It’s tough to name a Man of the Match on a loss. So let’s do something else instead …
Here is the one U.S. man who helped himself the most Tuesday against Austria in terms of where he stands in the U.S. player pool: Geoff Cameron.
In the end, it may not be enough to displace Steve Cherundolo if the longtime U.S. incumbent at right back can ever get himself healthy. But it certainly gives U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann food for thought as he scans for better options along the right.
Ironically, Cameron (pictured above, on the right) may have been given the start at right back Tuesday because of Brad Evans’ hamstring tweak. No matter … Cameron made the best of his chance.
As it is, Cameron stands in a good place when we talk about those 23 roster spots available for Brazil – a.k.a. “pure gold” in any soccer player’s career. But it’s his versatility that has become so valuable, as he is able to fill in adequately at center back, right back or even holding midfield.
But Tuesday he suddenly stood out as perhaps – perhaps – the best starting option at right back this side of a healthy Cherundolo.
His tackling was aggressive and sure, even on treacherously slick pitch. That’s no surprise considering he is a second-year starter in the Premier League, where no defender survives long without dependable ability in ball-winning chores.
But it was Cameron’s passing that stood out at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. Rather than being satisfied with the safe option, which we have seen so much with Evans, Michael Parkhurst or Michael Orozco in the role, the Stoke City right back looked immediately forward. His early balls into Aron Johannsson, playing as an attacking central midfielder, got the United States into its offense quickly several times.
Cameron’s long legs and steady pace mean he can get forward but still retreat with reliable speed. And he looked quite comfortable with the ball once into the final third.
Heck, the guy even scored a goal. It’s not his fault if match officials dropped the ball on this one.
Don’t forget, this is a guy who once played regularly as an attacking midfielder for Houston.
Previously, Cameron’s only shot at right back in a U.S. shirt had been against a powerful, talented Belgian side. He didn’t look great – but no one is a U.S. kit looked very good that day. Cameron took the opportunity Tuesday to put himself into the U.S. Best XI conversation once again.
The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.
Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.
Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.
Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.
How does Arena cope with injuries?
The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.
While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.
Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.
Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?
It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.
Bradley must control the middle once again
Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.
In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.
The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.
In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.
Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.
On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.
It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.
The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.
Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.
Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.
We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.
Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.
great first day back training with the boys, ankle felt really good and i'm getting more confident with it by the day! not long now 🙏🏼💪🏼