The United States lost a game it largely controlled to close out the calendar year, falling 1-0 in Vienna Tuesday night.
Neither defense showered itself in glory, but the U.S. gave Austria more under less pressure and paid for it in the 33rd minute when Marc Janko roofed home a György Garics cross.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side improved in the second half, but Jozy Altidore took a touch or two too many in the 74th minute on the team's best chance and the Austrians comfortably absorbed all further pressure.
Here's what we learned:
1. Brooks not ready to start World Cup yet
Most 20-year-old defenders aren't, but the U.S. may need him to.
John Anthony Brooks whiffed on the game's deciding play, misreading a skipping but otherwise routine cross six yards from Tim Howard's net. Janko dealt with the opportunity like any international should, and the U.S. lost.
Mistakes like that can't happen in a World Cup. Most every team in Brazil will field at least one striker as good or better than Janko and there will be plenty who are more dynamic. But Brooks struggled mightily with Austria's straightforward attack.
Though he got better in the second half and distributed very well, his retreating kept Austria onside far too often. For a U.S. team that will need to keep a high line and the midfield pressure that comes with it to contend against the best teams in the world, Brooks' hesitance to step is a fatal flaw.
He's still probably the No. 4 center back. That says a lot more about the depth of the American center back pool than it does about Brooks' readiness to start on the world's stage.
2. Bradley better without Jones
Maybe you already knew this, but Jermaine Jones was just as much of a shackle on Michael Bradley's ability to influence the game as he was on any Austrian players.
The 67th-minute switch to a 4-4-2 opened up the U.S. attack, and yes, Austria was retreating in the game's final stanzas. Still, it's no coincidence that when the eager Jones left the game, Bradley's grip on the match tightened. Seemingly every other touch fell to the Roma midfielder's foot.
At that point, the game belonged to the U.S. and Bradley was delivering it.
Jones took too much of the deep playmaking role in his hour-plus on the field. He wasn't bad at it, playing some teasing diagonals and cycling play through midfield. But Bradley was better. His long-range passes picked out men in space. Jones' found them back-to-goal or out of bounds.
And whether it's a more anchored defensive midfielder next to Bradley or a silkier operator like Mix Diskerud or Sacha Kljestan, the American midfield runs better without Jones.
Note: Bradley wasn't even fully on form, becoming overly reliant on the chipped ball in the late stages.
The U.S. will play at least one game next summer where it will need to dictate play -- better to have Bradley doing so as Jones has yet to show he can get out the General's way.
3. Geoff Cameron, actual right back
Though overly hesitant in the first half -- limiting Alejandro Bedoya's effectiveness -- Cameron fully filled the right back role. He kept his flank more or less on lockdown and pinned Austria back with his possession on the right flank as well as the odd overlap.
Hardly perfect, Marko Arnutovic twice caught him leaning forward, but Cameron always recovered, decisively winning the battle with his Stoke City teammate. The mistakes he made were ones for which Steve Cherundolo would gladly be forgiven.
Cameron's inside-out lefty cross to Altidore in the 74th minute gave the U.S. its best chance and capped a complete performance before he gave way to Eric Lichaj seven minutes later.
The threats he presented going forward brought home the confidence and physical versatility that will have to carry this team next summer.
- Jacob Klinger