It’s often tempting to make too much of the first U.S. national team friendly after a World Cup. An epic tale of plot twists will unspool between now and World Cup 2018, and you have to keep that in mind in the wake of the U.S.’s 1-0 win against the Czech Republic in Prague on Wednesday.
But Russia 2018 is never completely out of anyone’s mind — not least when U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann tells NBCSN that his goal is to reach the semifinals in four years — and we can still take some observations out of the game, in which the U.S was missing all of its MLS-based players except for goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
While the result wasn’t so important for the U.S., the road win still came against a Czech team that (while surprisingly unimpressive on Wednesday) has an important Euro 2016 qualifier in just a few days against the Netherlands.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• Lacking a traditional ball-winner, the U.S. midfield still did well
You couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when you saw Klinsmann’s 4-3-3 starting lineup that included a midfield of Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya. There isn’t a pure defensive midfielder among that group, and yet the group held its own just fine during the 60 or so minutes it was on the field together.
Diskerud, in particular, covered a ton of ground on offense and defense and made the game’s biggest play, stealing the ball in the Czech half and triggering the play that ended with Bedoya’s goal. Bedoya was active as well and displayed the sharpness that comes with starting games for Nantes in France. It’s no coincidence that Diskerud and Bedoya are two of the few U.S. World Cup field players who are starting right now in Europe. This was promising stuff.
• Joe Gyau led the group of new guys
With six uncapped players in the U.S. camp, one big question entering the game was which new guys would get significant time on the field. The only one of the six to get the start was Gyau, the 21-year-old Borussia Dortmund Under-23 player who did well on the right wing in a full 90-minute shift.
Long one of the U.S.’s more promising players for the 2018 cycle, Gyau has added some strength without sacrificing his skill and quickness, and he made some useful runs down the right side. While Gyau had some issues tracking back to defend in the second half, his confidence was there from the start and he simply looked like he belonged.
Two other players got their first U.S. caps — midfielder Emerson Hyndman, 18, and left back Greg Garza, 23 — and it would have been nice to see some others (like Jordan Morris and Rubio Rubín) instead of guys like Brek Shea (who seemed to be on the field more to drum up club interest in a loan).
• Rimando was terrific
I’ll admit I was surprised when Klinsmann said Rimando would be the guy competing with Brad Guzan for the No. 1 spot at goalkeeper in the announcement that Tim Howard was taking off the next year from the national team. Rimando is perpetually underrated at the international level since he has played his entire career in MLS, and he’s a great team guy, but at age 35 it seemed surprising that Rimando would begin a new four-year World Cup cycle in Klinsmann’s plans.
It seemed more natural that younger keepers Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson would compete for the No. 2 spot behind Guzan moving forward, but Rimando showed on Wednesday exactly why he’s still part of the mix. After coming on for Guzan for the second half, Rimando made a series of big reaction saves as the Czechs started to take control of the play in the second half.
Guzan, who played fine in his (quieter) 45 minutes, isn’t going to lose the No. 1 spot based on Rimando’s play, but Rimando is firmly in the conversation moving forward, and he deserves that. Klinsmann has been resolute about creating competition at every spot on the field, and the goalkeeper position is no different.