The U.S. national team needed 89 minutes to find a goal, but Friday's 1-0 win against Canada had more than one bright spot for the Americans.
The crowd was sparse, and the soccer was ugly for considerable stretches, but the U.S. national team's 1-0 victory against Canada still gave Jurgen Klinsmann plenty to chew on as the team's month-long training camp concluded.
It was clear by the makeshift defense that Klinsmann wasn't worrying too much about learning about his back line options. What the match provided was a good showcase for some attacking options. The offense did move the ball well in midfield and created several chances, but the final play was lacking, and poor touches by several players – most frequently Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris – contributed to the lack of goals.
The younger attackers may have struggled, but Jozy Altidore delivered a very professional performance and while he failed to convert several chances, the veteran forward was active throughout and combined well with his teammates.
The win helps Klinsmann start the new year with a pair of victories, and while they may not mean that much in the grand scheme of things considering the opponents and the players in the side, the January camp did help give some players the chance to impress and move up Klinsmann's pecking order.
Here is a look at some of the key takeaways from Friday's U.S. victory:
Few American starters draw more criticism than Altidore, particularly when he's running cold on the international level. On Friday, he provided a reminder of why he remains the unquestioned starter at forward. It's not just what he brings to the table, but there simply aren't other players ready to really challenge Altidore for his starting spot.
Klinsmann knows this all too well, and is focusing his energies on finding the best options to play alongside Altidore. Gyasi Zardes had his chance against Iceland, and turned in mixed results. Jordan Morris may not be close to truly challenging for a starting role, but he played well with Altidore and the two combined on some good sequences.
Altidore has lost more than 10 pounds of muscle to slim down and get quicker, and the early results look good. He moved well in both recent friendlies, and could be poised for a big year for club and country.
It can be argued that no player boosted their national team stock more in the recent camp and friendlies than Lee Nguyen, who showed up in top shape and determined to earn more playing time. Two very good starts later, and Nguyen has established himself as someone Klinsmann needs to keep in the picture in midfield.
Deployed on the left wing in both matches but given the freedom to roam, Nguyen showed off his deft touch and passing vision against Canada, displaying real confidence, and an ability to unlock defenses with his shifty moves and precise passes. Though not a pure winger, his technical quality could earn him more looks in a wide role, and potentially even some time in central midfield.
It may only be one match, but we may wind up seeing a lot of the Altidore-Morris tandem at forward. Morris played with confidence in what was only his second national team start. His touch may have failed him a few times, but his speed, tenacity and improving combination play helped create several chances for himself and for Altidore.
It's easy to forget that Morris has just nine U.S. caps and has played zero professional matches. The 21-year-old is sure to improve once he settles into the Seattle Sounders setup, and the experience he will gain as a pro should see his game grow considerably this year.
With the possible exception of Jermaine Jones, there was probably no player more frustrating to watch than Gyasi Zardes, who squandered countless looks and killed multiple attacks with poor touches and bad decision-making.
To be clear, Zardes did have a hand in some good plays, included a perfect pass to set up an Altidore chance, and his own dangerous shot that forced a save. He also showed his trademark tireless defensive work. Unfortunately, his good work didn't cancel out the countless number of awful touches, ill-timed hesitations and general lack of confidence in the final third.
It could be chalked up to rust and being in preseason form, but these issues are nothing new for Zardes. Until he can improve in these key areas, it's tough to see him being a reliable starter on the international level.
When the initial January camp roster was announced, Mix Diskerud's inclusion was met with plenty of consternation. After all, he was coming off what was widely regarded as a mediocre season at New York City FC, and that didn't stop him from being chosen ahead of more productive MLS players like Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and yes, Benny Feilhaber.
Klinsmann didn't hold Diskerud's 2015 struggles against him, choosing instead to focus on the fact Diskerud has done well with the U.S. on several occasions. Diskerud repaid Klinsmann's faith once again on Friday, looking very comfortable in a central midfield partnership with Michael Bradley. His movement was crisp, passes sharp and decisions steady. He did enough to leave you feeling like Klinsmann was right to call him in.
Diskerud surely knows how disappointing 2015 was, and after Friday's match he stressed that it is a new year. How he fares with NYCFC this year will go a long way toward determining just how large a role he will play for the U.S. in 2016, but on Friday he provided Klinsmann, and U.S. fans, a reminder of why he should still be in the midfield conversation.