Some say friendlies are a waste of time. I say people who say that have not really thought about national team setups other than their own. That's just selfish.
Friendlies are crucial for countries like the United States who do not have huge competitions every two years like European teams do. Each training camp is an opportunity to realign the squad and introduce prospects. Without friendlies, teams like the USMNT would end up mashed together rather than refined. I'll admit, sometimes the timing of these matches is bad, but friendlies in general, are not.
Allow me to sum up the USMNT's two friendlies this past week in three words (each):
USA 1 - Argentina 1
Hard fought draw
USA 0 - Paraguay 1
Experimental kick around
We didn't win a match, but we certainly learned a few things:
Juan Agudelo is...
...our striker of the future? Many news sources and bloggers are trying in earnest not to label the 18-year old striker as our savior just yet, but their bursting hope shines through with each keystroke. FSC reported since Brian Mcbride retired from international soccer (*tear), the United States has started 74 different strikers. I'm not sure I believe Eric Wynalda's ridiculous stat, but the fact remains - the USMNT needs a reliable regular up-top.
Is Juan the answer? We can't say he is just yet, but he did strike again for his country last Saturday, preserving a vital draw with powerhouse Argentina. This is the kid's second goal in three appearances for the red, white, and blue.
Since the careers of Carlos Bocanegra, Jay Demerit, Steve Cherundolo, and Oguchi Oneywu are beginning to sunset, new players are being introduced into the fray. My biggest defensive takeaway from these two friendlies is that we may have reason to celebrate two hopeful wing-backs in Timothy Chandler and Eric Lichaj. Both in their early 20s, Chandler and Lichaj swooped into the lineup and barreled down the wings with ferocity and speed. They defended relatively well and seemed to be up to the international pace of the game, most likely since they both play in European clubs at high levels. I love Cherundolo, but am pumped about seeing these two scamper down the wings in the future.
Another person I am excited about is Tim Ream. His start against Paraguay proves he should be a regular in camp. He marked well and seemed calm and collected on the ball. His one hiccup could be the lone goal scored by Paraguay, but overall, his first start with the rest of the regulars was positive.
Man-machine Jermaine Jones
Man...machine. Man Machine MAchine MAChine MACHine MACHIne MACHINe MACHINE. Channeling a Kraftwerk song seems appropriate for Jones, a German-American, and effective man-machine in the midfield. His start against Argentina was not very successful, but that could be said of many midfielders having to mark Lionel Messi. Against Paraguay, we saw what I hope to see in the future - Jones and Bradley acting as a solid anchor in the midfield. They worked quite well with each other. And goodness gracious, Jones is strong in a tackle. Some advice for Bob Bradley though: why not rest your son and give Maurice Edu a crack with Jones? See how that goes?
Though Dempsey was lethargic against Argentina, we saw the true Deuce against Paraguay. He was cunning, powerful, and willing to take anyone on. The progression he has made over this past year has been tremendous, and if he can keep bringing the intensity he has in the Premier League to the national team, we are in for success.
Well, it's been fun seeing the USMNT back in action. It brings me back to what could have been in South Africa (*a few tears). I look forward to our date with Spain in June and urge any of my friends who are reading this to buy tickets and invite me.