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USMNT 1, Canada 0: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

It may not have been the prettiest U.S. Men’s National Team victory in recent memory, but this past Friday’s narrow 1-0 win against Canada was telling as the U.S. concluded the annual January camp.

Riding a late Jozy Altidore game-winner, the USMNT slipped past the rival Canadians for their second victory in as many games to start 2016. Largely dominant throughout the full 90 minutes, the win was surely a deserved one for a U.S. team that proved to be on the front foot for the second straight game.

It was not a performance without fault. It was a game that saw the U.S. struggle to put away chance after chance before Altidore’s late winner, while sloppy play proved a theme throughout for two sides looking to find their footing in the new year.

It was a January camp that provided several answers, and several intriguing questions, for the USMNT ahead of a crucial spring that sees both World Cup qualifiers and an Olympic playoff that will play a major part in defining the 2016 campaign.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the Americans’ 3-2 win over Iceland:


Jozy Altidore had a rough 2015 campaign, but it appears the USMNT forward is in for a much improved year this time around.

Entering camp several pounds lighter, Altidore looked much more mobile in the two-game January camp stint. The TFC forward was able to get on the scoresheet in both games, while his intelligent runs and threatening play proved a theme throughout the Iceland and Canada matches. Overall, it was the Altidore that Jurgen Klinsmann loves to see: one that is confident, fit and, most importantly, creating goals.

Boasting the combination of good health and good spirits, the U.S. looks like it has an Altidore that has been missing since his days with AZ Alkmaar. While injuries always remain a concern with the 26-year-old forward, Altidore seems to be peaking at the right time ahead of a statement year for the U.S.

Admittedly frustrated by his misfortune when it comes to major tournaments, Altidore looks like the favorite to reestablish himself as the USMNT’s unquestioned starter with performances like those of the January Camp.


In 2015, Gyasi Zardes emerged as a go-to option for Klinsmann in a variety of positions, but Friday’s efforts against Canada provided plenty of concern.

The LA Galaxy forward proved wasteful on the ball time and time again throughout Friday’s match. Let down by his first touch several times, Zardes struggled throughout as several attacks sputtered as a result of the forward’s play. Overall, it was a sloppy performance from a player that did himself no favors in seizing a role with the current USMNT group.

Is a January camp performance enough to justify condemning a player’s spot in the team? Not quite. Following a longer offseason than normal, the LA Galaxy forward may be understandably a bit rusty or lacking sharpness  ahead of the MLS season. Still, it does raise some questions of how Zardes should be utilized in the immediate future. Is Zardes a forward or a winger, and does he have the technical quality to be anything more than an impact sub when it really counts?

With players like Lee Nguyen shining out wide and young forwards like Bobby Wood scoring at will in league play, Zardes doesn’t have an immediate starting spot like he did throughout 2015. Crucial qualifiers are on the horizon, and Zardes will have to show better than he did in the past two games if he hopes to repeat, let alone eclipse, his breakout debut year with the USMNT.


The 2016 January camp was looked at as a chance to give several Olympic hopefuls a taste of senior team action. Several of those hopefuls now look plenty capable of taking a much bigger bite.

While Jerome Kiesewetter and Kellyn Acosta emerged as the stars of the Iceland clash, Jordan Morris showed well in Friday’s defeat of Canada. While he failed to get on the scoreboard, Morris buzzed around throughout his stay on the field while proving a valuable outlet due to his speed. Still without a pro game under his belt, Morris didn’t look like a world-beater against Canada, but he certainly looked like a viable option for a USMNT that is still looking for a partner for Altidore.

For now, the focus remains squarely on qualifying for this summer’s Olympic tournament. A two-legged playoff against Colombia looms, and missing out on the Olympics yet again would be a disaster for a U.S. soccer program still looking to make waves on the youth level.

If the U.S. miss out on this summer’s tournament, several members of that U-23 team could certainly be in the mix for the upcoming Copa America. If players like Morris, Kiesewetter and Acosta continue to perform, it could soon be time to embrace them as full-time members of the senior team.


Following a calamitous performance against Iceland, the U.S. defense restored some faith by keeping a clean sheet against Canada, but there are still plenty of questions to be asked of what happens with the defensive unit going forward.

Starting Jermaine Jones at centerback and Steve Birnbaum out wide, the U.S. defense did about as well as Klinsmann could have envisioned. No matter the opponent or situation, a shutout is always the goal, and the U.S. achieved that without conceding many chances on Friday night.

That said, Friday’s effort did little to ease the questions that already persisted surrounding the group. Jermaine Jones is far from a true centerback, as evidenced by the amount of times he was seen venturing up the field to join the attack. Understandably weakened at the position for a variety of reasons, the U.S. has still not established a go-to defensive pairing, and the annual camp did nothing to address that question.

To be fair to this camp, many of the top defensive options in the player pool weren’t available for the January camp, including the likes of John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson and more, but the group that was in camp didn’t go very far toward helping provide answers abut the state of the U.S. defense in 2016.


What were your biggest takeaways from Friday’s U.S. victory?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I thought Diskerud looked OK, but he did not make much of a positive impact.

    Bradley continues to be the players teammates look for to bail them out of difficult spots and he did that well, but I felt he should have done a better job of getting the ball out wide with his distribution; he seemed to always be looking for an opening up the middle which Canada successfully clogged.

    I thought the back line did pretty well, but Jones cannot spend so much time in midfield against better opponents if he is going to be CB.

    I thought Morris displayed his limitations, his runs were not into good spots and his touch let him down as he tried to pull off too many clever plays that seemed beyond his technical ability. Still, he is fast and we will have to see how much or how little the other aspects of his game come along.

    Nagbe, Zardes, Nyguen all seemed to want to cut inside into the traffic jam of Canadian defenders. Only Finlay had the presence of mind to stay wide and he was rewarded for it by a pass from Bradley and a nice finish of his cross by Altidore. (In fairness, Finlay had a long stretch on the bench watching and was able to clearly see where the open space was going to be; maybe I am being a bit harsh on the others.)

  2. This was one of the better summaries I’ve seen. I particularly agree with the first two points. Altidore looked really good, and his form is so important to the USMNT. We are simply a different, more dangerous team when he is on form. I’ve never quite been sold on Zardes, but I was shocked at how poorly he played in these games. He was where attacks and possession went to die. But even so, he still had a couple of moments, like the pass that set up Altidore’s shot off the post. He has the athletic tools to hang, just have to hope he was rusty. Hopefully he can fill the role of impact sub this spring.

  3. What does the US do on 3/25 and 3/29 with their U-23’s that are good enough to help the Senior Team? My guess is the Senior Team gets first dibs (since they’re WC qualifiers). If so, the U-23’s would be missing some of their biggest weapons.

    • Herzog was quoted saying that brooks and yedlin will be with the senior team as wcq is the top priority. He didn’t say anything about Morris, Acosta or Ksweater..

      Personally i think colombia’s u23 are better than Guatemala. Also we can get at least 4 points in the qualifiers w/o any of u23 guys.. on the other hand i dont think the u23s have much of a chance without the elite eligible players

      • I think the US can and really should win both of the WCQ’s, but like you said, will the U-23’s have enough firepower vs. Columbia? Honestly, I suspect it’ll actually come down to how well can they keep Columbia’s firepower in check (we might even see a PK shootout). Side note: I just learned that you can have up to 3 over-23’s participate in the Olympics, but none until the actual Games (learn something new everyday).

  4. Zardes is clearly a physical specimen but his touch and soccer IQ seem miles away from what’s required at the international level. He just doesn’t look like a good soccer player.

    Nguyen was fantastic vs. Iceland but struggled to get involved vs. Canada. He still seems technically impressive enough to warrant a look with the first team.

    Altidore looked better but, as a veteran, I still thought his touch let him down far too often and his decision making is way too slow. He seems to have become less dynamic with age but his hold up play and aerial game has not developed to compensate, I’m pretty sure morris won more headers and completed more flick-ons than him.

    Kieswetter on the wing was exciting: proactive, good pace, good decisions, and decent final ball.

    Nagbe is an interesting attacking option, his ability to beat people 1v1 and speed to stretch defenders should get him a look with the first team. I don’t recall him making any mistakes.

    What happened to diskerud?

  5. Who are all these players playing out of position in which you speak? With the exception of Jones having to fill in for Miazga, there wasn’t one player playing a role he hasn’t played before for their club. Your best argument might be Kellyn Acosta, who has played much more DM, but are we really going to say that at 20 years old a player is locked into the position he played most at 19.

    Boy its really too bad that Steve Kerr plays all the Golden State Warriors out of position its going come back and haunt them. And that Joe Madden what a hack playing Kyle Schwarber in left field when he’s always played catcher and Kris Bryant in center.

    • Well said mr razor,
      Acosta, Jones and Birnbaum did alright in their less than usual positions. It was a preseason game vs canada fwiw.
      I think the big take away here is versatility is important and those three proved their value. Also that Parker, Polster and Miller must have really not shown enough in training.

    • I think in Acosta’s case as a central defensive midfielder moving to a fullback position shouldn’t be that difficult. He is a defensive minded player that does go forward so why not try him out at a left or right fullback. The thing he has that a lot of other defensive players don’t have is the first touch and ball control. JK has been trying find defensive players who are good on the ball

  6. haha, that’s funny Chano-y-Chon. agreed, “Diskerud needs to cut his hair, or something, and step it up a notch or two – get really serious about refining his skill set and becoming a more consistent midfield general.” mix is an excellent player with a natural gift for being in the right place at the right time. that said, it’s not enough by any stretch. he would do well to “cut his hair” — hire Mr. Miyagi, disappear from the NYC glam scene, move his fitness up a notch or two, and harden the f— up. sorry mix, you’re an inspiration. just worried that you might be missing an opportunity to really make your mark.

  7. I am bewildered by JK’s evident fascination with Zardes and Jones. I doubt there is anything, save a suspension, injury, or retirement, that can ever keep Jones out of a JK lineup. As for Zardes, his ball skills remain unpolished. Finally, if anyone can successfully predict who will start on the back line in March, you should buy a lottery ticket. JK’s penchant for shifting people around and playing people out of position will be this team’s downfall.

    • Remember when JK called the camp he wasn’t expecting Miazga to be heading to London last week. So at that point with Evans with a knock who are else are you going to put back there. If you play Birnbaum there, then you have to play another one of the U23s and from the “reports” neither Parker or Miller did very well during the month. Imagine the outrage if we had lost to Canada. When a coach is in need he turns to players he trusts from past matches together, just like Bradley with Clark and Bornstein.

      • If the point was to win the match, I guess maybe you’re right. But in the long run, what do you possibly learn from having jones at CB?

      • B G — and if they had lost with some weaker back line, what would your comment have been? Acceptance of losses has not been a notable feature of US fans and soccer blogs.

  8. Just a few thoughts for now.
    I thought Zardes looked better v. Canada than he did v. Iceland. Had better hold up play, and delivered some good balls. Morris looked OK, but also suffered from some brick-footed sloppy first touches. The way Jones carried the ball forward aggressively made it look like we were playing a 3-5-2, with only 3 in the back. I thought overall he was pretty solid as centerback / D-mid / attacking mid. And though I agree Nguyen had some good passes here and there – he also looked like he would get eaten up alive in CONCACAF qualifying, muscled off the ball, out run and out played – he doesn’t convince me. My feeling is that someone like Pulisic, Zelalem or Hyndman will ultimately soon be an upgrade from a Lee Nguyen at attacking mid. Also, Diskerud needs to cut his hair, or something, and step it up a notch or two – get really serious about refining his skill set and becoming a more consistent midfield general.

  9. It felt as if JK was trying to get Jones minutes for a contract. Hard to imagine him on this roster the rest of the year without a contract and suspension hanging over his head for the $ he wants.


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