So how to feel about Wednesday’s result in Philadelphia, where a tie felt like a win because: 1) It came off a rally; 2) Because the United States was clearly better through the final 20-30 minutes, and; 3) Because the Americans didn’t get run plum off the field, a la the Rose Bowl roasting they took from Mexico six weeks back.
So get your USA foam fingers up!
The context is important, however. Mexico played most of the match without its top two attackers. Javier Hernandez remains out with concussion issues and Gio Dos Santos made only a late appearance. Besides, with that Gold Cup crown tucked safely away, all the motivation tilted in favor of the home team. When it comes to results, friendlies are all about motivation. Or, as I like to say, it’s all about who brings their “Give A S - - -.”
So, on second thought, maybe we just sit on those foam fingers for now.
But friendlies do carry plenty of instructional weight when it comes to individuals. Let’s review the “Thumbs up” and “Thumbs down,” but with a proper Philly twist.
Give a big ol’ cheese-dripping Cheesesteak to: Jurgen Klinsmann. Let’s face it, the tactics and the structure weren’t any better or worse than they were under Bradley. And the result? Meh. See above. But there was a spirit about it all. And even if some of the guys brought back into the fold didn’t perform up to snuff, the message was loud and clear to everyone in the pool, even those way down in the shallow end: rejoice, for you may just get your chance! And the flower of Klinsi optimism is in full, beautiful bloom. Heck, if you listen to his post-game comments, you’d think the United States played twice on Wednesday and won ‘em both. That might not mean much over one short camp and in one match, but the long-ranging effect could take hold and reap eventual rewards.
Give a big ol’ cheese-dripping Cheesesteak to: Carlos Bocanegra. No big surprise here. But on a night when Edgar Castillo was a nightmare, Michael Orozco Fiscal was less an authority than he needed to be, when Steve Cherundolo was atypically shaky and mostly ineffective going forward, Bocanegra was a mountain of stability. In my game grades at SI.com, I gave Bocanegra a “7,” which probably would have been an “8” but for one giveaway that nearly turned to disaster, or if his second-half header off a corner kick had found a way past Guillermo Ochoa. He seems to have a big role in it all during the coming transition to younger fellows.
Give a big ol’ cheese-dripping Cheesesteak to: Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo. Both players, who came on for drag-abouts in the second half, seem to embody what Klinsmann wants this program to be about. They hopped and popped around aggressively, looking to unlock Mexico’s defense through pressure and aggressive runs off the ball. Based on their nights, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both start on Sept. 2 against Costa Rica, a match that’s sure to feature plenty of MLS types – just like them!
Give a big ol’ cheese-dripping Cheesesteak to: Kyle Beckerman. The Real Salt Lake midfielder hurt himself in Bob Bradley’s eyes with a nervous, sloppy few minutes against El Salvador back in September of 2009. That was an important match, one the U.S. needed to win to keep the World Cup qualifying train on its tracks. Perhaps it’s not fair that a such short run-out could have such a lasting impact, but that’s life. Plus, Beckerman’s relative lack of pace will always limit him back internationally. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t make an impact here and there, and that’s just what he did Wednesday. He was good in the tackle without ever being reckless. With the ball, he’ll need to get it off his foot just a little faster, but all in all Beckerman’s passing was simple and sharp, just what Klinsmann needed for the defensive anchor in a three-man central triangle. Klinsmann singled out Beckerman’s play in post-game comments.
No Cheesesteak for: Edgar Castillo. Look, I know he’s young. I know you get nervous out there. And I expect him to get another chance at some point. But oy vey! That might have been the single worst performance in a national team shirt I’ve seen in a long, long time. This is probably as close to a Klinsmann criticism as you’ll ever get: “We had two youngsters jumping in and it’s not their first game but they’ve never really played that role in those kind of high-intensity games, so that is a challenge.” Fiscal was the other “youngster” in question. Bottom line, that’s one big strike for Castillo, and I’d say this is a two-strike game. (I have to wonder if perhaps the plan was to insert Heath Pearce at some point, except that perhaps Klinsmann thought twice and decided not to completely wreck Castillo’s confidence by replacing him.)
No Cheesesteak for: Edson Buddle. There was no service or support. So perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything at all from the stranded man. On the other hand, he can’t be very high in the pecking order, and he needed to make some kind of impression. He didn’t. Not much of one, anyway.
No Cheesesteak for: Jermaine Jones. About that 1-11 number system for jerseys, Klinsmann said it was a bit of a message. That message: places are up for grabs. Nobody will be grandfathered into a position. Landon Donovan seemed to get the point, as his night was bright and active, a little better than we saw during the Gold Cup. Michael Bradley obviously wasn’t affected by the emotional drag of seeing his father fired; he was solid as always, clean with the ball and working diligently off it. But Jones? What’s his place? What’s his role? Anybody? Because I’m having trouble figuring out where he fits in it all. He’ll need to do more in matches ahead, or he risks being marginalized in the pool as Klinsmann turns to the younger and hungrier.