It may not have been smooth sailing entirely, but the U.S. Men’s National Team started its pre-Copa America Centenario schedule on the right foot with a young squad looking to prove itself.
Using several newcomers and fringe players to punctuate its “transitional camp”, the U.S. went into Puerto Rico and defeated the CONCACAF lightweight, 3-1, in their historic first meeting on Sunday. The Americans were clearly the better side for much of 90 minutes at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, but still had to endure some nervy moments before coming out on top.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s side surrendered a goal just when it seemed like it would post a lopsided win, and nearly gave up a stunning equalizer in the second half. Thankfully for the U.S., the debuting Paul Arriola put the game out of reach in the 56th minute to help the Americans cruise to the finish line.
While there were some negatives to take away from the first of three friendlies before the start of the Copa America Centenario, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will likely focus on the positives. After all, he scheduled the game mostly to get players who will not be involved in this summer’s tournament some minutes before they head off for their summer breaks.
Here are some take aways from the Americans’ 3-1 win over Puerto Rico:
YEDLIN MORE COMFORTABLE AT RIGHT BACK
It was evident from the start: DeAndre Yedlin looks more like a right back than ever before.
Thanks to a slew of appearances at the position for Sunderland this season, Yedlin appeared to be much more comfortable playing on the right side of the defense. No, he was not overly tested by Puerto Rico, but still managed to impress with his defensive work and, most importantly, his decision-making in the attacking half.
Whereas in the past Yedlin would normally just try and blow by players, he took turns between using his athleticism and smarts on Saturday. There were several occasions in which he picked his head up to look to combine with teammates or whip in a cross from afar, and that should be a welcome sight for U.S. fans after seeing him be so one-dimensional in recent outings.
Yedlin is sure to be tested much more in the coming tune-ups against Bolivia and Ecuador, but right now looks a safe bet to win that starting right back spot.
ARRIOLA ONE TO WATCH FOR IN COMING MONTHS
Paul Arriola told SBI last week that he was hoping to make an impression in his first camp with the senior U.S. team.
Arriola showed why he is one of the young players to keep an eye on in the coming months by scoring a goal and delivering a game-winning assist in his U.S. debut. The 21-year-old winger did have some long stretches where he did not see the ball, but demonstrated his willingness to go at defenders and forward-thinking ways when he received it.
He scored a much-needed insurance goal in the second half despite not making good contact with the ball – it ballooned on him and could’ve gone over the bar had he been further out – but that strike combined with his neat pass in behind the Puerto Rican defense for Bobby Wood’s winner in the 34th minute should have him in consideration for U.S. camps in the fall.
Jurgen Klinsmann will want to see Arriola continue to be a regular contributor, if not a full-time starter, for Club Tijuana next season, but all signs right now are pointing to the youngster being on the rise for both club and country.
MIDFIELD LACKED INCISIVE PASSING
While the Americans may have gotten goal-scoring contributions from three different players and ended up with eight shots on goal, they still lacked incisive passing in the midfield.
The U.S. struggled in the first half to break down an organized and disciplined Puerto Rico side, especially down the middle, and that was due in part to the Americans’ inability to combine quickly with one another. Yes, the players were largely unfamiliar with one another, but still should have done a better job of moving the ball faster with more one- and two-touch passes.
In fact, both of the U.S. goals came as a result of more direct play. Tim Ream’s 20th-minute opener came only after goalkeeper Matthew Sanchez pawed away a sizzling shot from distance from Alfredo Morales, and Wood scored a second on a quick play in transition.
There was less possession without production in the second half for the Americans, especially after both teams made a number of substitutions. Still, it would have been nice to see the U.S. do more with the ball in the opening hour, makeshift team or not.
THERE WERE WORRYING SIGNS DEFENSIVELY
One other area in which there was plenty of room for improvement was the defensive side.
You could possibly forgive the the U.S. for conceding a goal to a collegiate player in Luis Betancur because the Florida International University forward hit a heck of a strike in the 42nd minute that Brad Guzan could do nothing about. However, the Americans also inexplicably failed to track Manolo Sanchez on a play in the second half that nearly resulted in an equalizer for El Huracan Azul.
Those type of lapses could be chalked up to players’ unfamiliarity with one another, but that simply cannot happen in the coming weeks if the U.S. is to enjoy a successful summer showing at the Copa America Centenario. Stiffer tests await Klinsmann and his players, and they will need to step it up defensively and avoid those type of mistakes in order to give themselves a chance to win games.