Friday November 14th, 2014

LONDON – Craven Cottage proved to be an inhospitable home away from home on Friday night as the U.S. national team fell, 2-1, to an in-form Colombian team in the first of two European friendlies the U.S. is scheduled to play this month. It marked the first time in 24 games during coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure that the Americans lost after leading at halftime. Here are three thoughts from West London:

1. Penalty area mishaps were decisive

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Once again, the U.S. faltered late. For the third straight match it yielded a goal in the final five minutes and for the third straight game, it failed to win after scoring first.

The Americans took the lead in the eighth minute thanks to a handball by Pablo Armero that followed a U.S. corner kick. Jozy Altidore then scored on a poorly hit penalty kick that goalkeeper Camilo Vargas probably should have saved.

In the 60th, it was the U.S. that made the mistake. Teofilo Gutierrez was offside as the ball was played through the American back line, but the defense seemed to slow, expecting a whistle. It didn’t come. Gutierrez pulled up and Carlos Bacca, who hit the post in the first half, pushed the ball to the right and cut his shot back past a frozen Brad Guzan.

Poor marking led to Colombia’s 87th-minute winner, as Gutierrez found himself wide open on the left post, an overmatched Julian Green​ being his only potential impediment in reaching Bacca’s cross. By then, Klinsmann had made several substitutes, leaving a team that was outplayed for much of the match with reduced rhythm and chemistry.

2. Craven Cottage Crucible

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Jurgen Klinsmann loves a challenge, but perhaps he got more than he bargained for on Friday. The U.S. Soccer Federation might have been expecting a pro-U.S. crowd -- or at least a significant showing -- at the stadium on the Thames where so many Americans excelled for Fulham. But other than a small but hearty group standing behind the north goal, U.S. support was in short supply among the crowd of 24,235. Fans in yellow filled three of the four stands. And they were loud. The stadium’s intimate, boxed-in design amplified the sound. This was no typical friendly and it was, by far, the Americans’ stiffest test since falling to Belgium at the World Cup.

In fact, at times the match seemed to resemble that round-of-16 clash in Salvador. The U.S. spent most of the game in retreat, unable to connect on many passes because of the immense and sustained Colombian pressure. Juan Cuadrado and James Rodríguez were on the ball with time and space far too frequently. Even when the U.S. was able to win possession, it was too spread out to combine or slow the tempo. The disconnect between the midfield and forwards Jozy Altidore and 18-year-old Rubio Rubin, who earned his first senior cap, was too great. Save for the occasional quick foray (including Bobby Wood’s late chance off a slick through ball from Alfredo Morales), the Americans didn’t pose too many problems for the “hosts”.

Sure, the U.S. was missing key players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. But Los Cafeteros weren’t at full strength either (Radamel Falcao was a notable absence) and they still were dominant. For all the progress made in recent years, Friday’s friendly provided a glimpse of how far the U.S. still has to go. It could not come close to matching Colombia’s skill, speed and dynamism.

And plenty of Colombian pitch invaders made the field their home at the final whistle.

3. Stocks Rising and Falling

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The collective struggled, but a few individuals played well. The U.S. man of the match arguably was Kyle Beckerman, who had plenty to do and did most of it right. He shuttled smartly from his spot in front of the back four to the space between the center backs when the U.S. defense was stretched and looked comfortable on the ball. He also helped create a half-chance with a well-hit, first-half pass to Rubin. He was the calm amid the storm, as usual, and one wonders what his impact might have been in the World Cup’s round-of-16, where he was benched in favor of Geoff Cameron.

Jermaine Jones looked solid in his second international at center back, his tackling typically fearless and timely, although he probably should have done better closing down the pass that led to Colombia’s winner. His partner in back, John Brooks, has struggled for minutes at the club level but didn’t look out of his depth. Greg Garza, who’s been making his case for the left back role, did well when Rodríguez and Cuadrado drifted right.

It was a rough night for others. Midfielders Mix Diskerud, who played atop the diamond, and Fabian Johnson, who was deployed on the left, were ineffective. Neither made their time on the ball count. Right back DeAndre Yedlin struggled as well. He was uneasy in possession at times, and was saved following a brutal 50th-minute turnover when Jones intervened to slow Rodríguez. The Tottenham Hotspur-bound winger will hope for more next time he's in London.​

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