There are a few things to be hopeful for even though the U.S. Mens National Team just narrowly bested the Great White North 1-0 last night at StubHub Center, in the second of two friendlies after January’s USMNT camp. The U.S. hasn’t lost a home match to Canada since July 6, 1957. Jurgen Klinsmann now has a 45 career MNT victories placing him behind only Bruce Arena with 71. Ethan Finlay, substituted on the pitch for Jordan Morris in the 87th minute, made an impact within 2 minutes with a patiently placed accurate cross to Jozy Altidore who sandwiched himself between defenders Samuel Adekugbe and Doneil Henry, heading the ball in past a rarely helpless Crépeau. The goal marks Jozy’s 33rd for the U.S., just 1 behind Eric Wynalda’s 3rd place all-time record.
“Ethan did this all through January camp. He’s really good out wide,” Altidore said. “The ball scores the goal – the pace of it, the positioning of it. I just had to be there to knock it in.” Similarly, Columbus Crew’s Finlay humbly took little credit for the goal, his first international assist. “You could just tell Canada had been worn down and that we were on the front foot for the last 30 minutes.”
In spite of dominating the second half of play, the U.S. were unable to capitalize due to some heroic saves by Impact Montreal’s Maxime Crépeau. There were some positive signs for the future though. The first being the burgeoning partnership between Jozy Altidore and recent Seattle Sounders signing Jordan Morris. Overall their pairing yielded the best first-half chance for the U.S. last night in a give and go sequence in the 38th minute which Morris sent just a bit wide of the post. Midfielder Gyasi Zardes, in spite of looking a little shaky at times, also had meaningful impact on the game with multiple efforts, most notably a shot on goal hit right at Maxime in the 21st minute, and a pass in the 17th minute to Altidore who turned it towards the goal but by a feat of physics it managed to hit the post twice before having it cleared by Crépeau.
The second positive comes in the form of the newer players whose goals for the January USMNT camp were to make an impression as U-23 Olympic team hopefuls. The U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2012 so the symbolic importance of the Olympic qualifiers this year can’t be overstated. For Klinsmann this remains one of the top 3 goals of the year. Lee Nyguen continues to shine as his fitness and first touches improve with each appearance. When asked what he’s leaving the January camp with as he returns to the Revs, he replied, “For me it’s getting my fitness levels up and play quicker, at the international level your touches gotta be cleaner. All these little bits, you just have to be a bit sharper.” After Ethan Finlay, Kellyn Acosta, Tony Tchani and Jerome Kiesewetter got their debuts in a 3-2 win over Iceland last Sunday, Klinsmann fielded a young starting line-up against Canada, giving second career starts to Kellyn Acosta, Steve Birnbaum, Jordan Morris and Lee Nguyen. Chicago Fire draftee Brandon Vincent also earned his first cap as a second-half sub.
Slightly concerning is the fact that Jurgen Klinsmann has not started the same back four in consecutive matches since the 2014 World Cup, as his quest to fill the back line continues. Last night Klinsmann placed Jermaine Jones as a center-back, but the natural midfielder struggled with positioning and timing, once again proving that playing out of position for him is not a solution in the short or long-term. The U.S. was lucky that Jones was not punished for his apparent foul on Cyle Larin. But without Brad Evans and Orozco last night, they were left with little choice, according to Klinsmann.
As for Canada, Vitória and last night’s outstanding goalkeeper Crépeau made their senior debuts. Canada are currently second in their qualifying group and face group leaders Mexico in a home-and-away series next month. They haven’t advanced to the Hexagonal round since 1997 and will likely be competing with El Salvador and Honduras for the coveted second spot. Benito Floro maintains the focus is not so much on Mexico as it is on becoming better as a team.
On the same day the senior team plays Guatemala, the U-23s will face Colombia in the first of a two-leg playoff for the final spot in the Rio Olympics men’s soccer tournament. Deciding where we’ll go might be our hardest battle!