The US national team left it late to defeat Venezuela 1-0 on Saturday night, but their tactical domination of the proceedings earned high marks for a handful of younger players and one rascally veteran.
On a cool Phoenix evening, Jurgen Klinsmann's "B" side set the game's tempo with a steady groove of possession with intent. At the back, nobody was turned or burned, allowing late heroics to give the US their first clean-sheet victory since last June.
Bill Hamid (7) – While he did not need to make a save in posting a debut shutout win, Hamid found ways to contribute. The youngster's aggressive charge to punch prevented some first half danger and his quick distribution sparked a few rushes.
A.J. DeLaGarza (6) – It was mostly a safe and steady first cap for the LA Galaxy defender. DeLaGarza also won a smart free kick in a dangerous position with the team pushing late for a winner.
Michael Parkhurst (8) – The FC Nordsjælland star's 10th US appearance was his best. Always in control and in position, Parkhurst cleared crosses and moved the ball positively. It would be hard to find fault with this showing.
Geoff Cameron (7.5) – Though his influence ebbed a little after the break, the Houston Dynamo ace definitely showed he can play center back at the international level. His skill at bringing the ball forward is exciting.
Heath Pearce (6) – Venezuela rarely showed much interest in attacking his way, so the Chivas USA man spent much of his evening capably leading down his wing. Though he didn't actually get any service to a teammate in the area, Pearce did manage to turn his opposite around on a few touchline surges.
Jeff Larentowicz (6) – The man of a thousand nicknames did well acting as a blockade, but often lacked a little precision when it came to his entry passing in attack.
Jermaine Jones (8) – There were a few miscues based on the kind of "exuberance" typical of a Jones performance. Face it, the guy goes into more books than a librarian. Nevertheless, Jones practically willed the team to victory wearing the armband. His against-the-grain passing caused trouble all night, one half-volley blast narrowly missed the target and he even served a few perfect corner kicks, including finding Ricardo Clark for the equalizer.
Benny Feilhaber (7) – For 62 minutes, the New England playmaker was revving the team with touch and ideas. Feilhaber's outside-of-the-boot split pass to tee up Brek Shea in the 20th minute was sublime.
Graham Zusi (5) – Perhaps excited by his first cap, many of Zusi's touches and deliveries were heavy. While he may have fizzled on a few opportunities, the Sporting KC midfielder did all the right leg work.
Brek Shea (7.5) – The FC Dallas winger was twice denied on textbook headers and once flashed a shot just wide of frame. Looking more refreshed than when we last saw him in USMNT colors last November, Shea was on point with his running and touches. Overall, it was great progress at this level, if not his best ‘Nats outing to date.
Teal Bunbury (5) – It just wasn't quite clicking for the Sporting KC forward, who drifted out of the game later in his shift.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (9) – Yes, the team should have won more comfortably than by a last-gasp goal, but that was down to attack execution lacking a bit. In reality, this grade covers the entire camp to date. Though Klinsi didn't have his top squad, the US finally displayed what 90 minutes should tactically look like in the 4-3-3 future.
I dare folks to find much to gripe about when the US have 60 percent of the ball, attempt 16 crosses and 19 shots, don’t allow a shot on goal and take a 7-0 corner-kick advantage that ended up providing the victory. Granted, it came against a lackluster Venezuela side, but it was one certainly eager to physically challenge the hosts. From a style-transition standpoint, this was Klinsmann's finest night to date, with the promise of better to come.
Ricardo Clark (6.5) – Until the goal, his Eintracht Frankfurt rust was showing. Clark lost a restart mark just after entering and looked a step off the pace mentally. Then, of course, he coolly buried the winning header.
Chris Wondolowski (7) – The San Jose Earthquakes bell-ringer caused more havoc in the Venezuela area over 28 minutes than Bunbury did in 88.
Zach Loyd (6.5) – In 16 minutes, the FC Dallas handyman delivered a pair of tempting crosses and was not at all shy in his step.
C.J. Sapong (6.5) – This guy should come with old school Batman action bubbles: POW! Sapong was bangin' in the paint like Moses Malone and gave the away defense a few headaches in a short shift.
Brad Evans (-) – A late cameo goes without a mark, but it was nice to see the Phoenix native get a hometown cap.