The United States Men’s National Team faded badly down the stretch tonight in Chile, falling to the hosts 3-2 after taking a 2-1 lead into the halftime break.
The loss is the third in a row for the Americans who also continued a disturbing trend of coughing up the lead on the way to a loss.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom for the U.S., who came into this game on the heels of a somewhat experimental January camp, that featured a number of Olympic eligible U23 players sprinkled in amongst the full national team prospects.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann continued to tinker against Chile, choosing to line out in a 3-5-2 formation for the first time since taking over from Bob Bradley in 2011.
Jermaine Jones continued his transition to center back, with the veteran Germerican positioned at the center of the three man backline between Matt Besler and National Team debutant Steve Birnbaum.
The new formation featured attacker Brek Shea in a wing back role, and the brand new Orlando Lion got off to a dream start with a goal after just six minutes.
Left center back Matt Besler sent Shea in on goal with a perfectly weighted through ball and Shea blasted a goal from a tight angle to give the U.S. the early lead.
The experimental formation was not always a comfortable fit for the U.S. and Roberto Gutierrez equalized for the home team just minutes after Shea’s breakthrough.
The U.S were learning on the fly, and the MLS dominated squad was up against a Chile squad that were in mid season, while MLS has only recently returned to training camp.
Still, the Americans gave as good as they got in an end to end first half, and went to the break with a 2-1 lead on the strength of a Jozy Altidore strike on the half hour.
Altidore was a late addition to the U.S. team, only coming aboard after his recent signing with Toronto FC. The newly minted TFC man was clearly happy to put his dismal Sunderland experience behind him, scoring from good set up work by New York City FC’s Mix Diskerud, and Tottenham’s DeAndre Yedlin.
The 3-5-2 experiment ended at the half, with the visitors coming out in a more familiar 4-4-2 for the final 45. New England Revolution MVP finalist Lee Nguyen replaced an entirely ineffective Bobby Wood, who Klinsmann called in even though Wood is on the outs at his German club 1860 Munich.
The U.S. formation shift would seem to have had less to do with Chile’s second half dominance than plain old fashioned exhaustion, but whatever the reason the Americans were overrun as they meekly surrendered the lead en route to the 3-2 loss.
Former Liverpool man Mark Gonzalez scored both Chile goals, and other than a Michael Bradley bomb that battered the crossbar, the U.S. offered no response.
Klinsmann told Fox Sports television before the match that the 3-5-2 was something he hoped to include in the U.S. arsenal, and despite some hiccups it may be worth another look.
Klinsmann handed first caps to three players tonight, DC United defender Steve Birnbaum, Columbus midfielder Wil Trapp, and Gyasi Zardes. Birnbaum went the full 90, and was solid in his debut. The others were given less time, but had their moment, especially Zardes.
Next up is Panama, as the U.S. return to California to take on the Los Canaleros on February 8. Klinsmann may or may not trot out the 3-5-2 again, but the more important question may be what to do with Jones.
The indefatigable veteran was out of position on numerous occasions against Chile, not an ideal trait for center back. Shea has an even longer road to go if he is to be trusted defensively, but this is the ideal time to Klinsmann to experiment.
With the Gold Cup and Olympic Qualifying topping the U.S calendar in 2015 that time to experiment will run out soon.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 0 2
CHI 1 2 3
USA – Brek Shea (Matt Besler) 6th minute
CHI – Roberto Gutierrez (Mark Gonzalez) 10
USA – Jozy Altidore (Mix Diskerud) 31
CHI – Mark Gonzalez (Marco Medel) 66
CHI – Mark Gonzalez 75
USA: 1-Nick Rimando; 23-Steve Birnbaum, 13-Jermaine Jones, 5-Matt Besler; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 4-Michael Bradley, 8-Clint Dempsey (capt.) (20-Gyasi Zardes, 68), 10-Mix Diskerud (6-Wil Trapp, 60), 11-Brek Shea, 9-Bobby Wood (7-Lee Nguyen, 46), 17-Jozy Altidore (18-Chris Wondolowski, 75)
Subs Not Used: 3-Matt Hedges, 12-Sean Johnson, 15-Perry Kitchen, 16-Shane O’Neill, 19-Miguel Ibarra
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
CHI: 23-Johnny Herrera; 4-Osvaldo Gonzalez, 13-Jose Rojas (capt.), 17-Juan Cornejo; 6-Gonzalo Espinoza (16-Gonzalo Fierro, 72), 15-Erick Pulgar, 10-Marco Medel (5-Paulo Diaz, 79), 19-Diego Valdes (9-Juan Delgado, 60); 7-Bryan Carrasco, 22-Roberto Gutierrez (18-Andres Vilches, 90+4), 11-Mark Gonzalez (8-Angelo Sagal, 90)
Subs Not Used: 1-Paulo Garces, 2-Sebastian Vegas, 14-Cesar Valenzuela
Head coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Stats Summary: USA / CHI
Shots: 10 / 12
Shots on Goal: 5 / 5
Saves: 2 / 3
Corner Kicks: 1 /9
Fouls: 20 / 19
Offside: 0 / 6
USA – Michael Bradley (caution) 36th minute
CHI – Jose Rojas (caution) 43
USA – Bobby Wood (caution) 45+2
USA – Lee Nguyen (caution) 50
USA – Jermaine Jones (caution) 52
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 71
USA – Brek Shea (caution) 88