On a cold and windy night in Chattanooga, the USMNT January camp officially concluded. The stars and stripes capped their camp with tonight’s 1-0 win against Jamaica’s “Reggae Boyz.” Let’s break down the three things that stood out to us in tonight's game.
Bruce Arena pulled a “Klinsmann”
One of the most frustrating aspects of Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure as head coach was his propensity to constantly tinker with formations and starting lineups. This severely hampered the team’s ability to build chemistry and continuity from game to game.
There is a new sheriff in town...but the tinkering continues. From the match against Serbia to tonight’s match against Jamaica, there were only 2 players who featured in the starting lineup both nights. Graham Zusi and Steve Birnbaum were the only 2 players to be carried over into the starting lineup from last week. Every other player was swapped out.
Similarly, tonight we also saw a formation change from last week’s 4-3-2-1. Arena’s men came out tonight in a formation that tends to lead to more success for our strikers, a 4-1-3-2. There are not a lot of forwards in the USMNT pool who are comfortable in a lone striker role and tonight Arena opted to pair Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo up top.
Before anyone pulls out their pitchforks, these formation and personnel changes are to be expected during the January camp. The whole point of this camp is to see who the up and coming domestic players are that could play a role in qualification. It would make sense then that Arena would try to get as many of the men on his 23-man roster some playing time. We will keep a close eye on this when qualification resumes in March when more consistency of formation and player chemistry become key. If he tinkers game to game when it matters most you can start getting angry. For now, let him tinker.
Benny Feilhaber has forced himself into the conversation as the U.S. #10
It is well documented the forced exodus that Benny Feilhaber went through while Klinsmann was at the helm. It has been years since Feilhaber had even a whiff of a call up. Over the two friendlies he showed extremely well for himself and should receive an opportunity to continue in the squad through the March qualifiers.
Feilahber in the first half alone completed 39 of 46 passes, won 6 duels, had 5 recoveries, and completed 5 dribbles (most among all players). He was arguably the most active player on the field for either team. In the second half Feilhaber partnered with Jordan Morris in a juicy little tiki-taka that finally unlocked Jamaica’s defense and allowed Morris to tally the game winner in the 59th minute for what was his first international goal in almost 2 years. Only 3 minutes later Feilhaber’s night was done but his impact was definitely felt. He is our man of the match and may have done enough to be in the starting lineup against Honduras in San Jose on March 24th.
Speaking of Morris and the forwards, we still feel like we are lacking real competition at the top. Altidore and Wood seem to be the best options for now, and no one seems to be pushing them much for those spots.
Don’t look now but the U.S. is undefeated in 2017
Let’s be clear, the USMNT should have won both matches against Serbia and Jamaica. To come away with a win and a draw was not the best outcome but it was a good outcome. Even more importantly given 2016’s defensive woes, the national team did not concede a goal in either this year’s two matches. This point is punctuated by the fact that the U.S. allowed only 2 shots on goal total between the 2 matches, both coming against Serbia. We aren’t excusing the fact that we didn’t beat Serbia, but not losing goes a long ways.
Ultimately, the mark of a good January camp is the ability to identify who is ready to contribute throughout the grueling hexagonal qualification round. The results of these 2 friendlies are nice, but they are nothing more than warm-ups. That being said, losing either of these two matches would have only served to further intensify the nerves among the national team fan base and players alike.
Also worth noting, Bruce Arena is undefeated all time against Jamaica with a record of 5-0-5 between his two stints at the helm of the national team.
Other items worth noting
RSL’s own Omar Holness checked in at the 56th minute mark meaning that an RSL player featured in both friendlies (Rimando vs Serbia).
Landon Donovan came out of retirement tonight...to be a color commentator.
Jamaica had only 3 days of preparation for the match and it showed by the amount of cramping from their players and inability to muster much of an attack. They finished with 30% possession, 55% pass completion in the final third, and 5 total shots with zero shots on goal.
Graham Zusi wore the captain’s armband for the first time ever.
Walker Zimmerman received his first senior team cap.
Michael Bradley passed Marcelo Balboa for 5th all-time for national caps at 128.
I get that we want to give different and less prominent cities more exposure to national team soccer, but a turf field covered in American football hash-marks and a crowd of 17,903? We can do better.