January friendlies have become a time for the U.S. Men’s National Team to look at its younger domestic players for the future, but for Bruce Arena’s team time isn’t really on its side right now.
The U.S. looked largely unconvincing on Sunday against Serbia in their 0-0 draw at Qualcomm Stadium, and with just one more friendly separating the USMNT from the resumption of World Cup qualifying nerves are starting to kick in.
Here’s what we learned about the USMNT from Sunday’s draw with Serbia.
Nagbe production will be vital moving forward
Let’s start with the positives. It started and ended with Darlington Nagbe on Sunday, as the Portland Timbers midfielder showed glimpses of how dangerous he can be in a USMNT attack that often lacks creativity. While the U.S. was without pieces like Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic, Nagbe figures to be an important figure for Arena moving forward because of his versatility, skill on the ball and ability to play multiple positions.
It’s still uncertain just exactly which formation Arena will settle on, but if Sunday is any indiction of the former LA Galaxy manager’s mindset the U.S. will need a creative mind like Nagbe behind Jozy Altidore in order to develop the attack.
The 4-1-4-1 or at times 4-2-3-1 left Altidore isolated for much of the encounter against Serbia, making it difficult for the Toronto FC striker to operate. Many names will be in the mix for a starting position come March but with the status of Clint Dempsey unknown as he returns from a long layoff with health issues and Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya largely quiet on Sunday, Nagbe should have a legitimate shot to crack the starting XI.
Back four still uncertain
The Graham Zusi experiment at right back went surprisingly well, albeit against an undermanned Serbia team, however, the state of the U.S. defense heading into March remains up in the air. While John Brooks, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin are all likely to get starting nods against Honduras, the USMNT still lacks depth at outside back.
Sunday presented a big opportunity for both Zusi and Greg Garza, who started at left back, but it was the latter that struggled throughout the match and left the door open for Jorge Villafana and veteran DaMarcus Beasley to at least be in the conversation. Ultimately, Villafana’s club situation is a concern due to his lack of playing time in Liga MX and Beasley’s age also factors into the equation.
While Johnson’s versatility and skill could likely be beneficial for Arena on the wing, for the time being he’s still the best option that the USMNT possesses at left back.
The pairing of Chad Marshall and Steve Birnbaum was successful against the Serbs, which was certainly a bright spot on the day. While Geoff Cameron and Brooks have seemingly locked down a starting partnership in the center of the U.S. defense, Cameron’s injury woes have left the door open for someone to claim the spot next to Brooks. Birnbaum has a stronger chance to claim the position than Marshall, but also look out for FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman, who has impressed during January camp and should see time against Jamaica.
Rimando leads the way in goal
Goalkeeper has long been a position that the USMNT hasn’t had to worry about but with the status of the team’s top two choices currently uncertain, the job could be Nick Rimando’s to lose for the near future following Sunday’s performance.
The Real Salt Lake keeper wasn’t tested often against the Serbs, but the 37-year-old came up clutch when called upon and he has the experience in MLS to answer the call if needed. While Rimando has yet to make an appearance for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying, he would benefit from playing two of the weaker sides in the Hex, Honduras and Panama.
While names like David Bingham and Luis Robles will be thrown around because of their consistent success in MLS, Rimando has consistently been in the national team setup for years and has had the opportunity to watch Tim Howard and Brad Guzan from close sight. Howard is coming back from offseason surgery, making his availability in March highly questionable, while Guzan has struggled to find minutes in the Premier League with Middlesbrough.Follow @MattReedFutbol