GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 21: Ricardo Clark #15 (R) of USA celebrates with teammates after scoring against Venezuela during the final moments of the friendly match at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 21, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. USA defeated Venezuela 1-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The all-important (not) January camp concludes in Panama, where the U.S. will look to play better than they did against Venezuela and come away with another win
How much stock can be put into the United States’ January camp? Jurgen Klinsmann gets to call in none of his first team players and gets stuck with a bunch of players who have hardly played together. Then he gets just three weeks of training to mold them into something resembling a cohesive unit before two friendlies. It’s not exactly a great barometer of the national team under the German’s stewardship.
Even so, there's plenty of debate about what to take from Saturday's 1-0 win over Venezuela because when it comes to the U.S., debate is necessary at all time. That's just the nature of the beast, or probably more accurately, sleeping beast.
Is the fact that the U.S. won enough or was the biggest takeaway the disappointing play, especially in the final third? The U.S. had possession and did well to keep Venezuela's attack quiet, but their own attack lacked any sort of conviction. Possession is not attacking and the U.S. didn't quite know what to do when they went forward. The result was very confused, ugly and sloppy play in the final third, but they did win so is that enough?
Whatever the takeaway from Saturday, the U.S. can put good thoughts into everyone's mind about this January camp with a good performance on Wednesday against Panama.
The key for turning a poor performance on Saturday into a good one on Wednesday is getting better performances from the supposed stars of this January camp team. That starts with Brek Shea, who was supposed to be a man amongst boys in these watered down internationals, but instead looked like a confused child button mashing in FIFA whenever he had to get the ball off his feet. Sure, the runs were pretty good, but as soon as it came time to do something with those runs, he would sputter.
If Teal Bunbury gets a chance against Panama, he'll have to be better too. It's a big if right now whether or not he plays after C.J. Sapong was leaps and bounds better on Saturday and made a compelling case to get the start on Wednesday. There wasn't much good you could say about Bunbury and considering that both he and Shea are very much a part of the U.S. team's plans even when everyone is available for selection, that's a major concern.
One of the more experienced attackers did put in a good shift as Benny Feilhaber was one of the brighter spots for the Americans. He showed off his vision and passing to open things up for the U.S. several times despite being a bit out of position so far up the pitch.
At the back there was one man who stood out on a night the defense wasn't challenged too much. Geoff Cameron made a compelling argument to not just be a promising center back for the future, but maybe a starter when World Cup qualifying starts this year. His distribution was terrific and his position very good. Another strong performance on Wednesday and you can book his trip to Italy for the American's friendly in February.
Playing away to Panama isn't exactly a cakewalk. Away matches in CONCACAF are always a challenge, but this being a friendly, not a qualifier, makes things easier. So does playing a Panama missing some of their top talent, most notably Felipe Baloy. The U.S. got one part of the equation right on Saturday by winning, but on Wednesday they would like to add 90 good minutes to the result, especially in the final third. Not that it matters that much anyways. After all, "B team" players, three weeks together and two friendlies isn't exactly where national teams are built.
Panama vs. United States
Match Date/Time: Wednesday, January 25, 8:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama
TV: ESPN3 (English), Galavision (Spanish)