World Cup 2014

World Cup: USMNT emphasize defending counterattack with brutal opponents ahead in Brazil

CARSON, Calif. – The US national team wants to be brave this summer. They want to push forward and stand up to fellow “Group of Death” members Ghana, Portugal and Germany in Brazil. They want to be viewed as an aggressive bunch at the World Cup, despite the seemingly difficult challenges that lie ahead.

Thus, committing to the attack was one of the major points of emphasis for coach Jurgen Klinsmann during the January camp and the US showed promising flashes in a 2-0 victory against South Korea on Saturday at StubHub Center.

“We really emphasized this camp in being confident and playing, not just lumping the ball forward and hoping to see what happens,” forward Landon Donovan told reporters. “We wanted to take this opportunity in a friendly to be confident and try to play. We could go to Brazil and sit back for 90 minutes and pray that we get results, but that's not how we're going to progress as a soccer nation, so we’re going to go with the confidence to play.”

World Cup roster hopeful Chris Wondolowski capitalized on two opportunities when the US showed a willingness to charge forward against a hard-pressing South Korean side. That alacrity, though, also opened the door for a few stressful moments.

South Korea failed to finish any of their chances, but the US might not be able to escape similar scenarios against their World Cup group opponents, who are considered to be unforgiving on the counterattack. For that reason, Klinsmann made transition defending a top priority during camp.

“That definitely has been a big focus,” midfielder Graham Zusi told MLSsoccer.com. “Playing teams like South Korea could only make us better in preparation for what we’ll see in Brazil. They were an extremely disciplined team in their block and when they get the ball, they go with numbers. For us to see that was a big help and the way we performed is encouraging to see us with a shutout, first and foremost.”

Defender Michael Parkhurst, who got the starting nod at left back Saturday after being a late addition to the camp roster, noticed Klinsmann’s fixation on counterattack defense.

“It’s definitely something Jurgen is always talking about,” Parkhurst told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s important because we want to play attacking soccer and want to get after teams, but we can’t leave ourselves open. There’s a big difference between club level and international level.

"Teams are so fast and so potent that you really have to be organized. That’s why having a guy like Kyle Beckerman (pictured at top) is really important because he’s someone that can clog the middle and break things down.”

South Korea might have been even more dangerous if not for Beckerman, who also earned Donovan’s praise following the match.

“My point is when you play, you open up and try to play, and you try to be aggressive and assertive, sometimes you get countered, and part of it is knowing how to put out fires when they come,” Donovan said. “Kyle did an excellent job of that, our backline did an excellent job. Our recovery after losing the ball was great.

"Once in a while, teams are going to do that, just like we're going to do that to teams as well. It’s part of the game and, especially nowadays with how fast the game is, it can happen. And so either you take advantage of them or the other team does, and it can mean the difference.”