U.S. Grades: Doughty defense earns impressive win for United States
PRAGUE -- For all the talk about how young the U.S. roster was for Wednesday's friendly with the Czech Republic, it was a handful of World Cup players -- and even a few veterans who just missed out -- who sparked the Americans to a 1-0 victory.
Alejandro Bedoya slotted home a rebound from a chance created by Mix Diskerud in the 39th minute and the U.S. defense held firm in the second half to secure the victory.
It proved an excellent start to the 2018 World Cup cycle for manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who prevailed with a side lacking most of the squad's first-choice players. But these are the moments for experimenting and, while some of the younger players showed some understandable nerves, several of the more experienced performers helped their respective causes.
Center backs John Brooks, Michael Orozco and Tim Ream acquitted themselves well, while goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who replaced Brad Guzan for the second half, came up with a string of impressive saves late to preserve the victory.
Meanwhile, the midfield trio of Diskerud, Bedoya and Joe Corona were able to dictate enough of the play so that the U.S. wasn't at all bunkered in. When Klinsmann announced his lineup, there was concern that there wasn't a natural ball-winner in the group, but the trio proved conscientious enough to get the job done.
Those performances helped the U.S. look comfortable on both sides of the ball in the early going, though neither team appeared intent on risking too much going forward. The game came to life starting in the 17th minute when Jozy Altidore picked out Joe Gyau at the top of the box, but his low shot was easily collected by Petr Cech.
The Czechs responded with a slick build-up two minutes later. Vaclav Pilar evaded Diskerud's challenge in midfield and picked out Ladislav Krejci steaming up the left wing, but his low cross was cleared by Brooks. Gyau was isolated on the right wing soon thereafter, but his cross was hit straight at Cech.
The Czechs created their best chance of the first half in the 33rd minute. A soft pass from Green was picked off by Matej Vydra who embarked on a long run before feeding Tomas Rosicky on the left. The Arsenal man's low cross found Vladimir Darida at the far post, but he could only put his shot into the side netting.
The U.S. then broke through thanks to the kind of aggressive play that Klinsmann has long preached. Cech made an ill-advised rollout up the middle to Darida, and Diskerud stole the ball right off his opponent's foot, creating a clear breakaway. While Cech saved Diskerud's low shot, Bedoya was there to put away the rebound.
With Rimando and Ream on, the Americans continued to hold their own early in the second half but the Czechs began to carve out some chances. Rimando did well to deny Krejci after he had been put through by Rosicky.
The U.S. then brought on Brek Shea, Alfredo Morales and Greg Garza for Corona, Diskerud and Timothy Chandler, respectively. The changes seemed to unsettle the Americans, as Ream was called on to block one low cross and Rimando saved from Darida in the same sequence.
Klinsmann brought on Emerson Hyndman for his debut, but the Czechs had the better chances. Radim Reznik had a great opportunity to equalize with five minutes remaining, but his first shot was saved by Rimando, and his rebound attempt was put over.
Substitute Daniel Kolar had an even better chance to score in the 89th minute when Brooks' wayward header fell right to him, but Rimando was able to get the faintest of touches to deflect the effort wide.
That proved to be the hosts' last opportunity and the U.S. was able to see out the match.
Player ratings: (0-10)
G Brad Guzan, 6.5 - Wasn't asked to do anything spectacular, but was sharp in his decision-making and made the saves he was asked to make.
D Tim Chandler, 6 - Took care of his side defensively, and even found time to get forward in the second half.
D John Brooks, 6.5 - Wasn't always sharp with his passing, but the misses were of the low-risk variety. Made a vital first-half clearance when the Czechs broke through. Continued his strong play in the second half, though a shaky headed clearance nearly set up the Czechs for a goal.
D Michael Orozco, 7 - Delivered a very steady performance, as he was sharp with his distribution and won his battles as well in 45 minutes of work.
D Fabian Johnson, 6.5 - Was a menace going forward, but was also caught out of position a few times. That said, he had more good plays than bad including a deft tackle of Krejci in the second half.
M Julian Green, 4 - Looked physically overmatched at times, and while he made a few sharp passes, a poor giveaway sparked a Czech counterattack. His set pieces left something to be desired, as well.
M Mix Diskerud, 6.5 - Was clearly beaten by Pilar, which sparked one Czech attack, but was instrumental in the run-up to the U.S. goal. Was constantly looking for the ball, and got his tackles in, as well.
M Joe Corona, 6 - Wasn't all that dangerous in the attacking third, but completed the kind of passes to keep the U.S. attack ticking over.
M Alejandro Bedoya, 7 - Provided some steady leadership in the center of midfield and was perfectly placed to tuck away his goal.
M Joe Gyau, 4 - Made some quick touches in the middle third, but was lacking end product, be it with a shot or a cross. Was caught ball watching on defense more than once and had some scary giveaways late.
F Jozy Altidore, 6 - Was active, held the ball up and provided a presence up top, even if the service from out wide was lacking.
G Nick Rimando, 9 - Was sharp in all phases, but especially his shot stopping. Did well to deny Krejci from close range in the 60th minute as well as Darida five minutes later. Capped off his night by getting a piece of Kolar's effort.
D Tim Ream, 7- Provided a vital block during one goalmouth scramble and timed his tackles well. Had another well-timed header in the 79th minute to snuff out another Czech threat.
M Brek Shea, 4 - Worked to track back defensively, but proved wasteful on the counterattack and showed some rust with his touch.
D Greg Garza, 6 - Was beaten on one through ball immediately after coming on, but once he settled in looked comfortable defensively and provided a key clearance of one dangerous cross in the 75th minute.
M Alfredo Morales, 6 - Proved to be tidy on the ball and helped anchor the U.S. midfield after coming on.
M Emerson Hyndman, 6 - Had one scary giveaway that he then made up for with an excellent tackle. Was otherwise solid.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.