Galarcep: US team a work in progress
United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, will need time to implement his possession philosophy to the men's national team. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
For U.S. men’s national team fans hoping to see something different in Jurgen Klinsmann’s second game in charge, they got about as different a performance as they could have imagined.
Unlike their game against Mexico in August, when the Americans were dominated early by a strong opponent before coming to life late in the match and snatching an equalizer, the United States played the role of an early aggressor. The only problem is the Americans couldn’t finish when they had total control of the match, so when Costa Rica found confidence in the second half and penetrated the U.S. defense, the Americans suddenly went from a dominant team to a losing team.
Ultimately, Friday night’s friendly was never supposed to be about the result. It was supposed to be about testing out players to see how they could fare against international competition, and how they could fit in playing with the U.S. team. For the first 30 minutes or so, we saw a United States that passed the ball and moved off the ball extremely well. There was energy and creativity that was extremely encouraging.
The only problem was that a goal never came. Brek Shea set up Landon Donovan with a clear look on goal, but the veteran star pushed his chance wide, wasting an opportunity that could have opened up the game. After the strong first 30 to 35 minutes, the United States began slowing down just enough to give Costa Rica a chance to pounce.
The Ticos nearly did just before halftime, but Tim Howard made a key save and kept the match scoreless at halftime. Instead of coming out in the second half and imposing themselves on Costa Rica again, the Americans struggled to string passes together, as fatigue slowly erased all the movement we saw in the first half. The fluid attacking play simply vanished.
Luckily for the United States, it was facing an undermanned Costa Rica side that didn’t have the weapons to capitalize even more on the fatigued Americans. Noentheless, the Ticos still managed to expose some of the weaknesses in the U.S. lineup.
As disappointing as the loss must be for Klinsmann, the match should offer him valuable information as he evaluates which players to keep giving time to and which players he might consider dropping down in the depth chart.
Here is a look at who impressed and who struggled:
Jozy Altidore. His movement, passing and confidence on the ball were clear to see. You can tell the difference between the player who is starting regularly and scoring goals in Europe now and the player who didn’t get minutes and had a goal drought a year ago. Jozy did nothing to hurt his place as the U.S. team’s starting target striker.
Jose Torres. It is clear Klinsmann has grand plans for the skillful midfielder and against Costa Rica he showed the vision, touch and movement that make him such a promising option. If there is a player who seems to be thriving under Klinsmann early on, it’s Torres.
Brek Shea. Much like Altidore, Shea was a key figure in the U.S. team’s early domination. His confidence, aggressiveness, speed and movement are extremely encouraging, though he did tire as the match went on, which had to be expected for someone who has played as much as he has lately. He has definitely earned more looks from Klinsmann.
Timmy Chandler. No, he wasn’t a dominant as some would have hoped and didn’t look as dangerous as he did back in March. What we saw was a player who clearly has the quality to start at right back. Steve Cherundolo remains the starter there, but it’s tough to see anybody moving ahead of Chandler on the depth chart any time soon.
Michael Orozco. Despite the fact that Costa Rica didn’t have much of the ball, Orozco still found himself struggling on several of the occasions when he was challenged. Orozco’s passing wasn’t sharp at all. Both he and Carlos Bocanegra could have done better on the sequence leading to Costa Rica’s goal.
Edgar Castillo. Facing an opponent who didn’t attack much at all on the flanks, Castillo had the luxury of being able to try and attack much more often than he did against Mexico. The result? A succession of failed forays and countless turnovers in the open field. He did draw a number of fouls and earned at least one promising free kick. Given the opportunity and circumstances, Castillo needed to do more.
Robbie Rogers. When Rogers came off the bench to score the equalizer against Mexico, you began to wonder if he might be ready to show us something new. Against Costa Rica, we saw a more familiar Rogers, one who couldn’t quite make an impact or test opposing defenses. Rogers has never had the look of a starting wing option on the national team, and did nothing to change that opinion on Friday night.
Along with seeing the aforementioned players either strengthen or weaken their places in Klinsmann’s pecking order, we did get a glimpse of what a possession-style U.S. attack could look like. It looked attractive while it lasted, but the harsh reality is the U.S. team couldn’t produce a goal against a weaker opponent.
That doesn’t mean Klinsmann will or should go away from trying to implement a more possession-oriented offense, but it did show us that any attempt to truly transform the U.S. national team from a defend and counter squad to a possession-style attack is going to take time. It’s going to require a thorough “player audition” process, and is likely to give us some disjointed performances and disappointing results like we saw Friday.
TIM HOWARD (6). Made a clutch save on the initial shot before Costa Rica’s goals, but couldn’t stop the second. Had a relatively quiet night before being called on late in the first half and mid-way through the second half.
TIM CHANDLER (6). Started tentatively, but eventually settled in and was solid, both defensively and getting forward. Not quite as effective as he was in his previous national team appearances, but you can see the quality.
MICHAEL OROZCO (4). Passing was bad, struggled to deal with Alvaro Saborio at times, and just never looked as confident as he did against Mexico. He’ll get more looks, but did little to cement a hold on any starting centerback role.
CARLOS BOCANEGRA (5). The U.S. captain looked uncomfortable playing alongside Orozco, and wasn’t helped by having to cover for his centerback partner on several occasions. Stepped up late on the sequence leading to the Costa Rica goal, and had a few uncharacteristically bad passes. Bocanegra still cleaned up his share of messes out in the back.
EDGAR CASTILLO (3). If there was a record for turnovers in one game by a U.S. national team player, Castillo either broke or came close to it. In a match when he didn’t have much to do defensively, Castillo looked thoroughly hapless trying to get forward and trying to pass the ball. He did draw a handful of fouls, and set up at least once good free kick chance, but it would be a major surprise if he starts again anytime soon.
MAURICE EDU (6). Efficient and strong playing in front of the defense, Edu cleaned up the handful of Costa Rican forays that came his way. He didn’t have much to do in the first half, and seemed shackled to a purely defensive role, which limited his chances of getting forward, which is a definite strength of his.
JOSE TORRES (6). Looked very sharp in midfield, kept the ball well and showed good vision with his passing. Struggled a bit once his teammates stopped running and moving like they did early on, but when the squad was active, he was at his best.
LANDON DONOVAN (4.5). Now we know why Donovan isn’t going to Belgium. Fatigue is clearly an issue as he tired on Friday night far earlier than I can ever recall him tiring in a national team match. Started strong, and aside from that terrible miss early on, he looked like he would be on his way to a good game, at least before fading badly and disappearing in the second half.
BREK SHEA (5.5). Very active and effective early in the match, Shea's confidence on the ball and movement off the ball were impressive to see and such a far cry from the player we saw in a national team uniform a year ago. Fatigue caught up to him though, not a surprise considering the heavy, heavy minutes he's played recently for FC Dallas.
ROBBIE ROGERS (4). The least effective attacking player on the squad, he just didn't contribute much at all and one of the lasting memories of his night was when Altidore delivered a perfect pass to Rogers in the penalty arc only for Rogers to blow his chance with a horrid first touch.
JOZY ALTIDORE (5.5). He was overpowering in the first half, drawing fouls, collecting passes and delivering passes. He looked like a confident striker, and when the U.S. offense was moving well, Altidore looked very dangerous. Once the service dried up, Altidore struggled to make a mark.
JUAN AGUDELO (5.5). Came off the bench and provided good energy, and nearly found an equalizer with a beautiful run into the penalty area that produced a quality save. Still gets caught up a bit in too much one-on-one play, but considering his teammates weren’t doing too much moving off the ball by the time he came on, it wasn’t a bad idea to be greedy.
SACHA KLJESTAN (5). Minutes were limited, but he looked sharp and composed on the ball. You can tell he’s in good form, something to be expected as he earns regular time for a solid Anderlecht squad. Should earn more minutes against Belgium and looks capable of starting.