Lessons from 2010 say U.S. squad as much about opportunity, circumstances as youth

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Young talents like Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman, and Jordan Morris gave the latest U.S. Men’s National Team roster a quality we’re usually denied. Instead of a collection of established talents battling within the margins of their established skills, players who’ve yet to define themselves will tickle our imaginations in Prague. Along with MLS talents like DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil, they’re part of the coming generation of U.S. talent, one that’s yet to show us the limits of their potential.

But the celebration of youth that commenced when Jurgen Klinsmann named today’s team warrants a few notes of caution: Eric Lichaj; Gale Agbossoumonde; Tim Ream; Juan Agudelo; Teal Bunbury. Those were some of the names that represented the United States Nov.17, 2010 in South Africa – at a 1-0 win in at the Nelson Mandela Cup. While it wasn’t the States’ first game that summer’s World Cup, the promise shown by those young guns teased hopes for the coming cycle.

Agudelo, only 17, became the youngest goal scorer in national team history. Agbossoumonde was only 18. Among Bunbury, Ream, and Lichaj, the then-Aston Villa defender (Lichaj) was the oldest, celebrating his 22nd birthday. Not only did none of them make this summer’s roster World Cup, but those hopefuls failed to play major parts while the U.S. qualified for Brazil.

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers was on that team, too. So were Jonathan Bornstein, Logan Pause, and Robbie Rodgers. While Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud were part of the younger crew, MLS veteran Brian Carroll was there as well. Back in 2010, 2014 was still a long way off.

source: Getty Images
Juan Agudelo became the U.S.’s youngest goal-scorer in 2010. He failed to make this summer’s World Cup squad. (Photo: Getty Images)

In hindsight, 2010 provides a cautionary tale. As exciting as the prospect of an Agudelo-Bunbury tandem was at the time, there were three-plus years separating that moment from kickoff in Brazil. Agudelo (right) changed teams (and continents) in that time. Bunbury was traded from Kansas City. Ream ended up in the second division in England, while Lichaj never fully took hold at Aston Villa. When the U.S. changed head coaches in 2011, the significance of South Africa flew out the window.

The youngest players in this summer’s World Cup squad: Julian Green (19), Yedlin (20), John Brooks (21)? They weren’t even in the picture in 2013. It wasn’t until the very end of the cycle that their youth was served.

Particularly with MLS players largely excluded from the squad (save RSL keeper Nick Rimando), today’s team is as a product of circumstance as much as youth. With multiple U.S. veterans moving to MLS before the World Cup, the stock of established Americans on European soil is particularly thin. That not only means opportunities for talents like Rubin and Hyndman but also new chances for Brek Shea, Michael Orozco, and Ream.

And, as Jurgen Klinsmann implied today, opportunity is really the theme of this camp. It’s a chance for a series of young players to take advantage of the time which, had this call up happened last cycle, would have gone to a Fulham-based Clint Dempsey. Or a Michael Bradley, still in Italy. Perhaps Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones could have commanded the midfield. Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst would already be making plans for Prague.

source: Getty Images
DeAndre Yedlin was a surprise member of this summer’s World Cup squad, with Jurgen Klinsmann showing his willingness to rely on a broader player pool. (Photo: Getty Images)

2014 is a whole new, almost incomparable world; not that the situation doesn’t serve Klinsmann’s broader goals. Under his watch, expanding the player pool as been a steady goal. More talent, more options, more competition – it’s part of the reason why the U.S. boss has been difficult to read during his tenure. More than ever, the States seem to maintain a wide net when considering call ups. As 2011 illustrated, Bradley did the same, but Klinsmann’s willingness to use that net to call on Alan Gordon in qualifying or Yedlin (right) at the World Cup makes his net all the more meaningful. Once you’re in its grasp, you can be called on at any time.

That, as much as the players’ actual ages, may be the lasting impact of today’s squad. Through Sept. 3’s game in Prague, a series of new talents will have a chance to embed themselves in that grasp. Young or not, players like Rubin, Hyndman, Morris and Joe Gyau have a chance to lodge themselves in coaches’ memories, becoming the guy they call in when they need a player to do X, Y or Z. Between Gold Cups, Copa America, World Cup Qualifying, and (if all goes well) Olympics and Confederations Cups, the U.S.’s roster will be stretched at points this coming cycle. Even for relatively established players like Alfredo Morales, this is a chance to make a good early impression.

For some, it might as well be a first impression. Though the likes of Morales and Bobby Wood have been capped, the end of this summer’s World Cup may have wiped slates clean. A new cycle brings a series of new stresses, and goals. How each player can help address those will be on display next week in Prague.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —