Friendly, But Imperfect: US Soccer vs. Chile

Last night’s international soccer friendly between the USA and Chile was pretty much what fans expected.  An inexperienced USA squad (the most capped player only had six prior USA games under his belt) gave their all and came out with a tie against a generally savvier Chilean team.

At times it looked more like a race than a game, with the USA’s players realizing that their decision making and play making needed to step up a notch or two to match the pace of an international game. But, especially at the start of the game, what sped up was mostly the running. Passes looked rushed in execution rather than conception.

So, shall we call this game a failure? No, not at all.  Nobody was expecting a display of ‘jogo bonito’ from the young US team.

This team represented (by and large) the United States’ best prospects, and these players needed to see some international experience. The US Men’s National Team needs to add some new energy and skills soon or the Brazil 2014 lineup will get us a bit too accustomed to the term “wily verteran” instead of  “breakout star.”

As far as the play on the field… I’m not a player-rater, there are plenty of places to read such ratings – for instance, here is one from the MLS website that I think is pretty far off base and one from ESPN that I think is much, much closer.

Instead, here are a few, far from complete, high level thoughts that stayed with me.

Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury up front were the most tantalizing of the prospects on the field, especially in combination – as they bring size, speed and some skill, and since the USA has had such trouble getting forwards to put the ball in the net.   That such inexperienced players are so exciting to the USA fan base, potentially tells you as much about the level of concern with the current roster of forwards as with these two players.

Brek Shea is quite the enigma. He is quickly becoming one of those players that splits the National Team faithful into two camps, one that think he’s the next “big thing” on the wing, and those who think he’s useless. I’m not a member of either camp, as I’ve seen him in MLS and thought he’d be an interesting and useful addition to the National Team but agree he’s struggled on the big stage so far. He has the size (though seemingly was bumped off the ball by far smaller Chileans?) and pace to do more than he has shown so far.

Dax McCarthy was also solid, but remains difficult to fit into our current National Team puzzle. He makes himself available, constantly moves into open spaces and (generally) distributes the ball well. And, though not a goal, that long distance shot which forced a great save by the Chilean keeper was nearly a SportsCenter highlight. However, if we need to add the passing craftiness of a true “number 10”, I’m not sure Dax is the answer at this level.

I think a diamond in the rough out there is Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, he didn’t get much done last night. But there’s something about the way he plays the game, an inherent skill and confidence on the ball, that when combined with his young age could be a harbinger of good things to come.  Let’s hope so.

What is frustrating about a game like this is that is that its aim (to see a broad mix of new players) often works against the liklihood of accomplishing that result as best as possible (getting a good sense of how these players would fit in with the rest of the Senior Roster.)

In a perfect world we would get to see the above players (and the rest of them that I didn’t choose to call out) inserted into a lineup that had most of the “A” players from the National Team. Seeing how a Brek Shea does with an experienced international full back in behind him, or how Dax does with a Dempsey or Donovan looking for his quick passes would show a better view of how much we can look to these players in “must win” National Team games.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, we don’t have the perfect National Team, and there is no such thing as a perfect test. But it sure was nice to see them back on that field.

It was also nice to know we were looking at the new ingredients that can spice up our familar main course.  If that can be done successfully it could be a fun few years.