The U.S. Men's National Team ... world tested, hipster approved.
Okay, there's little if any chance the forward-thinking folks at the USSF are going to adopt that as the new slogan for the team, but it came to mind during Saturday night's 2-2 draw with Poland at Chicago's Soldier Field, which at times felt like Little Krakow mixed with Williamsburg, New York.
Non sequiturs aside, it's Saturday night. It was a friendly that aired on Fox Soccer Channel (more on that later) and was probably watched only by diehards. So forgive me if I break this down bullet-list style.
* Jer-maine man -- Halo Jermaine Jones.
Hard to figure a more positive debut for the German-born Schalke midfielder, as his long chipped ball from inside the halfway line set up Jozy Altidore's opening goal inside of 15 minutes.
Having watched Jones from time-to-time at Schalke, I never noted him to be so lanky. Maybe it was the long-sleeves Under Armor shirt under his uniform that made him appear bigger, but he had an angular look that reminded me of what Abou Diaby looks like in the Arsenal midfield, at least from an appearance/physiscal standpoint.
The one knock for Jones was that his mis-hit deep in the U.S. end eventually led to "Kuba's" equalizer that made it 2-2.
It might be too early to call Jones the missing link, but for one night he was very strong tying together the U.S. defense to offense, going forward. Guess that's why everyone calls him a "box-to-box" midfielder.
He certainly didn't play like a guy making his U.S. debut, nor should he considering his European club pedigree.
And, ipso facto, tonight we say Auf Wiedersehen Ricardo Clark.
* Gooch giveth, Gooch taketh away -- One game isn't going to determine the long-term future of Oguchi Onyewu in the U.S. defense. Whatever he lacks in foot-speed he makes up for in sheer bulk.
Funny sports, sometimes. Stuart Holden and Onyewu's botched clearances inside the U.S. box set up Poland's first goal. Less than an hour later the duo was connecting from a corner kick to put the U.S. up 2-1.
We're probably just not going to know about Onyewu. He looked horrendous with that missed header setting up the first Poland goal, but looked like an absolute man-mountain fighting through traffic to head-in the Holden corner.
Bob Bradley did go away from Onyewu in the critical Algeria game at the World Cup, so he's not afraid to find another central defensive option should Onyewu's form continue to fluctuate. Who that option is, remains to be seen.
* Do the Edu -- Considering a few weeks ago I suggested Maurice Edu's future with the U.S. was in the defense, it was nice to see him line up next to Onyewu to start the match. Did he play like the reincarnation of Franco Baresi? No. Did he get caught out of position a few times. Yes. Overall, though, he seemed competent enough to warrant another couple looks, especially in light of Jones play in the defensive midfield. His distribution from the back is better than what the U.S. usually sees.
* Funkmaster Flex -- Bradley the Elder better put on his lab coat, because if he wants he can play mad scientist with the U.S. midfield going into 2011.
Jones, health contingent, covers a lot of space and his long legs break up plenty of passes. Bradley doesn't necessarily need to be locked in playing two "holders", with his son Michael being the other, particularly against weaker CONCACAF teams. That pair, Saturday, did look like they've been playing together for as long as Andrea Pirlo and Rino Gattuso.
The quartet of Holden, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber (not his best game ever) and Landon Donovan give options. It could breed some competition to fight for spots. (Guys like Jose Torres and Sacha Klejstan are going to have to fight and show they're worthy of spots in the XI.) The only problem is that aside from Donovan, none of that group is exactly a naturally wide player by definition. Without some fresh young wing back-types coming through the ranks the U.S. will be a very skilled, but very narrow team ... a team you can cause havoc and match-up problems with.
That's stuff to worry about for another day. The addition of Jones and his ability to cover so much ground opens up a whole new set of options for Bradley to tinker with.
* Joz-y -- On the plus side, Altidore scored. On the down side, he could have scored a couple more times if his finishing touch were a little sharper.
Is that all down to a lack of playing time at Villareal?
It was encouraging to see Altidore playing with his face to goal, working as a true striker and non a Brian Ching-type ball winner. The multi-faceted, developing new-look U.S. midfield makes that possible.
At least Altidore didn't spend half the match flopped on the ground, though he's jawing with the ref late in the match while the ball was still in play was a little suspect.
* Fox Sucker Channel -- I'm on record that FSC is one of the greatest inventions of the last 10 years. Having said that, how does FSC announce the U.S. starting lineup in a graphic package listing Jay DeMerit in the midfield next to Michael Bradley instead of Jones. That's downright inexcusable for a soccer-only network.
These mistakes are semi-charming when they happen during the "Fox Soccer Report." I chalk it up to the fact that show is produced in Winnipeg. ESPN, for all its warts, at least gets the starting lineups correct.
Not crazy about Dave Johnson, either. Comes off a little robotic, maybe it's because I still miss the Max Bretos/Christopher Sullivan comedy hour.
Throw in the fact I still don't get FSC-HD and it was a pretty poor broadcast.
* Quick hitters -- If it weren't for Birdman Anderson's latest ink, Poland keeper Artur Boruc might've had the worst neck tat of all time. ... Nice game from Dempsey. Not dominant like the last couple weeks at Fulham, but very confident and assured. ... Let's call the U.S. defense a work in progress and save ourselves some grief. ... For once I was totally on board with Bradley the Elder's lineup, even the Alejandro Bedoya for Feilhaber sub. Guess that Heath Pearce and Eddie Johnson both failed to impress in the week-long camp. ... Ditka, Ditka, Ditka. ... Poland could've slept-walk through the match, but the Euro-2012 co-hosts were game and pressed the issues for long stretches. ... Amazing how poor Holden's touches were in the defensive half, considering how well he played otherwise. ... Carlos Bocanegra or Steve Cherundolo didn't start a lot of attacks or ping in many crosses, but they were disciplined defensively against the Poland wings. .... Great save by Tim Howard 1-v-1 to stone Robert Lewandowski (who had his name screwed up by the FSC people, too.) Good night for both keepers in fact. ... Find it funny that with Boruc, Łukasz Fabiański and Tomasz Kuszczak Poland has plenty of keepers, but some glaring defensive holes.
If you read my stuff regularly, you know I'm a "hard marker" when it comes to all things USMNT. Tonight for whatever reason, even with the 2-2 draw, it was all good. Maybe this is a strained Chicago reference, but I felt like the crowd at Billy Bob's when the Blues Brothers rolled up. My natural inclination is to throw bottles at the chicken wire, but on the first strands of "Rawhide" I'm a happy camper.
There was enough to like in the midfield and build off of moving forward to offset the continual defensive issues. (Hey, any German-born central defenders with an American parent floating around the Bundesliga?)
Either way, bring on Ian Darke.