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Hard to take positives from the US October friendlies

(Photograph by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire)

Earlier this week there was a lot of talk about whether or not the United States should even be playing October friendlies. When the final whistle of the Americans’ 1-1 draw against New Zealand was blown Tuesday night, it was easy to see why people were questioning the idea.

Earlier this week I defended the idea of the October friendlies. The FIFA rankings scarcely matter and the more games the United States play the more benefit they’ll have long term. But it’s hard to say they’ll really benefit from this international window.

This window provided a great chance to prepare for the Mexico match that kicks off the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying while also expanding the U.S. player pool. Those were the two stated goals of manager Jurgen Klinsmann when the U.S. opened camp last week, but the truth is the U.S. did neither of those things over the two games.

Klinsmann clearly had a plan coming into the first game. That plan was to put out the team that was likely to start the match against Mexico and give them experience playing each other. Nine of the 11 players who started the match against Cuba can be expected to start against Mexico with the exceptions being goalkeeper Ethan Horvath and winger Julian Green.

The plan was a failure. The horrific field in Havana meant the U.S. couldn’t even work on their passing game. DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson, and Christian Pulisic all had to be withdrawn at halftime due to ineffectiveness. The match provided yet another example why it’s not a good idea to play Johnson at left back as he looked disinterested in being on the field and rarely got involved in the attack. This happens whenever Johnson plays from the back and is a concern since Johnson could be the Americans’ best attacking player.

Further up the pitch, Klinsmann got a first-hand view as to why a Jozy Altidore-Bobby Wood strike partnership will not work. Their two styles are simply incompatible. Long term that will be a big issue since Wood has established himself as the best U.S. striker not named Clint Dempsey, but Altidore is a Klinsmann favorite who the manager insists on starting whenever he’s healthy.

The purpose of the match against New Zealand was to experiment and expand the U.S. player pool. This is where Klinsmann had his biggest failure of the international window.

Several first choice players were sent back to their clubs to prepare for club matches which allowed Klinsmann to call in seven new players, many of whom were making long awaited returns to the national team.

Did any of those players start the game? Of course they didn’t. Instead Klinsmann lined the team up in a 4-3-3 formation with Michael Orozco starting at right back and Yedlin starting as the right wing.

I have no problems with Klinsmann using the 4-3-3 formation. It’s a formation the U.S. should be playing more and more to try and get used to because with the personnel they have it would actually be a great formation. While Klinsmann has tried to go to the 4-3-3 formation in the past, he’s often picked the wrong players for it, and Tuesday night was no different.

In a match that had no importance and would have provided Klinsmann a great chance to look at some of the young strikers, the manager selected Jozy Altidore to start at striker. This was never going to work as Altidore’s game does not lend itself to being a lone striker. Altidore struggled right from the get go and it didn’t take long for him to become disinterested in the game and stop trying. This should come as no surprise since we already knew Altidore can only be effective when played with a second striker, meaning if he’s on the field the U.S. is limited in how they can line up – and he’s always on the field.

It would be little comfort to U.S. fans that in an attempt to ‘expand the player pool’ Klinsmann opted to start a match with Omar Gonzalez and Orozco starting on defense instead of integrating a couple duel nationals into the team. U.S. fans are done watching Gonzalez and Orozco, and seeing Klinsmann change around his formation just to give Orozco another match is infuriating. The residual effect was pushing Yedlin up to the wing, where he was very ineffective, taking away a potential starting spot from Lynden Gooch, who came off the bench to get his first cap.

Since the friendly was all but meaningless, this would have been a great camp to call in Tottenham youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers. The England-born Carter-Vickers has represented the U.S. at the youth level but has essentially said he would play for England if they called him in first. Many people in England are high on CCV, and considering England’s current dearth of center backs, it would have been smart for Klinsmann to bring Carter-Vickers a call up, even if it didn’t tie him to the U.S. permanently. Instead we got more Gonzalez, who seems to get smaller when the games get bigger.

It’s hard to fault the U.S. for playing friendlies in October, even if the sparse crowd at the usually raucous RFK Stadium served as a reminder that these games were little more than a joke. It’s just too bad the U.S. didn’t actually take advantage of the fact that they were playing them.

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