Friday’s game against Scotland can be summarized in a word: underwhelming. While the team was missing some of its most effective offensive playmakers—Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Graham Zusi—the players on the field should have been able to do more.
Eddie Johnson, in particular, looked sluggish and uninterested, giving the ball away cheaply on multiple occasions. Alejandro Bedoya grafted and worked, but he, too, was unable to produce anything of substance. Michael Bradley’s return to midfield was welcome, but his security in possession was almost too good, in that his teammates sought him out constantly, rather than looking further upfield.
The one bright spot going forward was the play of Brek Shea and Aron Johannsson as second-half substitutes. Johannsson, of course, has been on fire for his club team. Shea, on the other hand, has barely played this season. Both players made things happen.
Defensively, the team played well, even with Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez forming an uncomfortable partnership in central defense. Brad Evans, though, looked like he’d just come off a disappointing end to his MLS season, and wasn’t fully concentrated.
Subs to starters?
With the list of less-than-impressive starting performances—Johnson, Evans—will the subs that looked lively make starts? Eric Lichaj subbed Evans against Scotland, and while he did not play poorly, he didn’t exactly stand out. If Jurgen Klinsmann wants to evaluate him, perhaps a start is in order. Shea looked like he has regularly for Klinsmann in substitute appearances. That is, he looked like a difference-maker. That may earn him a start.
Sacha Kljestan looked fine as the attacking midfielder, but it is not his preferred role, and one wonders just what sort of role Klinsmann has in mind with him. Mix Diskerud improved the team on Friday when he replaced Kljestan, but Diskerud has little left to prove, so Kljestan may get one more starting opportunity. It would be useful to see him start in Jermaine Jones’s traditional spot, alongside Bradley.
As for Johannsson, he’s going to Brazil. It is unlikely he will displace Jozy Altidore as the sole striker, but perhaps the U.S. will opt to open the Austria game in a 4-4-2, so both may play.
Austria is very much a middling European team. They have not qualified for the past four World Cup tournaments, including Brazil 2014, and only qualified for the European Championships in 2008 as the hosts. The U.S. has faced Austria only twice, both times in the 1990s, splitting the games.
The U.S. does have some interesting connections to Austria, however, with Terrence Boyd playing his club soccer for Rapid Vienna, in whose home stadium Tuesday’s game will be played.
As was the case against Scotland, the actual result of this game means little. The U.S. is the better team, but as we saw on Friday, that’s no guarantee of a performance. And, like Friday, what’s most important is that the fringe squad players perform well. If they can’t, January’s camp is the last opportunity most will have to make an impression.