If Friday night’s USA-Jamaica World Cup qualifier was an audition for some players on the U.S. national team, it’s safe to say several of them have earned callbacks.
Aron Johanssson and Mix Diskerud both made their first World Cup qualifying starts, while Geoff Cameron started in central defense for the first time since February, and all three showed good signs of being capable contributors going forward.
Johannsson failed to find the net on Friday night, but the qualities he showed playing alongside Jozy Altidore were definitely encouraging. His ability to move into dangerous positions, and get into good spots to find chances, led to a handful of quality opportunities.
“He created himself chances, that's what you want to see from a striker, that he knows where the goal will end up,” Klinsmann said. “He missed those chances but he was there, it's good to see. I thought second half he ran out of gas a little bit and that's why we subbed him out."
“Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. I was unlucky today but hopefully next time I play I’ll be more lucky and score some goals,” Johannsson said. “The fans were amazing today, and it was my first start so I was a little bit more excited than than for a regular match for my club.”
Johannson looked to have a good understanding with Altidore, who he spent half a season as teammates with at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. The understanding they developed even during that brief time, showed in their time on the field together.
“I think Aron’s really sharp up front. He pairs really well with Jozy,” Tim Howard said of the young striker. “Jozy likes to sometimes run the channel and hold the ball up, and you need that guy underneath to kind of be buzzing and feeding off Jozy’s layoffs."
“It’s nice, and not only because we played together, but also because he’s a magnificent player,” Johannsson said of playing next to Altidore. “He’s one of the best strikers in the world right now. Like he proved today, it wasn’t his best game today, but he still comes through and scores a goal.”
For Diskerud, the absence of injured starter Michael Bradley allowed him the opportunity to partner alongside Jermaine Jones in central midfield, and while the offense didn’t click well in the first half, Diskerud showed plenty of glimpses of his quality.
“Mix, you can see that there's a player that's also coming through, one of our olympic kids that now picks it up and gets more confidence every time he comes into camp with us,” Klinsmann said. “His vision on the field, his technique, his one-touch passing ability is wonderful to see. Also we want to see a maturing process, which we see.”
“Mix is a good player. He keeps the ball moving, he’s good on the ball and he makes people miss,” Howard said. “All around I think our midfield and strikers had a good performance. The second half was much better than the first.”
Diskerud struggled to put a hold on the match in the first half, but he did a good job of circulating the ball, and moving around the field to give his teammates passing outlets. In the second half, Diskerud pushed further upfield, and had a chance to get more involved in the attack.
“I can learn a lot from him because he’s been through a lot,” Diskerud said of his partnership with Jones. “Just playing with him helps my development and I’m thankful for that.
“I think it went decent. We got a couple of combinations together. I think I handled it decently.”
While Johannsson and Diskerud had performances that offered good signs for the future, Cameron’s outing was that of a season player capable of holding down his position as a starting centerback right now. It wasn’t his first time playing in central defense, but it was his first strong showing there in 2013.
With the competition for playing time at central defense a fierce one featuring the likes of Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, and soon young German-born prospect John Brooks, Cameron did well to keep himself firmly entrenched in that conversation, even though he continues to ply his trade as a right back for Stoke City.
“Geoff’s calm on the ball. I thought he did well. It’s not always easy to kind of slide in there, but he seems to, every time he gets his opportunity, perform well so he’s making the case for himself.”
On a night when the U.S. struggled to put the game away, the ultimate goal of giving some players an opportunity to prove themselves was accomplished. Johannsson, Diskerud and Cameron all showed enough to continue drawing consideration for starts, and all three look like good bets to challenge for playing time as we head toward the World Cup.