USMNT Report: Good, But Not Good Enough

The USA defeated South Korea 2-0 on Saturday, but the clean sheet came from a messy and inconsistent affair
by Herb Scribner   |   Monday, February 03, 2014

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team started off 2014 like they spent most of 2013 – surviving by the skin of their teeth.

In a 2-0 win over South Korea on Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., the USA relied on 2 goals from Chris Wondolowski and excellent saves from Nick Rimando to grab the friendly victory in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 27,000.

Though the win might meet the goals set out by USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann, the Yanks are far away from becoming a legitimate threat in the world’s tournament.

POST GAME-REACTIONS: Landon Donovan, who served as captain for the USA, said the US’ assertive play opened them up to more chances by the Koreans.

“Once in a while teams are going to do that and we’re going to do that to teams as well. It’s part of the game and especially now with how fast the game is, it can happen. So, either you can take advantage of them or the other team does and it can be the difference.”

Wondolowski said he still has work to do to impress Klinsmann and the coaching staff enough to get a nod for the Brazil lineup.

“All I can do is go out there and make the most out of any opportunity I get. I thoroughly enjoyed this January camp, getting out there every day and showing what I have to this coaching staff.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Nick Rimando – In many past USA games, the Americans relied on their goalkeeper, usually Tim Howard, to keep them in the game. It was no different against South Korea. Rimando made save after save and kept the Koreans at bay despite the amount of shots (16) they tried.

ANALYSIS: The USMNT achieved some goals against South Korea, but failed on others.

While it’s unfortunate Mike Magee, the dynamic Chicago Fire striker and last season’s MLS MVP, missed the match due to food poisoning, the USA still found a way to score with Wondolowski notching 2 goals in classic Wondo fashion. The Americans have needed a true and reliable striker – other than the inconsistent Jozy Altidore – for quite some time, and they might have found that in Wondo, who has notched 8 goals in his last 9 USMNT matches.

And it was good to see youngsters DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil take the field. Both have bright futures ahead of them and certainly deserved their first US caps. They have a long way to go to get into the starting rotation for the USA and on the plane to Brazil, but this was a positive step forward. Eric Alexander also played some minutes for the USA, but he disappeared into the midfield for much of that brief spell. The 25 year old RBNY midfielder seems unlikely to be a long-term USA international and to some a puzzling selection at this point in World Cup preparation.

The Yanks also played more assertively at times, which has been a goal for Klinsmann since he first took the helm. Even though it opened the Americans up to counter attacks by the Koreans, the midfield – especially Kyle Beckerman, who showed his consistent controlling passing and calming nature in the middle once again – stayed strong and helped the US stay poised when Korea kept attacking.

But once Korea got passed the midfield and attacked in the final third, there was little stopping them. The USA backline was as broken as ever, carved up by the Koreans and roasted with the close control and blazing speed of Min-Woo Kim and Shin-Wook Kim. Both opened the seams of the USMNT defense, exposing Brad Evans especially on the right, who did not play well and couldn’t keep pace with the Taegeuk Warriors. The backline was incredibly shaky in the first half, relying on a clearing header by Omar Gonzalez in the 17th minute and countless saves by Rimando throughout. Not too long after in the 34th minute, Evans was badly beaten and made to look a lesser level, leaving Korea an easy attempt at goal. Whenever South Korea attacked, it seemed the USA was deflated and beaten with little motivation to hold back the Koreans.

This happened later on, too, as Korea made attacks in the closing minutes of the game and in stoppage time that nearly put them back into the game. Given all the shots they took, and the quality of those chances, the Koreans certainly deserved at least a goal, if not more. With more accurate finishing or Rimando catching the food-poisoning instead of Magee, that just might have happened Saturday.

It’s important to note too the USA’s goals were by no means off quality chances. Wondo, in his typical predatory-in-the-box fashion, was at the right place at the right time, finishing off excellent work from Zusi. In fact, the US’ goals say more about Zusi’s magnificent midfield work than it does for Wondo as a striker. And the fact that the USA’s midfield did so well with Zusi, Donovan and Brad Davis working together is a positive step forward for the Americans. With 2 dynamite crosses on the wings and the speedy playmaker Donovan in the middle, it gave the USA more attacking power and presence. And it’s important to note this was done without Clint Dempsey, a virtual starting lock in attack for the USA in Brazil.

Although the USA will walk away with their heads held high for earning a result, their biggest weakness – the backline – has still yet to improve, and a lot of work needs to be done. Klinsmann seems to have a lot of faith in Evans as his rightback, but after the performance he gave against South Korea it’s hard to see why. Gonzalez and Matt Besler offered their typical performances, and Michael Parkhurst didn’t impress in his return, albeit out-of-position though who isn’t at leftback for the USA nowadays, to the national team. But Evans who has been given more tries at this non-natural position was out of his element and outplayed for many of South Korea’s attacking plays, which shows he’s not going to succeed against the world class side Portugal and their left-flank playing-legend Cristiano Ronaldo, who the USA meets in the group stage of this summer’s World Cup. Let’s not even imagine that scary scenario.

With the January camp over and many of the MLS names heading back to their respective preseason training camps, Klinsmann must now start settling on his final list of players who deserve a chance to go to Brazil. The tinkering and the altering must come to an end now. It’s time for the former German international to make his selections and starting building the style, chemistry and game plan for the USMNT’s World Cup roster.

But if Klinsmann has showed us anything as USMNT manager, it’s that nothing is set in stone.

NEXT UP: March 5 – Friendly: United States vs. Ukraine, Stadium Metallist, Kharkiv, Ukraine. TBD, TBD.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.