WASHINGTON, D.C.— Brad Guzan reinforced his No. 1 credentials, Jozy Altidore returned to the national team in style and the U.S. rode its tried-and-true strengths—counterattacks and set plays—to a 2-1 triumph over Peru on Friday evening in the nation’s capital.
For all of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s talk about using this month’s friendlies to prepare for October’s Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico, he ultimately had little choice but to send out a makeshift lineup before 28,896 fans at RFK Stadium. Absent linchpins like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson and anchored by a brand-new back four, the U.S. struggled mightily at times, especially in the first half. But in the end, the hosts were quicker to the ball, more clinical in the penalty area and deserving winners.
Klinsamnn will look forward to adding Bradley and Dempsey to the roster ahead of Tuesday’s game against Brazil in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, here are three thoughts from the nation’s capital:
Altidore and Guzan deliver
Was Jozy Altidore’s early departure from the Gold Cup simply a matter of an untimely of injury, or was it another sign that the 25-year-old forward was destined to fall short of his international promise? And how would Brad Guzan handle the pressure of holding onto to the starting goalkeeper’s role with Tim Howard back with the national team and refusing to accept secondary status?
No friendly will answer those questions definitively, but there were good signs on Friday. Altidore grew into the game gradually and was limited during the first half by the Americans' inability to keep the ball. But his focus didn’t waver, nor did his fitness. Both were good signs. He continued to try to hold the ball and bring teammates into the attack despite numerical disadvantages and in the second stanza, once Peru began to retreat, Altidore took his chances.
In the 58th minute, he settled a long throw-in from Geoff Cameron and and tried to chip Peru defender Carlos Zambrano before getting tripped up. Referee Francisco Chacon pointed to the penalty spot, and although Altidore’s initial effort was parried aside by goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, the striker was alert enough to reach the rebound and volley it home.
In the 68th, moments after Guzan’s heroics kept the score level, Altidore gave the U.S. the lead. He sent DeAndre Yedlin through with a looping pass over the Peruvian back four but was unable to reach Yedlin’s return feed. The ball was tackled away to Gyasi Zardes, whose pass across the goal mouth deflected to Altidore for a clean finish at the far post.
It was Altidore’s 29th international goal and caps off a week he needed after a rough summer. He may never be the creative focal point the U.S. needs, but he’s a player that defenders have a hard time handling when he’s fit and focused.
Guzan, meanwhile, made a spectacular save just before Altidore’s second. The goalie first parried aside a header that followed a Peru free kick, then somehow managed to freeze Renato Tapia’s short-range follow-up between his legs. Guzan held firm as Tapia flailed fruitlessly at the ball. It’s the sort of save that will only boost his confidence going forward, as well as his claim on the No. 1 shirt.
Possession desired, but not necessarily needed
When asked during the week, multiple U.S. players said the team’s focus during training was to improve on the possession that lacked during the Gold Cup. Against Peru, they did not. But, looking at Klinsmann’s lineup, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The coach played the hand he was dealt.
Without Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, the coach deployed Tim Ream and Michael Orozco—typically center backs—on the flanks. Yedlin and Zardes were on the wings. They’re not possession players. They’re quick, daring wingers who like to disrupt defenses with quick, incisive runs. In the center, Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones were paired for the first time. The chemistry between the two wasn’t necessarily there. And Altidore and Bobby Wood were up top, leaving a hole between the front-runners and the U.S. midfield.
Peru dominated the ball in the first half, holding a 59%-41% advantage in possession. The visitors were patient and willing to wait for the U.S. to err, which it did in the 20th minute on the opening goal sequence.
But the tide started to turn as intermission approached. Zardes and Yedlin saw just enough of the ball to keep Peru off balance, and Jones nearly scored on a long-range blast in the 39th.
In the second half, Mix Diskerud did well disrupting Peru’s buildup, and Altidore proved to be a competent outlet. Zardes and Yedlin’s fearlessness remained a factor, and Peru didn’t find its feet until the final desperate moments.
Peru won the possession battle by the same 59%-41% score. But the U.S. won the game thanks to the things it’s typically done well. A big save, a set piece (stretching the definition to include Cameron’s throw and the penalty) and the sort of quick counters that disrupt an opponent that wants to keep the ball.
Questions and answers at center back
Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks won the race among the eight center backs in camp to start Friday night. It was the third time this year they’ve partnered together following the July friendly against Guatemala and the Gold Cup consolation game versus Panama. The U.S. yielded one goal combined in those two games.
And they gave up one on Friday as well. Problem: it was an ugly one. Andre Carillo dribbled in from the right and fed Daniel Chavez at the top of the arc.
Rather than close the forward down, Gonzalez inexplicably backed off. By the time the LA Galaxy veteran realized the error, he was too late to close down the shot. Chavez’s blast struck Gonzalez and looped over the helpless Guzan.
It was the sort of mistake that Brooks and Ventura Alvarado made all too frequently during the Gold Cup—the kind of mistake that costs teams games. But the U.S. improved after that, and most of its chances were off free kicks or shots from distance. Substitutes Alvarado and Matt Besler looked solid in the second half.
Based on his experience in the World Cup and a couple of outstanding performances against Mexico, Gonzalez should remain in contention to start the playoff. Whether his first-half mistake gives Klinsmann pause will be evident come Tuesday’s game against Brazil.