After nine points in three qualifiers, there’s no shortage of praise to hand out to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Whereas three or four standouts usually force their way onto our Stock Rising report, a larger flock of MNT’ers deserve some acknowledgement after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras, three points that leave the U.S. on 13 after six Hex rounds.
We spare no expense handing our this week’s plaudits, the positives from the U.S.’s current run proving much larger than the Stock Falling report we’ll have later tonight.
Jozy Altidore – I don’t know what’s more impressive: (a) Altidore’s calm, reassured finished on yesterday’s 71st minute winner; (b) the celebration that portrayed more relief than jubilance; or, (c) the fact that throughout the night Altidore always seemed to be in the right place, whether it was the first half’s targeting from wide or the second half’s attempts to tick and tack through the Honduran block. In the last eight months, we’ve gone from asking ‘where’s Jozy’ to always expecting him to be where his teammates are looking.
Just over a week ago, after the U.S. had dispatched Panama, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked why Altidore’s finally broken through. In Klinsmann’s mind, though, he hadn’t. Altidore’s being doing the same things in June that he done since he winter recall, the U.S. boss explained. Now, those things are leading to goals, but that doesn’t mean Altidore wasn’t contributing before.
It’s tempting to look at four goals in as many games as a turning point, but Altidore’s breakthrough probably came before this goal-scoring rush. His rising stock is build on a foundation laid throughout 2013.
Graham Zusi (right) – The control the U.S. maintained against Panama meant Zusi was rarely missed, especially while Omar Gonzalez made sure any access the Canaleros had through Brad Evans was quickly closed off. On Tuesday, however, we were reminded about the little things the Sporting Kansas City star is doing to cement his role on the U.S.’s right. In the second half, we got a glimpse of some potential versatility, with Klinsmann shifting him in from the right, using him as a focal point in front of the line as the U.S. touched their way past the Honduran defense. Moving on from his 13th cap, it’s tempting to consider what other parts of Zusi’s game will we see assert themselves in the international game.
Geoff Cameron – There was little argument for Cameron keeping his place in the starting XI over the returning Jermaine Jones, but after 90 minutes in Sandy that gave us a better means of comparison, Cameron’s starting to make his case. Coming off a stellar performance against Panama, the Stoke City man provided some needed quality off the bench, hinting his game in Seattle wasn’t a fluke. We’re still a long way from being able to say Cameron deserves the nod over the more-accomplished Jones, but this is how competition starts. One man starts asserting himself. The other has to respond.
Matt Besler – While the center back to his right has been prone to mistakes, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year has been Mr. Reliable, providing a couple of new moments of reassured protection in Utah. It wasn’t so long ago (like, a matter of weeks) that Besler wasn’t a sure bet to start next to Omar Gonzalez. Now, he seems like an obligatory choice.
Fabian Johnson (right) – Two matches in a row, Johnson’s provided the game-winning assist to Jozy Altidore, each time getting deep along the left before playing across for his team’s best finisher. All of a sudden, the Hoffenheim wide man leads The Hex in assists. Be it in midfield or in defense, Johnson’s providing a quality fans have been begging for since Klinsmann took over: width. While some moments in defense hinted he may not be a better choice at left back than DaMarcus Beasley, Johnson continues to make the U.S. better for his presence.
Brad Davis – The main arguments against Brad Davis’s inclusion are his lack of speed and athleticism, yet while drawing a foul in a dangerous spot late in the match, the Houston talisman showed more promise than many have seen before. The arguments against his potential at international level remain, but with that flash of danger, Davis may be providing a new counterpoint.
Eddie Johnson – When E.J. was brought in at the end of the last round, everybody expected him to provide Klinsmann an alternative to Altidore. But Johnson’s yet to be meaningfully used as a true No. 9. Instead, he’s played on the left. He’s played on the right. He’s provided a needed injection of athleticism, strength, and even experience. And his presence at the back post gives the team a persistent threat. Players like Johnson and Cameron may not have starting spots, but they’re proving valuable parts of Klinsmann’s restructured team.
Jurgen Klinsmann – It’s not only that the U.S. is on 13 points through six rounds. It’s how they’ve done it. To this point, the story’s unfolding just like Klinsmann predicted. And now, the furor ahead of the Costa Rica match seems ridiculous now.