The US finished up its friendly tune-up series with a braggadocious first half performance followed by a “just-good-enough” second half against Euro powerhouse* Germany.
The Germans, of course, were missing much of their first string troops. Names like Ozil, Muller, Lahm, Gomez and Neuer weren’t pressed on the shoulder blades of any of the eleven on the field Sunday, on a sweltering day in the nation’s capital.
The States got up early on Jogi Low’s men through some calculated high pressure and abudant forward space for attacking man Clint Dempsey who profited off lax German defending. Dempsey drew a crowd in the 16th minute–three would-be defenders to be exact–and dished on the break to Graham Zusi–who continues to be a Swiss Army knife for the Yanks, filling in with whatever skill set is deemed necessary.
Zusi ran-on to the lead pass and drove a cross on a rope to Jozy Altidore who brought back a year’s worth of frustrations for Arsenal fans by slipping beyond a confused Emirates’ defender Per Mertesacker and knocking a one-time volley just inside the near stick.
The Yanks went up 1-0 and despite plenty of uneven play outlasted Die Mannschaft for the skinny victory, 4-3.
Here’s ten things we didn’t learn on Sunday.
10» Just how bright the future is for the German national team
The weather is and was a thankful excuse for Jogi’s Low team Sunday as its seems the Ecuadorian Party Flu bit the Germans in their friendly match in Florida against the CONMEBOL side Wednesday.
The Germans looked disinterested and uninspired through much of the ninety minutes and only seemed to muster any pace and initiative when the scoreline crept up the embarrassment scale.
You still have to make the plays, but the American certainly benefited from a German team that saw:
a) Hall-of-fame striker Miroslav Klose lolly-gagging offsides for a bulk of the first twenty minutes. Go back and look and the tape and this isn’t Klose testing the backline–though he did do that on a few occasions–this is Klose 3-to-5 yards offsides numerous times. However, that’s a veteran after a long campaign; there was much more.
b) 24-year-old Dortmund protege Sven Bender and Stefan Reinhart were downright negligent in taking space, making runs or making themselves available in the central midfield. Had either, especially Bender, played like they’re capable of the US could’ve found himself looking at a Belgium result after the first 45 minutes. (Bender was lifted at halftime for Max Kruse who had immediate impact.)
c) The back four of Jansen, Howedes, Mertesacker, Bender (Lars) offered a nice and roomy warehouse of space ahead of them for the US to (take their time and) find space or move on the ball.
The cushion given especially in the center by Howedes and Mertesacker was downright scandalous. Mertesacker was mercifully sacrificed at the break before his transfer value crept any lower.
d) And finally there was keeper Andre ter Stegen who looked like he was a third string and on loan from Toronto FC. Ter Stegen had a shocker.
This was a German team that didn’t want to be there with only a handful of players, Julian Draxler and Max Kruse, showing any of the class that precedes them on YouTube.
9» Tim Howard has trouble with the long ball.
Today it was Kruse off a pretty Draxler feed that was the culprit. Michael Bradley failed to apply enough pressure to Draxler who slotted to an incutting Kruse who left Omar Gonzalez in his wake. Kruse fired a precise–like German precise–strike inside the left post.
Howard was beat. Was it an above average strike? Yes. Did Howard fail to cover his right post effectively? Yes. Was it another example of shot from outside the box slipping by Timmy? Yes.
Then again, that German keeper had a howler of a day and it was really hot out there.
8» Clint Dempsey can score.
You have to imagine that Clint Dempsey playing today was akin to how O’Doyle felt playing dodgeball in Billy Madison. Either Dempsey was supreme to the counterpart attempting to mark him or he was met with blase defensive effort from one of the best strikers in German history.
The latter referencing Dempsey’s practice-field bender that curled passed the German keeper deputy after Lukas Podolski had went for soccer equivalent of the pump fake.
The key today of course is that with the US finally doing some work wide–especially on the right–and with Jozy Altidore making himself available. Dempsey had … space … and time and was asked to attack more than create.
That’s where the Spurs’ man is at his best.
7» Brad Evans is smart.
Commentating on ESPN, Taylor Twellman continuously praised the work from Evans at rightback. Evans had shown up playing the position with the first team in practice Saturday and was expected to give Geoff Cameron a respite there the following day.
The Sounder’s captain may have earned himself more serious consideration. In a game where it was tough to judge any collective or individual performance, Evans nevertheless showed well.
Evans has long been considered by fellow players–teammates and opponents–one of the smartest and most underrated players in the national team pool. And today, didn’t signal anything different.
Within the first five minutes, Evans had already knocked two perfectly weighted over-the-top balls to a galloping Jozy Altidore. It was Evans steady play and threat for that pass that in turn opened up Graham Zusi to do some work ahead of him. His play was very similar to that of Michael Parkhurst when he plays on the right, only Evans has arguably better handles and easily better wheels than the former Revs man.
Not only was Evans solid in possession, but his defensive positioning was near flawless, as he tucked in perfectly when the ball was on DaMarcus Beasley’s flank and then directed traffic when the attack was steaming down him. One sequence late in the first half somehow was picked up by the ESPN mics where Evans could be heard directing Michael Bradley on how to support him with two onrushing Germans barreling down.
Brad Evans is a student of the game.
6» The US centerbacks will keep fans on their toes.
While Omar Gonzalez was much better on the day–especially in the first half–and Matt Besler improved upon the play of Clarence Goodson Wednesday, nothing about Wednesday’s performance suggested that centerback stability is just around the corner.
Jurgen Klinsmann has succeeded in improving the overall US defense and–as often pointed out here–has positioned the centerbacks closer together to avoid getting run down the middle. Today that cohesion was not on display as the Besler-Gonzalez combination looked exceedingly “gappy” and had the Germans been more precise might have been exposed.
Both centerbacks often failed to track runners or were caught “playing spacer” rather than providing sport for their fullback. This was especially true of Besler on a few occasions who looked more sweeper-like often rather in pairing.
Nothing about today’s performance suggest the US centerbacks, much less the entire backline does not need to be compact and sit deep to not be exploited.
The examination continues Friday.
5» The US set piece defensive work in the box is [the opposite of iron clad]
The above is rather apt point giving the locale of today’s matches–nearly three and a half years ago Oguchi Onyewu when down to the ground clutching his knee after going airborne to defend a ball crossed into the box.
Since then, the closest the US has come to owning the box in the air is the present-day work of Omar Gonzalez. The US again today continued to lose attackers in the box on stopped-ball plays. Further, they often lost the second ball or worse again failed to control, deal with, corral, or expel errant pulls that fell to their feet.
It’s like a phobia or something right now.
4» Fabian Johnson doesn’t seem to like hot weather.
The US has played three matches now with Fabian Johnson starting where the conditions could be considered, generously, “muggy.” At Guatemala in a 1-1 draw last WCQ round, at Honduras during a sweltering day game earlier this year and Saturday in D.C.
In all three matches, the Hoffenheim winger has been silent. Sunday, Johnson left with an aggravated hamstring according to reports, so perhaps thinking that weather is that material is play is rubbish …. until he proves otherwise of course.
3» Edgar Castillo is a decent-to-solid defender.
US fans probably need to cut Castillo a break from today’s match. Castillo was awful today in the second half after he entered for a mostly solid DaMarcus Beasley. Castillo was broken down a number of times in 1-v-1 situations and with Brad Davis–not the owner of the fastest set of wheels in the house–ahead of him could muster little building from the back.
Castillo has radically improved his defense at Xolos over the last year and 2012 was perhaps his best in a US shirt when called up. He’s better than what he showed today.
2» Like any other good striker, Jozy Altidore thrives off, you know, getting the ball. Like always with Altidore, it’s now the next game that’s even more important.
Look, you can’t put it on Altidore that he often seemed to have a two-foot forcefield enveloping him that warded off German defenders. The Germans clearly had a serious allergy to stand-up defending today.
That said, no player was under the microscope more today than Altidore or was more polarizing as a narrative coming into this game.
Altidore–more than his well-taken goal or his deft passing today–seized the initiative today. He was involved. He understand the need to perform. And he kept coming. More so, he was committed defensively today–tracking back when there was even a sniff that he might be able to support the defenders behimd him.
Altidore beyond given space, thrived because he created space with his movement and he was put in motion.
Probably the smartest thing that the US did all day–and don’t think it wasn’t scripted by Martin Vasquez based upon his comments afterward–was get Altidore the ball early and over-the-top if necessary to get him involved. Inside of sixteen minutes from the opening whistle Altidore already had six solid looks come his way–two from Evans, two from Zusi, and one each from Dempsey and Jones. And it got the Eredivisie goal king going.
These are the types of games that reaffirm the skillset that Jozy Altidore has, but they also often only happen in single isolated games.
Altidore’s game against Jamaica, at Jamaica, is in no small order, massive. It was Jamaica on the road last time that saw Altidore uninvolved offensively and defensively. What a good story another solid showing on Friday would be.
1» Friendly–good or bad results–are always just that, friendlies.
Some other quick observations….
> If Klinsmann can find a little freedom in possession for Graham Zusi, he’s going to be a lot closer to what Stu Holden was supposed to be for the Yanks rathe than a James Milner type. He’s older than 21, Klinsy, give me a license to drive.
> Here’s a sneaky little thing that’s happening without Landon Donovan in the squad and it’s not good (and may just be the most subtle, but best point of this piece).
Clint Dempsey is given some serious deferential treatment.
When Dempsey has the ball for the States–and by Klinsmann giving him the armband–Dempsey is given full reign. This is a player who never lacks confidence or needs any prodding to go to goal. But the respect given Dempsey–likely because he is the lone borderline Champion’s League attacker on the team–is probably a little too much.
Or they clear away from Dempsey rather than checking too him.
There’s a sense of, “Let Dempsey work his magic know that he has the ball” or “he’ll do something.”
With Donovan on that squad, not only did the US have another player who could shoulder some of that “getting-on-the-ball” burden, but the rest of the squad was forced to continually to stay available–not least because Donovan might always spot you with a pass.
Today, the mere ability for Altidore to draw defensive attention was attack-enabling, but further with Altidore playing well with the ball at his feet it kept other players–Dempsey included–engaged in the attack. And that’s just as important as having Donovan back.