If Friday’s friendly against Scotland was a test where the U.S. Men’s National Team was being graded as a group, the grade wouldn’t be the kind you’d be rushing home to show your parents. However, If we look at the 0-0 draw as more a test for individuals, it becomes a bit easier to find some good grades next to the pile of red-letter marks.
Some players, like Aron Johannsson and Brek Shea, made the most of their minutes against the Scots, while others, like Sacha Kljestan and Eddie Johnson, will want to forget Friday ever happened.
If there was a player who really boosted his stock, it was Johannsson, who once again looked the part. He came on as a substitute and flashed all the tools that show you why he’s scoring so many goals in the Netherlands. He can combine well, make good runs, take defenders on and beat them, and find chances consistently. He had one good chance saved well and another miss just wide in his limited minutes against Scotland, but it was clear the U.S. attack was more dynamic with him on the field.
Klinsmann has been trying to bring Johannsson along slowly, and his cautiousness appeared to be justified when Johannsson showed nerves in his first USA start, in the World Cup qualifying win against Jamaica in October. The reality is that, despite the obvious nerves, Johannsson showed good qualities and found chances.
He found chances against Scotland too, and showed why he really needs to continue starting. Johannsson makes those around him better, and finds his own chances. Those qualities, along with his quickness and deft touch, make him unlike any other attacking player in the U.S. pool.
While Johannsson showed he merits more playing time, Brek Shea helped justify Klinsmann’s continued faith in the Stoke City winger. Shea hasn’t played a minute for Stoke, but with Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson, and Brad Davis all injured or tied up with the MLS playoffs, Klinsmann took a chance on bringing in a player in whom he has always shown faith, and Shea played the role of super sub yet again.
Shea ran at defenders, caused problems for Scotland’s defense, and set up a goal-worthy chance that Johannsson pushed just wide. As impressive as Shea was though, his status remains the same. He needs to find playing time, whether at Stoke or on loan, and if his circumstances don’t change it will be extremely difficult for him to be considered for the World Cup team. Especially with so many other wing options in the pool (like the list of names you see above).
Friday’s draw was forgettable for several players, most glaringly Kljestan, Johnson and Jermaine Jones. For Kljestan and Johnson, you could argue that at least part of their struggles were down to being cast in roles that aren’t best suited for them. For Jones, Friday’s poor showing was just his latest in national team career highlighted by inconsistency. When he is playing well, he can be dominant, and he can help the U.S. team roll. Unfortunately, when he’s wandering around aimlessly, and making little mark on a match, he drags the team down, forcing his teammates to pick up the slack.
Jones hasn’t been earning regular playing time at Schalke lately, so his latest subpar effort could be down to being out of form, but you have to wonder at what point does Klinsmann start to seriously consider other options to play alongside Michael Bradley in central midfield.
Kljestan would probably love a chance to play in that spot, but on Friday he was slotted into a playmaking role behind Altidore in the middle of a three-man midfield line. It’s a more advanced role than he has ever played before for the USA, and one he doesn’t play for Anderlecht. That, along with Eddie Johnson’s utter uselessness on the left wing, and Jones’ ineffectiveness in his forays forward, left Kljestan with limited and ineffective options to combine with, no real chances to threaten Scotland’s defense.
No player was as ineffective as Johnson, who was largely invisible except for the countless unforced turnovers he committed. Klinsmann has used Johnson on the left wing in the past, but it might be an experiment he should consider scrapping for good. Johnson is a forward, and just isn’t a viable wing option against higher-level competition. He doesn’t combine well with teammates when on the wing, is lazy defensively when on the wing, and can’t cross the ball.
Luckily for Klinsmann, he isn’t likely to need Johnson on the left wing in Brazil next summer. Whether it’s Fabian Johnson, Zusi, Donovan, Bedoya or Brad Davis, there will be someone else (anyone else) he can put there.
Perhaps that’s why Klinsmann insisted on deploying his team in a 4-2-3-1 even though he really didn’t have the personnel to maximize that formation. Altidore absolutely depends on the three midfielders behind him to give him passing options, service and movement, because without it Altidore is rendered useless, as any Sunderland fan can tell you.
So why stick with the 4-2-3-1? Apparently to see which square pegs just might be able to fit into a round hole in that system. On Friday, Neither Kljestan or Johnson fit, and with Jones turning in a stinker, the U.S. played one of its worst halves of the year.
The USA’s next match, on Tuesday against Austria, should offer Klinsmann a chance to consider deploying Johannsson in a wide right role, which would allow Klinsmann to shift Alejandro Bedoya to the left wing. Putting Johannsson on the right wing might feel like just more miscasting of talent, but Johannsson has the qualities to make an impact on the right wing, where he can have the space to take defenders on, and combine with whoever is slotted into a playmaking role.
Which brings us to Mix Diskerud, who absolutely should get his chance against Austria to play behind the lone striker (be it Altidore or Terrence Boyd). Diskerud has the vision, movement and ideas to thrive in that role, something we have already seen him do before (think the second half of the win against Jamaica in October).
If Friday’s disappointing team effort brings us closer to identifying Johannsson and Diskerud as players Klinsmann needs to start playing more, and closer to showing us that Eddie Johnson isn’t a winger, and showing us that maybe we shouldn’t pencil in Jones as a starter next summer, then the tie against Scotland will have been worthwhile. Still extremely boring, and largely forgettable, but still useful.