What we learned from United States versus Austria

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  • Jozy Altidore isn’t finishing … but he’s still contributing

We know Jozy Altidore can score. He just came off one of the best years a U.S. striker has ever lived.

Obviously, confidence is a big part of this scoring thing, and it may become an increasingly worrisome spot for the Sunderland striker. But for now, Altidore continues to be a bother on opposition defenses. He certainly was on Tuesday at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel Stadium – and with benefit of the doubt firmly in pocket on the scoring front, that’s good enough for now.

He was busy in making himself available, which is always essential and never exactly easy in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (Tuesday’s alignment for manager Jurgen Klinsmann). And like Friday against Scotland, Altidore came close a couple of times. So even if the guy is not scoring at the moment for the United States, it’s not like he’s wildly off target.

And wouldn’t it help if the man could get a little bit of service from wide areas? At times Tuesday, Altidore must have felt like he was (Eee-gads!) back at Sunderland.

Which brings us to our second point …

  • The flanks have issues

If Alejandro Bedoya on the right and Brek Shea on the left got off a good cross Tuesday, then I missed it.

Which is really disappointing, considering that both U.S. players needed a big night. The opportunity is there because all the U.S. attacking strength right now is right up the gut, so precious little of it from the wide areas.

(Fabian Johnson could do something about this. So could Landon Donovan … but they have to get healthy. So, uh , get healthy.)

Bedoya has been getting prime minutes lately, but he just isn’t doing much to justify Klinsmann’s ongoing faith. Tuesday, like Friday against Scotland, was full of cutting back onto his left foot. Which is odd … a right-wing man who doesn’t seem to want to cross with his right foot. (Presumably, Altidore thinks so, too.)

In fairness, neither wide man got the ball in good spots Tuesday. Shea didn’t, although some of that was his own doing, as he some tactical inexperience showed.

Shea must learn to vary his positioning some, moving in and out, rather than remaining out wide all the time, predictably so. That makes it easier for defenders and midfielders to shut down passing lanes into him – which means he gets fewer chances to gallop past defenders with those long legs.

The bottom line on it all was that everything was going through Altidore and Aron Johannsson, who was given a shot as a central, attacking midfielder. Which brings us to …

  • Aron Johannsson showed enough in his new role

The young Alkmaar man, a recent U.S. convert from Iceland, has been impressive as a striker in his first few appearances as a Yank. So Klinsmann assigned Johannsson a new role Tuesday, as a playmaker tucked behind Altidore. He had plenty of room to operate since Michael Bradley played just a little further back than usual, a fellow holding mid in a 4-2-3-1 rather than more of a linker in a 4-3-3.

So some early trouble wasn’t in the spacing, but in the touch. Johannsson looked nervous initially, losing the ball four times within the game’s first 13 minutes. The field was slick, and it certainly wasn’t easy out there. Jermaine Jones lost the ball a lot, too. In other words, pretty much the same old, same old there.

But Johannsson did ease into the night. His shot from about 24 yards about 15 minutes in troubled Austrian goalkeeper Robert Almer and seemed to settle the young U.S. prospect, and he worked the channels adequately from there.

It wasn’t a signature night for the man born in Alabama and raised in Iceland. But he keeps showing enough. There is enough control in tight spaces, enough vision and enough speed of thought to keep us all excited. He’s 23 … not exactly a youngster, but hardly a finished product, either. And every time Johannsson steps on the field, his case for a place among the final 23 for Brazil seems to grow stronger.

  • Jermaine Jones gonna Jermaine Jones

Jones’ game-by-game assessment checklist: Lots of turnovers — check. Do something impulsive, potentially harmful to your team and just kind of silly, like give a little slap to an opponent, as Tuesday — check.

Well, we covered this ground before. Nothing new to see here … so let’s just move on.

  • John Brooks will be good … someday

With Goeff Cameron pushed out wide, John Brooks got his second start as a U.S. center back, this time alongside Omar Gonzalez.

Brooks had trouble here and there with positioning, but the foibles looked like teachable moments. It’s not like he cannot cope, in other words.

Brooks stepped aggressively toward the slippery Marc Janko when he might have been better to hold the line, and other times he needed to be closer to Austria’s top striker rather than further away.

But the tools all seem to be there, and his passing from the back was sufficiently varied and technical. He’s not ready to challenge Matt Besler just yet as Gonzalez’s central partner – but the 20-year-old German-American isn’t that far, either.

(MORE: NBC highlights from Tuesday’s 1-0 loss)

(MORE: Video of Geoff Cameron’s goal for the United States … that wasn’t counted)

(MORE: Geoff Cameron certainly helped himself with a good night)

(MORE: U.S. finishes 2013 with a 1-0 loss to Austria)