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U.S. Men's National Team

USMNT 1, Jamaica 0: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports

Following an unconvincing draw in the first game of the renewed Bruce Arena era, the U.S. Men’s National Team was in need of some good news. It’s not that the initial draw against Serbia was a bad result, but rather because the U.S. was a team in need of a spark as crucial World Cup qualifiers loom.

That spark came in the form of a Jordan Morris goal, lifting the U.S. to a 1-0 win over Jamaica on Friday night. The victory gives the team a positive end to the annual January camp while earning the team a bit of goodwill as the march towards qualifying begins.

There are still plenty of questions to answer in the months leading up to clashes with Honduras and Panama, and Friday’s friendly offered a glimpse at several answers to those questions. Several players stated their case, while others complicated matters by throwing their hats into the ring for key positional battles. In the weeks leading up to kickoff, Arena has decisions to make, especially after Friday nights’ showing.

Here’s a look at several takeaways from Friday’s match:

DEBATE REMAINS AT FORWARD POSITION

Jozy Altidore remains the USMNT’s premier forward and, in all likelihood, Altidore will lead the line when the USMNT takes the field with March.

However, there’s still plenty of debate over how exactly the U.S. team should handle the forward position.

Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo stated their case on Friday night, and it was the former that shined brightest. The Seattle Sounders forward scored the game’s lone goal and generally looked like the most dangerous of the two atop the field. Of the two forwards, Morris raised his stock the most, making the case that he could be a part of March’s qualifier.

The question is how the U.S. lines up. Do they deploy Altidore in a 4-3-3, a formation he’s admittedly uncomfortable in? Do they roll with a two-striker set and, if so, does Arena play Morris or Wood alongside him? Both bring the pace to match Altidore’s power, and it will likely be left up to Wood’s form in Bundesliga play in the weeks leading up to the game.

Arena faces several decisions in the coming weeks, and Morris’ play on Friday certainly made those decisions just a bit harder when it comes to the forward position.

FEILHABER’S SPARK

As the game wore into the second half, Benny Feilhaber remained quiet. The Sporting KC midfielder had been held largely in check, unable to find freedom to run with and move the ball.

Then, one single opportunity came, and Feilhaber took advantage of it, feeding Morris for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. After 59 minutes of nothing, Feilhaber demonstrated exactly what he could do with one single moment.

Feilhaber’s slick pass through the Jamaica defense freed Morris for the winner, and it was a welcome sight given exactly what the U.S. had been lacking: a concise playmaker in the attacking end. In the first friendly, the U.S. were simply lacking sharpness, that final ball. Feilhaber provided just that.

For years, the U.S. has been lacking a true no. 10, especially one with Feilhaber’s ability. The return of Sacha Kljestan was a welcome step as well, giving the U.S. two players capable of playing in that attacking midfield role.

Friday’s win enforced a lot of what we already knew: Feilhaber remains one of the top creators in the USMNT pool and, as evidenced by that one moment of magic, needs just a split second to change a game.

VILLAFANA, LLETGET BOOST STOCKS IN DEBUT CAMP

For years, the January camp has been a time for newcomers to boost their stock and throw their name into the hat when it comes to national team selection. This year, those newcomers were certainly Jorge Villafana and Sebastian Lletget.

Villafana furthered his case at left back on Friday by showing well in his first USMNT start. In particular, Villafana showed well on the attacking end, showing a determination to get forward through out the match. He never got beat down his side of the field all while providing a presence via his ability to find attackers with crosses. Compared with Greg Garza, Villafana’s attacking ability stood out mightily, helping push him into the conversation at the left back position.

Lletget did similar in his second USMNT appearance. His versatility was on full display as he drifted out wide towards the left, even if his most likely position going forward is somewhere in the middle. With Jermaine Jones out to start March’s qualifiers, Lletget has a natural spot waiting for him, and his efforts on Friday showed he is more than ready to step in and contribute alongside Michael Bradley if need be.

Of the newcomers, Villafana and Lletget showed best, making them the most likely to feature as the USMNT faces crunch time. Now, that doesn’t mean others won’t get their chance, especially with a Gold Cup coming up, but look for Villafana and Lletget to earn additional looks in big games going forward.

ZIMMERMAN LOOKS THE PART IN USMNT DEBUT

Walker Zimmerman was perhaps a bit overlooked throughout January camp. His teammate, Matt Hedges, appeared the more likely to make an impact until an injury forced him out ahead of the friendly payoff.

When given his chance to step in, though, Zimmerman looked more than capable, stepping up in a major way in his USMNT debut. Played alongside a relative veteran in Steve Birnbaum, Zimmerman overcame the initial jitters to put together a very solid performance. He played a full 90 alongside the D.C. United defender and, aside from one attack that came down Graham Zusi’s side, the U.S. never really looked threatened.

Zimmerman still has room to grow, even if he has rapidly ascended up the list of top MLS centerbacks. At just 23, Zimmerman has time on his side and, given his physical skill set, one would expect him to push for more USMNT looks as time goes on.

Now, those looks likely won’t come for a little while but, with a Gold Cup looming, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Zimmerman earn more minutes as summer rolls around.

9 comments
  • I scored three goals in one game

    If they play with one forward why not start Wood who plays that position for Hamburg and have CP22 on the left and arriola on the right with nagbe and Benny/Sasha in front of Bradley. Arriola scored again last night and has 2 goals and 1 assist in four games so far. Start Johnson at LB. let the gold cup be a try out for JV, these next two games are to important for an unproven player. Some might say arriola is unproven but has a WC qualifier game and goal already and is starting for best team in mexico

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  • DJ

    I was actually pretty disappointed with Morris, the goal notwithstanding. A plethora of Zardes-esque poor first touches and even on the goal I expected better from the first touch leading to the shot. The announcer seemed to think it was a deliberate touch to space but I disagree – it was just a poor touch followed by a good finish. World class defending would have closed that down.

    McCarty was impressive though.

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  • Gary Page

    I guess I must rain on this parade. Morris shows he has potential, but that’s all. He’ll be a good backup for now. Playing well against a bunkered in Jamaica second team isn’t hard to do, so all performances from that game need to be taken with a grain of salt. Jamaica hardly ever attacked and Villafana only came on in the second half against Serbia, so it still remains to be seen if he is up to international competition. We can hope so, but this game proved nothing. As for Feilhaber, did he play defense? I didn’t watch for that and that’s been a major knock against him before. One brief spark isn’t enough for me. In the two friendlies last fall I thought Kljestan looked much better and provided much more of a spark than did Feilhaber. SK has also done much better in MLS as a playmaker than Feilhaber. Considering that 3 spots in midfield are pretty much locked down by Pulisic, Bradley and probably Zardes, that leaves Kljestan, Nagbe, Lletget, Feilhaber, Bedoya, et. al, to fight over one starting spot. As of now I would pick Kljestan out of that group. And once Jones gets back from suspension, he has to be considered, too. As for Zimmerman, same as with Villafana in that he wasn’t really tested. Also, Zimmerman has only been a consistent starter for one season in MLS. We have many others who have better resumes .Finally, since we are starting in a hole, a win over Honduras is absolutely crucial. That requires two strikers and some attacking wings like Zardes and Pulisic. We can play more conservatively in Panama as one point may be enough, but I think we need to be more aggressive there and have 2 strikers in that game, too.

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  • beachbum

    good to see Benny provide some of the basic toolbox for a player in that position and role, who looked to get open the entire time he was out there in the central midfield to receive service out of the back and relieve pressure on the back 4 playing out. he started slowly with a few wild balls, he also over weighted a few through balls; it’s early MLS and he’s not fit, but his vision was on display, the touch will be too when better fit and not the January camp fit. but his movement and vision and mindset, which to him are just normal, were on display for more than just the goal I thought.

    and it’s the movement and vision, along with having the balls to constantly present and be available to combine and demand the ball, that make him and Lletget a difference that is observable, even against this opposition seems to me. can it be translated to the team for the Honduras game? I think yes but we’ll see. Honduras will foul any American in there hard, from behind and if they get beat just take them down, so whoever’s in there can’t wimp out to that imminent physical challenge and be intimidated, and stop showing for the ball and demanding it

    so one more experienced player and one new guy to the USMNT, a nice balance, I think they will get their chances, we’ll see, but to accomplish the above imo.

    on Morris, he has some sweet physical gifts, need the right ideas/situations/systems supporting him to get him the ball in his best spots, my opinion. so a second half substitute who can win games and change the last 15-30 minutes of a game, or come in and hold up play and keep an extra defender at home becasue of his speed, just those right there have good usage whether with the lead or needing a goal. fun watching him develop.

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  • Lost in Space

    While I agree with the 5 players highlighted in the article and believe they were the best performers in the game against Jamaica, I don’t expect that they’ll all suddenly be starters in the March qualifiers. There is just too much on the line in these 2 games.
    My bet is that….
    Morris will remain a back-up for Jozy and/or Wood. He’s shown that he can bring that spark off the bench and his speed against a tired defense could provide benefits.
    Villafana showed enough to get more looks IF he can see consistent minutes with his club. But at the moment I don’t think he’s ready to replace Fabian as the starting Left Back.
    Feilhaber is a better overall option than Kljestan IMO. He provides the same attacking creativity, while having better speed and the ability to actually carry the ball forward on the dribble.
    Lletget is an interesting player. He’s got close control, can carry the ball forward on the dribble, and has decent creativity. Paired with his versatility he’s the type of player that adds to a squad.
    Zimmerman is a nice find/addition but he’s got a long ways to go to challenge for a spot in the “A” Team’s 23. He’s clearly behind Brooks, Cameron, Besler, Birnbaum, & Gonzalez, and with younger options advancing quickly (CCV, EPB, & Redding) he & Hedges may remain on the outside looking in.
    Nagbe is another player who’s stock raised significantly during this camp. His versatility, speed, & control makes him a nice addition to the team.

    Since Honduras is likely to bunker against us I’d like us to deploy in a 4-1-3-2….
    ————-Wood————Jozy————
    –Nagbe———–Feilhaber——-Pulisic–
    ——————–Bradley———————
    –Fabian—Brooks—Cameron—-Yedlin–

    Subs: Morris, Lletget, Zardes

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    • johnnyrazor

      Where does the US go if Cameron is unavailable? You would think Gonzo given his relationship with Bruce and he has played well in Mexico from what I’ve heard, but the Brooks Omar combo was so bad last time out in CR. Thoughts anyone, not just Lost.

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  • Stephen Gradijan

    I think it is nice that Bruce Arena can be counted on to give MLS players the chance that they deserve, but I hope he doesn’t make the opposite mistake and overly emphasize their skills either.

    I think this January camp made it pretty clear that Bobby Wood needs to be on the field to start vs Honduras and any other team. I also think that once again the experiment of Jozy Altidore as lone striker is a failure; a failure to understand Jozy’s strengths and weaknesses. Jozy is a handful when he is paired with another forward, and is much easier to handle when defenses can isolate him.

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    • johnnyrazor

      I don’t think you should worry too much. Klinsmann filled the January camp with MLSers too, they are pretty much the only players available. Bruce has said don’t expect drastic changes to the 23. The fringe Europe guys like Stanko and Gooch who aren’t playing a lot for their clubs can make room for Benny and Lletget and Wondo makes room for Morris. Of course there will be some big injury right before as well to make a roster spot available.

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  • johnnyrazor

    For March

    GKs: Guzan, Rimando, Name your favorite American keeper could be any one of them if Howard is not fit.

    Defenders: Yedlin, Johnson, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Besler, Birnbaum, Villafana

    Midfield: Bradley, Jones, Nagbe, Pulisic, Kljestan, Feilhaber, For the final two spots (Lletget,Green, Bedoya, Kitchen, Hyndman, Williams, Chandler?)

    Forwards: Altidore, Morris, Wood, Zardes

    Cameron and Zardes would still be injury concerns,

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