LARNACA, Cyprus – On the face of it, there appeared to be few positives to take from the US men’s national team’s 2-0 defeat to Ukraine on Wednesday.
However, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes the experience will help his side prepare for one specific opponent it will face at the World Cup.
Fullbacks Edgar Castillo and Geoff Cameron came up against two exceptional wingers, Yevhen Konoplianka and Andriy Yarmolenko, in Cyprus, and the US will face the best winger in world soccer – Cristiano Ronaldo – on June 22, when they face Portugal in their second group-stage match at the World Cup.
“It was certainly good for our fullbacks to play against high-caliber wingers,” Klinsmann said when asked whether Ukraine’s style was good preparation for facing Portugal, “and these two tonight are top-class wingers, which they showed in World Cup qualifying.
“So every game you can have as a fullback, either whether it’s Castillo or Cameron or someone else, has a lot of worth in preparation [for Portugal]. But when we go to the World Cup, they’ll need to raise themselves to another level again.”
Castillo and Cameron seemed to struggle with the threat of Konoplianka and Yarmolenko, completing a disappointing evening for the USMNT. Center-back duo Oguchi Onyewu and John Brooks also looked uneasy throughout the game.
“Once we watch the game again on tape, we will see the mistakes we made, especially with the two goals,” Klinsmann said. “There were a series of mistakes that happened there.
“Then in the first 20 minutes of the second half, we looked good and pushed it and had opportunities to score. If we had scored, then the whole game could actually have turned around in our favor. But then with the mistakes that happened with the second goal, Ukraine closed it down.”
The United States’ struggles weren’t just limited to the defense, though, with captain Clint Dempsey somewhat off the pace. The central partnership of Sacha Kljestan and Jermaine Jones largely failed to make the ball stick in midfield, with Jozy Altidore struggling to feed off any scraps that came his way up front.
“Who were the standouts for us?” Klinsmann pondered. “Certainly Tim Howard, because he made a couple of good saves and both goals were actually rebounds after making the first save.
“After that, it was difficult for a lot of players to get into a rhythm, to stand out. It’s important for us to know where these players are at this specific point, and we can give them a lot of good information for the next 10 weeks before we meet up again for our World Cup preparation.”