Usually when you see a 5-1 scoreline, it is the result of luck and some oddities. That wasn't the case on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla., where the United States took Scotland out behind the woodshed. It was 90 minutes of domination by the Americans, who left no doubt as to who the better team was, and in all honesty, they could have even won by more.
The Scotland match marked the first of three friendlies before the U.S. begins World Cup qualifying on June 8. That first qualifier has always been the first real benchmark for the U.S. under Jurgen Klinsmann, who was hired last August and has been building the team for the beginning of qualifying ever since taking the helm.
The qualifying benchmark makes these three friendlies the stretch run in preparation and when Klinsmann wants his team to be hitting its stride. Against Scotland, who is admittedly just an average team and was without some of their better players, they sure looked like they were in top form. The team gets an "A" for the day, but what matters isn't how they were on Saturday. What matters is what it all means going forward.
Jurgen Klinsmann: This one is a gimme and not just because the U.S. won their fifth consecutive match or that they won by four goals. Klinsmann was a winner on Saturday night because of the way that the Americans demolished the Scots. When Klinsmann was hired, he vowed not just to win matches, but to change the way that the U.S. played. HIs U.S. team would keep the ball, show more creativity going forward and would play at a higher tempo than past U.S. teams. On Saturday night, all those things happened.
The U.S. did a bit of everything against Scotland. They got width and created chances from their wide play. They were good through the middle and transitioned wonderfully. Their quick movement and passing in the final third was tremendous and they never panicked under pressure with long boots upfield, but instead were calm and passed their way out of trouble. Ignore the substandard opponent because the U.S. has done worse against worse teams before -- this performance was everything Klinsmann promised when he took over.
Landon Donovan: There is this rule in soccer -- score a hat trick and your stock goes up. There was plenty of talk in the week leading up to the match about how committed Donovan was after his comments indicating that he saw the end of his career coming. Lost in that was the fact that Donovan hadn't played for the national team in nine months and in their last major tournament, the Gold Cup, he was relegated to bench duty for some of it. It was not unreasonable to question how secure Donovan's role with the national team was.
If you are still questioning how secure Donovan's role is, you are unreasonable. Donovan looked spry from the start and while he did collect his goals by cutting in and finishing expertly, a lot of Donovan's contributions came from his ability to stay wide. The U.S. has lacked width of late, but Donovan helped cure those ills, as well as playing the role of creator on many occasions in areas where the U.S. has struggled under Klinsmann. Oh, and those three goals.
Michael Bradley: Remember that early in Klinsmann's reign, Bradley was a fringe player with the national team. He wasn't an automatic call up and when he did get called up, he was coming off of the bench. Now Bradley is coming off of a fantastic season for Chievo in Serie A and playing the best soccer of his life. The one-time petulant hothead, whose great matches would be equaled by puzzling matches, put in one of the best shift of his national team career against Scotland.
Nobody has ever questioned Bradley's heart or work rate, and that was there again on Saturday, but the maturity in his game was unlike anything he has ever put forward in a U.S. shirt. His passing was cultured, not just when deep like in the past, but even in the final third, as evidenced by his assist on Donovan's third goal. He also read the game incredibly well, stepping into passing lanes to frustrate Scotland and making the subtle movements to create passing lanes for himself and others. The little things that come with maturity have come for Bradley.
Geoff Cameron: Nobody played poorly on Saturday night for the U.S., but Cameron was clearly low man on the totem pole. It wasn't the own goal that hurt Cameron, which was just an unfortunate bounce, but the play that led to the own goal. Cameron lost track of Miller and allowed him to get free at the far post, where he headed the ball off of Cameron and in.
Cameron rebounded well from that mistake and was generally solid the rest of the match. His distribution was good, as it always is, and his positioning was more disciplined than it has been in the past, so on the whole, it was a decent night for Cameron. The problem is that he needed to be better than decent. One starting center back spot belong to Carlos Bocanegra, leaving the other spot up for grabs. With his experience and ability to dominate in the air, Oguchi Onyewu has the edge for the other spot, but Cameron had the opportunity to make a move on Onyewu against Scotland. He wasn't bad, but he didn't make a move.
José Francisco Torres: Again, this is less a result of his own play, which was good, and more a matter of circumstances. The absence of Clint Dempsey through injury on Saturday opened up a spot in the starting lineup and while Torres may have started even if Dempsey did play, it looks like he is going to be the odd man out when Dempsey returns.
The midfield trio of Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu was exceptional, so dropping deeper and taking one of those spots isn't really an option. Donovan sure isn't going anywhere after his hat trick and Dempsey isn't going to play as a lone striker, which means that Torres's spot is the only logical play for Dempsey to take. Torres was good against Scotland, pinching in and creating opportunities, showing guile with a quick free kick and, generally, doing most of what Klinsmann asked of him, but Dempsey will get a spot and it will likely be his. It's a numbers game.
Edgar Castillo: After a strong season for Xolos, Castillo got another chance with the national team against Scotland, albeit a little one. He came in as a substitute for Fabian Johnson and had a few awry touches, but really wasn't asked to do much. The problem for him is that Johnson was sturdy in defense, especially positionally, and that was the biggest concern for Johnson at left back. With Johnson playing well and furthering his claim to the starting left back spot, Castillo's claim got weaker before he even stepped on the pitch.