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The Warning Signs in a Big Win for U.S. National Team

This morning, U.S. soccer fans are again wearing their rose-colored glasses and celebrating the home team’s necessary 1-0 win over Jamaica last night at Crew Stadium.  With the win, the Yanks sit atop Group A and control their destiny in qualifying for the Hexagonal, the next step on the road to Brazil 2014.  Unlike Friday’s result, Jurgen Klinnsman’s tactics seemed to work and the U.S. controlled the tempo for most of the game, looking every bit like a top 30 team internationally (according to FIFA) and playing as many fans have come to expect the U.S. to play against a Caribbean nation.

However, not all is well with the U.S.  Beneath the smiles and victory celebrations, last night’s win contained elements that were disturbing and showed that the U.S., even if it controls its own qualifying fate, still has a ways to go before it can be in the same class as Mexico.  Some of the flaws can be fixed, while others remain long term projects.  Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments section below:

Despite not allowing a goal, the backline is still a question mark for 2014

Setting aside the (hopefully) ageless Tim Howard, the two best defenders for the U.S. were Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, both age 33.  For all the talk of the need for young defenders to begin taking their places, both have revealed themselves in this match and Friday’s to be irreplaceable right now.  Bocanegra was masterful in organizing the defense and serving as an on-the-field leader, while Cherundolo was excellent on the right flank.  Geoff Cameron looks like he could be the answer at one center back spot, but he is still rounding into international form (as heard by Tim Howard explaining profanely what to do when he got the ball in the U.S. box) and will be 29 by the time Brazil rolls around.  The youngster, Fabian Johnson, showed some pace up the left and played pretty well, but not dominant enough to make U.S. fans put this down as a strength.  The Jamaica match showed again that it will be at least another few years before we can feel confident about who our starting back four will be in 2014 (and yes, the timeline is ironically intended).

Without the big names, the U.S. lacks playmakers right now

No Landon Donovan meant the U.S. was relying on players like Jose Torres and Graham Zusi to make plays from the midfield and create scoring chances for this team.  Last night, it worked pretty well and I suspect both will be critical players in the future for this team.  However, it is the loss of Michael Bradley that has shown the weakness in the U.S. midfield.  Faced with the need for the team to control the run of play in the middle, Klinsmann seemed to have found a viable option with Danny Williams but when he needed to preserve the lead, had to turn again to inconsistent Maurice Edu.  Jamaica took advantage of shaky U.S. play in the second half to threaten and try to deny the U.S. a full three points.  Even Clint Dempsey, who looked a little rusty but effective, showed that even when not at 100% he needs to be on the pitch for the U.S. to play well.  Being so dependent on a handful of players with internationally unproven backups could cause heartburn down the road for the U.S.

The Klinsmann favorites are not performing

We like to mock those players that inexplicably receive playing time even though they continue to play somewhat poorly, and last night it was the same song-and-dance for three players we know Klinsmann sees as the future stars of his squad.  Brek Shea came on in the second half to provide a change of pace on the wings, but failed to really make any mark on the game.  He’s very young but between his poor club play and inconsistent international play, he’s yet to show why he should be guaranteed a spot on this squad.  Jermaine Jones, who obviously is seen by Klinsmann as a leader, was not given a yellow in this match but serving as a central midfielder was lackluster.  Danny Williams in the back should have allowed him to be more of a distributor, but he too often failed to connect passes and reverted to his poor defensive form with questionable tackles.  Maurice Edu was another second half sub that was supposed to provide a defensive presence in the midfield but, again, made poor passes and was the perfect example of how the U.S. was not able to get a cushion goal but instead allowed Jamaica to make some late runs.

This team cannot put games away

Eight shots total in this match and domination in the first half, but only one goal.  At no point in this match did you feel as a fan that the U.S. had this match; I was dreading the late goal on a counter that I could see happening in my mind.  Even with a raucous crowd and pristine pitch, the U.S. could not dominate this match where it mattered – on the scoreboard.  Looking at some of the other results on the night (Panama 2/Canada 0 for example) you see the better teams asserting their will on their opponents.  The U.S. cannot be in the same conversation as a Mexico without dominating a decent-to-good CONCACAF team at home in a must win game.