The United States went to Toronto on Sunday with plans of making quick work of Canada and polishing up a few rough spots before turning their attention to World Cup qualifying, which begins on Friday. Instead, Canada held their neighbors to a 0-0 draw, but it was more than the scoreline that has the U.S. concerned. They were absolutely dreadful, struggling to do much of anything well and leaving them looking in no way ready for qualifying.
Consider that Canada qualified for the World Cup just once, way back in 1986, and have not even made it to the final round of qualifying in the last three World Cup cycles. Then against that team on Sunday the U.S. didn't just draw and didn't just play poorly, they should have lost. Only a horrendous call that wiped out a good Canada goal kept the U.S. from losing to the Canucks, which would have been a result that the Americans wouldn't have been able to argue as terribly unjust. It was that bad for Jurgen Klinsmann's crew.
You know that new, possession-oriented, play through the midfield style that Klinsmann was going to bring to the U.S.? When things got tough on Sunday and the Americans were still goal-less in the second half without showing signs of that changing, Klinsmann scrapped it.
On came Jozy Altidore for Jose Francisco Torres, which meant that the U.S. was in a 4-2-2-2. Altidore and Gomez were the strikers, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were below them cutting in and Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones made up the midfield. That would also be known as the favored way to play of former U.S. manager Bob Bradley, who was routinely blasted for his tactics and deemed to play too direct. Yeah, Klinsmann, the man who would overhaul the system, went back to Bradley Ball on Sunday.
Against Canada, the lack of purpose and ideas in the final third were as bad as they have ever been for the U.S. They just had absolutely no idea how they were going to create chances. Any complaints about the U.S. lacking a finisher will be put on the back burner if there aren't any chances to finish.
Tactically, the U.S. looked out of sorts, too. Everything they tried to do was easily stopped by Canada and they didn't have an adjustment. The plan of having Michael Bradley and Jones initiate the attack from deep in the midfield was stymied by an aggressive Canadian midfield and Klinsmann had no answer for it. He never had an answer for being out-manned in the center of the pitch either and the U.S. failed to establish effective width, again.
Most mind-boggling was another set up and game plan that isolated American attackers 1v1, especially out wide. This has been the objective of the U.S. under Klinsmann, especially in his 4-3-3, which his 4-2-3-1 basically was today, and it makes no sense. Playing to create 1v1 match-ups works fantastically for some teams, but those are teams with world class individual attackers. The U.S. has Dempsey and that is it. Donovan is not much of a 1v1 player and Torres certainly isn't. Even so, for reasons nobody can quite understand, Klinsmann keeps turning to creating those match-ups as part of his tactics.
The good thing for the U.S. is that this was a friendly. They can shake it off, move on to the World Cup qualifiers and perform well there, leaving this match as nothing more than a footnote. It's very much possible that this match means nothing, but it isn't likely. The problems that plagued the team aren't anomalies that they can just toss aside as one-match oddities because they have been big problems for the team before. These are real problems that need to be sorted out and fast because on Friday, the matches start to count.
Clarence Goodson: Of all the players who most needed to put in a good showing against Canada it was Goodson and that is exactly what he did. As always, Goodson was strong in the air, clearing away any crosses by Canada and almost scoring late when he skied to get on the end of a free kick. He did more than play well in the air, too, showing an ability to defend 1v1 better than he ever has before and tracking his mark with more assurance than he did last time out for the U.S. You can write his name down now in the starting lineup fror the Americans' two upcoming qualifiers.
That Goodson's stock up is a problem for the U.S., though. He is not particularly adept at distributing the ball, which Klinsmann has tried to emphasize in his new style, and he still keeps opposing attackers onside far too often, another thing that doesn't mesh with Klinsmann's style. Worst of all, he is 30 years old and if he is starting on Friday then you have to wonder when a young central defender will ever pop up considering Klinsmann has had 10 months to groom one.
Everyone Who Didn't Play: Whether on the roster or not, if an American not named Goodson did not play on Sunday than his stock went up. More accurately, the man in front of him on the depth chart came back to the pack. This even includes you, Mr. Pub Leaguer (but probably Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream most, who need to get call ups ASAP).
Bob Bradley: While Klinsmann's style struggles to take hold and the German dabbles in Bradley's tactics, the former U.S. manager is off winning World Cup qualifiers with Egypt. Maybe he was a better manager than he got credit for? History will judge Bradley kindly.
Canada: Nobody particularly enjoyed watching Canada throw men behind the ball or Simeon Jackson blow a golden opportunity, but some credit has to go to the Canucks. They were given a game plan by Stephen Hart and they executed it, which is something that past Canadian teams couldn't say.
Jurgen Klinsmann: In the last two matches, the U.S. has had one good stretch of play and it came against Brazil. They went to two strikers and a Bob Bradley-esque style of lump the ball into the box, strike quick or create chances on set pieces. When playing the way that Klinsmann has tried to get them to play, on the ground, with possession and with quick passing, the U.S. has really struggled. They have given the ball away with regularity, failed to create chances and been a step above inept. Klinsmann style has clearly not taken hold and the matches that count are coming up.
Player selection-wise and tactically, Klinsmann also took a hit against Canada. He had Donovan and Torres hugging the line in an attempt to create width, but it was ineffective. He had Herculez Gomez back as a lone striker, where he showed that he really plays better with a partner. He had Bradley deep, where he couldn't take full advantage of his rapidly growing skill set that brought so much to the team in recent matches. That, on top of the desire to create 1v1 opportunities and a general lack of adjustments made this a match in which Klinsmann was clearly pencil whipped. The above is all being very kind because the reality is that an entire column can be dedicated to what he got wrong tactically and it's tough to think of one thing he got right.
Jose Francisco Torres: It's tough to imagine that Torres has much rope left and in reality, his rope should have run out long ago. Torres is a nifty passer when given plenty of time, but that is about all he contributes to the team. When Canada closed him down quickly, as was the case against Brazil, Torres was absolutely flummoxed. He completed just two of 14 passes going forward, showing just how effective his passing was. Toss in his being a complete non-factor defensively and Klinsmann's affinity for the diminutive midfielder has be getting tested right now.
In fairness to Torres, Klinsmann didn't do him many favors. Throwing Torres wide by the touchline made it difficult for him to get involved and put him in a foreign space where he was understandably tentative. Still, it was another in a long line of bad matches for Torres. He's a guy who has one asset and it isn't one that shows up when a team closes down effectively.
Jermaine Jones: In a series of friendlies it doesn't matter much if you pick up a yellow card every match, but the friendlies are over and especially with CONCACAF refs in a hostile environment, those yellow cards can quickly turn to red cards. Jones needs to get things under control, although at his age and with his history it seems like more of a "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" scenario. Not giving the ball away with every other touch would also be something worth trying.