Saturday, January 21, 2012

USA Men Knock Off Venezuela 1-0 in 2012 Opener

Ricardo Clark's goal in the 7th minute of stoppage time broke a scoreless draw and gave the United States a well-deserved 1-0 win over Venezuela in their first match of 2012. The U.S. really dominated the run of play, but as has been the theme the past few years, for much of the match they struggled to both create good chances, and they struggled to capitalize on the chances they did create. It wasn't until Clark headed home a Jermaine Jones corner kick at the bitter end of the match that the U.S. was finally able to break through. Let's be clear, the team we saw on the field tonight was not the best the U.S. has to offer. Still. despite playing with a largely MLS-based lineup, the U.S. was still able to control the pace of the game against an equally inexperienced Venezuela side. And while Jurgen Klinsmann's 5-midfielder lineup controlled the center of the pitch and completely stifled the Venezuelan attack, the team lacked a true playmaker in the center midfield to really create chances. Benny Feilhaber, wearing the #10 jersey for the Red, White and Blue tonight, was very active, but I don't know that he did anything to make people forget about Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey. And Jeff Larentowicz failed to truly make a significant impact on offense while Jones, despite playing with all kinds of intensity, lacks the touch and vision to run the U.S. attack.

I thought overall though that the team we saw looked good for what they were. Brek Shea and Graham Zusi both looked dangerous on the wings, although Zusi fizzled a little in the second half. And the subs that came on in the second half all were involved from Chris Wondolowski to C.J. Sapong to Clark. As far as the defense goes, there wasn't a whole lot of action on their end of the field, but the starting back four of Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, Heath Pearce and A.J. DeLaGarza were able to play mistake free in the back and avoid "that one mistake" that seemed to pop up in almost every match in 2011.

Now on the heels of last night's 14-0 win by the U.S. women, and on the same day that Clint Dempsey scored 3 goals in the English Premier League, it's easy to view a 1-0 win over Venezuela's 'B' or 'C' side as a failure. But I'd argue that a win is a win. And now we've won two in a row which is something that hasn't happened since the start of the Klinsmann era. Panama will be a much harder test this coming week, so hopefully the boys can carry some confidence into that match, and maybe they won't wait 97 minutes to get on the scoreboard this time. Speaking of which, props to Ricardo Clark, playing for the U.S. Men's National Team for the first time since his abysmal performance against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder had really been struggling for playing time in Germany so it's nice to see him finally catch a break.

As for Klinsmann's formation, I'm still not crazy about the lone striker up top. I like the traditional 4-4-2, but I can see why he's tempted to go a different route. With so many questions at the back right now, adding that extra defensive midfielder makes a big difference. And we really saw that tonight having both Larentowicz and Jermaine Jones playing ahead of the back line. So you've got to kind of pick your poison. Do you go strong in back or strong up top? All in all though, tonight has to be viewed as a successful start to the year. Next stop, Panama.

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