Castillo being the first sub there still needs to be answered.

      Some of the guys are young players and they are still in the parts of their careers wherein they can grow and change a lot in a short time so what happened last summer is not necessarily a good guide for where they will b next June.

      Winning or losing this game is secondary to learning something about the players by a wide margin.

  10. bryan says:

    “The friendly against the Ukrainians, which is the Americans’ last until Klinsmann selects his preliminary World Cup roster in May”

    why do SBI reports continue to say this? there is a friendly in April against Mexico. at least state it’s “European-based Americans'” last chance to impress before the preliminary roster. not a flat statement as it reads now.

    • Hogatroge says:

      This. The guys from MLS and Liga MX get one more chance to impress before the preliminary 30-man roster is out.

      It’s pretty amazing that there are good players in danger of not making the PRELIMINARY roster this cycle compared to 2010.

  11. Ives Shawn says:

    Is it canceled or not!

  12. Good Jeremy says:

    Could this be the game where Kljestan finally plays his natural position? I’m not holding my breathe.

  13. Expat4455 says:

    If Timothy Chandler recovers from injury and if Julian Green declares then Timothy will be the second best player for the USMNT in Brazil. I mean the kid is 23 and he made the Bundesliga 11 of the week, two straight weeks before he was injured.

    • John says:

      Well if you want to ignore the year before those 2 weeks I guess he looks pretty good. However he is pretty inconsistent and its hard to tell what level he’ll be at on his return.

      • Expat4455 says:

        If I want to ignore the year before? Why not say I want to ignore the 2 years before. Timothy has been a 3 year starter, in the Bundesliga for God’s sake. How in the world can you say about this 23 yr. old world class player: “he is pretty inconsistent…..”

        I think you just made that up because it is nowhere near the truth. A player does not start for 3 years in the Bundesliga by being “pretty inconsistent”.

        • John says:

          Well Nurnberg didn’t win a single match the first half of the season and were in dead last place at the break. He started the season by giving up a PK the cost his team a match and was sent off. Last season he was moved to the right wing where he never found a great deal of success and was in and out of line ups. Even Klinsmann said he wasn’t being called in due to performance.
          I like him but I think people have put too high of expectations on him too quickly. If was going to play for the US or not its a shame he got injured when he did because he was finding some great form coming out of the break.

        • John says:

          With all that said as long as Brad Evans is in the picture Chandler can still make the World Cup team. I just don’t think he is anywhere near the 2nd best player on the team. Might be the 3rd best fullback behind Fabian and Cameron.

          • Hogatroge says:

            Right… but you generally need 4 fullbacks on a 23 man roster for…y’know, injury coverage and possibly squad rotation.

  14. Expat4455 says:

    I do like Clint Dempsey, a lot. I think he may be the best we have at this time; however, one could say that he was not surrounded by world-class players during his play with the U.S. National team…………………..so far.

    If, in Brazil, he has both Julian Green and Timothy Chandler on the field with him, along with Tim Howard in Goal of course, then we may see his finest performance.

    • ronniet says:

      You’re clearly trying to get responses from people with these god awful assessments, so i’ll be the first to say that your a moron of the highest order!

  15. Dennis says:

    Actually, I’ve always felt Dempsey had his worst games for the USMNT when he was within a few days from having to travel across an ocean. Since he did not do that for this game, I expect a stronger showing from him than we saw when he traveled from Fulham or Tottenham for a game that was happening within a few days.