By Jacob Klinger
Fans will want to forget Friday night's performance against Antigua and Barbuda.
The players and coaches for the U.S. men's national team, however, do not have that luxury. If there are three things they take away from tonight's match, it is the following.
Gomez did scramble home a 71st-minute goal to put the game out of reach, but it was the kind of work he did in that move that has etched his name into Klinsmann's first XI.
Picking the ball up around 35 yards from goal, Gomez released Landon Donovan down the right flank. Seeing the space this would open up for him in the box, he peeled into the 18. And though he collided with Michael Bradley, causing both of them to whiff on the initial cross, he stayed with the play as he had on so many ocassions throughout the night and cleaned up the team's collective mess.
In the 57th minute Gomez could be seen tracking back defending his man at midfield, positioning his body perpendicularly and thereby forcing the Antiguan midfielder to play a pass directly into a double-team.
That kind of work rate has made him the ideal lone striker for Jurgen Klinsmann's team. When the U.S. is at its best, the team stretches the game sideline to sideline, opening up the space Gomez is proving to be a master at exploiting. Too often we think of lone strikers as big, lumbering target forwards clearing the way with their sheer girth.
That vision is a myth, but Herculez Gomez is a very present reality.
Klinsmann's decision to not play anyone resembling a left back in said spot appeared to have paid off until Jose Torres went down with a bad ankle knock.
Then Oguchi Onyewu badly overcommitted himself, fast-tracking Peter Byers and his shot toward Tim Howard's goal. Again, one play personified a performance. Though Onyewu was strong in the air, per usual, he showed a very troubling lack of agility in letting Antigua and Barbuda back into the game.
The fact is, this defense is slow. Onyewu may not be a part of it for much longer, but whoever is manning the U.S. back line must show better reading of the game. There aren't any particularly fast international-caliber defenders in the American player pool, so brains will have to complement brawn as the once-solid defense is thrown into transition.
Fabian Johnson's return will help in that opponents will spend more time trying not to be torched by the Hoffenheim left back than they will trying to get forward down his flank, but in terms of pure defense, this unit is nowhere near last cycle's in terms of ability to absorb long spells of pressure.
This weakness, a long-time strength of the senior team, threatens to unsettle the core of the entire squad.
No more two-a-days
Klinsmann is often unfairly pegged as a possession coach.
And while broad strokes such as that miss out on the details, the former German international has placed a greater emphasis on possession with the idea being that the U.S. will not have to expend the vast amounts of energy it requires to chase games.
But dominating a match with constant off-the-ball movement takes energy too and the U.S. did not have it. At halftime, Klinsmann reportedly asked his team to make their moves faster.
It seemed a fair critique. The U.S. had dominated possession, but was doing so at a pace far too slow to properly split the Antiguan defense. Yet the kind of darting movement this match needed requires a well-rested team.
For whatever reason, this team is beat. Though the squad completed its last double session on Wednesday, the effects of the long European season and the extended camp showed.
America's national team has always been a high-energy outfit, but the team is drained now, depriving it of an historic strength. Ideally the statistically dominant possession the team maintained tonight leaves enough in the tank for Tuesday's impending brawl with Guatemala.
Yet if the Canada match was not proof enough, this game had to be. If there's one thing this team needs it is rest.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... What did you take from tonight's game? Is it emergency call-up time for Lichaj? How many more times will Donovan pass up a shot? Whatever's on your mind, let loose in the Facebook comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at email@example.com.
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