The U.S. lost to France 1-0 in Paris on Nov 11, and defeated Slovenia and their Charlie Brown shirts 3-2 in a wide-open game in fogbound Ljubljana today.
While the Americans were pinned back for much of the game against France, mustering only two shots on goal, they flew forward from the opening whistle against Slovenia, generating plenty of chances and scoring three times in the first half.
The pair of wildly different matches wrapped up 2011 for the team and gave the U.S. a 2-4-1 record under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
So what have we learned this month?
Here are five notions:
1. Michael Bradley should be a starter. He’s getting regular PT with Chievo in Serie A, and he looked sharp against Slovenia. He was penciled in as the right midfielder, but he frequently drifted into the middle, and linked up dangerously with Dempsey and the strikers. Also, as always, he worked his tail off from box to box on both sides of the ball.
2. Klinsmann should ditch the one-striker setup. The U.S. doesn’t have the horses in midfield to run it. (Not at the moment anyway.) The result is that the lone striker is stranded on an island far, far away from midfielders who are struggling just to possess the ball. And on the rare occasions that the striker gets the ball, he has to make a Herculean effort to possess it under enormous pressure until his teammates can get forward. That was Jozy Altidore against France on Friday. He actually did an excellent job of trying to hold the ball in the final third–and the U.S. still mustered just two shots on goal. When Altidore was partnered with Edson Buddle today against Slovenia—presto—the U.S. broke out for three goals, and more importantly, plenty of chances. Granted, Slovenia is a step (or two) down from France, competition-wise, but they’re not a bad team. They’ve qualified for two of the past three World Cups.
3. Shaky All Over. The first two minutes of the Slovenia match, which produced clear chances for both teams, set the tone for the match: back-and-forth all night. The U.S. offense did wake up for the first time under Klinsmann, but the flipside was that they surrendered almost as many chances as they created. It made for an entertaining game, but a better team might have punished the Americans for some of their lapses and giveaways. For an extended sequence before Slovenia’s second goal, the U.S. backline was in complete disarray. Against France, they played better defense—their 4-5-1 formation almost guaranteed that—but still were carved open on several occasions and relied on Tim Howard‘s brilliance to keep the scoreline respectable. This team needs to improve its possession skills, defensive organization, and ability to manage games.
4. Beckerman is not the guy, despite Klinsmann’s endorsement. We love Kyle Beckerman. He’s an honest, hardworking player, and a good one. But after seeing him at the international level for an extended period, we’re starting to wonder if Klinsmann’s recent faith in him is actually a ploy to motivate Michael Bradley. If so, it worked.
5. Bring on the new blood. The U.S. will reconvene in Carson, CA, in two months for the annual January camp, during which they will play two matches, one away, one home. You never know, but it seems like a logical time to bring in some new faces to try to inject some freshness into the side on the road to Brazil 2014. A few players we’d like to see: CJ Sapong, Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd, Benny Feilhaber, Mix Diskerud, Graham Zusi, Josh Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant (he’s not young, but he’s had a fantastic season in LA) .