The United States beat the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Seriously! They were down 3-1 then scored three unanswered goals, including two after the 89th minute, and won, 4-3. That is not a joke.
It was amazing and hysterical and entirely unbelievable. It was also meaningless because, as Jurgen Klinsmann has made very clear, friendlies are about trying things no matter the result. So they won, whatever. What did the U.S. try?
More than anything, Klinsmann tested his defense. A very young defense. John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado, both 22-year-olds who had played a grand total of 10 minutes together before, were tossed into the middle of the back four and were flanked by the defensively questionable Timothy Chandler and out-of-position Brek Shea.
If that wasn’t enough, Klinsmann also ordered his midfield to press the Dutch. That cut out some of the forwards’ service, but when the Dutch did break through or go direct, it meant space and a lot of one-on-one defending for the American backline. Klinsmann also asked the U.S. defenders play aggressive, step up to cut attacks out early and challenge the likes of Memphis Depay, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie.
Klinsmann took some kids and question marks, put them on an island and said, “figure it out.” And figure it out they did, kind of; at least, as much as can reasonably be expected.
The Netherlands had it chances in the first half, finding space that often forced Brooks to decide whether to come into the midfield and try to stop the attack early or cede to the Dutch and ask them to exploit that room. Fullbacks had to decide whether to give Depay space to cross or challenge him and risk getting beat off the dribble. Wingers cut in from the wide spaces and forced American defenders to pick them up. And all the while, Huntelaar and van Persie loomed in the box. To say that the American defense was put in a difficult situation is an understatement.
Sometimes, the U.S. got beat. On the Dutch’s first half goal, the defense decided to give Depay space and not risk getting burned off the dribble, which let him hit a great cross. Neither Alvarado nor Brooks marked Huntelaar well enough, and the U.S. found itself behind. There were other chances, last-ditch tackles and even a little help from the referee to disallow a score late in the half.
The Netherlands was dangerous, but the U.S. wasn’t bad. At times it was scary and flirted with disaster, but consider the situation the defense was placed in: all by themselves, in space, against a talented attack and instructed to be aggressive.
Despite it all, the Americans conceded just three shots on target in the first half. Part of that could be chalked up to a midfield that did well to press the Dutch midfield and limit their forays forward, but the defense deserves credit, too. Alvarado made two excellent tackles to clear the ball. Brooks’ continual stepping forward was dangerous, but also effective at times, and they did a good job of funneling the Dutch to the wings for stretches.
Nobody would call what the U.S. defense did in the first half brilliant, but it had some very nice moments. It showed some intelligence and a good use of its considerable physical skills. It showed that, to some degree, it wouldn’t be overwhelmed by an unbelievably tall task. It came with a lot of mistakes and proof that there’s a long way for it to go, but it would be unfair to dwell on that without a recognition of how well some things went.
The second half wasn’t nearly as pleasant. Michael Orozco, on for Alvarado, showed yet again that he’s not good enough to play at the international level and was beaten early on. While Brooks roamed, Orozco just watched, not even moving in the right general direction to cover for a partner that had been told to be aggressive (and ran with that mandate to dangerous levels).
But Orozco’s quality was never in question. Brooks’ and Alvarado’s was ,and after 90 minutes in Amsterdam, we saw not just potential, but quality to go along with the heart attacks.
Klinsmann tested his defense in the first half. He asked them to do more than they could and wanted to see how they would fair with a task too tall. They didn’t get an A, by any measure, but they were closer to a B than an F, no matter how many times they were left scrambling.