The first game back for Bruce Arena after ten years away was a bit of disappointment, as the US failed to catch fire and drew 0–0 with Serbia in San Diego. The team looked comfortable, with some good moments, but nothing quite came together.
Bruce Arena’s first lineup was the same but different from what Jurgen Klinsmann might have put together. Ahead of Nick Rimando in goal, the back line was a complete mishmash, with four new/old faces. As expected, Graham Zusi started at right back, next to Steve Birnbaum. But on the other side, Chad Marshall and Greg Garza got starts. Ahead of them, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were familiar, as was Ale Bedoya, but then Arena included both Sacha Kljestan and Darlington Nagbe, who made his first start for the national team after 11 caps. Up front, Jozy Altidore was another old head.
The game was a slow starter, with neither team doing much moe than trading free kicks outside the 18. Though, in the 23rd, a Garza foul should have resulted in a penalty rather than one of those kicks, as it happened just inside the box. The US defended that well, keeping Serbia at bay, then soon countered up the other end. Nagbe made a terrific turn on the left side to get things started, before Kljestan eventually fed Jones in the box. Jones’s cross through the six was tantalizing, but couldn’t find an American boot and was cleared.
That moved sparked some life into the US and the team began to really turn over, especially through Nagbe on the left. And in the 38th, Nagbe came closest to breaking the deadlock. Taking a ball over the top into the box, he cut back onto his right foot and curled strike just past the far post. It was a great chance, but he had two teammates open to his right if he’d gotten his head up after cutting inside his defender.
Sebastian Lletget came on for Jones at the half. Lltget had a swift impact getting stuck in and winning a challenge in the middle of the park before starting an incisive attack the resulted in Altidore forcing a one-on-one save from the Serbian keeper. That would be the last chance for nearly fifteen minutes, but Lletget would again be involved when the US had an opportunity. In the 58th, Lletget took the ball up the left side and sent in a cross. Kljestan made contact, but his looping header drifted wide of the post.
Chris Pontius entered for Bedoya in the 65th. In the 69th, Jorge Villafana replaced Garza. Jordan Morris came on for Altidore in the 74th. Very little happened in between. Morris was involved in a good move straight away, found by Kljestan up the right side, but he chance came to nothing. Serbia wasn’t up to much, either, but had a few half chances from crosses coming from the US left, as the sun made it very difficult for Rimando or the defenders to find the ball. Benny Feilhaber made an appearance, as well, and the US started getting closer, with a handful of scrums in the box but no clear-cut chances.
Late on, there were two great chances, one for either team. A turnover from Lletget led to a hard shot on goal from Serbia that Rimando did well to parry. Then, up the other end, another US substitute, Juan Agudelo, had an opportunity to win it for the US, but dawdled in the box and had the ball poked away. Pontius picked it up and put a shot agonizingly wide.
This game was a bit of a wet blanket. While it wasn’t a bad showing, per se, the US never really came together. There was a bit of tactical interest as Bradley would drop between the centerbacks to orchestrate the US’s play, but the US fullbacks were too cautious, as a rule, to make use of the shape. I noted in the comments on the preview for this game that by leaving Keegan Rosenberry home, Arena was making a trade off in favor of international experience over positional experience, and this game did nothing to convince me it was the right choice. Nagbe was a bright spot, but this team felt a little old and a little slow. The addition of the European players, like DeAndre Yedlin and Christian Pulisic, will liven things up considerably.
Arena gets a C+ for his first game back. It was a bit dull, a bit stale, but games at the end of January camps often are, so it’s hard to say much about that. It will be exciting to see how the game on Friday versus Jamaica goes, and if the gameplan is any different.
USA: 1-Nick Rimando; 19-Graham Zusi, 15-Steve Birnbaum, 5-Chad Marshall, 2-Greg Garza (14-Jorge Villafaña, 69); 4-Michael Bradley (Capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones (18-Sebastian Lletget, 46); 11-Alejandro Bedoya (23-Chris Pontius, 65), 16-Sacha Kljestan (10-Benny Feilhaber, 77), 6-Darlington Nagbe (9-Juan Agudelo, 87); 17-Jozy Altidore (8-Jordan Morris, 74)
Subs not used: 3-Brad Evans, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 12-Luis Robles, 20-Dax McCarty, 21-Walker Zimmerman, 22-David Bingham
Head coach: Bruce Arena
SRB: 1-Filip Manojlović; 3-Nemanja Miletić, 5-Nikola Maraš, 7-Srđan Plavšić (17-Lazar Jovanović, 81), 10-Aleksandar Paločević (9-Marko Mrkić, 64), 11-Marko Gobeljić (2-Marko Klisura, 84), 13-Nikola Ćirković, 14-Nemanja Ćalasan (4-Miloš Simonović, 55), 15-Stefan Panić, 16-Jovan Đokić (6-Marko Jevtović, 77), 18-Saša Jovanović (8-Enver Alivodić, 63)
Subs not used: 12-Ognjen Čančarević
Head coach: Slavoljub Muslin
Stats Summary: USA / SRB
Shots: 12 / 8
Shots on Goal: 1 / 2
Saves: 2 / 1
Corner Kicks: 2 / 7
Fouls: 18 / 14
Offside: 5 / 5
USA – Sacha Kljestan (caution) 57th minute
SRB – Nikola Ćirković (caution) 80
Referee: Kevin Morrison (JAM)
Assistant Referee 1: Richard Washington (JAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Lloyd Edwards (JAM)
4th Official: Dwight Royal (JAM)