4 Thoughts on the United States' Win Over Jamaica
February 04, 2017
THE UNITED STATES men's national team wrapped up its annual January camp with a decent but unspectacular 1-0 win over Jamaica in Chatanooga. The team improved upon its performance from the dull scoreless draw against Serbia five days earlier, but Bruce Arena's squad is still a work in progress.
Unfortunately, there are no more games between now and the must-win World Cup qualifier on March 24 against Honduras. So this game was an important occasion for Arena to get to know his players. Here are my thoughts on the win.
Players overlooked by Klinsmann Shine
Following the win over Jamaica, one of the dominant takeaways to emerge from January camp is that the players who were overlooked by Jurgen Klinsmann all seemed to perform the best. Many of the regulars on the U.S.—including Alejandro Bedoya, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley—left camp with average to subpar performances.
The standouts were those who Klinsmann frequently said, “there are others ahead of him” when asked by reporters where they stood within the team.
Benny Feilhaber and Darlington Nagbe are among this group. Nagbe was the Man of the Match on Sunday and Feilhaber was the best player in the game Sunday, delivering a classy assist on the gam's only goal.
And there's more: Dax McCarty was MIA under Klinsmann but had a solid showing against Jamaica, playing many strong passes and helping in the possession game. Jorge Villafana was a starter for Santos Laguna most of 2016 but did not earn a look from Klinsmann. He, too, did well against Jamaica. And Sebastian Lletget, completely ignored by the previous U.S. coach, was one of the biggest winners in January camp.
The team still has a long way to go, but Arena quickly expanded the player pool, which is no small feat.
Zimmerman has a path into the top 23
The central defense position is not as settled as Arena would like. Yes, John Brooks is a clear starter. But Geoff Cameron has not played in months due to an injury and it will be hard for him to break back into Stoke’s starting unit.
After them, it is wide open. Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Steve Birnbaum have been next in line under Klinsmann but there really isn't a clear pecking order. Walker Zimmerman could very well establish himself as a top backup on a U.S. team where the first choice starters are frequently injured.
Zimmerman is younger than the other players but he his performance against Jamaica was the best of the three central defenders in camp—beating out Birnbaum and Chad Marshall.
Arena is well aware of what Zimmerman can do and knows that FC Dallashas been a western conference power the past two years. It would not be surprising to see the Georgia native on the roster against Honduras in March and potentially on the field if either Cameron or Brooks are unable to play.
Will Fabian move to midfield?
When ASN interviewed Fabian Johnson this past month, he made it clear that he wants to play in the midfield for the United States. That is his best position and that is where he shines for Borussia Monchengladbach.
It's understandable why Klinsmann played Johnson at left back as none of his other options seemed capable of handling the job and no coach wants to have such a vulnerability on the backline. Arena might feel the same way.
The question now: Did Jorge Villafana do enough to give Arena confidence to push Johnson into the midfield? After Greg Garza struggled against Serbia, Villafana did well off the bench in that game and again impressed in a starting role against Jamaica.
It is impossible to say yet how Arena feels about this issue and he has probably not made up his mind yet. But the bar is low and if Villafana can at least be serviceable at left back, moving Johnson to the midfield is a huge boost to the team. He is arguably the best American player and an ideal scenario for any coach is to build the team around its best player and allow him to do what he does best. Placing Johnson at left back to fill a hole is a waste of talent.
If Villafana can handle the left back position, it will make this January camp very effective.
Who plays the No. 10?
With Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood likely to start together in a variation of the 4-4-2, how does Arena line up the central midfield? Bradley is likely to sit deep, so who will play in front of him and really run the offense?
Sacha Kljestan started in this spot Sunday against Serbia and had some decent moments although that formation and slow lineup seemed to hurt his chances. Meanwhile, Feilhaber was more effective Friday against Jamaica.
In a situation where Johnson and Pulisic are on the wings, it is also possible Nagbe could play the No. 10.
Feilhaber did not disappoint and was a clear winner this January camp, but Arena has some tough choices to make over the next six weeks.