photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
If this summer's slate of matches were indeed meant to replicate a tournament, the U.S. men's national team would be in must-win territory.
Fortunately for the Americans, this is not a tournament and their visit to BMO Field in Toronto to take on Canada on Sunday is not a win-or-go-home scenario. But that does not mean the Americans won't be looking for a victory, not when they suffered a lopsided defeat to Brazil on Wednesday and not with more fine-tuning needing to be done before World Cup qualifying begins next Friday.
"We have to improve still, absolutely," said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after the loss to Brazil. "We'll discuss that tomorrow as a team. There are areas where we've got to get closer to the people, we've got to push forward a little bit more, we've got to be smarter playing out of the back."
One other area Klinsmann has readily admitted needs improving is finishing. That aspect is one which the Americans thrived at in their 5-1 triumph over Scotland in their first match of the summer last Saturday, but struggled with in the 4-1 loss to Brazil this past Wednesday.
The United States could get a boost in their attack should Clint Dempsey be deemed fit enough to start after recovering from a groin injury. Dempsey's creativity and nose for goal against the likes of FC Cologne defender Kevin McKenna and Chivas USA's Ante Jazic would surely help a U.S. team that has been inconsistent in front of goal since Klinsmann took over.
"We're not scoring enough goals yet," said Klinsmann. "We've got to give that message to our strikers to go for it."
Defending is also an area that will need to show improvement. Canada may not boast the attacking quality that Brazil has, but the Americans' northern rivals do have talented players capable of unlocking defenses. From reigning MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario to Norwich City forward Simeone Jackson, the United States' back four will have their hands full.
Passing out of the back will need to be more crisp against the Canadians. Brazil pressured the U.S. team high up the field and the Americans struggled to deal with that, especially in the opening 20 minutes.
One player in particular who struggled with that was Oguchi Onyewu, whose start against Brazil marked his first with the U.S. team since last fall. If Onyewu should start again in the clash with Canada, an improved performance will be needed in order for him to solidify his starting place in the American back-line.
"It took him time to get into the game (with) his passes out of the back, also kind of in certain situatons, one-against one," said Klinsmann. "He found them more and more into game. The second half was much smoother, much more controlled. The first 20 minutes he had some problems there and that's what we also addressed at halftime. We said 'You know guys, we got to be cleaner, more clinical coming out of the back. Be calm don't be too hectic."
Another aspect of Sunday's game that many will be keeping an eye on is how U.S. team responds to Klinsmann's desire for playing nastier and less naive while also continuing to progress in his more proactive style of play.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will go up against Julian de Guzman, who is known for his hard tackling. And how they fare against him and the rest of Canada's midfield could go a long way in determining how the Americans' final tuneup goes.
Still, the match against Canada will provide the Americans one more opportunity to adapt to Klinsmann's preferred style of play before qualifying begins. And they insist progress is being made.
"We're getting better, it feels better as a player," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "The rhythm and the tempo which we're playing at feels better."