USMNT 1, New Zealand 1: Three things from bland draw before the Hex
The U.S. men’s national team managed just a 1-1 draw against New Zealand in front of a paltry crowd at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night.
It was not the most encouraging performance of late for the U.S. The Americans at times fell in behind the ball and defended against the All Whites. They were disconnected in midfield in a 4-3-3 lineup and struggled to generate too many great chances.
With Mexico and Costa Rica just a month away to kick off the final round of World Cup qualifying, that could be reason for concern. Or, it could be worth remembering these friendlies weren’t meant to serve as an appraisal of the full U.S. program. On one level, the hope was to keep the team sharp and maintain momentum, but it was also an opportunity to integrate some new faces into the squad.
Did it work? Here are three things to take away from the New Zealand draw.
Don’t read too much into anything
This was an experimental lineup, to put it lightly. It was a friendly that meant little, even with Mexico around the corner. That’s why Jurgen Klinsmann played an experimental 4-3-3 lineup that included William Yarbrough in goal, DeAndre Yedlin on the right wing, Perry Kitchen in defensive midfield and a center back pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez.
So while you can pull some judgements out of this game – like, for example, the fact that Yarbrough didn’t look like the long-term answer behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan – it’s silly to read too much into the chemistry on the field against New Zealand. It was a sloppy first 15 minutes or so, sure, and a relatively disjointed performance overall, but that couldn’t have been too much of a surprise.
This is a roster that largely hasn’t played together, or played much recently on the international stage – with the exception of a few on the field. To expect this team to come out and look as strong as should be expected in a month at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus is silly. This game was as much about getting some players more minutes – Julian Green, Kitchen, Lynden Gooch and Kellyn Acosta stand out – as it was anything else. And it was effective in getting an opportunity to see what some of those players might be able to add at this level.
Julian Green makes an argument
The young German-American prospect made quite the first impression with the U.S. when he scored at the World Cup in Brazil. Green fell off the map for a while as he struggled to find minutes at Bayern Munich, then had some failed loan spells.
Green has been able to make enough of an impression at Bayern Munich this season to make the first team, but that hasn’t led to any real minutes with the German powerhouse. His progress was enough for Klinsmann to call him back into camp, however, to get a look at a player who scored consistently in preseason.
Green did enough to impress in the two friendlies.
The 21-year-old forward had two goals and an assist in the two games, including a nice one-on-one run that led to his finish against New Zealand. It was aided by some poor goalkeeping, but it was still the type of positive run Klinsmann surely would like to see out of the young attacker, who can play up top or on the wing.
Will it be enough to earn a spot against Mexico and Costa Rica in November? Maybe not. But Green has at the very least made an argument for why he should be included when the Hex opens next month.
Kljestan should still factor vs. Mexico
Sacha Kljestan made enough of an impression in the last two World Cup qualifiers to solidify his spot in the starting lineup for the opening games of the Hex. Kljestan’s presence at these friendlies could only disrupt that plan if Kljestan played his way out of the lineup with two ghastly performances.
Kljestan was the best player on the field for the U.S. against New Zealand. His vision and ability to pick out the dangerous pass has been a missing element for this U.S. team, and Kljestan should be in the starting XI when the U.S. takes the field against Mexico. The midfield around Kljestan might not yet be defined. There are plenty of questions for Klinsmann to answer. Will the U.S. play a 4-2-3-1 to combat Mexico’s strength up the middle of the field? Will Klinsmann stick with a 4-4-2 to get both Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore on the field? If they go with five in midfield, what duo will play in defensive midfield?
But Klinsmann has at least one answer already: Kljestan should start in the playmaking role against Mexico.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.