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.
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.