Nick Rimando and Joe Gyau were among the players who made positive impressions in the U.S. national team's first match since the World Cup.There once was a time when a U.S. national team victory in Europe would have been enough to steal the headlines as a big deal. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have moved beyond that, with Wednesday’s 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic their third in their past seven matches across the Atlantic.
Wednesday’s win was more about new faces, as well as players challenging for new roles, and the win gave Klinsmann plenty to chew on as he embarks on a new cycle.
Nick Rimando stepped up with a stellar showing in his 45 minutes, making a plethora of highlight-reel saves to stave off a second-half Czech surge. The RSL man made it clear he isn’t going to make it easy for Brad Guzan to step in and become the new first-choice U.S. goalkeeper during Tim Howard’s year-long sabbatical.
Guzan had far less to do in his 45 minutes of action in the first half, and still looks the most likely successor to Howard in the U.S. goal. Rimando has been outstanding in almost every appearance he has made for the U.S. though, and looks intent on making Klinsmann’s decision a tough one.
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It wasn’t difficult to figure out the most impressive newcomer for the U.S. on Wednesday. Joe Gyau showed off his speed and quickness, and willingness to go at defenders in what was a strong first national team appearance. His first half was more impressive than his second half, which saw him tire and make some mistakes, but he definitely did well enough to draw more looks, and showed why he was the lone uncapped player handed a start on Wednesday.
Klinsmann experimented with a new-look three-man midfield trio that lacked a true defensive midfielder. He counted on Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona to cover for each other and use their energy and work rate to press the Czechs. The plan worked well at times, including on the sequence that led to Bedoya’s winner. But the Czechs also exposed the U.S. midfield’s lack of defensive bite early on, coming close to a goal on a pair of dangerous counterattacking surges.
Diskerud was the most impressive of the midfield trio, showing willingness to press high up the field and cover ground, while also looking confident on the ball. He played like a player motivated by not having played a single minute at the World Cup.
The same could have been said for Timmy Chandler, who looked good at left back. The heir apparent to DaMarcus Beasley was steady defensively and got forward on a few occasions. Chandler’s potential best competition for the left back spot in the next cycle, Greg Garza, turned in a passable shift in his 28-minute national team debut.
Klinsmann handed Jozy Altidore the captain’s armband, and Altidore put in plenty of hard work in his first national team appearance since tearing his hamstring in the World Cup opener against Ghana. Unfortunately for the Sunderland striker, he received no service to speak of, and his energy in the first half went unrewarded as he faded from the match in the second half.
Julian Green’s first national team start was a mixed bag, with the teenager starting brightly but ultimately failing to make much happen from his left wing slot. He was active, but never truly dangerous, and his set piece delivery left plenty to be desired. It is clear he needs games, and his move to Bundesliga side Hamburg should help his development, as should some more national team appearances.
John Brooks fared better than his fellow World Cup goal-scoring German American, looking very solid in central defense. He looked comfortable and confident, both as a left center back in the first half, and right center back in the second half. If he can keep hold of a starting role at Hertha Berlin, Brooks looks like a good bet to be starting for the U.S. next summer at the Gold Cup.
One player who did himself no favors was Brek Shea, who was atrocious in his 27 minutes. The Stoke City midfielder simply looked lost. He desperately needs a move away from Stoke, which was already known before he stammered through his appearance on Wednesday. While you could understand if Klinsmann wants to offer Shea some support with the call-ups, Shea showed little reason to be called up again any time soon.
Overall, the Americans controlled the match for the better part of the first 60 minutes, before the Czechs, led by Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, began to step up the pressure and take advantage of some bad U.S. turnovers to pepper Rimando with shots. Luckily for the U.S., the RSL goalkeeper was up to the task every time.
The victory was a good bonus, the fourth in Europe since Klinsmann took over as head coach in 2011, but Wednesday’s match was less about the result and more about players facing a new challenge. Some, like Rimando, Brooks and Gyau stepped up to the challenge. Others, like Green and Shea, did not.