Last night's game vs. Costa Rica was interesting for a couple of reasons. The US played a very attractive, attacking style of soccer (just as Klinsmann is wanting to implement), and bossed the opening 30 or so minutes, and also dominated other stretched of the match. Landon Donovan missed what should have been a for sure goal, and the US did have a couple of other chances but couldn't score. Despite the final tally being in the favor of Costa Rica, I don't think anyone should get up in arms over the result. I know many fans see Klinsmann in almost a messiah like light. While I rate him very highly, I don't think it's fair to expect him to win every single match, especially as a new coach. I think fans just need to keep in mind the fact that Klinsmann is trying to revolutionize not only a team, but the whole structure of soccer in the US. That's quite a tall task. Despite a very small sample size, the progress so far is promising. While a complete overhaul will take years and years (in reality probably more like a decade or three), but last night was an early glimpse of the style that Klinsmann wants. And, although the US couldn't keep it up for the full 90 minutes, there definitely were glimpses shown. It was certainly a different, entertaining, and more refreshing look than what we have seen from Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley. Follow me after the break for a few thoughts...
I have never been one to give player ratings by number. To be frank, I am not very good at it, so I like to take the approach of rating players on a good, ok, and bad level and expand on top of that. The good category has to be topped by Jose Torres. The guy seemed to be all over the place, pressuring the attack and setting up his teammates nicely. His performance was definitely a big surprise for me since he has not had an impact performance like that before. While I will hesitate to call it a breakout because that would mean he is making it into a trend, it certainly could be a sign of things to come. Jurgen allowed him to push up further and attack, and he took that confidence from the coach and ran with it. He would be my man of the match.
Overall, I would also put Tim Howard in the good category. He didn't have much to do in the first half, and did let in a goal. He made a nice save, and the rebound went to an unmarked Rodney Wallace who put a nice header away. I don't put that on Tim, had the marking been better the header should not have even happened. Plus it was a nice header by Wallace. Tim also made a few nice saves in the second half as well.
The rest of the good would be rounded up by Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore. Shea looked very dangerous at the outset, and then quieted down a bit. I am certainly starting to see a trend with Brek, I hope it continues to develop. Jozy, while not scoring, put in a good performance and showed some progression in his game in my opinion. Remember folks, he's still very very young and is now tearing up the Dutch League side he plays for, AZ Alkmaar.
As for the ok or "meh" performaces, there were a few. Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, and Maurice Edu stick out to me. For the most part, Boca was decent but had some uncharacteristic mix ups. Castillo held his own initially, but regressed as the match grew older. I don't really rate Castillo that high, and I wonder how much longer he will see playing time. I think he may get a little more time this year, but I don't see him in the squad once World Cup qualifying kicks off next year. Edu was a bit of an enigma. I think he started out slower, but got better as the game moved on. I have always been a fan of his, and I know he is capable of putting in very good performances. I didn't see that last night, although he showed flashes, particularly in the second half. I think he will continue to feature for the US. He had ups and downs in terms of playing time under Bob Bradley, and I think he is one of those players that will be pretty good when given consistent playing time. I'm not too worried about Edu, and I hope he continues to see time on the pitch.
For the bad performances, I would put Tim Chandler, Michael Fiscal, Robbie Rogers, and Landon Donovan on that list. Chandler is very raw, and definitely took a big step down from his earlier, wonderful USMNT performance. That's a small sample size though. I think Chandler can be something special, so I am not overly concerned with the performance last night. Hopefully he sees some time against Belgium. If so, I look for him to do much better. Fiscal just didn't seem comfortable to me. He was very shaky when Costa Rica began to pressure in the second half. I don't rate Fiscal much, and just like Castillo, I don't see him being a mainstay on the USMNT. Rogers did not do much at all. To me he seemed a bit tentative and looked out of sync all night, not really getting in the flow of the game or linking up with his teammates. As for Donovan, he missed what should have been a sitter. While I thought he started the game well, he definitely regressed from there. He is still an icon on the USMNT, and one of the best we have. However, now that he is getting older, he seems to be putting in more sporadic performances. While it was rare for him to have an off game in his younger days, he seems to have them more often now. However, the guy is too good and still young enough to get it done. I am not writing him off yet. But last night was not one of his stronger performances. I think when he has more of the veterans around him that he is used to playing with, he will be much better. He has growing pains alongside young players just like young players have growing pains trying to adjust to international play.
After the match, Klinsmann was pretty upbeat. In fact, he talked about the fact that overall, the US did very well. I concur with that assessment. Although we seemed tired at the end of the first half and down the stretch in the 2nd half, Klinsmann acknowledged this as a challenge for the team to overcome. Obviously learning any new system is hard, but when you are playing an attacking, pushing up the pitch constantly type of soccer, it is tiring. And since the US has been conditioned to play under Bradley, this new approach will require adjustments. Which is exactly what Jurgen talked about. As the players get more used to the system, they should be able to endure longer to the point where they can attack for a full 90 minutes. It definitely makes me appreciate how attacking teams like a Barcelona or a German national team has to be supremely conditioned to be able to do this for a whole match. I would say the US is off to a good start.
One other point that connects to the above paragraph is Klinsmann's use of subs. Some fans have wondered if he used them right, or why he didn't use all 6. If you read the article from the link in the paragraph above, he essentially answered that question for the doubting fans. He knew the players were tired, but as he said in the article they need to get conditioned and learn to push through that. Playing the type of soccer he wants is not easy and is demanding. So leaving those players in rather than subbing all of them out is helping them get a taste of the mental and physical preparations they will need to have to be a USMNT regular under Klinsmann.
All in all, this is really a work progressing before our eyes. I think things are looking good so far. I am really excited for the Belgium game. I think it will be an ever tougher test for the Americans than Costa Rica was. It looks like we will have Clint Dempsey available. In other good news, Stu Holden is nearing the end of his recovery from a nasty tackle at the hand of Jonny Evans. It caused a 26 stitch gash, and an ACL injury. He may be back in Bolton's first team in October, so he should be available to the USMNT late this fall and winter.
Keep an eye on HTIOT as Tweed and I have discussed having a running gamethread Tuesday not only for the USMNT game, but for the other international competitions going on as well. I don't want to promise everyone this, but it seems I may be giving Tweed the USMNT bug, as it was his idea to have an international friendly game thread. Tweed, welcome to the wonderful world of USMNT soccer. It's always great to add another to the ranks! Onward and upward you Yanks! We'll see you on Tuesday for the gamethread.