U.S. can take confidence from Ecuador win, but there's room for improvement
FRISCO, Texas -- Here are three quick thoughts after the U.S. beat Ecuador 1-0 on substitute Darlington Nagbe's 90th-minute goal at Toyota Stadium in the national team's penultimate pre-Copa America friendly. Jurgen Klinsmann's team will meet Bolivia on Saturday in Kansas City in its last preparation game before kicking off the tournament on June 3 against Colombia.
1. This game looked like a friendly
For all the talk about how taking on South American foes Ecuador and Bolivia in the final two tune-ups would provide just the tough, highly physical tests the hosts need to get ready for first-round opponents Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay, Wednesday's game was surprisingly lifeless.
Perhaps it was the Texas heat; temperatures hovered in the mid-80s at kickoff, and it was unusually muggy in the Dallas area. Or perhaps both teams were easing into the tournament and saving their best for June. Either way, a beautiful game it was not. Both teams combined for little attacking play. They had combined for an amazing one shot on target before Nagbe, off a broken play, sent his winner past Esteban Dreer.
Even so, it's a confidence-boosting result. The Americans defended well, to be sure. But while they were better going forward in a second half that had more intensity from both teams, they have plenty of room to improve their sharpness and cohesion in Saturday's match before the games that matter get underway.
2. Brooks excels at the back
Nobody questions the 23-year-old center-back's pedigree, but Brooks struggled mightily in last summer's Gold Cup. Although he is coming off the best of his three years in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin, he has been worryingly injury-prone for such a young player. As such, the questions heading into this summer are: Can Brooks stay healthy? And can he take the next step?
So far, so good. Three days after he played the first half against Puerto Rico, Brooks played 77 minutes and was probably the best American on the field Wednesday. He put out several fires in the opening 45 minutes against Ecuador and showed off his growing composure and maturity.
He is not yet a finished product -- in an interview this week with ESPN's Taylor Twellman, Klinsmann said that Brooks, among other things, must become less reactive -- but if he can take the next step in his development during the Copa America, it will be a huge boost to the Americans' chances of making a deep run.
3. Johnson's unexpected return huge for the U.S.
Another injury-plagued German-American, Fabian Johnson, arrived in camp last week nursing the groin injury that prevented him from playing in Borussia Monchengladbach's final three games of the Bundesliga season or joining his American teammates for the trip to Puerto Rico. For Johnson, the country's most complete player, to be able to not just play Wednesday but also start and not just start but also go the entire 90 minutes is an enormously positive development for the U.S., given the all-world competition the team will face in June.
The news is even better for the hosts, considering the dearth of other even serviceable options at left-back and the fact that Geoff Cameron, another key defender, was forced to sit out against Ecuador because of a lingering hamstring injury.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.