U.S. 0, Canada 0: The, Uh, Highlights

Well, this should be a short clip. The United States B-team took on a fairly weak Canada side last night in Houston, and while they dominated possession, the Yanks failed to break down the bunkered-in Canucks, generating very few chances in a drab 0-0 tie.

Take a look:

The game capped off the U.S.’s three-week January camp, and you might have thought, going in, that a team that had been training together intensively since early January would show some cohesiveness and some sharpness. (Not mid-season levels of either, but some.) Instead, they were disjointed in the attacking third, and unable to deliver that final ball—characteristics that coach Jurgen Klinsmann attributed afterward to their having tired legs.

But, but … oh, nevermind.

This January camp was intended to blood some new players and determine which, if any, of the guys from this group might make next week’s trip to Honduras for the opening of the final stage of World Cup qualifying.

Judging by what we saw last night, we’d say center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, though they weren’t exactly tested by Canada, stand a good chance of going to San Pedro Sula next week, along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who Klinsmann loves for his lane-clogging abilities in front of the back four.

Beyond those three, Eddie Johnson looked dynamic at times and did well to keep possession up top, and Benny Feilhaber, when he came on in the second half, looked like the only U.S. midfielder capable of unlocking Canada’s D with a deadly pass. Josh Gatt, though full of too much adrenaline, and looking a little uncomfortable on the left, showed that his speed can be a deadly weapon.

Chris Wondolowski seemed on edge to us (no doubt feeling the pressure as his national-team opportunities dwindle) and he fluffed a couple of half chances. But he does have a knack for getting in good spots in the box, so you never know if Klinsmann would consider using him with a better supporting cast around him.

In any event, it was a very forgettable performance, so let’s file it away and look ahead to next week and Honduras.

Rubio Rubin Leads U.S. U-17s in Wild 4-4 Tie with Brazil

The United States Soccer Federation started the Bradenton U-17 academy program in 1999 and right out of the gate they produced/were blessed with an incredible crop of talent.

The 1999 group looks better with each passing year, having sent Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman, and Bobby Convey, among others, to the professional ranks.

With each new U-17 group that convenes in Florida, the question resurfaces: Where are the next Donovans and Beasleys?

It’s way too early to tell, but attacker Rubio Rubin of Beaverton, Oregon, could be the best answer to that question in years. Wednesday night, in the opening game of this year’s Nike Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., he scored two goals and set up two others to help the U.S. tie none other than Brazil, 4-4.

The Yanks held a 3-1 lead in the second half, and were up 4-3 with nine minutes to play, but could not hold on to the lead.

Here’s some postgame reaction from coach (and MLS ref Michael Kennedy doppelganger) Richie Williams, striker Ahinga Selemani (Ann Arbor, MI) and Rubin:

These games are not being televised for some reason (they were on Fox Soccer last year), and US Soccer is so far being stingy with the highlights, but hopefully we’ll be able to post them as the tournament progresses. The U.S. takes on Turkey tonight.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Soccer on ESPN’s SportsCenter is analogous to an American player in Europe: he has to be extra special to get his due.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s bicycle-kick goal against England yesterday—his fourth goal of the night—was extra special. Extra-special enough to win the No. 1 spot in ESPN’s Top 10 Plays yesterday. Chances are you’ve seen it already, but it’s definitely worth multiple looks. And if you haven’t, well, enjoy:

Afterward, Ibrahimovic said it wasn’t the best goal he’s ever scored.

Of course he did.

Then again, he may have a point. Check out this one:

You know what? Except for the fact that it came at the end of a 5-1 rout in the Dutch league, and not an international friendly against England, that one actually might’ve been even better. He beat eight players before tucking that away.

U.S. 2, Russia 2: Michael Bradley Is the Best American Player Right Now

The U.S. got a stoppage-time goal from Mix Diskerud to tie Russia 2-2 in Krasnador today in one of the more undeserved draws in USMNT history.

The Americans struggled to connect passes, were prone to fundamental mistakes (especially coming out of the back), and gave up several golden chances to the hosts.

If not for a few routinely great saves from goalkeeper Tim Howard, they would have lost by several goals.

But there was this from New Jersey-born Roma midfielder Michael Bradley:

Mama mia, what a strike. But over all, this was not the U.S. team’s best work. Here are three thoughts on the game:

• Bradley was fine in the first half, but he simply took over the U.S. effort in the second, making himself available all over the field, winning balls, marshaling possession, and attacking. In addition to his goal, he played in the long ball that led to Diskerud’s late equalizer. He got stronger as the game went on, and, well, see header above.

Fabian Johnson once again confirmed that he’s the solution to the U.S.’s longstanding left-back problem. He’s skilled, he’s athletic, and he doesn’t panic. Several times in the first half he extricated himself from tricky situations where a turnover would have been costly, and he was also a threat going forward. Second-best U.S. field player today.

• It might be a mental issue with Jozy Altidore when it comes to playing for the national team. Either that, or the Dutch league is just not as good as it’s cracked up to be. (Could be a little of both.) He did do a lot of the grunt work that Klinsmann wants his forwards to do, and, in the first half at least, he held the ball up a few times and allowed his teammates to get involved. But his second half was a washout. He gave the ball away too often and way too easily, and he failed to control a terrific pass in the box from Johnson that would have been a great goalscoring chance.

Then Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd came in and helped create both goals with athletic knockdowns to teammates. Here’s the second one, from Boyd to Diskerud (and in off a Russian defender):

One final thought: Klinsmann needs more skill in his midfield. Williams had a poor game (and not just because of his blatant error), and Jermaine Jones, while he worked hard, is a blunt instrument in the final third. He initiated several offensive forays but then killed them with poor touches in the box. He should have scored late on a cutback from Altidore but skied his attempt. He’s not an attacking player.

Klinsmann doesn’t need both Williams and Jones in addition to Bradley. One will do, and free him up to add another, more dangerous piece to the U.S. attack.

Klinsmann Calls Chandler, Gatt, and Gyau for Russia Friendly, U.S. Future Suddenly Looks Half Decent

In naming his 20-man roster for Wednesday’s friendly against Russia (ESPN2, 10:00 a.m.), U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has, finally, opened up the ‘potential future stars’ wing of his national team program.

His side has qualified for the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and now, with many of his roster mainstays heading toward their mid-30s, Klinsmann is looking at younger players who can possibly take their places come Brazil 2014. He’s got some interesting options.

Here’s the complete group:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (6): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Joshua Gatt (Molde), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)

FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)

Five thoughts on the roster:

• He may have snubbed the U.S. for the last few friendlies, but defender Timmy Chandler now says he’s ready to commit to the team, and that’s good news for American fans.

Steve Cherundolo is a fantastic right back, but he’ll be 34 in February, and none of his understudies is as qualified as Chandler, 22. With Chandler on the right, Fabian Johnson on the left and Geoff Cameron in the middle, the U.S. has three-fourths of a very solid backline.

Notice Maurice Edu is listed as a defender on this roster. We’d take him over Goodson for that fourth spot.

In every World Cup cycle since 2002, the U.S. has had players emerge from relative obscurity (or simply the youth ranks) to become bona fide contributors to the USMNT. Speedy wingers Josh Gatt (above) and Joe Gyau could be those guys this time around.

Gatt, 21, is fresh from winning the Norwegian title with Molde (where he is coached by former Man U legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). He’s extremely athletic and fast, with a growing soccer brain that will get tested in Europa League play this season.

Gyau, 20, is a quick and technical winger with an impressive genealogy: his father, Philip, earned six caps for the U.S. national team, and his grandfather, Joseph, played for Ghana. The youngest Gyau is currently on loan from Hoffenheim to German second-division side St. Pauli.

Here’s hoping Klinsmann gives them both a shot to show what they can do on Wednesday.

Klinsmann’s motivational gambit with Jozy Altidore should bear fruit against Russia. Altidore, fresh from doing this in the Dutch top flight on Sunday…:

…comes into the U.S. camp with something to prove and probably a chip on his shoulder after Klinsmann left him out of last month’s crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Altidore has nine goals in 12 games this season; time for him to start transferring that form to the national team.

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan seems poised to move up the depth chart. He had a game-winning assist for Anderlecht against Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League last week, and he looked confident and skilled in his U.S. cameos last month. Look for him to start at attacking midfielder on Wednesday.

It’s good to see Juan Agudelo back in a USMNT camp. After being traded from New York to Chivas USA, the 19-year-old striker ran into some injury woes, but he recovered and finished the season well for the otherwise pitiful Goats. This call-up should help him keep his head up despite being marooned at the club level in the dead-end side of the Home Depot Center.

Well, Well, Well: U.S. 1, Mexico 0—At Azteca

For the first time in 25 games spread over 75 years, the United States national team got a win on Mexican soil, downing El Tri 1-0 at Estadio Azteca last night.

The winning play involved two of the most questioned choices on coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster, embattled winger Brek Shea and out-of-favor defender Michael Orozco Fiscal. That duo was subbed on in the latter stages, and combined with halftime substitute Terrence Boyd for the goal, with Shea beating a defender on the left and crossing for Boyd, who backheeled the ball on to Fiscal to sweep into the net at the far post.

Tim Howard made two big saves down the stretch to preserve the historic win.

To the highlights:

The U.S. had a record of 0-23-1 in Mexico City heading into the match—a fact displayed on a sign inside the fabled stadium.

As Howard said on his way out of the tunnel after the game, “Time to change the sign. Time to change the sign.”

Five Questions About Klinsmann’s Roster for Tomorrow’s Mexico Friendly

Speaking to the MLS website the other day, U.S. attacker Landon Donovan summed up tomorrow night’s friendly against Mexico at the fabled Azteca Stadium (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, Univision). Here’s what he said:

“Candidly, I don’t think it’s that important, but for a lot of guys that don’t get a lot of experience, I think that this will be a good experience. But it’s an awkward fixture date, and I would say that most if not all the players don’t like this fixture date. We’d much rather do away with it, but it’s still a good opportunity to get a game like this. … All things being equal, it’s still against Mexico, so we’ll be ready to play.”

Yep, it’s an awkward fixture date, and Klinsmann’s roster, with its contradictory, even puzzling choices, reflects that (see full roster below). We had a hard time limiting ourselves to just five questions:

1. Why invite Terrence Boyd but not Jozy Altidore as well?

Klinsmann said that Altidore (and Michael Bradley) has an “injury issue,” but the burly striker scored two goals in AZ’s season opener against Ajax over the weekend. He also can’t chalk up the omission to wanting Altidore to focus on his second season with AZ; he invited Boyd, who’s trying to get his first season off the ground with Rapid Vienna.

We’re eager to see what Boyd, who had two goals and an assist in his Austrian debut, can do against Mexico at Azteca, but both of them up top would have been a handful for the El Tri backline.

2. What did Brek Shea do to warrant another call-up?

Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t happen on the field, where he has just three goals and one assist in MLS this year. Off the field, he’s been worse, openly arguing with his coach, Schellas Hyndman, and getting a three-game suspension for chucking a ball at an official. He’s mended the fences with Hyndman, but it seems like he should be made to earn another U.S. call-up with his play, especially with other worthy MLS midfielders, like Chris Pontius, waiting in the wings.

3. What will it take to remove Michael Orozco Fiscal from the player pool?

We might find out tomorrow night. This is a guy who’s had several chances under Klinsmann and has not made the most of them, to put it mildly. Yes, he plays in Mexico, but Carlos Bocanegra—whose teammate at in-limbo Rangers, Maurice Edu, got called in—would have been a better choice for the backline. Ditto Tim Ream, who’s about to start his second season in the Premier League.

4. How will the midfield line up?

There are several holding midfielders in the group (Kyle Beckerman, Edu, and Jermaine Jones) and two wingers (Shea and DaMarcus Beasley, who play the same position). But who’s the playmaker? Jose Torres has yet to convince in a U.S. shirt, and Joe Corona is high on potential, low on international experience. The same can be said for Graham Zusi and Danny Williams. He could of course drop Donovan into that spot. But either way, it’s an unbalanced group of midfielders. Klinsmann clearly has no faith in Sacha Kljestan, who’s found success at Anderlecht and who’s 2012-13 season is already under way.

5. Why take Alan Gordon over younger MLS strikers?

Don’t get us wrong: we love Alan Gordon. He’s a true MLS yeoman who deserves every ounce of success he’s achieved. In 2007, when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy, Gordon was making $30,870. According to Grant Wahl’s The Beckham Experiment, during his first morning in the LA locker room, the English icon was meeting his new teammates, shaking each player’s hand, one-by-one, and getting an “I’m Kyle, I’m Chris,” etc in return. When he got to Gordon, the $30,000-man said, “‘Hey, I’m Alan Gordon.’ But when Beckham tried to move on to the next player, Gordon kept holding his hand. ‘And you are?’ ”

Thankfully, Gordon is making $110,000 this year, but he’s 30 years old and there are several target strikers like him in MLS who might’ve made more sense, including his 25-year-old teammate Steven Lenhart, and Houston’s 22-year-old bruiser Will Bruin.

We’ve got more questions but we’ll stop with this one: Is Klinsmann prepared to handle the aftermath of a blowout?

Because that is a real possibility with this patchwork group, El Tri’s current form, and the 7,200-foot altitude in Mexico City, where Mexico hasn’t lost a competitive game since 2002 and the U.S. is 0-19-1 all time.

Buckle up.

Complete roster:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Beithasour (San Jose Earthquakes), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)