Sports

Lessons Learned from USA's Draw vs. Mexico

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"My name is (Jurgen Klinsmann) and I'm full of ideas." -- Tom Goes to the Mayor.

U.S. 1, Mexico 1.

Obviously it's time to pass verdict on the Jurgen Klinsmann era, right? If he can't get it done in a friendly vs. the team's most hated rivalry -- on homesoil -- then let's all light our torches, grab our pitchforks and storm the USSF castle, right?

My bad. Some people don't get sarcasm, or I'm just a lousy writer. Either or.

This was only one game. A first step. So most of this is going to be fleeting observations since Klinsmann has three years to assemble a team for Brazil.

If there's one immediate, knee-jerk reaction it's how the game changed -- anyone with a keyboard can tell you that -- as it got later in the second half. It was odd, wasn't it, how Klinsmann opened the game with a starting XI that wouldn't have been surprise if Bob Bradley filled it out. A lopsided, conversative 4-2-3-1, with Jose Torres and Landon Donovan stranded out wide, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman clogging the midfield, Edson Buddle stranded alone up top and Michael Bradely ... somewhere, growling around wherever he wanted.

The U.S. looked slow, tentative, unsure and out-of-sorts.

Almost on cue -- or in the case of Robbie Rogers exactly on cue -- when Klinsmann brought in the youngish players on the roster -- Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo -- the game changed on its ear.

This was the sign of encouragement. The sign that the U.S. does have it in them to press an opponent, a very good opponent. To play with some verve. To swarm forward. To play like they're supposed to be out there.

Credit Landon Donovan, the elder statesman now, for showing he can still take over games at the international level.

Again, it's hard to read too much into one match without anything at stake, but the most telling thing was that in the postgame ESPN interview with Rob Stone, Klinsmann ended with a simple statement:

"I had a lot of fun."

Stray Observations:

* This is nothing new. CONCACAF officiating is a debacle. The U.S. probably should have won two penalties, followed by the asinine Gerardo Torrado tackle on Rogers on a breakaway. Just brutal. And it's not going to change, either. Sigh.

* If the idea that the U.S. needs to tap into the Latino population to take a next step, Rogers ought to consider adopting his Univision nombre, "Royie Roygers."

* Rogers? Really? Can't script this stuff.

* Klinsmann might have a magic touch, but he's not a miracle worker. Left back -- this time Edgar Castillo -- continues to plague the United States. Consider it an open audition, though everyone wants to say Eric Lichaj can play an "inverted" role there a la Philip Lahm for Germany.

Mothers and fathers from sea to shining sea ... teach your boys to kick with their left foot.

* Nobody on the U.S. defense stood out, but credit Klinsmann for keeping the back four intact for the full 90. Michael Orozco? Meh.

* Jermaine Jones took a lot of heat in this match, with Ian Darke even calling out his indifferent performance. Jones is obviously talented, but the problem was the time for him to contribute would have been the 2010 World Cup, not the 2014. His style of play, despite his German background, doesn't seem to jive with what Klinsmann wants to do.

* Seems, no matter what, Michael Bradley is a topic of conversation. Here's my thought, aside from Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, nobody deserves an automatic start in the XI, from the guys in the mix Wednesday in Philadelphia. Guys need to earn their spots. The Belgium friendly on Sept. 6 will be telling. Competition this far away from games that matter can only be a good thing. There seemed to be hunger when the newer guys got to the field.

* Jose Torres seems to be one of those guys. Ask 10 people about him, get 10 different opinions. There's no doubting he's got a solid first touch and all that jazz, but where does he fit in the U.S. team? Do you cater the lineup around him? And what about when Stuart Holden comes back? Torres is a piece, it's up to Klinsmann to put them together into a cohesive puzzle. Sadly, the German doesn't have the picture on the box to work off.

* Thanks to Mexico for playing like a haughty bunch of guys who thought all they had to do was step on the field and dominate. For all the possession El Tri managed, how threatening were they aside from that goal from a set piece? Mexico seemed to treat this friendly as exhibition-like as possible. This has to be considered when accessing everything.

* Call it a coincidence, or chalk it up to the hair, but I definitely get a Bastian Schweinsteiger vibe from Shea and the way Klinsmann might be able to use him. Since he played well for 20 minutes, let's annoit him the next great U.S. Soccer savoir. Deal?

* If we're into the depth chart kind of thing, doesn't everyone feel more comfortable with Juan Agudelo as the top forward over Jozy Altidore. Kid has a first touch and vision. Oh, he plays for New York Red Bulls, too, as John Harkes would remind you.

* Should be fun to see where Clint Dempsey is deployed under Klinsmann.

* Kyle Beckerman seemed to make the most of his shot, though his position is well-stacked by U.S. standards. Perhaps Klinsmann got him confused with Torsten Frings. Again, nobody in the player pool should have their proverbial reserved parking spot. Reward guys playing with effort.

* Kind of random, but funny how Arsenal's Carlos Vela is a total nonfactor for Mexico these days.

ESPN ZONE

Bringing this back after the debacle to start the game, which saw the telecast on ESPNEWS over ESPN2 due to a Little League regional game running late. Hey, there are contracts. The WWL couldn't dump the kiddies for a game, could they?

It's fitting for U.S. Soccer in general, though, since ESPN spent a lot of time talking up this match on all its platforms only for the start to be delayed by a bunch of 12-year-olds. This was almost so surreal that you'd half expect it was a headline penned by the soccer-hating writers at "The Onion." (Hey, did ya hear? Soccer it boring! How droll!)

Overall ESPN did a solid job. It's hard to screw up when Ian Darke is in the mix. I might watch a WNBA game if he was behind the mic. Might.

For my money adding ESPN Deportes Jorge Ramos in the booth was a worthwhile trial, even if he had to ask Darke to repeat a question. Ramos was blunt in his assessment, a nice counterweight to the pom-poms Harkes waves at times.

Final Thought:

For about 60 minutes it looked like malaise lingering over the final days of Bradley were still in effect.

It all ended with a little bit of optimism.

A welcome change of affairs and an effective first step of a long journey.