Belgium presents stern test for Americans in World Cup Round of 16.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, September 3, 2014) -- The United States men got off to a good start in the new World Cup cycle today with a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the Generali Arena in Prague.
With liberal substitution done by both coaches, it was a bit of an odd match, very different in the first half from the second and more varied in the final 30 minutes from the first hour.
To start, U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann brought only backup goalkeeper Nick Rimando from Major League Soccer, instead relied on Americans playing in Europe and Mexico. Rimando responded with an exceptional half.
It was startling to see the difference in today’s lineup as compared to the startling 11 that faced off against Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16 match in Brazil. Absent today were: midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, defenders Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez; and midfielders Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and Clint Dempsey, plus keeper Tim Howard, who is taling a year’s leave from the national team. This partly reflects the shift in several U.S. players to MLS from European clubs.
Despite the absence of all these players and likely starting defender Geoff Cameron, out with an abdominal strain suffered midweek for England’s Stoke City in a Capital One Cup match, the U.S. had a strong opening 45 minutes against a surprisingly uninvolved Czech side. The U.S. was given a lot of room in the midfield and this resulted in a number of good chances, culminating in midfielder Alejandro Bedoya’s rebound strike in the 39th minute. It followed midfielder Mix Diskerud’s hard shot that was parried away by keeper Petr Cech, who was at fault for a poor throw intercepted and carried into the penalty area by Diskerud.
Given room, Diskerud and young Joe Gyau had the run of the midfield with the American defense was put under almost no pressure. Keeper Brad Guzan barely touched the ball in his 45- minute appearance.
Things changed after intermission. Klinsmann inserted Rimando and Tim Ream in back. Both did very well, especially Rimando. The big change was the insertion of four highly motivated substitutes by Czech manager Petr Vasicek, who must have had a stern talk with his team at halftime because they came out flying.
The room the U.S. had been given in midfield disappeared and the Czechs pressured for the entire half. One result was almost no American attack with the U.S. frantically clearing balls out of its own end or relying on Rimando’s goalkeeping.
Things degenerated even more after the 60-minute mark when Klinsmann made four more substitutions, bringing on defender Greg Garza, midfielders Breck Shea, Alfredo Morales and, a a few minutes later, 18-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman. The rather organized U.S. defense became highly disorganized and it was only by the grace of Rimando’s five saves -- all from point-blank range -- and some near misses of almost sure goals, was the U.S. able to preserve the win.
MLS players will be used in the next American outing against Ecuador October 10 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., and against Honduras October 14 in Boca Raton, Fla. The final 2014 game is against Ireland November 18 in Dublin.
Some new names made their first appearance in a U.S. uniform, including midfielder Joe Gyau of Germany’s Borussia Dortmund II turned in a solid effort over 90 minutes. Hyndman of England’s Fulham and defender Greg Garza of Mexico’s Club Tijuana earned their first caps.
Other newcomers in the U.S. camp were Stanford University striker Jordan Morris, Rubio Rubin, a forward for Utrecht of the Netherlands and keeper Cody Cropper of Southampton in England.
The Czechs played veterans mixed with newcomers ahead of their opening Euro 2016 qualifier in a week against the Netherlands. But Cech and standout midfielder Tomas Rosicky went the distance.
Given the somewhat patched-together lineup that Klinsmann put out, the new cycle got off to a good start.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 6: With Tim Howard taking a year’s leave, Guzan is the man and tonight he was fine, although he was put under almost no pressure and had little to do.
Defender Timmy Chandler - 6.5: In the first half, he was able to push forward dangerously. Then, as things changed, at the start of the second half, he played solid defense when it mattered.
Defender Michael Orozco - 6: He was the most physical of the U.S. defenders, making a number of clearances. He generally played well with a few errors he will need to eliminate if he wants to be a regular.
Defender John Brooks - 5.5: He remains capable of mixing great moments with terrible overreaching that leaves him and his team exposed. He has great potential, but must get himself under better control.
Defender Fabian Johnson – 7: In the first half, he was a threat down the right flank with much of the American offense moving through him. Then, when things deteriorated in the second half, he was the key defender, frequently clearing balls from danger.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud - 8: He played a terrific half, both on attack and defensively. He was the best player for the first 45 minutes.
Midfielder Julian Green - 5.5: He continues to look unpolished. He, of course, is still very young and his game needs to mature quite a bit before he can be counted on as a starter, but he has a great deal of upside.
Midfielder Joe Corona - 5: He had little impact on the match, making a few glaring errors while not contributing much.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6.5: He was very good, moving aggressively to his rebound goal for the winner. He generally was one of the better Americans for the hour-plus he played.
Midfielder Joe Gyau - 6.5: He was a bright spot for the U.S. He used his pace to be a constant threat and he looks to have a bright future.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5.5: About the best one could say was he wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t very good either. He work hard in spots, but less so at other times. Playing 90 minutes, he looked to tire over the final quarter hour.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando (46th minute for Guzan) - 8: Certainly his best game for his national team, making five point-blank saves and other clearances over the final 45 minutes. He organized his somewhat rag-tag defense.
Defender Tim Ream (46th minute for Orozco) - 6.5: He had a solid enough second half with new defensive partners coming in and disorganization rampant. He was a steadying influence over the final minutes.
Defender Greg Garza (63rd minute for Chandler) - 6: He had some strong minutes and stopped what looked like a sure Czech goal. He still needs to develop, but his half hour was a positive step forward.
Midfielder Brek Shea (63rd minute for Corona) - 5 He made as many mistakes as he did quality plays. Must do a lot more if he is to stick with the team.
Forward Alfredo Morales (63rd minute for Diskerud) - 5: He did not contribute much and was guilty of a late, rash, unnecessary foul.
Midfielder Emerson Hyndman (67th minute for Bedoya) - 5.5: A positive debut for the young Texan. He did make several glaring errors, but recovered and demonstrated a world of promise.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Nick Rimando.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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