Even United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann could not resist smiling at a pair of extraordinary and comical missed chances. And he was especially happy that neither miscue prevented him from racking up his first victory in his new post.
USA got past Honduras 1-0 in an international friendly in Miami on Saturday, ending a frustrating run which had seen the Americans fail to win in three previous attempts since Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley.
Clint Dempsey's superb strike in the 36th minute was the difference, but it was the blown open-goal chances by Brek Shea and Oguchi Onyewu that featured just as prominently on the match highlight reel.
Shea had an impressive game once again and, at age 21, is staking a genuine claim to becoming a permanent part of Klinsmann's starting lineup. However, he could not make the most of a golden opportunity in the second half, tripping over the ball in the Honduras penalty area when he simply had to clip it past goalkeeper Donis Escobar and into the net.
His blushes were spared late in the game, though, when Onyewu somehow managed an even worse miss. The ball fell to the big defender just six yards out with Escobar stranded, but Onyewu sliced his attempt over the crossbar.
It was still a positive night for Klinsmann, who had not come under any significant pressure but had begun to hear some critical voices after defeats to Costa Rica and Belgium following an opening-game draw against Mexico.
"It is always really important to win games because winning games builds confidence, especially when a team is in transition like we are now," Klinsmann said. "We are trying to build something attractive that suits the team and hopefully suits the people, too. That will take time.
"You always have some setbacks but wins help you there. We should have won a bit easier but it certainly feels better when you win the game anyway. But we had enough chances to double it or triple it."
Klinsmann still has time on his side, with qualifying for the 2014 World Cup not beginning until next year and the tournament itself – which is what he will be ultimately judged upon – still 28 months away.
He has tried to implement plenty of new faces as he seeks to determine whom he can rely on, and he seems to be moving closer to a settled lineup. With Landon Donovan missing due to injury, a starting midfield spot was given to Danny Williams, who plays in Germany with Hoffenheim yet holds an American passport.
Williams looked solid enough to suggest he will be given more opportunities as Klinsmann attempts to add some ferocity and physical presence to his squad. For others, though, the outlook is not so good.
The U.S. defense is one which is getting older and there is a lack of talent coming through. That is the primary reason why Michael Orozco was given another opportunity, but another disappointing display will surely see him benched next time around.
Yet, the discovery of good and bad attributes is all part of the process, one highlighted by goal-scorer Dempsey.
"This is good preparation for us to see what our best team is," said Dempsey, who made no mistake with an excellent left-foot shot in the first half. "When qualifying comes around, our main goal is to reach the next World Cup. It is good for us to play opponents that we will see in qualifying and important to impress with a win."
The Klinsmann era has not been an unqualified success so far, but at this point it doesn't need to be. A first victory was welcome and helped to ease any uncertainty or pressure, allowing the building process to continue.
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- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Oguchi Onyewu
- Clint Dempsey