First, the videos from the U.S. national team’s 5-1 victory over Scotland here in Jacksonville:
Next, a link to my formal story from the print editions and Web site.
Lastly, my column about the U.S. performance and the task ahead against Brazil:
Yes, it was just a friendly. Sure, the opponent lost its ambition (and form and nerve and breath) after halftime.
But when you see Landon Donovan performing with the carefree gusto of a 20-year-old at his first World Cup (remember 2002?). When you see Michael Bradley’s placement, pace and movement on a one-timer from distance.
When you see a midfield triangle work in harmony and balance. When you see Fabian Johnson embrace the left back position on the international level as he’s done in the Bundesliga. When you see 21-year-old Terrence Boyd’s comfort level at the point of the attack.
When you see the attacking speed, rhythm and movement, it’s hard not to get excited about the U.S. national team’s prospects moving forward in this World Cup cycle.
Did we mention America’s top scorers in Europe, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, didn’t play?
No one has ever questioned the Americans’ ability to qualify for Brazil 2014. Failure to do so, regardless of the manner, would be cause to shutter the USSF’s historic headquarters on Chicago’s Near South Side.
But something is happening here under Juergen Klinsmann. There was a beauty to this game, an embrace of his free-spirit philosophy. That’s not to say the Americans will replicate such a performance every time they step foot on the pitch. Wednesday’s meeting against Brazil at FedEx Field is going to look awfully different than the one against the hapless Scots. And those who think a stylish game will unfold in a few weeks at Estadio Mateo Flores, Guatemala’s cauldron, are fooling themselves.
But on this night, and surely many more in the future, the Americans were fluid and artistic.
“You saw many elements of what we are always talking about,” Klinsmann said. “We are trying to, step by step, to develop. It’s obviously a little more difficult to play that way against Brazil or Italy, but the players, they understand more and more what we are trying to achieve. … Today was really fun to watch the elements we’ve been working on.”
It’s strange to say Donovan “re-emerged” tonight. He is, after all, the greatest scorer in U.S. history and an 11-year veteran who has started in three World Cups. But it did kind of feel that way.
He hadn’t made a U.S. appearance this year and hadn’t scored since the Gold Cup final last summer. Klinsmann stressed greater commitment from his most inventive player. Donovan made comments earlier in the week about the challenge, at his age and experience, to re-discover his hunger.
Against Scotland, Donovan feasted.
“I’m trying to be present. I want to be in the moment,” he said after his third career hat trick. “I’ve been very candid and let people know how I feel, but the reality is that I still enjoy it. I still want to contribute to this team. I still care. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I still enjoy being part of this, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here. I want to contribute in the right way.”
Donovan played with fire, grabbing hold of the match and never letting go. He also displayed his nuance, applying clever touches in tight space and distributing the ball with a maestro’s mind. His finishing touch was assertive and almost perfect – he did sting the base of the right post early in the second half.
Donovan benefited from the midfield stability provided by Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones.
“It gives us options playing Landon wide and giving him more freedom to go all over the field,” Klinsmann said.
Assessing Jones, Klinsmann said: “Jermaine is a Champions League player [with Schalke.] If you want to play there, you have to be good, and he is good. His temper is always something to discuss. We even make jokes about it in the locker room, but if he gets that under control, then we have a very, very good player with high energy and the opponents have a lot of respect for the guy.”
For Jones and everyone else, the task against Brazil is much taller. Donovan will undoubtedly find a rougher path to riches. But that’s where the attention now turns: the second act in a three-part rehearsal before World Cup qualifying begins.
“It went well, and this is what we want to do now. We want to push ourselves going from game to game and kind of brush off the game tonight and look ahead to Brazil,” Klinsmann said. “They’re obviously a different caliber.”
They are, indeed. But the Americans have raised their caliber as well.