The United States managed to throw away a first-half lead against New Zealand, with a bad goalkeeping error handing New Zealand a goal in the second half of a 1-1 draw in their last friendly before starting the Hex round of World Cup qualifying. It wasn’t the result the USMNT wanted, but there were still a lot of good lessons to take away from the match as they prepare for more important matches in the months to come.
The USMNT got off to a slow start in the match, with New Zealand able to apply pressure to what looked like a U.S. midfield that had gotten very little training together in the formation and tactics Jurgen Klinsmann elected to employ. The All Whites used that pressure and their opponents’ slow process of feeling out the match to generate some early attacking threat, but couldn’t make the most of their chances and couldn’t score before the USMNT woke up.
And once the U.S. got rolling, there was little New Zealand could do but hold on. The U.S. started essentially camping out in New Zealand’s half of the field, limiting the visitors to the occasional counter attack that was, for the most part, easily snuffed out. The USMNT, meanwhile, kept throwing attackers forward over and over, with the trio of Sacha Klještan, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin causing immense attacking pressure, especially with Jozy Altidore constantly pulling defenders around at will up top.
That pressure quickly came good when Green scored his second goal in as many matches, a fantastically taken strike from the edge of the box after backing down his defender. It was a much better sequence than we’re used to seeing from Green, showing us just how far he’s starting to come after leaving many fans disappointed over the last two years.
The U.S. kept applying plenty of pressure and looked very good going forward, consistently more threatening and dangerous than we’ve seen from them in a long time. Part of that was the quality of their opposition, but part of it was them playing with a more aggressive edge than we’ve seen from the USMNT in quite some time. They struggled to actually make the most of their chances, though, and never could find the second goal they needed to put the match away.
That left the U.S. vulnerable to a surprise late push from New Zealand, who were looking to take advantage of some shaky midfield play from their opponents as Danny Williams and Michael Bradley struggled to coordinate in the minutes after Williams subbed into the match for Perry Kitchen. That paid dividends in the 72nd minute, when a counter went right through midfield and caught the backline unprepared and disorganized. Substitute goalkeeper David Bingham made a massive gaffe on the resulting shot from Monty Patterson and ultimately let it go through his legs for the equalizer.
The U.S. never really recovered from that, with another Bingham gaffe nearly costing them a second goal late in the match, only saved by a goal line clearance from Michael Orozco. The USMNT nearly found an extra time winner, but New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic made a fantastic save off a Bradley header, though he nearly cost his team a goal when he spilled the cross from the resulting corner.
The result is a disappointing one for the USMNT, who definitely should have beaten the weaker team. But New Zealand have been building a reputation of being very tough to play, and it’s not as though Mexico looked much better against them in a narrow win over the weekend. In terms of what we saw on the pitch, though, there were a lot of positives, and most of the negatives came down to playing some deep reserves who won’t see much time on the pitch in actual important games.
That’s not a bad position to be in, and hopefully Klinsmann and the USMNT will take the right lessons away from this match as they prepare to start the Hex round of World Cup qualifying against Mexico in Columbus in November.
United States: William Yarbrough (David Bingham 46’); Michael Orozco, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Kellyn Acosta (Lynden Gooch 59’); Michael Bradley, Perry Kitchen (Danny Williams 64’), Sacha Klještan; DeAndre Yedlin, Jozy Altidore (Terrence Boyd 87’), Julian Green (Juan Agudelo 78’)
Goals: Green (27’)
New Zealand: Stefan Marinovic; Andrew Durante (Samuel Brotherton 58’), Winston Reid (Thimistoklis Tzimopoulos 74’), Michael Boxall; Liam Graham (Louis Fenton 46’), Clayton Lewis (Moses Dyer 67’), Michael McGlinchey, Marco Rojas (Henry Cameron 46’, Kosta Barbarouses 76’), Kip Colvey; Monty Patterson, Chris Wood
Goals: Patterson (72’)
Three things we learned
Sacha Klještan is locking in a regular role in the USMNT
It wasn’t so long ago that Klještan was an outcast in the USMNT player pool after mediocre club form and a couple disastrous national team caps left him on the outside looking in. After joining MLS and the New York Red Bulls, however, Klještan started showing steady improvement as a creative midfielder, ultimately forcing Klinsmann’s hand into returning him to the national team squad.
And oh, what a good decision that has been. Klještan is giving the USMNT the creative presence going forward from midfield that they’ve lacked for some time. They’ve tried various players in the role, especially Bradley of late, and no one has ever quite done well enough to really earn the role. Klještan, however, has excelled, showing a keen eye for the spaces to occupy and the passes to make to set the likes of Altidore or Green free on goal. That’s added an element to the U.S. attack that has been missing for far too long.
The USMNT’s goalkeeping depth chart should be reconsidered
A number of people found themselves raising their eyebrows when William Yarbrough made the initial squad for this international break and Bill Hamid did not, especially with both Tim Howard and Brad Guzan left at home. Hamid was eventually brought in during the weekend’s roster shuffle, but Yarbrough was the one given the start and a chance to prove himself in this match, while Hamid watched from the bench.
It did not go particularly well.
Unlike Ethan Horvath’s start that went swimmingly, with the young Molde goalkeeper communicating well to organize his defense and adjusting to problems, Yarbrough’s communication attempts seemed to confuse and disrupt the U.S. defense at times. His struggles to hold onto the ball on crosses or shots in traffic nearly cost the USMNT multiple times. Some chalked that up to nerves, but they’re not — Yarbrough has the exact same issues when he plays for Leon in Mexico’s Liga MX. This is who he is, and it's why he probably shouldn’t be starting for the USMNT. His replacement in the match, Bingham, didn’t do any better, and was extremely poor in his reaction to the shot that was ultimately New Zealand’s equalizing goal in the second half.
Meanwhile, Hamid has become one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, and certainly has played far better than Yarbrough and Bingham. Despite that, he seems to be well behind both players in the depth chart. For the good of the USMNT, Klinsmann needs to watch a lot more matches and tape on his goalkeepers because the depth chart needs to be shaken up in goal so that it reflects the actual capability of the players on it.
If you gave up on Julian Green, he is laughing at you right now
A lot of USMNT fans gave up on Green over the last two years. He struggled for the national team, struggled to get playing time in Germany, and many fans declared him a failure and moved on to the next shiny, fun prospect. Mind you, Green just turned 21 in June. He’s very young, and has a lot of development left to go -- and this past week, he’s shown us why you shouldn’t give up on talented young attackers quite so quickly.
Is Green a finished product yet? No. Is he a perfect player? Far from it -- he still has plenty of flaws. Should he start every game for the USMNT? No, but don’t be surprised if he starts against Mexico in November. He definitely has a role to play for the U.S. right now, and his skill set as a wide forward is one that the national team always needs more of, especially on his natural left side.
Green’s goals in his last two matches may have come against less-than-elite opposition, but they both showed better instincts and, most importantly, better knowledge of what to do in those situations than we’ve seen from him in the past. He’s becoming a better player and a better contributor to the side, and that’s only good news for the USMNT.