In goal, EPL-bound Brad Guzanjustified the interest Aston Villa has had in him, handling just about everything thrown at him. Except for a late cross he failed to reach in stoppage time, the former Chivas USA goalie handled the Japanese pressure, which consisted of occasional half-chances rather than constant threats.
Then there was Maurice Edu, moved to the middle of the backline alongside Michael Parkhurst in the absence of the injured Jonathan Spector. The experiment Coach Peter Nowak made last December when the Americans traveled to Guangzhou last December was replicated in Tianjin.
Like Guzan, Edu wasn't perfect. He almost gave away a penalty late in the game with the USA clinging to a 1-0 lead and he showed an occasional rashness that you don't want to see in your central defender, but he was otherwise effective against the darting Japanese, showing great anticipation, speed to cover lots of ground quickly and the touch to hold the ball or move it forward.
In the last year, the 22-year-old Edu has had a number of impressive outings with the senior national team as a holding midfielder -- indeed, it's hard to think of another player having made such a quick transition from college (three years at Maryland) to the national team since before the launch of MLS -- so his future would seem set there. But his spot in the middle of the defense could become permanent if he repeats his performance against Japan when the USA faces the Netherlands and Nigeria, two teams that will certainly test Edu's ability to hold down the fort.
While national team coach Bob Bradley has shown a penchant for flooding the middle of the field with holding midfielders, he has more options there at the moment than in the middle of the backline, where none of his current choices has the qualities Edu has. Both Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra are the current No. 1 choices, but neither exudes confidence. After them, none of the candidates at center back has stepped to challenge for a starting spot.
If successful, Nowak's China experiment with Edu on the backline could have dramatic implications for the senior national teams for years to come.