HOUSTON – Tuesday night loomed as the payoff for a group of U.S. players seeking to work their way into the mix for the trip to Honduras next week. They slogged through three grueling weeks of training camp for this one public chance to reinforce their case for future inclusion.
It didn't happen.
The final opportunity to impress Jürgen Klinsmann turned into an exercise in frustration. Not one of those players entered the night with the goal of fumbling around against a defiant and organized defense for 90 minutes and stumbling to a 0-0 draw against Canada.
And yet that is how the night unfolded. Even with its vast advantage in possession against a Canadian side content to sit and wait, the U.S. barely threatened. There were half-chances here and there, but few, if any, periods of sustained pressure. The creativity and quality required to move into the final third and slice through the opposition never arrived. Klinsmann switched formations a couple of times in a bid to spark the team, but this group of players never found the brisk tempo and the first goal required to turn the game.
Instead of serving up rebukes after the match, Klinsmann opted for faint praise instead. Although Klinsmann noted he would have liked to see his players supply a few tangible highlights in this affair, he underscored that his evaluation process encompassed far more than a dire match.
“Overall, we are really pleased with what we saw over the last three weeks from these guys,” Klinsmann said. “We want to give them a big compliment on how they worked and how much they put into those three-and-a-half weeks. We're looking forward to next week when the World Cup qualifier is on the plate.”
Most of the players involved in this match won't have to worry about that particular occasion, but a few of them will. Klinsmann said the performance against the Canadians – a side that recovered admirably from a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of a makeshift Denmark side in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday – did not alter his view that six to eight players from this group will feature in the travel party for the date against the Hondurans.
The identity of those players remains somewhat uncertain even at this late stage. Kyle Beckerman (captain on this night), Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi can probably tell their MLS coaches they won't be around much next week. Omar Gonzalez likely warrants a place as well given the rather shallow pool in central defense. And then the rest of the group will wonder if the last piece of evidence will influence their spot in the pecking order.
The next few days will offer a nervous wait for the handful of candidates likely in the mix for those precious spots. The players in this group will head back to their clubs on Wednesday and wait to hear if they will need to travel to Miami on Saturday to start preparing for San Pedro Sula.
“The thing you want the most is to be back with the A team,” Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “I've participated in those games. I know how exciting it is. I know how much of a thrill it is to play for your national team and try to get back to a World Cup.”
Similar sentiments – except for the five players who debuted at BBVA Compass Stadium – probably did not apply to this friendly. It offered a rather unsatisfying resolution to a lengthy spell under Klinsmann's direction. Now the players involved must hope that their body of work, not their last showing, will lead to the reward they sought all along.