Photo: Courtesy of US Soccer
On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, the U.S. Men’s National Team ran out comfortable 2–0 winners over Korea Republic on Saturday. With the pre-game news that Mike Magee would miss out due to food poisoning, the starting line-up showed no new faces. The biggest new look was Michael Parkhurst getting a start at left back, certainly the most problematic position for the U.S. right now. In Magee’s stead, Chris Wondolowski led the line, backed up by Brad Davis, Landon Donovan, and Graham Zusi. Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman held down the middle, with Parkhurst, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Brad Evans, and Nick Rimando in defense.
The game started fast. Too fast for, many: If you were one of the unlucky fans who were trying to watch the game on ESPN2 or WatchESPN, a college basketball game blocked your view of a very early U.S. goal. In the third minute, a lofted ball from Evans on the right side found a sliding Davis at the back post. His shot was saved, only for Wondowloski to be in the right place at the right time and head the U.S. in front.
The Koreans nearly answered only minutes later. A corner kick from the U.S. left was flicked toward the near post, and Rimando did very well to hold the ball and bring it down to the ground, just outside the goal line. (Replays, however, suggested it might have crossed the line.)
The game soon settled into a pattern. The U.S. did well, generally, to maintain possession, but Korea’s swift counterattacking posed a danger any time the U.S. turned the ball over, which began to happen more and more frequently as the half wore on. In the 18th, Korea’s No. 11, Lee Keun-Ho, managed to find his way into the U.S. box after a poor U.S. turnover, but skied his shot over from a tight angle. In the 35th, Evans was out-muscled on the wing by Min-Woo Kim, but Kim’s low cross was put out for a corner by Besler.
Korea’s primary weapon, though, was the dead ball, with their hulking, 6’5″ No. 9, Shin-Wook Kim, a menace from every set piece or corner kick. The Koreans were unable to make use of the kicks they got, however, and the U.S. finished the half with two chances to extend their lead. In the 43rd minute, Zusi peeled off the back of his marker and ran onto a long ball into the Korean box. His centering pass just eluded Donovan for what would have been a certain goal. Then, with one of the final kicks of the half, Parkhurst did very well to play in Wondowloski with a left-footed cross. Wondo couldn’t find a teammate with his cutback, however.
The U.S. began the second half similarly to the first, with Donovan feeding Davis for a left-wing cross that just missed several U.S. runners. Sloppy passing, though, nearly undid the U.S.’s good work, when a Davis turnover in the 52nd lead to a Korean break. Davis then brought down the runner outside the U.S. box for a free kick. Luckily, Rimando swallowed up the shot, after a slight deflection. In the 58th minute, Korea had a good chance for a cross from the right, but the ball was just behind the attacker, and Rimando was again able to collect the header without difficulty.
The U.S. put the game to bed on the hour mark. A long Evans throw put Zusi behind his fullback in the Korean box. His center was deftly flicked into the path of Wondolowski by a closely-marked Donovan. Wondo didn’t need to be asked twice, and buried it.
The game settled down, with both teams knowing the outcome was little in doubt. The U.S. brought on various subs, which handed the initiative to Korea, but the Koreans did little with it, putting only one shot on target, and never troubling Rimando.
Magee’s loss/Wondo’s gain: While Magee’s absence is surely a personal disappointment for him, Chris Wondolowski took advantage, scoring two poachers’ goals to lead the U.S. to victory. While he may not be dynamic enough for elite international competition, there’s little more U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann could ask of the San Jose attacker.
Parkhurst impresses: Playing for only the third time as a left back, Michael Parkhurst did very well, locking his side of the field down much more effectively than his counterpart on the right side, Brad Evans. He also played some excellent through balls up the line and into the box, some with his left foot. While DaMarcus Beasley is surely the starter ahead of him, Parkhurst’s calm demeanor and versatility may earn him a spot on the World Cup roster.
No surprises: In the end, the players one would expect to perform well (Zusi, Donovan, Beckerman) did so, and few others changed the thinking on themselves, expect perhaps Parkhurst. Without Magee, there were no wild cards showing.
For the future: In substitute appearances, DeAndre Yedlin looked underwhelming, while Luis Gil showed glimpses of his potential. Both are assured of many future chances to shine, though probably not in Brazil.
In the end, the U.S. was not tested by Korea Republic. The poor passing in the midfield that led to Korean chances, especially in the first half, would likely have been punished by better teams, but presumably the U.S.’s players would play with more caution against such teams.
In all, the game showed Klinsmann and his staff little that they did not already know. Looking ahead, the friendly in Ukraine on March 5 will provide a sterner test. And, with the Europe-based players available then, along with Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey (and Maurice Edu?) from MLS, the team that plays then will be more like the first-choice squad the U.S. is likely to trot out against Ghana in June for their opening game at the World Cup.
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Korea Republic
Date: Feb. 1, 2014
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: StubHub Center; Carson, Calif.
Kickoff: 2 p.m. PT
Attendance: 27,000 (so)
Weather: 69 degrees, sunny
USA – Chris Wondolowski (Brad Davis) 4th minute
USA – Chris Wondolowski (unassisted) 60
USA: 1-Nick Rimando; 2-Brad Evans (14-DeAndre Yedlin, 74), 5-Matt Besler (21-Clarence Goodson, 60), 4-Omar Gonzalez, 3-Michael Parkhurst; 6-Kyle Beckerman, 8-Mix Diskerud (15-Benny Feilhaber, 60), 10-Landon Donovan (capt.), 7-Graham Zusi (20-Eric Alexander, 82), 11-Brad Davis (16-Luis Gil, 75), 9-Chris Wondolowski (18-Eddie Johnson, 60)
Subs Not Used: 12-Sean Johnson, 17-Dax McCarty
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
KOR: 1-Sung-Ryong Jung; 20-Jin-Su Kim (19-Taehwan Kim, 79), 6-Ju-Young Kim, 16-Kee-Hee Kim, 14-Yong Lee; 8-Ho Lee (13-Myung-Joo Lee, 70), 22-Jong-Woo Park, 15-Min-Woo Kim, 17-Yohan Go; 11-Keun-Ho Lee (18-Seunggi Lee, 70), 9-Shin-Wook Kim
Subs Not Used: 21-Seunggyu Kim, 23-Bumyoung Lee, 3-Dae-Ho Kim, 4-Min-soo Kang, 5-Ji-Nam Lee, 2-Jinpo Park, 12-Jinhyung Song, 7-Kihun Yeom
Head Coach: Hong Myung-Bo
Stats Summary: USA / KOR
Shots: 9 / 16
Shots on Goal: 5 / 6
Saves: 5 / 2
Corner Kicks: 1 / 6
Fouls: 12 / 11
Offside: 1 / 0
Referee: Hugo Cruz (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Octavio Jara (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Warner Castro (CRC)
Fourth Official: Henry Bejrarano (CRC)