Some nice firsts, but little to take from USA's win over Puerto Rico
The U.S. men's national team commenced its road to Copa America Centenario with a 3-1 win at Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides.
Tim Ream scored his first international goal and Bobby Wood followed soon after to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead, but Puerto Rico made things interesting entering halftime when Luis Betancur, who stars for Florida International University, laced a half volley over Brad Guzan.
Things got even more interesting two minutes into the second half, with an unmarked Manolo Sanchez missing a volley inches wide standing just yards from goal. Paul Arriola restored the two-goal edge, in the 56th minute, though, and the match devolved into a series of substitutions and changes soon after as the U.S. finished off the victory.
There were never going to be sweeping conclusions that one could make from this match, with only a handful of players on Sunday actually taking part in Copa America, but here are three takeaway thoughts on the match:
Five likely Copa starters make the XI
Without Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron available (they stayed in the U.S. to continue gaining match fitness), only eight players on Sunday's roster will take part in Copa America. Of those eight, five likely Copa starters earned places in Jurgen Klinsmann's XI: Brad Guzan, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood.
Yedlin impressed, appearing sure of himself and confident patrolling the right flank after a successful loan at Sunderland. Bedoya assisted on Arriola's goal before coming off around the hour mark, while Wood scored to carry his club form at Union Berlin over to the national team. Given Jozy Altidore's absence, Wood figures to take on an even bigger role this summer, and he did well for himself to appear eager on Sunday.
As always, though, there are questions about Klinsmann's lineup choices, even with a makeshift roster.
With Bedoya and Danny Williams stationed at the top and base of the diamond midfield, that made for two midfielders in natural positions. But Perry Kitchen on one wing and Alfredo Morales on the other–two central midfielders by trade–is a waste of an opportunity to see something that could be useful in the future and also puts the entire team at risk with players unaccustomed to fulfilling their positional responsibilities.
Case in point was Morales lollygagging to get back defensively on Sanchez's volley at the start of the second half. With Ream pulled into the middle, Sanchez was left wide open, and Morales's failure to recognize that and provide cover nearly resulted in a shock equalizer.
Even though he's not part of the squad this summer, why not give Julian Green a run out at one of the wide places? Wouldn't it be more useful for Wood to play with a more natural winger, almost like a player in training acting as a scout-team replica to prepare players for a more meaningful situation? For a game of little consequence, you might as well take it as an opportunity to get the most out of it.
Arriola's impressive debut
The Club Tijuana forward served notice for the future, tallying a goal and an assist in his first U.S. cap. He earned the start and teed up Wood for his goal with a well weighted ball to play Wood behind the defense.
He then completed his run to the goal to touch home Bedoya's cross, showing a confidence and understanding that should play well with Klinsmann. He was not on the USA's preliminary roster for this summer, so there's no chance he makes his way onto the Copa America squad in the event of an injury. Even so, the 21-year-old served notice and "made his case," as Klinsmann likes to say about young players who seize opportunities with the senior team. Provided his health and form remain sound, keep an eye out for Arriola during World Cup qualifying in the fall.
The Tijuana pipeline for U.S. talent still remains after Joe Corona, Greg Garza, Edgar Castillo and Herculez Gomez, with Arriola and Amando Moreno (who did not play but was on the bench Sunday) on deck.
There's always a blemish
Even in games against lowly competition that the U.S. is supposed to dominate, there always seems to be a humbling moment. Against St. Vincent and The Grenadines in World Cup qualifying, the U.S. conceded a fifth-minute goal on home soil. Sunday, it came at the end of the first half. It's not as if the U.S. was carving out chance after chance, but after controlling the possession and tempo, it had an opportunity to take full momentum into the second half and gave a much weaker opponent reason to believe.
It's rare you're going to get a perfect game, no matter the opponent and venue. But if a player of Brooks' caliber and stature is not going to close out and let a player like Betancur–with all due respect–have an open look and score on a chance like that, he'd better be ready for James Rodriguez on June 3.