Five questions for Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. side ahead of Peru friendly
The U.S. men's national team has had more than a month to stew over its performances in the Gold Cup. Even if you take into account the 6-0 hammering of Cuba in the quarterfinals -- which was not much more than a glorified scrimmage -- there was little with which to be overly impressed.
The Americans ultimately paid for their lack of sharpness. A 2-1 semifinal defeat to Jamaica not only knocked the U.S. out of the tournament, it forced it into a one-game playoff against Mexico for the right to play in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann admitted that the hurt hasn't gone away, telling reporters on Wednesday that "there is still a little bit of anger in me" about how his side exited the tournament. And do the players feel the same way?
"Definitely. I think it left something in our stomach, the way it happened there, the decisions of referees, a lot of controversial stuff that happened in that Gold Cup left something bitter, sour, with us," Klinsmann said. "And so we have to go the extra mile. We will go the extra mile. But that can only help us. It will be a tremendous experience for our players to step on the field in front of 90,000 in a one-off."
On Friday, the U.S. will attempt to move forward once again when it takes on Peru at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Here are five items to look for when the U.S. goes up against La Blanquirroja.
1. Can the U.S. find some consistency in the back?
During the Gold Cup, Klinsmann gambled that the central duo of Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks would improve over the course of the tournament and solidify their hold on the respective starting spots. It backfired. Brooks in particular saw his form erode the more he played. What's alarming is just how long it has taken both Alvarado and Brooks to adapt to taking on consistent starting roles. Last cycle, both Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez got up to speed much quicker than Alvarado and Brooks have. There's still time of course, but next month's clash against Mexico is about the here and now, not about potential.
To that end, both Alvarado and Brooks have returned for this match, but so have World Cup starters Gonzalez, Besler and Geoff Cameron, along with the likes of Tim Ream and Michael Orozco.
Complicating matters is the fact that injuries to Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley will force Klinsmann to improvise in terms of his full-backs, with Ream and Cameron in the running along with Greg Garza. It represents a clear opportunity for the players present, and Klinsmann will be eager to see any signs of progress from the players he puts on the field.
2. Who will provide the creativity out of midfield?
The U.S. side has relied heavily on Michael Bradley in terms of galvanizing the attack, but with the usual U.S. captain opting to stay with his club side for this match -- he'll return for the Brazil game next week -- the creative burden will fall on the likes of Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud.
Of the players available, Bedoya seems best suited to carry the load. A hamstring injury has slowed his start to the season with club side Nantes, although he did go the full 90 minutes in last weekend's 2-0 loss to Bordeaux. That said, he did have his moments during the Gold Cup, including a man-of-the-match performance in the group finale against Panama. Bedoya's versatility -- he can attack from wide and central positions -- should see him take on a big role on Friday.
Bedoya will need help, however, and questions loom over the other candidates. Corona's start to the season has been uneven to say the least. He's started six of Veracruz's seven games, but has been subbed out before halftime on three different occasions due to tactical reasons. Diskerud, meanwhile, has struggled to impose himself at New York City FC, recording just three goals and one assist. He struggled at the Gold Cup as well.
3. Will Jozy rebound?
Jozy Altidore remains under the microscope. A hamstring injury compromised his form for both club and country during June and July, and while his demotion from the squad prior to the knockout stages of the Gold Cup was an eyebrow-raiser, there was no doubting that he was playing well short of his best.
Altidore has shown flashes in recent weeks, netting three times off the bench for club side Toronto FC. ESPN FC colleague Doug McIntyre reported that word around U.S. camp is that Altidore has looked sharp, but U.S. fans will be eager to see if he can replicate that form on Friday.
4. Will Guzan rise to the occasion?
Klinsmann said Wednesday that Brad Guzan is his No. 1 goalkeeper for the near future, but Tim Howard's return from a self-imposed international hiatus makes Guzan's status more tenuous than it might be otherwise. Guzan earned the Golden Gloves award at the Gold Cup, but it was his error that lead to a Jamaica free kick -- and subsequent goal by Giles Barnes -- sticks in the memory. Not that Howard isn't above making mistakes as well -- he struggled mightily for Everton last season -- but it will be interesting to see how Guzan copes with the former U.S. No. 1 now back in the picture and looking over the Aston Villa man's shoulder.
5. The return of Jermaine Jones
After missing significant chunks of 2015 due to a pair of sports hernia surgeries, Jermaine Jones is back in the U.S. fold. Earlier in the year, Jones spent some time in the center of defense for the U.S., but his aggressive tendencies mean that a return to midfield is a near certainty.
Jones has chafed against playing in a holding role for much of his U.S. career, and he excelled as more of a box-to-box midfielder at the last World Cup. If he reprises that role on Friday, it will be interesting to see how he holds up physically. In the absence of Bradley, the U.S. will need Jones' experience and leadership in order to get a result and generate some badly needed momentum.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.