Tuesday’s 3-2 win in ridiculously foggy Slovenia was big for the U.S. program. In fact, let's file this one under "Huge."
It must be qualified with this reality: Slovenia doesn’t look anything like the close-knit, highly organized side that swept shockingly into World Cup 2010, riding role players and a heavy dose of esprit de corps. So, let us temper the day with that cold splash of reality.
That said, a win in Europe is a win in Europe. First in three years, in fact. In the big picture, it was an important result, as I explained in the previous post.
This was the last we’ll see of the hash tagged #USMNT as a collective unit until players gather at the Home Depot Center in January. (Mostly MLS men, plus some from Scandinavian leagues.) Regardless of what they said, no one in the program wanted to go into the holiday period carrying the burden of a three-game losing streak, with just one win in seven matches under Klinsmann, with precious few goals to review.
So, the W was a biggie as Ws go in friendlies. Sure, it’s a little bit like winning your 5K division when there’s only three other runners – and one of them is running in a gorilla suit. But, what the heck? You got the first-place ribbon!
Individually, the expanded SI.com player ratings are here. For a little more, read on for some of the winners and losers up and down the U.S. national team depth chart.
A big night for …
Edson Buddle needed a big night in the worst way. Stuck in the German second tier, tiptoeing the fringes of the player pool, he needed to turn up a memorable performance as Klinsmann gave him a start in a new, two-striker alignment. Well, the man delivered like FedEx. An early goal, some nice passes, a couple of good crosses. What more would you want? Buddle needs to keep it up, because at his age (30), he’s not exactly an up-and-comer. He has bought himself another chance, at least, and that’s important as Herculez Gomez presses his case down in Mexico.
Fabian Johnson. You can read more about it in the SI.com ratings. Suffice to say, his first start was promising. He faded a bit after the break, and he didn’t work inside nearly as much in the midfield diamond as Michael Bradley, but those are nitpicks for the young German-American. Again, this was just Slovenia, but the guy showed a lot.
I’m not sure what Michael Bradley did to fall so far in the order. He wasn’t playing at the beginning of the European season, but did win a regular spot at Serie A side Chievo quickly and probably should have been folded back into the national team lineup sooner. He wasn’t. He kept his cool … and then delivered a mighty performance Tuesday in Eastern Europe. I called him the best U.S. passer Tuesday. And I’d be shocked if he didn’t cover more ground than anyone else in the U.S. shirt. (All that from a spot that’s less familiar to him, too.) His free kicks and corner kicks were David Beckham-esque. It was a performance that will make it very difficult for Klinsmann to keep him out of the starting 11.
What more can you say about Clint Dempsey, other than this: 2011 has been his year, as he confirmed his spot alongside Landon Donovan and Tim Howard as indispensible spokes on the U.S. wheel. Steve Cherundolo is very close to being on that list, in my mind. And I might put Bradley in there soon if he has a few more nights like Tuesday’s – assuming Klinsmann keeps giving him the chances.
A bad night for …
Clarence Goodson was probably keeping the seat warm for Oguchi Onyewu anyway. But he could have solidified his spot as No. 3 as “Gooch” nursed an injury and missed both matches. Goodson did OK until the end against France, although he couldn’t get the job done at the moment that mattered most. Tuesday, things looked different. No one along the back line was particularly sharp, and that included Goodson. But the sloppy clearances and frail positioning won’t affect Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo or even young Tim Chandler the way it will Goodson. That’s just the way it is.
Robbie Rogers got into the match, but only as Klinsmann was trying to nurse home the result with some delay-tactic subs. In the bigger picture, Fabian Johnson’s bright night pushes Rogers one rung down the ladder, probably out of the first-team picture for now. Rogers will likely make the January camp, but he needs to show more going forward.