As the clock pushed on towards the 90-minute mark on Friday night, most United States Men’s National Team supporters were dreading the worst. A 1-1 scoreline against the weakest team in Group A, yet another disappointing away result for a team that looks the least dangerous it has looked in years, and the odds of an early exit from World Cup Qualifying growing like the team’s infirmary list.
Then it happened. What kind of coincidence is it that the two men who have spent the least amount of time with Jurgen Klinsmann were the ones creating and finishing the chance that sent the US towards Kansas City with a much needed 3 points?
That’s right, it was Alan Gordon that floated the nifty curling cross into the wind, and Eddie Johnson made an aggressive move at the ball to head it against the grain and into the net for the 2-1 victory.
The uninitiated could call it a master stroke by Klinsmann. The two forwards, both who ply their trade in Major League Soccer, saved the day after being selected in lieu of Jozy Altidore. Johnson even got the first goal, a Graham Zusi cross from the right that he demolished with his head like he has done in MLS all season.
Yet this was another middling performance all around. Klinsmann’s roster selections left him little choice to replace sick and injured players. If Klinsmann had planned to use a 4-4-2, it would make sense to have a second-choice for Brek Shea. Without a natural left midfielder like Chris Pontius or Brad Davis, he used Eddie Johnson in that role. The hole at left back was filled by Carlos Bocanegra, a player who took up that role in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In other words, it seems like Klinsmann may have made it a lot tougher on himself by the squad he selected. Why you need Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Kyle Beckerman, and Maurice Edu in a 24 man (make that 20 man after the injuries) is beyond me. Edu is considered a center back. Let’s face it though, Edu is a reserve, and as a reserve he can serve multiple purposes. Beckerman was surplus, and meant a natural left midfielder was unavailable if Shea went down.
But I’ll leave my critique at that. This is Klinsmann’s first foray into World Cup Qualifying as a National Team coach, as Germany was automatically qualified in 2006 as hosts. This intermediate round of Qualifying has given him an opportunity to make some mistakes and correct before the Hexagonal begins.
The only caveat is that the Hexagonal still isn’t a certainty. A win or draw on Tuesday night against Guatemala puts them through. A loss would put Jamaica in the catbird’s seat, knowing by match time the goal difference necessary to overtake the US.
In effect, the Guatemala match may actually be the test of whether Klinsmann is learning from the errors. Will he get overly conservative to preserve a draw? Will he insert multiple crunchers who concede free kicks just outside the area? Will he station a number of players out of position? Or will he try and let this team play to their strengths?
For now, the Americans are in position to move on. A sellout crowd in KC should provide the inspiration. The only thing that stands between the US and a trip to the Hexagonal is a feisty Guatemala side that would love nothing more than to drop the US out.