International Friendly Review: USMNT 1-0 Czech Republic
OTF’s Joe Maskivish takes a look back at USMNT’s first step toward Russia 2018, a step taken in Prague…
Youth was indeed served Wednesday in the Czech capital. With a mostly green roster of youngsters, the United States took down a Czech Republic team preparing to start qualifying for Euro 2016. And the take-down happened on the European side’s home soil.
The significance of beating a team preparing to run at Europe’s biggest international tournament cannot be understated. Doing so with a litany of newcomers to the senior international stage is impressive.
The most notable ingredient in this fresh take on the American roster was athleticism.
In the past we’ve often seen similar friendlies go to the home side, as a ragtag group of U.S. players, assembled from all over the globe, had not spent sufficient time together to play as a team. While cohesion was still elusive, the difference in Prague was the individual athleticism of the players.
The young guys often made young-guy mistakes. The increase in speed of the game was evident in many errant passes and long distance “hopeful” shots.
What we hadn’t seen in the past, however, was the pace to make up for mistakes and, more often than not, a special speed was displayed Wednesday. If all else fails, we at least know the future is going to be fast.
While not necessarily creating chances, Joe Gyau and Julian Green looked dangerous and the potential is exciting. Both men were given the freedom to roam in the middle of the park and both showed glimpses of what we can expect.
The three-pronged attack of Gyau, Green and Jozy Altidore gave the U.S. some offensive options, a refreshing departure from the lone striker which hasn’t flourished in the past. One can only hope with more time to gel, this pacey attack can be dangerous.
The game itself was a tale of two halves, as is often the case in international friendlies. The first half saw both teams have multiple chances and back-and-forth possession, until the 39th minute goal from Alejandro Bedoya, off a fat rebound left by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The play originated from a less-than intelligent throw by Cech, which Mix Diskerud was able to snatch away and turn into a close-range shot. Cech did well to keep the shot out, but in doing so, he deflected the ball to the waiting boot of Bedoya. Credit to Bedoya for not just watching the play but continuing his run.
The U.S. backline maintained its shape, communicated and kept the home side off the board. Timmy Chandler was active and Fabian Johnson continued his solid play from the World Cup. Johnson has to be considered an anchor at fullback going forward for Jurgen Klinsmann. John Brooks appeared to take charge of the centerbacks and it was visibly obvious his experience in Brazil has translated to his current form.
The second half saw wholesale changes for both teams, which altered the flow of the match. Along with Gyau’s feature in the starting XI, Greg Garza and Emerson Hyndman made their senior team debuts. Though failing to make any real contributions to the game, its always exciting seeing guys earn their first cap.
Also making a cameo in the second half was the much-maligned Brek Shea. Another underwhelming shift from Shea begs a question: why does he continue to eat up valuable minutes which could be given to players with more potential?
One has to believe Klinsmann’s leash on Shea is short, but that feeling has existed for several years now.
The true star of the second half, and the game in general, was the lone MLS representative, goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Unlike his fellow 35 year old, Tim Howard, Rimando shows no signs of needing a break. His athleticism is baffling and his play should extinguish all discussion about is smaller stature. Rimando can play and, despite his age, deserves a shot at the number one spot just as much as Brad Guzan.
Rimando was peppered with shots during his 45 minutes and knocked away everything sent his way. Without his star performance, the U.S. would not have left Prague with their first win of the 2018 World Cup cycle.
Fans of the United States should feel cautiously optimistic following this match. Naturally, all confidence should be tempered by the fact this was merely a friendly, but hope is definitely justified by what was witnessed on the field.
The next match is in the States, where many of the core players ply their trade. The next step will be interesting: does Klinsmann call in those MLS veterans, or will he give the stateside younger guys a shot?
For now, though, the building blocks have been placed and the older guys have been put on notice. The kids will be pushing for more playing time and its going to be fun to watch.
Follow @OTFSoccer for continuing USMNT coverage all the way to Russia 2018.
OTF’s Joe Maskivish is often found at @joemaskivish