Before we dig into some of my takeaways from tonight's battle with Venezuela (another three-pointer!), the original starting lineup: Bill Hamid, A.J. DeLaGarza, Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, Heath Pearce, Jeff Larentowicz, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Brek Shea, Teal Bunbury.
As for the highlights, check out the ESPN3 replay here.
- The game in general was kind of a bowl of meh (until stoppage time of course). The really good was blunted by the Camp Cupcake-y-ness of it all, but look on the bright side. In a game lacking much aesthetic value, the US can claim they deserved the win. They bossed possession and rightly got a goal after a number of chances went begging. It was rarely pretty, but January friendlies rarely are. I was expecting to get a clearer picture of some of Klinsmann's policies, and that's what we got. Not too many complaints. This game showed palpable progress. Which gets us to...
- Much like you might build a car, Klinsmann is building his USMNT hot rod piece by piece from the ground up. His newest part is movement embroidered with intelligence. Say what you will about him, but he's drawing up real outline in bold colors, which is something we could never really peg under Bradley. The countenance of this team resembles a general direction, and the recent course is being charted under the flag of intelligent movement. The XI, whoever was in at the time, maintained a degree of spacial awareness that didn't allow gaps to open up at the back or too much elasticity up top. It wasn't always perfect, but you could see the direction in it. There should be some excitement there.
- The very reason so many find Jermaine Jones infuriating is the reason why I gravitate toward him. He's fearless. In today's sports universe (and this applies to any sport, really), it is increasingly rare to find vocal, outspoken locker room leaders. Not that I was around for bygone eras, but from what I've heard and read, it was rare to find a team that didn't have somebody willing to stoke the coals. Times have changed, which is why a guy like Jones can command so much respect with his breakneck play, which is how it must be done now. He flies into challenges with his RPMs flaring into the red, giving that armband some credence. The downside is that he draws unnecessary cards at times (like tonight), but in my eyes it's a small price to pay. Jones was the best player on the field tonight.
- As always, Benny was cool and calculating with possession, displayed canny vision, was judicious with his passes and stayed tethered to his surrounding teammates. His abilities were covered up with a bad Revs team last year, but it was nice to get another peek at how steady he can be when paired with talent. He played a sly ball on the carpet for Shea in the 20th minute that led to a tidy goal opportunity and was, for my money, the most technically proficient player in large spurts.
- Bunbury nearly shaved the crossbar in the 19th minute on a winsome shot from 20 yards with his left, but I thought he was mildly disappointing as a whole. It is the forward's purview in the 4-3-3 to drift into space as he sees fit, but Bunbury too often was marooned on the right to leave a gaping hole in the center for a roster without another forward. He missed on a chance late in the second half on a nice break started by Hamid, bulging the side-netting with two players ready to poach the rebound. Not so good.
- Graham Zusi is a set piece technician with a fantastic touch on his dead balls. I don't know that he has much value at all in the run of play.
- I was all prepared to slam Rico until he scored the winner. So I know I'll take some heat but I'm going to do it anyway. Ricardo Clark is a negative space player. He's tentative and lacks the basic ability to keep marching forward. He's either looking to square off his pass or knock it backward. Yes, he scored. I'm happy for him (and my buddy, who jumped up and oddly started beating together two of my golf clubs). But he had a halo of two feet on all sides and happened into a training ground header. But he did finish it off. Kudos to him, because that's not something anybody else on the side could have claimed.
- The refs were bottom basement garbage. Not biased. But garbage nonetheless. Lots of missed body slams in the box on corners.
- Wondo continued his streak of getting great looks and failing to finish on the national level. To be fair, his header in the last 5 minutes produced a magnificent save, but Zach Loyd served up a cherry. In the immortal words of Mortal Kombat... "Finish Him." How he can be so lethal on the club level and so snakebitten with the Nats continues to baffle me.
- The back was terrific. They weren't challenged as much, but A.J. DeLaGarza was a tornado on the right side, and Venezuela barely tested Heath Pearce on the left after it became obvious there was nothing there but brick. Everybody on the back line did something worth mentioning, especially the center back combo of Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst, which was nothing if not reliable. At worst, they earned themselves another look. On the far back, the US has never lacked options at keeper. Hamid's punch in the 34th minute on a high-arcing ball in the shallow portion of his box was nice, and he only had to make one other moderately tough decision. Otherwise, a solid if somewhat quiet night from the youngster.
- Overall, there weren't any really bad takeaways. Some things we already knew, some new revelations and some too-close-to-calls. But hey, it's another Klinsmann win, and over a South American side to boot. That should quiet the message boards for, oh, another few days anyway.
- Will Parchman