There was plenty for Jurgen Klinsmann to ponder after Wednesday's U.S. national team loss to Ukraine. From Fabian Johnson's ineffectiveness on the wing, to Clint Dempsey's uninspiring outing in a playmaking role, to Jozy Altidore's quiet showing, Klinsmann has far more negatives to digest than positives, of which there were few.
What Klinsmann did get were answers. Loud and clear answers on some players who he obviously still had questions about. Players he still held out hope could potentially make the U.S. World Cup team. Players who left little doubt that the 2014 World Cup is better left to other options.
If nothing, Klinsmann is thorough, and he gives his players plenty of rope to save themselves or hang themselves, On Wednesday, several players on the World Cup roster fringes saw their dreams of a trip to Brazil fade.
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You can start with Edgar Castillo, who has shown an inability defend well against top competition. On Wednesday, Castillo was hopeless, caught out of position repeatedly as he kept looking for opportunities to bomb forward and show off the one trait he does bring to the table. The problem for Castillo is that he had better have the attacking qualities of Roberto Carlos if he's going to be as big a defensive liability as he has repeatedly proven to be.
Castillo's inclusion in the starting lineup was a chance for him to prove he belonged, but also a chance to let Fabian Johnson show what he could do in a wing midfield role. Johnson was largely ineffective on the flank, but Castillo's latest defensive disaster means Klinsmann doesn't have a viable left-back option to backup DaMarcus Beasley besides Fabian Johnson. That is unless Tim Chandler recovers from his torn meniscus, plays well in the final weeks of the Bundesliga season and earns an invitation to the May pre-World Cup training camp.
|By Seth Vertelney
The U.S. national team showed it is still a work in progress as the World Cup draws near, as it turned in a listless performance in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Ukraine.
It took just 12 minutes before Andriy Yarmolenko put the home team on the board, while Marko Devic doubled the lead midway through the second half against a weak U.S. defense.
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You know Castillo played poorly when the alternative of considering players who are coming off knee surgery is preferred to seeing Castillo again. His World Cup chances have to be over, though with Klinsmann, you can never be too sure.
Sacha Kljestan also did significant damage to his chances at a World Cup place with what was a lackluster showing in central midfield. His partnership with Jermaine Jones was supposed to allow him to show off the attacking side of his game, but he not only failed to produce much in the way of dangerous attacking passes, he also failed to close down Ukrainian midfielders, who had all sorts of time to deliver dangerous long passes from deep while their wing compatriots timed their runs perfectly against a weak U.S. offside trap.
Kljestan has had chances before under Klinsmann, though only a few as a starter. He has never taken one of those chances and made the most of it. Each time he has left plenty to be desired and struggled to make his mark. He showed more energy in the second half, as did several of his teammates, but by then the damage was done. And he didn't show enough before being subbed out to suggest he will ever get another look in a position where the likes of Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber are competing to be Michael Bradley's understudy.
Even more troubling for Klinsmann than the flameouts by Kljestan and Castillo was the awful performance by the tandem of John Brooks and Oguchi Onyewu in central defense. The two towering defenders struggled all match to communicate with each other and position themselves and read off each other. Perhaps this shouldn't have come as a surprise for two defenders who have long worked better playing along quicker and more organized central defender partners.
Onyewu's best years saw him partnered with Carlos Bocanegra in defense. The former U.S. captain played the organizer while Onyewu played the destroyer. Brooks' early success with Hertha Berlin has seen him in a similar partnership. When the two were paired together it was almost destined to be disastrous. Especially given their lack of familiarity.
Their timing was off, their line beaten repeatedly by Ukrainian runs. On both goals, the tandem were at fault for not being in good positions, with the second Ukraine goal looking particularly ugly as both central defenders got caught way too far forward.
Of the two, Brooks struggled the most, which shouldn't have been a surprise given the fact he has played exactly five minutes for Hertha Berlin in 2014. Injuries, and prior to that a dip in form, cost him his starting place, and the rust showed along with the inexperience. It's easy to forget he's only 21, with plenty of time to learn. As promising a prospect as he may be, he has yet to really look like a viable option for Klinsmann in Brazil.
Onyewu could still get another shot. If he continues to play, and play well, for Sheffield Wednesday, a look in the May camp isn't out of the realm of possibility. He remains the only central defender in the active U.S. player pool with World Cup experience (since Carlos Bocanegra has been effectively put out to pasture by Klinsmann). That experience Onyewu possesses makes him an intriguing option for Klinsmann, who couldn't be blamed for wondering how Onyewu might fare if partnered with Matt Besler.
They weren't the only four players to struggle, but Castillo, Kljestan, Brooks and Onyewu hurt their World Cup chances on Wednesday, and if we never see them again before this summer's tournament, we'll look back on the Ukraine loss as the final audition they had, and the final audition they failed.
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- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Fabian Johnson
- Edgar Castillo
- Oguchi Onyewu