U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann emphasized the five-game gamut his team has just embarked be approached like a mini tournament. If that’s the case, you can consider Saturday’s performance by the red, white and blue having put the rest of the fictitious group on notice.
The 5-1 annihilation of Scotland may be just what the doctor (not this one) ordered to start off a junket of three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers in the next 18 days. But before we get ahead of ourselves, which so many U.S. soccer fans may be tempted to do, let’s consider just what happened in Jacksonville beyond the final scoreline. Sounds like time for Starting XI points …
Lando’s back. There have been plenty of people doubting the motivation Landon Donovan has been bringing to the pitch lately. Suffice it to say his hat trick in rampant fashion answered most of those critics Saturday. He was absolutely superb, a constant threat, and could’ve had a fourth goal if not for a bad bounce off the post. There’s been a lot of talk as Clint Dempsey emerging as the U.S’s new star attraction, the free-to-roam midfield upon whom defenses heap attention and the public pours expectations, to relieve the pressure on an aging Donovan (a term I use lightly given that he’s only recently turned 30). But he proved Saturday as he crept to one goal shy of the half-century mark that his day for the U.S. is hardly over.
Breaking Bradley. In case anyone thought Michael Bradley was washed up at age 23, we can consider those rumors to be succinctly dispelled. As if an outstanding season with Chievo Verona wasn’t enough, he was the one player that Scotland’s rough-and-tumble midfield had no answer for. His volley from distance is among the best you will see, not this week or this summer, but ever. He was in the middle of everything for the U.S., setting up Donovan’s third and a constant part of the buildup. Whatever Klinsmann’s final decision happens to be in terms of midfield formation and composition, Saturday was a stark reminder that Bradley’s role must be as a creative distributor given space to operate.
Tartan temperance. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. On one hand, this was a dominating performance, and no one in the right mind would say that U.S. was merely taking care of business with such a lopsided win as it would against, say, some of the lowlier teams in CONCACAF. But this isn’t among the top 20 in Europe and hasn’t qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. Scotland doesn’t offer much in the way of attacking potency, as was shown Saturday, and their midfield isn’t big on much other than snarl. The fact that the U.S. overcame that and produced such beautiful football is an accomplishment, but they’ll be stressed by squads the can better stretch the field.
The wide question. Donovan ran amok on Scotland, and Jose Torres was pretty strong, though overshadowed, as anyone would be by Donovan. But if Klinsmann decides that the successful midfield triumvirate of Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Bradley is the way to go, there’s a concern that the attack could become too narrow. The inability of Scotland’s five-man midfield to jam up the works in that way is their most stark failure of the night.
Where does Clint fit? The obvious question after a dominant performance as this is how changes can be made, especially when arguably the biggest piece of the team is absent. Ostensibly, Dempsey would slot into Torres’ spot, but again that brings concerns about the width of the team. He could foreseeably be placed in Jones’ spot in that midfield triangle, but that reduces the ball-winning ability that made them go Saturday. Turning this into a Donovan or Dempsey question seems preposterous, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Missing Jozy. It’s safe to say Terrence Boyd didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his third cap. In fact, he was closer to getting in the way of a couple goals than actually contributing to them. But the lack of Jozy Altidore as a target man drove the play through midfield and forced an emphasis on possession, which may be the better way to go. Still, Altidore likely would’ve finished a couple of chances Boyd got and further boosted the American attack.
In America’s defense. OK, it’s nitpicking, but Geoff Cameron’s own goal was proof that it took the defense about a half hour to settle in and get comfortable. It’s an issue that directly impacts the attack: Instability in the center keeps the fullbacks at home, and the central-midfield dominated attack means that overlapping runs by the fullbacks are vital to stretch the defense and provide space to operate.
Gooch is back. Carlos Bocanegra is the captain and a mainstay somewhere on the backline. Steve Cherundolo’s a staple at right back. The other central position is anything but locked down, and the winner of that job may be a blast from the past. Cameron was just so-so, Tim Ream hasn’t excelled as planned and Clarence Goodson has been enigmatic. That means Oguchi Oneywu may find himself in the mix yet again. He’s suffered through so many injuries, but he looked agile and pretty effective, albeit in limited action, against Scotland. Oneywu and Bocanegra once formed the first-choice blackline; they might do so again.
Brazil bonanza. We’ll see how much of the Scotland exuberance carries over to the friendly against Brazil at the midweek. But if the U.S. plays with the same kind of attacking zeal, it’ll be one heck of a match.
Jacked Jax. 44,438 people came out to cheer on the red, white and blue. Not bad for a town with chronic issues putting fans in the stands for American football, huh?
The scoop on the hoops. Not sure how I feel about the hoops jerseys yet. Made for a really disorienting day with Scotland on the pitch, but it’s a pretty decent look.