The U.S. Men’s National team ended its year with a tremendous thud. The team that stole the heart of the nation with it’s resilient performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup walked away from their final game of 2014 taking it on the chin, 4-1 to Ireland.
The USMNT played five matches following their trip home from Brazil. Many players got to see the field, and the grand experiment of roster tweaking is already in full swing. A recap of the first five games of the 2018 World Cup cycle is certainly in order, assuming you don’t feverishly slurp up international friendlies.
The USMNT started the cycle with a 1-0 win in the Czech Republic, with Alejandro Bedoya scoring a first half goal. This was the only win for the USMNT in their five games so it’s easy to look upon it favorably. Starts by Julian Green and Joe Gyau propelled an energetic first half, but both players got hurt during their club seasons following the match and didn’t play in the next two games. Green saw a two minute glimpse of the field at the end of the Columbia game, but more on that in a bit.
The next two friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador were terrifyingly similar. Early leads evaporated in the waning seconds of games, both resulting in 1-1 draws. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made mass substitutions in the second half of both games, in order for as many players to clock minutes as possible. Those subs led to a lack of chemistry, and eventually the ball in the net for the other team. Mix Diskerud scored the goal against Ecuador, and Jozy Altidore scored the goal against Honduras.
Columbia posed the toughest challenge to the USMNT. The Columbians are one of the best teams in the world and home to one of the best young players, forward James Rodriguez. Despite the mismatch, an Altidore penalty kick put the USA up 1-0 early in the first half. However, the onslaught of Colombian pressure was too much, and the USA conceded two second half goals to lose.
Finally, yesterday, Ireland ran straight through a defense that resembled swiss cheese, and made a mockery of goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who earned his 2nd start. Another note from this game, Jordan Morris became the 50th player to see the field under coach Klinsmann in 2014.
As I wrote earlier, these five games are a grand experiment, an ever-going puzzle of roster construction. Friendlies typically allow six subs so more players can get minutes. That being said, at 1-2-2, you’re looking more like the Chicago Bears, rather than the Green Bay Packers.
Ideally, Klinsmann saw enough to be able to put together a strong team for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Although lacking the pageantry of the World Cup, the Gold Cup will be incredibly important to the USA’s success going forward. A Gold Cup win will grant the USMNT a spot in the 2017 Confederation’s Cup, which will be critical for World Cup success.
Personnel wise, there’s a lot of players to keep an eye on. First, Jozy Altidore wore the Captain's band for most of the 5 matches, will he grow into the leader of the team? Mix Diskerud was able to score multiple goals. Will he be able to replace Landon Donovan as the scoring midfielder? Jermaine Jones played a lot in the back 4, will he continue to grow into his position? Finally the USMNT has resembled the fountain of youth as of late, which young players will step into starting roles and play like veterans?
A lot of questions following an exciting 2014, despite getting drummed by Ireland, the USMNT has a lot to be proud of, and even more to look forward to.