The United States drew Switzerland, 1-1, in Zurich. That’s a pretty good result, but that doesn’t matter much, just like it didn’t matter when the team lost to Denmark, beat Panama or lost to Chile. At this point in the cycle, the results don’t matter. Neither does how well the team played, because Jurgen Klinsmann has made it pretty clear that these are evaluation matches.
Klinsmann wants to test his players. He wants them to be pushed and isolated. He wants them to be out of their comfort zone and bear responsibility. And when they are, he wants to see how they react. By that measure, Tuesday’s draw was a smashing success.
Consider what we were able to see from:
Timothy Chandler: The right back position is still a toss up for the Americans, and he has never translated his club form to the U.S. So Klinsmann put him on an island out right, asking him to provide width with minimal support and still defend.
He definitely got forward, but his defending remains problematic, and he wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity Klinsmann presented to him. But it was ample opportunity, and that’s what mattered. The U.S. got a clearer picture of what Chandler offers at the international level.
John Brooks and Michael Orozco: The same could be said of the U.S.’s centerbacks. For both, the break was about determining whether they can defend one-on-one, as Brooks is already proven in the air and Orozco with the ball at his feet.
Brooks acquitted himself well, giving him a definite boost. Orozco flashed the mobility that has long tantalized Klinsmann but also struggled on multiple occasions to actually contain space and tackle – aspects that haves left him on the outside of the U.S. team before.
Danny Williams: In the midfield, Klinsmann isolated Williams at the base of his diamond and asked the returning midfielder to not only protect the backline but transition quickly, as Kyle Beckerman has done so well for them.
That’s a huge ask, and Williams responded well. He was rangey, as always, but surprisingly disciplined and tidier on the ball than he’s been in the past. A lot was asked of Williams, and while he wasn’t spectacular, he wasn’t asked to be. He was as dependable as Klinsmann could have hoped.
Alfredo Morales: The same can’t be said for Morales, whose lack of discipline was concerning. He failed to maintain the defense’s shape too often and did nothing going forward. That, along with running a lot, are the most important jobs of a shuttler, and Morales did nothing to make his case for additional call-ups. At least Klinsmann got a full look at him.
Gyasi Zardes: Up top, Zardes got his first chance as a forward for the U.S., and he showed that he is much better there than out wide. That’s not to say he was tremendous, but he was much more comfortable on the ball, got into more dangerous positions and showed that he can be a real threat. He used his pace to drift out wide then come back to goal, as opposed to staying out wide as a winger and running up and down the touchline. For a young player who just got his first cap two months ago, all experience is key, but the exposure was as important to Klinsmann as the experience was to Zardes.
Brek Shea: The only player who Klinsmann didn’t get to see what he wanted from was Brek Shea. He hit a brilliant free kick, but his ability to strike the ball was never in doubt. Trotted out as a left back, Klinsmann wanted to see if he could defend enough to play the position, and while the results weren’t especially good when he was asked to defend, he didn’t have to defend enough to make any real judgements.
While Klinsmann didn’t get to evaluate every aspect he would have wanted, he still answer most of his lineups’ questions. From Chandler, Brooks and Orozco in the middle, to Williams and Morales in the center, to Zardes up front, Klinsmann gave borderline players unusual responsibility and put them in positions to impact the match. In most cases, the players responded well and showed they deserve more extended looks, should their club form dictate it. There were also a couple players that Klinsmann may not have much use for anymore, but he’s more sure of that now than he was before the match. He wanted evaluation matches so he could test and push players. He got that.
It sucks for fans that these matches aren’t about winning and losing. Everyone wants to see their country play great and come out on top, but that’s not what Klinsmann is using these friendlies for. His priority is making sure they’re ready to win come the Gold Cup, Copa America, World Cup qualifying and then the World Cup. That means expanding his player pool and getting a good look at every player. It means gathering enough information to be able to make decisions.
On Tuesday, Klinsmann got a look at nearly everyone he wanted to. By the time the referee blew the final whistle, he knew more about every one of those players. The Americans got a draw, but a win or a loss and the result would have mattered the same. The team got 90 successful minutes.