It is far too soon to be declaring Jordan Morris the future of the United States national team attack, but his goal and performance against Mexico on Wednesday showed once again that coach Jurgen Klinsmann has an eye for talent and that his months of experimentation may not have been in vain.
Klinsmann has spent the post-World Cup era experimenting (or for his critics ‘tinkering’) with his squad, bringing in new faces, trying to unearth some talent that might be able to make an impact on the road to Russia 2018.
My problem with the past nine months of friendly performances from the U.S. hasn’t been that Klinsmann has used over 50 players, but that so few of those brought in have made the kind of strong impression the coach would have been hoping for.
Indeed, until Wednesday, it could be argued that only Tijuana’s Greg Garza, who instantly looked like a first choice left-back, had truly staked a claim to be in the ‘real squad’ – the one which will take part in the Gold Cup campaign in July.
Some of those tried have looked badly out of depth – forward Bobby Wood being the most obvious example. Others, like Alfredo Morales, have shown glimpses of their talent, without truly convincing.
Morris’s confident play, his pace, his touch and a goal that he never looked like missing, was the kind of impact performance that has been missing through the experimentation phase.
But he wasn’t alone.
On a field that was, frankly unsuitable for an NPSL game never mind a clash of this stature, Ventura Alvarado at center-half, delivered the kind of commanding performance that has been lacking in that position.
The Club America defender looked solid and composed, as did his partner Omar Gonzalez.
Another player who Klinsmann controversially, in some eyes, picked out of relative obscurity and threw into the national team, DeAndre Yedlin, also delivered – showing few signs of the effect of several months without regular action for his club Tottenham.
It is worth remembering that many pundits questioned the wisdom of bringing Yedlin into the team ahead of last year’s World Cup – preferring the perceived safer choices of a Michael Parkhurt or Brad Evans.
As with Morris, Klinsmann saw something in Yedlin – his extreme pace, his confidence and directness – that made him believe he could be an asset in Brazil. The German was smart enough to know that Yedlin wasn’t yet ready, in terms of his defensive skill set, to play at his club position of right-back, so he played him ‘out of position’ on the right of midfield at the World Cup and it paid off.
The ‘out of position’ phrase has been widely used to describe the advanced role that Klinsmann has given to Michael Bradley but the captain certainly didn’t look lost in San Antonio, as he delivered one of his best performances in some time for the national team – covering a huge amount of ground, leading by example with his industrious work-rate and aggression.
In an ideal world, Bradley would be played at the bottom of a midfield diamond, sweeping up in front of the defense and then initiating attacks. But while Klinsmann has several options for that role, including the ever reliable Kyle Beckerman, he has a real absence of talent in the attacking midfield slot.
Bradley showed he can be effective in the final third and while it may not be his most natural role, the fact that Klinsmann simply does not have a quality out-and-out number ten to call on means that the team is probably best served by having him in a more attacking role.
True, this was a friendly against a weakened Mexico and it would be silly to draw too many conclusions from it, but what the game did show was that experimenting with players can increase options.
Jozy Altidore is the first choice striker and Aron Johannson is his most likely partner. But on Wednesday, Morris and Agudelo truly staked a claim for Gold Cup spots.
Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler could still be the first choice options at the back (along with Geoff Cameron if he can consistently get himself regular games at club level) but Alvarado is now in the frame, as is John Brooks, who made a good impression in the recent friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland.
Garza could have become the first choice left-back, but Brek Shea is growing increasingly (and for me surprisingly) comfortable in that role and of course there is still Fabian Johnson who can play that role, or further forward on the flank.
In other words, as we reach the end of the experimentation phase, with friendlies against the Netherlands and Germany likely to feature the main squad for the Gold Cup, Klinsmann has a lot more credible options than he had after the World Cup.
Which surely was the point of all that ‘tinkering’ anyway, wasn’t it?
Editor’s note: Every Thursday, World Soccer Talk featured columnist Simon Evans shares his thoughts and opinions on world soccer topics. You can follow Simon on Twitter at @sgevans. Plus, read Simon’s other columns for World Soccer Talk.
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