In my preview for the U.S. and Serbia, I asserted that anything less than dominance couldn’t be considered true success for the U.S. And while I look back on that comment and realize I probably didn’t fully take into account the fact that these guys haven’t played a competitive game in 1-3 months, and rust is certainly understandable, I still stand by that original assertion. Sure, Serbia was better and more in form than expected, but 5 caps vs. 400 caps still should show a bit more than they did on Sunday. It’s not that the game was a total wash: the U.S. looked pretty good at times and the team was pretty well-balanced given the fact that it was a makeshift job with some vets, some newbies, and some players coming in from the cold. It’s that the day can’t be qualified as a resounding success. Were there positive moments? Yes. Were there things to be concerned about? Also a resounding yes.
So there’s not necessarily pressure on the U.S. for Friday, per se, but there are definitely some higher expectations from many of the Stars and Stripes faithful for the team to perform better, or at least score some goals. It’s not necessarily fair to Bruce or the players so early in his tenure and their preseason, but that’s life. The clock is ticking and a good result will let us all breathe a little bit easier.
D (0-0) - Serbia - Friendly
L (0-4) - Costa Rica - WCQ
L (1-2) - Mexico - WCQ
D (1-1) - New Zealand - Friendly
W (2-0) - Cuba - Friendly
W (1-0) - Suriname - Caribbean Cup
W (4-2) - Guyana - Caribbean Cup
L (0-2) - Haiti - WCQ
L (0-2) - Panama - WCQ
L (0-3) - Uruguay - Copa America
What to Watch For:
Consistency - Normally in a January Camp such as this, a decent-size turnover in the lineup between the two friendlies would be normal. The January Camp is supposed to be for discovering players. This time around, however, I expect Bruce to remain a little more consistent with his player selection. I fully expect players who impressed on Sunday (like Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Lletget) to get plenty of minutes again instead of making way for someone else who didn’t get as much time on Sunday. Likewise, I think people like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley will also go from the start as Arena tries to get them in the groove early on in the preseason. This camp doesn’t have the luxury of the “throwing darts” lineup strategy. It’s on a deadline, and once Arena knows the people that will be making a difference for the U.S. in March, it’s his job to accelerate their preseason and help get them into form.
Strike Team - We’ve all known this for quite some time, but it remains true: Jozy is just better in a two-striker set. The U.S. certainly has the players to accomplish that formation. The question is whether Bruce is open to switching up the formation. The 4-2-3-1 (which morphed into more of a true 4-3-3 when Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya left the field in favor of Sebastian Lletget and Chris Pontius) gave good defensive cover, but didn’t light the world on fire in attack. Arena sounded open to a two-striker set after the game on Sunday, so we’ll see whether Jordan Morris or Juan Agudelo can get going with Jozy up top.
Bradley Watch - Michael Bradley was fine-to-good in stretches against Serbia, but he was also bad at times. And not just “I’m rusty” bad. More like, “I’m looking directly at a defender and passing the ball to him” bad. Unless Arena gives us a look at Dax McCarty, there’s no one else in this camp who has as much experience as Bradley in defensive midfield, and none of the other D-Mid options in the player pool ever really struck Klinsmann’s fancy, either. The U.S. has lived and died on Michael Bradley’s play for the better part of the last four years, so it’s in everyone’s best interests that he can keep his giveaways, which have grown more and more problematic over the past few years, to a minimum.
As you may have noticed, this is not a two-striker set. But it easily can be turned into one with one substitution, and the official comment given by Arena on whether he saw Jordan Morris as a winger or a forward was much more pragmatic: he just needs to figure out how to get him on the field. Morris’s speed on the wing was sorely lacking from the U.S. game on Sunday, and I think Arena wants to see him get more time against Jamaica. Feilhaber and Lletget come in to replace Sacha Kljestan and Jermaine Jones, both of whom have departed from camp. I really enjoyed watching Jorge Villafaña’s energy on the field and thought he worked much better with Nagbe than Garza did. The Graham Zusi experience continues on the right, but I slot in Walker Zimmerman for Chad Marshall. I freely admit I do not know who the goalie will be, but any of the three of them could start this game.