It's not the best way the United States Men's National Team wanted to end 2013, a goalless and winless two games at Scotland and Austria. But there's still plenty of positives to take from these two games:
US DEFENSE REMAINS SOLID
It perhaps wasn't the best two games from an attacking standpoint, but the Americans remain a pretty good defensive team. Today against Austria wasn't their finest game, with lots of space for Austria to operate, particularly down the US' left side in the first half. And there were a lot of scrambling moments and giveaways that can be fixed, but overall the US remains fairly deep on the backline.
Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and John Anthony Brooks are obvious choices for center back in Brazil with Cameron as an option at that spot as well. DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson remain the best options on the left and while there hasn't been a consistent starter at right back, despite Brad Evan's recent run and Cameron's utility, the backline has been generally stout this year save for one bad game against Belgium over the summer.
Oh yeah, and we have Tim Howard and the rest of the world doesn't.
US MISSING SEVERAL STARTERS
Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi. Four of the US' best play-making midfielders weren't in the squad, and that clearly showed on the field. It's tough to replace players like that, despite the US' deep player pool. What bothered me is Klinsmann's inability to adjust his formation to the players. The US lacked great wide players, but insisted in trying his 4-2-3-1, which failed miserably at times during this stretch. Perhaps the best soccer the USMNT played was in a 4-4-2, after Terrence Boyd was brought on to partner with Jozy Altidore.
If there's one negative here, it's that with all the opportunities for several different players to get starts and stake claims on a World Cup roster spot, no one really stepped up. Brad Evans made a good case for RB and perhaps Graham Zusi for RM, but aside from that the rest of the US "second string" remains up in the air. Shea and Bedoya in particular were unimpressive against Austria and Kljestan and Diskerud missed chances to stamp their authority onto either of these two games despite not playing poorly.
Especially against Austria, the US lacked width from their wing players, which left their outside backs out to dry and unable to move forward and support the attack. Alejandro Bedoya and Brek Shea often moved to central, giving no support to their fullbacks in any capacity. These players are probably better suited to come off the bench and neither distinguished themselves in these two games.
The US changed during the second half, after some substitutions and tactical changes, with Geoff Cameron in particular getting forward well. Speaking of which...
GEOFF CAMERON NEEDS TO START AT RIGHT BACK
That's if he's starting for the USMNT. If he's not starting then I'd rather see him as the super utility guy off the bench for the US since he can play right back, center back and holding mid. But right now, he's the best option for the USA at right back because of what he brings going forward. He should've scored a goal in the first half (had the far sideline AR been in position to call his endline) and the US looked much better in the second half when he was able to get forward and involved in the attack. Since I have to assume (sadly) that Steve Cherundolo isn't going to Brazil, Cameron's the best the US has and that's not a bad thing.
MICHAEL BRADLEY NEEDS TO GET FORWARD MORE
A hard charging Bradley with the ball at his feet going forward is a tremendous problem for the rest of the world. But I don't see it enough. Too often Bradley reverts to a holding role and Jones gets forward when it should he the other way around. Jones doesn't appear to be nearly as good at possession and distribution as Bradley is, although both had solid games in that aspect against Scotland and Austria. But Jones is likely better suited to support the US attack, and Bradley is better being involved in it, making late runs into the box to give the US a big target to cross too.
US STILL LOOKING FOR THE BEST STRIKER PAIRING
Altidore, Johannsson, Boyd and Eddie Johnson remain solid attacking options, but it's unclear as to what combination they can be deployed in. If Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are occupying the withdrawn striker and left wing roles, that leaves little opportunity for everyone else to start and get minutes in general. E. Johnson isn't a bad option off the bench on the left (meaning he's taking Shea or Boyd's spot on the bench for the World Cup roster) and I think Johannsson has proven to be dangerous so it's interesting to see how all four of these players can coexist on the same World Cup roster.
THIS DOESN'T TAKE AWAY FROM THE USA'S STELLAR 2013
Even with a 0-1-1 finish to 2013, the USMNT completed one of the best calender years in their history if not it's best. An overall 16W-3L-3D campaign that included a 12-game winning streak, wins over Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina a Gold Cup title, winning The Hex and qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Jozy Altidore is back to his goal scoring ways with the national team, Landon Donovan returned from "exile" and owned the Gold Cup and Dos-A-Cero part four happened.
Seriously, it was a pretty good 2013, and these last two games can never change that.
More from The Bent Musket:
- The Break Down, Part Three: Mewis In, Leroux Out as Breakers Complete Blockbuster Trade
- International Friendly: United States vs. Austria - Lineups and Live Thread
- International Friendly - USA vs. Austria Preview - Revamping the American Attack
- Breakers Trade Forward Sydney Leroux, Acquire Midfielder Kristie Mewis
- "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?": Which Midfielders "On The Bubble" Will Remain Next Season?