CARSON, Calif. – Defensive errors forced the US national team to mount comebacks twice in last weekend's 2016 opener against Iceland before striking in the 90th minute to pull out a tight victory.
It was only the second time in seven games over a little more than a year that the Yanks have conceded multiple goals and won, but that doesn't count for much this time of year, and neither head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, his staff nor players were particularly bothered by it.
That's not to say they aren't looking for something better when they conclude their annual January camp Friday night with a friendly against Canada at StubHub Center, but they're hoping to build on a solid performance more so than fix their mistakes (10:15 PM ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN; TSN).
“Look, it's game one. We've been training for 2½ weeks, not even,” captain Michael Bradley said. “I think, given that, it was a pretty solid performance, in terms of the way we went about it, the way we were able to play, the way we were able at times to move the ball and find play in between their lines and find good spots. It's normal that, then, not every final pass is perfect, not every defensive reaction is exactly what it should be, that the organization defensively on a play here, play there isn't quite perfect. We've looked at a few things.
“It's not the time of year to really be over-analyzing. Everybody's using these games to try to get fitter, to get sharper, to win, but, again, I kind of guard against over-analyzing at this point.”
The Yanks conceded two soft goals, to Kristinn Steindorsson and then Aron Sigurdarson, as Iceland went ahead at the start of each half, but they were otherwise happy with how they played after limiting their foe to six shots (three on frame) and two corner kicks.
“We're not concerned about any of [the defensive errors], because they're literally in preseason and trained for [only] three weeks [leading to the game],” Klinsmann said, after the game. “We told them: Listen, you're going to make mistakes today. It's not going to go smooth, it's not going to be perfect. There will be mistakes that lead, unfortunately, to two goals.
“As long as you keep going and get a rhythm and try to create chances to try to score your own goals as well, we're not concerned about it at all. Because the benchmark today is not really a benchmark. It's three weeks of preseason, that's all.”
The goals were lamentable. Steindorsson, a former Columbus Crew SC midfielder, netted his second international strike in as many caps after Matt Besler failed to effectively head away a 13th-minute cross and Eidur Gudjohnsen bodied him off the ball and fed it to the back of the box. Steindorsson, with four blue shirts around him, was able to get off the shot, which deflected off Michael Orozco and into the net.
Sigurdarson's goal, on his debut, caught the Yanks standing still as they argued with Costa Rican referee Jeffrey Solis about a non-call. Iceland played the ball quickly up the left flank, and Sigurdarson avoided a tackle, then took the ball to the box and, with Steve Birnbaum trying to stand him up, curled a beautiful shot inside the far post.
Besler and the defenders near Steindorsson could have done more on the first, and the US as a whole, plus Birnbaum, were too casual on the second.
“As a coach, you want to see always a defensive line that's on top of everything, that blocks every shot, that doesn't give away any opportunities for the opponent to score,” Klinsmann said, during his Thursday news conference. “But reality is it's not going to happen. Reality is there's always an opponent with quality at finding ways to create there own chances, and here and there, they put it in the back of the net.
“When you see those things that didn't work out the perfect way, you show it to them, you explain it. Like the first goal that was deflected, there were four guys who were standing around the guy that pulled the trigger, so next time can one guy please throw himself into that ball and block it?
“Goals only happen when the other side makes mistakes. We try to reduce them, we try to work on things that happen, and, hopefully, we can avoid it next time. But, obviously, there's no guarantee to it, and there's always an opponent that will try its best to make it miserable for you.”
Canada, which has 11 MLS-based players on its roster, will provide something of a challenge. Their frontliners include MLS Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin, from Orlando City SC, and FC Dallas' Tesho Akindele, who was in camp with the U.S. last January but wasn't eligible to play.
“They have forwards, young forwards, that we know play in MLS,” Klinsmann said. “They can hurt you in a split-second. It's going to be a good test for us.”
Besler, who has again assumed a pivotal role in the back after going through a four-month stretch without a call-up, was happy with how the US controlled Sunday's tempo, kept a solid line at the back that was “high at right times, dropped off at the right times,” and performed well as a group.
“You never want to concede goals, but I think it's important to take a step back and realize the circumstance,” he said. “The goals we gave up did look like preseason goals. We'll take a look at those, try to correct our mistakes, but it's important not to get too high or too low.”