Let’s not be foolish enough to pretend that we learned much from Friday’s national team pushover four nights ago in St. Louis – the easiest entryway possible for Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch into the World Cup qualifying process.
It was certainly a big victory for soccer in “The Lou,” where a packed house helped cement a baby blanket-level of US comfort. It certainly provided that much-needed “something to feel good about” for Klinsmann’s team in transition, not to mention three valuable points. Still, the victory over St. Vincent and the Grenadines amounted to little more than a highly organized, public practice session, the high school varsity team warming up for the big game by pushing the JV squad around.
We can, the other hand, pick out a couple of small signs of hope for a qualifying process that’s about to much tougher.
Tuesday’s away match at Trinidad and Tobago will be unrecognizable from anything that happened in St. Louis. This is the T&T team that put four goals, then three goals past Mexico in a pair of high-scoring summer dandies. Much of the T&T roster comes from Europe’s middleweight leagues or from Major League Soccer, a far cry from the mostly part-time bunch from St. Vincent. The Soca Warriors started their own qualifying bid last week with a rock-solid result, a 2-1 win at Guatemala. In Port of Spain, the United States is a modest 2-1-1 over the last 15 years.
So what might we extract from Friday? What were these signs of something better ahead – something unseen in a calendar year of justified fan and media discontent?
Start with Klinsmann putting something on the field Friday that looked a little more sensible. His alignment was a straight 4-4-2 where most players were manning their best spots. The one exception was Gyasi Zardes deployed once again as an outside midfielder; matches over 2015 have shown that Zardes is adequate in the role against the lessers, but apt to tactical exposure against the betters.
Otherwise, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler looks like the best central defensive combo at the moment. “Playing your best pair” might sound ridiculously obvious, but Klinsmann can sometimes out-smart himself; his choices at center back have been a major culprit.
Tim Ream was stationed at left back Friday. It’s probably not his best position, but it represented a pragmatic choice, someone who spent ample time there at Bolton, before moving to Fulham.