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Put an asterisk next to anything you learn in a U.S. men’s national team friendly; By Steve Davis


It certainly is nice that we have some U.S. national team matches that mean something. Well, check that. They feel like they mean something.

This short camp and two-match set – Friday’s win over Peru and Tuesday’s contest outside Boston against Brazil – is all preparation for the big skirmish coming over the hill. That’s the Oct. 10 Rose Bowl date against Mexico, a team with its own identity crisis at the moment.

So, yes, it’s nice that these are registering a notch or two higher on the meter of relevancy and intrigue. If not for the impending battle in Pasadena, these would just be two more ho-hum friendlies, further opportunity for Jurgen Klinsmann’s ongoing hodgepodge of experimentation and tinkering. Instead, there’s a finish line here; that 2017 Confederations Cup spot beckons.

SEE MORE: USA 2-1 Peru – United States wins after mixed performance.

So fans and the fourth estate (writers, broadcasters and the punditocracy, all of which apparently amuses Klinsmann so) will all do our best. Over the span of five or six days, we’ll all lean in, study hard and then make assessments of preparedness for the biggie ahead.

But let’s not get carried away. Because it’s worth remembering that these are just friendlies and that, more to the point, a lot can happen over five weeks (before the Oct. 10 date). It’s worth wondering: what are we really learning that we don’t already know?

Case in point: there is real competition in goal for the first time since … what, 2002? Since then it’s generally been Kasey Keller. Then Tim Howard.

But Howard went on sabbatical and now its Brad Guzan’s job. The Aston Villa backstopper did what he needed Friday against Peru, so things look status quo for now. Besides, is anybody really worried about the U.S. goalkeeping situation? Between Howard and Guzan, there really is no bad choice.

The situation looks much different in front of them. The back line remains, frankly, a bit of a disheveled mess.

These two games will come, and go and we still won’t have a good idea of what Klinsmann’s best back four looks like. Last week’s starters, John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez, had their good moments and bad. For Gonzalez, things certainly tilted too far toward the bad. Just ask Guzan, who is still probably wondering why Gonzalez stepped backward, rather than forward, as Daniel Chávez lined up a shot from 22 yards.

Matt Besler and Ventura Alvarado entered later to make it a foursome on trial at center back. So we know … uh … well, not a lot more. Except now we are 100 percent sure that Klinsmann still doesn’t have one center back who is an automatic selection, the way Carlos Bocanegra or Eddie Pope once were (much less two of them).

It’s possible that someone steps up against Brazil and more or less demands that Klinsmann starts him on Oct. 10. But then again, players can fall in and out of form quickly, can’t they? And Klinsmann has been very clear that having a “hot hand” matters.

SEE MORE: Remember DaMarcus Beasley on your Mount Rushmores.

So someone like Besler or Brooks could smite the (once) mighty Brazilians. But if they stumble-bumble through a couple of league games subsequently, would Klinsmann trust them with confidence at low ebb, in a match with such high stakes?

Tim Ream, on the other hand, did make everyone feel a little better about the left back position. Given injuries to DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson, it’s a good thing he played there so much last year at Bolton (before the recent move into Craven Cottage, where all good Americans abroad eventually land, apparently).

In the midfield, we don’t know much more about the ideal shape. Nor about the ideal way to combine Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. We did gain further evidence that Alejandro Bedoya is best in wider spots. (At least when Jones is a central partner; we have seen before that Jones’ tendency to freelance can make it hard on his central mates.)

We have more evidence that Jozy Altidore can be an effective striker – when he’s properly motivated and not hurt, that is. This is where I draw a circle back up to the part that says we are still five weeks away.

Clint Dempsey? Who knows? His hamstring remains problematic, so part of the roster changes announced Sunday by U.S. Soccer is that the Sounders striker will not join the team in Boston after all.

Gyasi Zardes did shine, didn’t he? That part was encouraging. Now, can he do it when the stakes are higher, in a match that matters? We’ll see. This is a good place to issue the usual disclaimer about friendlies, about how we can never get too excited or too bummed out about anything that happens within them. We write things in pencil, so to speak, until these guys rise when the pressure is truly on.

It certainly will be on Oct. 10.

Until then, anything we learn comes with an asterisk. Friendlies are fun distraction, but assigning too much weight to any particular lesson is unwise at best, and maybe even a bit naive.

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