It's time to end the Jermaine Jones centerback experiment
The USMNT had an...average showing versus what was ostensibly Chile's B team. There were some beautiful moments, and it's clear that Mix Diskerud will be a true asset to the team in the future as a playmaker; fluid touches and connections enabled both tries and goals yesterday.
Despite a painful missed opportunity early on, DeAndre Yedlin is clearly making strides in his development as a player- his time in the Premier League will surely be good for him. Goal-scoring Jozy Altidore re-appeared as the Jozy we didn't see at any point whilst he was in England; I am optimistic about what being back in the MLS will do for our favorite Mack Truck in soccer. Brek Shea was offensively strong for the first half, but left much to be desired defensively, appearing to completely run out of steam in the second half. Worrisome now, but one hopes that, with conditioning, Shea can be the goal-scorer the USMNT needs.
What I'm truly unsure of is keeping Jermaine Jones at center back. He looked, for lack of a better word, awkward. His ability to be move up and back seemed anything but fluid.This was an interesting experiment, but I would move him back into position at center midfield immediately. After all, the odds of Jones playing in 2018 are remote, at best.
All of this said, the team played well for an "off-season" friendly, but still very much looked as expected; a group of talented players rusty at playing together. Wish the boys had won for my birthday, though.
The Mix Remix
I got all pumped up about this 3-5-2 finally coming to America. Maybe it meant for some exciting experimentation. Maybe it meant Jurgen Klinsmann was trying to be more like Louis van Gaal and eat only raisins and never once step foot into the technical area ever again. The formation ended up being a bit disappointing, however. Lest we forget, nobody really has a set position on Jurgen Klinsmann's team-- is Jermaine Jones still a center back if he spent the full ninety alternating between charging forward and chasing opposing dribblers like he was Javert from Les Mis? Let's see Per Mertesacker do that without any of his leaves and branches falling off.
In the second half, the 3-5-2 was essentially abandoned for the more traditional 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1. It was a more comfortable look for Jones, but it came at the expense of DeAndre Yedlin's full effectiveness. When he got to own the right wing in the first 45, he looked bright, competent, and something like a turbo Audi with Khiry Shelton's hairdo.
Orlando City's Brek Shea was routinely abused by the Chilean attack. When defending, he's only there so he won't get fined. But when it came time to attack, he and fellow MLS expansion team boy Mix Diskerud each had their own "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" moments.
Getting forward, Shea's energy was apparent on the left wing and his goal was almost as spiffy as the leading ball from fake left back Matt Besler. Not long after, Mix Diskerud remixed himself, swapping roles with Jozy Altidore to recreate the goal he himself scored against Ecuador in October, but better.
He grabbed the assist in the remix edition, dropping a new move we haven't seen from him before: when he dipped that right shoulder toward the byline and froze the defense for a split-second, Jozy Altidore could have finished Diskerud's cool no-look pass at half-speed. Even though the Good Guys couldn't get a result, this was a brilliantly-timed And-1 Mixtape moment for New York City's young gun. See you at the Rucker League, Mix-a-lot.
Same ending, different day - is it time for Jurgen to go?
Raf Noboa y Rivera
Normally, I don't pay attention to the January USMNT camp. It's not held on a FIFA date, so most of the key figures on the team don't attend; hence its traditional nickname, "Camp Cupcake". And the friendlies? Well, friendlies are kind of meaningless, truth be told, but the January friendlies take that meaninglessness and pound it into submission.
This one felt different, though. There was, to begin with, the presence of American stalwarts like Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore, newly arrived from forlorn Tyneside exile. Hanging over the team was the wretched way in which 2014 ended - an extended winless streak that made the U.S.'s victory against Ghana in its first World Cup game feel like it happened years ago.
Despite a sparkling start, the end was depressingly familiar.
One win in the last nine games. Outscored 9-0 in the last five games. For the first time since 1993, the USMNT allowed nine goals in three games. Winless in its last five games since 2007. In the last two years, the USMNT has allowed eight goals in the first ten minutes over 39 games. They allowed seven such goals in 101 games from 2007-12.
Three-and-a-half years into his tenure as head coach, it still feels like Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to get his arms around the job. That, more than any individual set of losses or draws, is what concerns me. Put bluntly: what are the objectives?
What's the game plan? What's the unifying vision for U.S. Soccer, from the bottom all the way to the top? That, after all, is one of the main reasons - if not the main reason - that USSF boss Sunil Gulati hired Klinsmann in the first place, first as head coach, and then as technical director.
Instead, it seems like Klinsmann is still throwing things at the wall, and generally making it up as he goes along. That was fine in 2011, and maybe even in 2012, but now...now it's alarming. An American team that was stalwart on set pieces is now fragile; a team that was renowned for its superlative fitness and athleticism now looks spent by the 70th minute of matches, if not the hour mark.
In short: where the USMNT isn't meandering in search of a better version of itself, it sees its strengths atrophying. That malaise isn't limited to the senior squad, either; a stacked U-20 side found itself scrapping for its life after drawing and losing its first two World Cup qualifying matches.
Adding to that alarm is the fact that Klinsmann and the USMNT don't really have the luxury of time to work out the funk they find themselves in. They play Panama on February 8 in Los Angeles; historically, Panama's been one of the weaker CONCACAF nations, but they came within a stoppage time collapse of qualifying for last year's World Cup. Their U-20 squad just beat the U.S. U-20s in a composed, driven effort. It's entirely possible that the U.S. could lose to Panama at home.
Then - the Gold Cup. If the U.S. wins it, they automatically qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup; if they lose, however, they play this year's winner for the right to represent CONCACAF in that tournament, having won it in 2013. It's worth remembering that the last time the USMNT went into a Gold Cup in a similar state - 2011 - they hung two on Mexico after the first 30 minutes of the final, before getting run out of the Rose Bowl in a humiliating 4-2 defeat.
That loss got Klinsmann his job. A similar loss probably wouldn't cost him his jobs - he's too heavily enmeshed, plus Gulati has staked his credibility on Klinsmann - but it might start the wheels moving on him becoming the full-time technical director, with someone else serving as USMNT head coach.
That might not be a bad thing; every time I've had a chance to see Klinsmann talking about things from a technical director's viewpoint, it's abundantly clear that that is his passion, not coaching. He lights up talking about academy standards and training in a way that he doesn't when discussing the senior side.
That, in the end, might be the best solution: free Klinsmann to be the visionary leader that U.S. Soccer desperately needs, while someone else - Dom Kinnear? Caleb Porter? - becomes the U.S. head coach going into 2016.