The World Cup is 67 days away. The U.S. national team opens camp in six weeks. So, just how good is Jurgen Klinsmann’s team? Will this latest collection of American players be able to survive a group that includes Portugal, Ghana and Germany?
It’s still too early to tell, but we got some clues from an exciting 2-2 tie between the United States and Mexico on Wednesday.
We learned that the United States U.S. can, indeed, play beautiful soccer, at least for one half. The first half of that game was perhaps the team’s best under Klinsmann. Crisp passing, aggressive attack, and very few mistakes.
We learned that midfielder Michael Bradley has not lost his edge since transferring from Italian club Roma to Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC. On the contrary. Bradley, playing up higher than usual, was absolutely fabulous from end to end. His passing was divine, he scored off a corner kick, and he flicked a header in the box to Chris Wondolowski, who knocked it in to give the United States a 2-0 first-half lead.
Bradley seemed to benefit from the pairing with defensive midfielder (and former Miami Fusion player) Kyle Beckerman, who helped by holding the ball and allowing Bradley to roam free and find open spaces.
“You’re playing with a guy, Kyle, who does a good job at taking care of things, being disciplined,” Bradley said. “So, it gives me more freedom to be mobile, to be on the move, to get forward, to get down.”
We learned that “Wondo“ continues to have a nose for the goal, and the United States is going to need that in Brazil. His stock surely rose with his performance. Whether he’s a starter or a spark off the bench, Klinsmann would be smart to have him on the roster.
We learned that Klinsmann really likes 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Julian Green, a dual U.S.-German citizen who was born in Tampa and is choosing to play for the United States even though he grew up in Germany. His father is a former U.S. serviceman, and his mother is German.
U.S. fans had been buzzing about Green for quite some time, even though most of them had never seen him play. A savior, he is not. At least not yet. But he showed promise.
Green came off the bench in the second half with Landon Donovan, who didn’t start because he was battling knee tendinitis and Klinsmann didn’t like his “tempo” in practice. Green played only 30 minutes, lost the ball a few times and looked a bit tentative, which is understandable considering his age and lack of experience. But he has speed. He drew what appeared to be a penalty in the box, though the ref didn’t call it.
“You saw in some moments what this kid is actually capable to do, how he goes in the box, draws two guys and should have gotten the penalty,” Klinsmann said of Green. “Obviously he was nervous to play his first cap in front of 60,000 against Mexico. Here and there you slip, lose your balance like it happened once there.
“But the team welcomed him with open arms. When you are among other players you check each other out, and within 10 minutes [you know] whether he’s a good player or not. Julian is a very good player.”
We also learned that center back remains a big question mark. Omar Gonzalez did himself no favors by losing Rafael Marquez for the first Mexican goal in the second half and then ball-watching while Alan Pulido scored El Tri’s tying goal. Klinsmann might have to give Geoff Cameron or Clarence Goodson a shot.
MLS came out looking good, too, because other than Green, the entire roster was made up of MLS players, and they looked like they belonged on the world stage.
All in all, a good night for Klinsmann’s men. The next U.S. tuneup game is May 27 against Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
• Strikers add midfielders: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers’ 2014 spring season opens Saturday, and the midfield includes two intriguing additions.
The team signed Chris Nurse, who was born in England of Guyanese descent and was captain of the Guyana national team in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification matches. He has 47 caps with Guyana, and scored five goals.
Nurse played for the Puerto Rico Islanders in 2010, and has also played for Carolina Railkawks and FC Edmonton.
“Chris is an experienced player who has already won a championship in this league and is going to help us in many ways,” Strikers coach Günter Kronsteiner said. “He’s a solid player and a leader both on the field and in the locker room.”
Another new Striker to watch is 20-year-old Mitchell Lopez, an Opa Locka native who made the team through open tryouts. His mother is Brazilian, father is Cuban and he spent his childhood in South Florida, Brazil and Uruguay.
“Mitchell is a very hard-working young man and shows a lot of promise,” Kronsteiner said. “He impressed us at the tryout and had continued to give his all for us in preseason.”
He scored a goal in the 5-1 win against Florida Atlantic University on March 16.
• Miami United opener: Miami United FC, an NPSL team that plays in the Sunshine Conference, opens its 2014 season May 2 on the road against the Cape Coral Hurricanes. Their first home game is May 4 against the Tampa Mauraders at Ted Hendricks Stadium in Hialeah.