The U.S. men’s national team led on two occasions but imploded once again in the second half, falling victim to a Nicklas Bendtner hat trick in a 3-2 loss against Denmark in Aarhus on Wednesday.
Somehow the towering, not-particularly-mobile Bendtner was left wide open by the U.S. defense on all three of his goals, including his well-taken game-winner in the 91st minute.
It was a deserved win for Denmark, which controlled possession for most of the game.
On the other end, Jozy Altidore showed some muscle on his first-half goal and took advantage of a brilliant Michael Bradley pass to lay off to Aron Jóhannsson for the U.S.’s second. It was the U.S.’s first second-half goal since the end of the World Cup, but in those eight games the Americans have now been outscored 11-1 after the first 45 minutes.
The U.S.’s second-half woes obviously qualify as a giant red flag under manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Friendlies are what they are, but you try to look for emerging (and continuing) trends and things to build on as the U.S. takes on a string of European teams on the road in advance of this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. And here are three things that stood out:
Klinsmann has to figure out why his team dies in the second half
Part of the problems are due no doubt to mass substitutions, but that doesn’t provide a full explanation for the U.S.’s misery after halftime. Does Klinsmann push the players too hard in training? Are they not smart enough to do the little things to kill off a game? Is it a fitness issue?
For much of the second half, the U.S. appeared it was doing enough to win a road game against a decent European team despite being largely outplayed. But the team switched off in the final 10 minutes, and moments of quality by Christian Eriksen and Bendtner allowed Denmark to take advantage and pull out the victory.
Michael Bradley is a box-to-box midfielder
And no matter how much Klinsmann might want Bradley to be a No. 10, even the coach must be realizing that Bradley is most effective in a deeper-lying role. Bradley’s ball to Altidore on the second U.S. goal was a thing of beauty, and it showed the kind of connection the two players are building on the same club at Toronto FC. Playing farther back allows Bradley to see the field for those types of passes, and he’s also on the ball a lot more when he’s in that position.
One question, though, is who his central midfield partner should be in a 4-4-2. Jermaine Jones (when healthy) is being used as a center back, while Alejandro Bedoya seems more comfortable out wide. Alfredo Morales struggled in that position in the second half on Wednesday.
The U.S. continues to have trouble keeping the ball
This isn’t necessarily news, but the situation isn’t improving. Bradley and Bedoya tried to find an offensive rhythm for the team, but there were so many giveaways by their teammates (many of them unforced) that it was impossible to string together many passes at once. Nor did it help that the U.S. fullbacks (Greg Garza and Timmy Chandler) and wide midfielders (including Gyasi Zardes and Brek Shea) struggled in this game, as did the back line (especially John Brooks).
If Klinsmann really does want the U.S. to become a possession-oriented team, he has a long ways to go.