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US Men’s National Team may have finally turned a big, big corner; By Steve Davis

bobby-wood

After watching the United States nail down deserved wins against two global heavies of world soccer, it’s hard to resist the temptation to declare “corner turned.”

For years, the United States has been a solid middle class citizen in the pecking order of world soccer – living comfortably but not exactly among the wealthy. Moving forward from there is like losing those last 10 pounds; getting to this point was one thing, but driving past the stubborn sticking point is a tougher assignment.

For three years and change under Jurgen Klinsmann, who was added at considerable expense to be a transformative figure, we waited and waited to see evidence that he was the conjurer of something more, something better, something more grand for U.S. Soccer.

Well, are we seeing it? Wins in five days at the Netherlands and then Wednesday at Germany … it sure looks like it.

You start that conversation with the once-and-always disclaimer on friendlies: it’s just a friendly. We can’t make too much of them, because the pressure of real consequence just isn’t there to weigh everything down, and that will always be a big asterisk.

On the other hand, we aren’t talking about one game here. We are talking about two. Yes, there were stretches where the United States didn’t look good last week against the Netherlands and Wednesday against the reigning world champs, Germany.

But the final result in both places, in Amsterdam last week and Cologne on Wednesday, speaks in booming volumes. In both cases, resilience and perseverance meant a lot, as the Americans rallied from behind in both matches. Friendly or no, doing that on the road is a big assignment.

The United States were almost shockingly dominant over the last 50-55 minutes of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Germany.

Klinsmann’s most pressing, early priority once inheriting the U.S. position in 2011 was changing the mindset individually and collectively. He banged and banged the drum for taking the initiative, for taking the game to the opposition. To do so, he needed players who were ultimately fit, focused and professional, so the manager went about emphasizing those attributes through comprehensive education, habitual attention and tiresome repetition.

We may finally be at the “reaping rewards” portion of all this.

No, it wasn’t all perfect. Just like last week against Netherlands, it took the United States players some time to find their feet. To that point: we like to aim pointy fingers at Klinsmann for his selections and tactics, and fair enough. But if you’re going to beat up the U.S. manager for tactics, then you have to be fair and credit the eternally optimistic Klinsmann for an ever growing list of matches where adjustments and substitutions seemed nothing less than prescient.

We saw that again in Cologne, where the shape adjustments and key personnel changes paid massive dividends. Bobby Wood, a man whose club scene is tenuous at best, was the unlikeliest hero – for the second consecutive match! He had the game-winner against the Dutch. And against the world champs.

Now Klinsmann adds “Germany” to an impressive list of places where his team has came, saw and conquered – at least for a day. His teams have also gone into Italy, Mexico and Czech Republic (and, of course, the Netherlands) to emerge with “all three points,” so to speak.

Once we get the Timothy Chandler complaints out of the way – and if Chandler is in the lineup, the legitimate complaints and laments will surely fall like spring rains – there really was so much to like about Wednesday’s performance.

Among them:

– Kyle Beckerman, a halftime change for Danny Williams, reminded us that a veteran midfield screener who plays with smarts and positional discipline means so much. Once again, it was Michael Bradley’s command of midfield that mattered so much – but Beckerman’s diligence behind Bradley allowed the U.S. captain to be even brighter in the second half.

– There probably wasn’t reason to “worry” about the U.S. goalkeeping situation. But perhaps some “early concern” was warranted. After all, Brad Guzan, didn’t have the best of seasons at Aston Villa. And trusty old Tim Howard isn’t around to play the hero – not for now, anyway. That left the United States with good goalkeepers, but with question marks on whether they had one outstanding, unquestioned starter.

 

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Well, Guzan helped hold things together Wednesday with two big first half saves. And even in the end, as Sami Khedira put a late header off the crossbar, Guzan may have had that one covered.

– By the way, Brad Evans issued a big, strong challenge on Khedira on that late, last gasp, putting off the German attacker just enough. It was exactly that kind of challenge that has been missing as the United States made an ugly habit over the last few months of conceding late goals. It was the exact kind of challenge that Jermaine Jones has missed out on issuing as his string of center back appearances petered out.

– Bradley was captain once again, and there really should be no one else wearing the armband until his time in the international game is done. This is so clearly Bradley’s team! He was the architect of two goals versus the Netherlands – easily the most important man on field for his team, and the best man on field, period. And then Wednesday, his pinpoint pass to Mix Diskerud for the first U.S. goal was marvelous stuff. Generally, Bradley’s passing and work rate through the midfield were nothing less than world class.  Clearly, his move into MLS has done absolutely nothing to remove the edge from his game.

SEE ALSO — Stay tuned to World Soccer Talk on Thursday around 6pm ET for Steve Davis’ Reddit AMA where he’ll answer your questions about USMNT, USWNT, MLS and more.

– Speaking of that goal, Diskerud has four goals in 14 appearances since 2013. That is fantastic production in the international game from a midfielder. Consider how close that comes to Clint Dempsey’s production as a striker or attacking midfielder over the same period: 4 goals in 11 matches.

– Yes, Germany was missing a few front-line types.  But this was still a team that could take Bastian Schweinsteiger off the field and replace him with the likes of Khedira. And if we name the top 5-6 U.S. players, Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are surely on most lists. Neither of them were on this trip, nor were the two first choice center backs from last year’s World Cup, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. The point is, both teams were somewhere around three-quarters strength.

Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk 

 

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Frill Artist

    June 11, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Okay so we won two games, so what? It’s just that. Two games. Even a broken clock is right two times a day. Let’s wait till they start performing consistently before declaring them a football powerhouse.

  2. StellaWasAlwaysDown

    June 11, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I’ve been a supporter of Klinsmann, but not to the point of being fanatical. I think I was waiting for the smoke to clear, and some years for him to get things in place. I hope this is a sign of things to come for the USMNT. Especially with a lot of question marks as far as players.

    Bradley has been a big surprise for me. He was always a hard worker, but seems to have matured a lot. I wouldn’t worry about Guzan, he’s a great keeper who has helped keep AVFC up. One brainfart and he got benched.

  3. B

    June 11, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Best game the US has played in recent memory.

    That said, the article mentioned that Germany was missing “a few front-line types”. No Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Howedes, Kroos, Muller or Reus – that’s 64% of their typical starters. Germany looked like a team that hasn’t played a competitive match since the last week of March and a group of guys playing their first game 3 weeks into their summer vacation. That said, Germany was still better than the US talent-wise at every position on the field, but the US outplayed them for the majority of the match.

    Especially strong performances from Diskerud and Yedlin. Yedlin really excels when he has limited system requirements. Because of the formation Germany was playing, Yedlin had very limited defensive responsibilities. As a result, he was able to fly up and down the right flank. He was eating the German defense alive. I would like to see him graduate past just beating guys with speed and he needs to improve his service, but those things will come. If Bradley puts Yedlin’s slot-back pass just inside the top of the box anywhere other than where he put it, the US wins 3-1.

    Bradley played his best game since dating way back to before the 14 WC.

  4. christian

    June 11, 2015 at 8:46 am

    I love the result and what Klinsmann is doing for US football but this was only a friendly. Understandably you should win whatever match you’re playing but Germany is miles ahead of us and we should continue to aspire to their level.

  5. Joe

    June 11, 2015 at 7:14 am

    I have been one of those people critical of Klinsi’s results but there is not much to say here. They were entertaining and looked inspired. It’s nice to play friendly’s against the worlds best to see where we are at rather a team like El Salvador.

  6. jtm371

    June 10, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Good show Smokey very stand up. 🙂

  7. Smokey Bacon

    June 10, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Absolutely terrible week for us Klinsmann haters. But maybe a pivotal one for his reign. Two terrific wins. Klinsmann vindicated. I’m big enough to admit I might be wrong on this one. Well done USMNT.

  8. ribman

    June 10, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Klinsmann haters pretty quiet

  9. Eplnfl

    June 10, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Every reason to be happy and a good sign of future things to come if we can keep on the Klinnsmen development program. He does have a habit of having his team ready to play well against the big Euro teams and that has translated somewhat to the World Cup. Every reason to be happy but let’s keep it at that. I will be happier after a big U.S. win in the Gold Cup.

  10. Jasinho

    June 10, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    I’ll wait until they start becoming regulars in the Copa America before I believe that.

  11. Toby

    June 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    The USA average quality player is getting better thanks to the MLS, but America is still not producing that high quality to finish and create the chances.

    They practically dominated the 2nd half but missed so many good chances that you don’t get in a world cup match.

  12. Geoff

    June 10, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Jordan Morris is the future of this team. He plays like a suarez the way he presses the back line and creates things out of nothing

    • B

      June 11, 2015 at 10:21 am

      It’s funny you mentioned that because the first thing I thought of on his dummy/leave that resulted in the Wood goal was that it looked like something Suarez would have done.

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