Commentary

USA concedes late again to wind up tied

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

The USA again played a strong first half and took a 1-0 lead but again conceded a late equalizer to wind up in a 1-1 tie with Honduras Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla.

Here are a few thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the game:

NEW CANDIDATE AT CENTERBACK? Jermaine Jones as a central defender makes sense in a few ways but as he showed during the match, there will need to be significant adjustments for him to flourish in this role at the international level. He played the full 90 minutes and as expected, looked good in some aspects of his play and shaky in others.

He snuffed two dangerous situations with impeccable slide tackles at the critical moments; he hit a great crossfield ball to left back Greg Garza in a vivid example of what Klinsmann would like his centerbacks to be capable of; he took a yellow card for a typically robust challenge; and on Honduras’ goal, he lost the mark on defender Maynor Figueroa.

Repeatedly during the match he discussed matters with centerback partner Matt Besler, who lined up at his customary spot on the left side of the middle, as well as right back Timmy Chandler. Nowhere on the field is communication and cohesion more important than on the back line, which must operate in sync with the goalkeeper and mesh smoothly with midfielders as well as forwards.

On the plus side, Jones’ vast experience in the Bundesliga and with the U.S. would ease somewhat the arduous process of learning a new position with the different angles, starting positions, responsibilities and assignments. He could be the defensive leader, as he’s older (he will be 33 in November) and certainly more vocal than any other centerback in the pool.

On the other hand, is it truly a realistic long-term prospect and worth the playing time that could be used to groom any younger players in the pool? This could merely be another in the long line of positional experimentations by Klinsmann, who hasn’t hesitated to move players out of their club positions. The next phase of the Klinsmann Era will be the busiest in the history of the national team, with Gold Cups to be played in 2015 and 2017 and a centenary version of the Copa America in 2016 along with the World Cup qualifying rounds.

Speculating about what the Revs might do with Jones is wildly premature. As has been shown in the case of Maurice Edu and a few others, a club team needs to wary about extending its own needs to suit those of a national-team player. The Union signed Edu on loan with the understanding it would play him at central midfielder to better accommodate his prospects of representing the USA at that position at the 2014 World Cup, as he had in 2010, but he didn’t make the team and during the season has played both centerback and in midfield.

DIFFERENT MIDFIELD MIX. Supposedly, Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley were supposed to play at the defensive and attacking tips, respectively, of a midfield diamond. They did fill those roles periodically during the match, yet both also exhibited their abilities to work the other side of the position as well.

They played pivotal roles in the goal, working together to win a ball and get it out wide left to Jozy Altidore, who cut inside to score low just inside the near post. A strong slide tackle by Diskerud cost him a caution and the USA a free kick from which Honduras scored its equalizer. Bradley dropped deeper numerous times during the match and started the match with a couple of clumsy giveaways in the middle third; he sharpened his touches as the game unfolded and got forward far enough to take a left-footed shot that was blocked.

Bradley took a lot of criticism for his play during the World Cup, while deployed behind Clint Dempsey as a lone forward and with central mids Jones and Kyle Beckerman in support. He wasn’t 100 percent fit, having undergone foot surgery in late April, and though he covered more ground than most of the players in the tournament he couldn’t seem to get through a game without committing a major error.

Logic would seem to indicate that the offensive instincts of Diskerud would better suit the attacking role and he played that role occasionally leading up to the World Cup, but he’s also significantly improved his workrate, range and ability to win balls. No one should be surprised if Klinsmann switches roles for these two players as well as others going forward.

ON THE OUTSIDE. On the heels of a solid showing against Ecuador, left back Greg Garza, who plays in Mexico for Club Tijuana, moved forward with another good performance. He displaced Edgar Castillo, who got a long look from Klinsmann at left back but didn’t make the World Cup squad, at Tijuana, and while not as fast, is a solidly built, rugged defender who can exploit time and space effectively in the attack.

On the right side, Timmy Chandler played the whole game. He made the World Cup squad but didn’t play a minute, and Klinsmann is hopeful that a move to his hometown club in Germany, Eintracht Frankfurt, will accelerate his improvement. He ranged forward to play balls into the attacking third as well as apply pressure. He not only had to adjust to Jones playing on his left shoulder, he also had a variety of flank midfielders -- Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and sub DeAndre Yedlin, who played right mid as he did against Ecuador -- to combine with.

Chandler could well be tried at both outside positions in the second phase of the Klinsmann era. He’s got the physical qualities demanded at the international level and isn’t playing in MLS, which obviously in the eyes of the head coach counts against some players.

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