The United States men’s national soccer team is experimenting its way to growth in the new FIFA World Cup cycle, but the pains it has felt during the ongoing process are nothing new.
The United States lost to Chile by a score of 3-2 in an exhibition game in Rancagua, Chile on Wednesday. Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore gave the Americans the lead before halftime, but they lost both the initiative and game in the second period. Mark Gonzalez scored twice for the hosts, who kept the United States at bay en route victory in the teams’ first game of 2015.
Jurgen Klinsmann employed a three-back formation for the first time as United States head coach and handed international debuts to three players. But the game followed a script with which many U.S. national team observers are familiar.
The United States started quickly and took the lead when Shea scored after six minutes. It was the fourth time in the last five games that the United States scored inside the first ten minutes.
But Chile responded with a game-tying goal from ever-dangerous striker Roberto Gutiérrez four minutes later. The game was open and competitive — even after Altidore restored the United States’ lead in the 31st minute. Chile had a number of chances to go into the break on level terms, but wayward shooting and stellar play from U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando prevented that from happening.
As usual with Team USA, the second half was a different story than the first. Chile seized control in the first 15 minutes of the second half and imposed its will on the visitors. Michael Bradley shot off the crossbar in the 61st minute, but a tired Team USA never gained a foothold in the half. Gonzalez marked Chile’s dominant spell by scoring the game-tying goal in the 66th minute. The veteran winger scored the game-winning goal 10 minutes later.
The mass substitutions Klinsmann made in the second half (as he has done in every post-World Cup game) robbed Team USA of the chance to level the score through fluency and understanding. Instead the Americans relied on speed, power and determination as it searched for a goal that never came.
Team USA now must digest its third consecutive defeat. It hasn’t won in five games and is conceding goals, particularly in the second half, at an alarming rate.
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The new formation Klinsmann used suggests the United States will embrace tactical flexibility in 2015. Shea and DeAndre Yedlin started as wide midfielders. Shea and Yedlin were influential going forward, scoring and helping set up Team USA’s goals. They dropped into conventional fullback positions seamlessly in the second half.
Jermaine Jones is a midfielder by trade, but he started at center-back for his third straight game with the national team. The results were as mixed as ever, as Jones failed to demonstrate an understanding with fellow center-backs Matt Besler and debutant Steve Birnbaum. The U.S. back line often lived on the edge and gave way a number of times.
Klinsmann might choose to start Jones as a defender but move him into the midfield during games. Doing so could present tactical problems for opposing teams, which would benefit Team USA when results mean more than performances starting this summer.
The new national team players, Birnbaum, Will Trapp and Gyasi Zardes, didn’t look out of place in their first international games. Shea was explosively effective in what could be the beginning of his career renaissance.
Nevetheless, the result and overall performance will disappoint the United States, which will try to reverse these worrying trends in its next outing.
Thumbnail photo via Luis Hidalgo/The Associated Press