Saturday night’s 4-0 over Bolivia assures that the Americans head into next Friday’s COPA America Centenario opening match versus Colombia on a high note.
Attacker Gyasi Zardes scored twice to somewhat quiet recent criticism of his play that centered largely on the Galaxy forward’s wasteful first touch and John Brooks and 17-year-old sensation Christian Pulisic added goals to up the feel-good factor.
The win is the third on the trot for the COPA hosts by a combined 8-1 score over Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and now Bolivia.
As with all friendlies these results are to be taken with a grain of salt and of the three opponents keep in mind that Puerto Rico currently holds the 152nd position in the FIFA Rankings while Bolivia has struggled desperately since bowing out at the quarterfinals stage of the 2015 COPA America, after beating Ecuador, and drawing with Mexico to advance from group play.
Since losing to Peru 3-1 to Peru in the 2015 COPA quarters Bolivia has changed coaches and stumbled to a record of one win and five losses in World Cup Qualifying play.
Which is not to diminish the positive takeaways for Jurgen Klinsmann’s group as it heads into the COPA opener on Friday in Santa Clara, California.
Here are a few.
Changing of the Guard?
When Klinsmann sent the U.S. out in a 4-3-3 versus Ecuador featuring Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley in the center of the park we wondered where the creativity would come from.
After 45 minutes we found out, it would come from the bench. Darlington Nagbe and Bobby Wood were introduced after the break and Christian Pulisic and Alejandro Bedoya followed just after the hour mark and the changes opened up the game to the home team’s benefit.
Bedoya is hardly a new face in the U.S lineup but with his play in the COPA build up the Nantes man has shown again that he is a key part of this group with his tireless running and solid two-way play.
But we knew that. Pulisic, Nagbe, and to a somewhat lesser extent Wood, because we’ve seen more of him in a U.S. uniform, represent something new.
And maybe something different. The trio are all comfortable with the ball, just watch Nagbe operate in tight spaces, and they are the type of players Klinsmann needs to implement his long-promised, seldom delivered, “proactive” style of play.
A few friendlies do not offer proof, but the do offer hope. If this triumvirate can deliver on that hope in the cauldron of the COPA then we will be witnessing a true “changing of the guard.”
Stability at the back?
Against Bolivia, the U.S. started Geoff Cameron and John Brooks together in the heart of the defense. While the pair seems to be the likely starters in the COPA, they have rarely played together.
Still, when fullbacks Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin entered the game after halftime, it felt like the band was back together. It has been a long time coming, with Klinsmann’s habit of tinkering with his center back pair preventing the defense from establishing an identity.
It is too soon to say if Cameron and Brooks can establish themselves as a modern Lalas/Balboa or Bocanegra/Onyewu but the COPA will be a good testing ground.
Bradley at the 6
Finally. It has seemed so obvious to so many, for so long but the man in charge resisted. Halfway through the Ecuador match Jurgen Klinsmann dropped Michael Bradley back from the advanced midfield role, the number 10, to the deeper lying number 6 role.
And if that clouds didn’t exactly part and the scales didn’t fall from out eyes, it is fair to say that the play of the U.S. MNT did improve significantly.
Whether it was a lack of options in the 10 position or plain stubbornness Klinsmann has persisted in playing the TFC man as an attacking midfielder. Ever the good soldier Bradley did not complain and he did a decent job of it, hey Bradley is a damn good player.
Since the move Bradley has thrived. It is a seriously limited sample size but the U.S. captain is having an excellent year for TFC in the 6 and his ceiling is so much higher in the role.
Klinsmann wouldn’t commit to leaving Bradley in the position but the more confidence the coach has in Nagbe, the more comfortable he can be with this tactical switch.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 2 4
BOL 0 0 0
USA – Gyasi Zardes (Alejandro Bedoya) 26th minute
USA – John Brooks (Alejandro Bedoya) 37
USA – Gyasi Zardes (Bobby Wood) 52
USA – Christian Pulisic (Darlington Nagbe) 69
USA: 1-Brad Guzan, 14-Michael Orozco (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 46), 20-Geoff Cameron, 6-John Brooks, 5-Matt Besler (23-Fabian Johnson, 46), 11-Alejandro Bedoya (10-Darlington Nagbe, 63), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.) (19-Graham Zusi, 73), 13-Jermaine Jones, 9-Gyasi Zardes (17-Christian Pulisic, 63), 8-Clint Dempsey (18-Chris Wondolowski, 72), 7-Bobby Wood
Subs not used: 12-Tim Howard, 22-William Yarbrough, 3-Steve Birnbaum, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 16-Perry Kitchen
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
BOL: 23-Guillermo Viscarra, 4-Diego Bejarano, 21-Ronald Eguino, 5-Nelson Cabrera, 3-Luis Gutiérrez (17-Marvin Bejarano, 68), 13-Alejandro Meleán (18-Rodrigo Ramallo, 54), 8-Martín Smedberg-Dalence (22-Edward Zenteno, 74), 20-Fernando Saucedo (15-Pedro Azogue, 46), 10-Jhasmani Campos (11-Bruno Miranda, 46), 9-Yasmani Duk (capt.); 19-Carmelo Algarañaz (14-Raúl Castro, 46)
Subs not used: 1-Carlos Lampe, 12-Rómel Quiñónez, 2-Mario Saavedra, 6-Wálter Veizaga, 7-Juan Carlos Arce, 16-Cristhian Machado
Head Coach: Julio César Baldivieso
Stats Summary: USA / BOL
Shots: 9 / 6
Shots on Goal: 7 / 3
Saves: 3 / 3
Corner Kicks: 6 / 2
Fouls: 12 / 18
Offside: 2 / 4
BOL – Jhasmani Campos (caution) 30th minute
BOL – Yasmani Duk (caution) 76