It was a friendly, and a super-experimental one, and it came against a team that's not very good (why couldn't this have been the Czech Republic we faced in 2006? Or 1990?).
It was a game that you don't want to read too much into. It was a game, front-to-back, filled with caveats. Let's have Bobby Warshaw give us a good warning:
My post-game recap will be titled, "If You Try to Guess the USA 2018 World Cup Roster Now You Will Get Six Right"— Bobby Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) September 3, 2014
But even with all that, it's damn nice to start off a brand new World Cup cycle with a win - especially a deserved win, and especially one in which a number of kids ranged from "promising" to "superb."
Let's start with the "superb" part of the USMNT's 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in Prague:
1. Mix Diskerud Does It All...
The pregame chat for me – with just about anybody who will put up with me on gameday – was all about Mix Diskerud. I know he's been a regular part of Jurgen Klinsmann's pool, and I know he's had some good moments for the national team (last year in Columbus, right?).
But he didn't play in the World Cup even for a team in desperate need of creativity in the midfield and quality in the final third. Why?
Because he drifts in and out of games, and brings almost zero defensive presence to a team that can't afford to have single midfielder who's purely a luxury player. Diskerud, at the highest level, has always looked like a man without a position.
Against the Czechs, however, he looked like a do-everything game general in the Michael Bradley mold. He dropped back between the central defenders to start a passing sequence, then seconds later would be up in the final third in support of Jozy Altidore.
Look at his map of Opta events:
He was everywhere.
This includes, of course, Diskerud's read of Petr Cech's poor throw that led to the only goal of the game. That wasn't the only time he showed great anticipation in closing down passing lanes, and – maybe more important – he was much more active in making himself available in possession as an early outlet.
He did all that, and was still the most reliable connection to Jozy Altidore, who got no service from his young wingers:
Diskerud turns 24 next month, so he's not a prospect anymore. If he wants to wrest the starting job away from Bradley (or make a strong case to start alongside Bradley), he's going to have to start stringing performances like this together for both club and country.
For me, the best part of this game was Diskerud laying down a marker, and saying "I can do this." The next step is him doing it again, and again, and again, and again.
2. ...But the US Still Need a D-Mid
The Czechs were too slow and disorganized to punish the US midfield for some overzealousness in pursuit, and never really made great use of the space they found between the lines.
That space was there all game, by the way. Tomas Rosicky would like you to know that:
You may recall Rosicky getting the ball in a similar spot against the USMNT once before. It's a painful, painful memory.
The difference this time was just how slow the Czech attackers were to read the space, and how poor their ball movement through the midfield third was. Rosicky should not have to stand, wide open for a solid five seconds while waving his arms, before his teammates find him. He wears that No. 10 for a reason.
On the flip side is the fact that the US were allowing that space because they seemed pretty confident in John Brooks' ability to step into the midfield and make plays. Brooks, to his credit, made them – he was flawless save for a flubbed 89th-minute clearance that eventually got Rimando'd away, and looked far more confident physically than he has at times in the past.
He also showed a continued penchant for good emergency defense:
In case you're wondering: Yes, that is Diskerud getting beat at central midfield. It was his worst moment of the match, and one that gets erased quickly if there's a d-mid behind him.
3. Slow Down the Hype Train
At the risk of being labeled a wet blanket... slow your roll on Joe Gyau. Yes, he looks the part, and yes, he made some good runs. But he really, really struggled to create any danger when he got on the ball:
When he could pass backwards, he was fine. He didn't lose possession too often, and seemed to understand where to be for the most part.
When he was asked to make a play moving forward, he didn't offer much – completing just three forward passes the entire game, none in the final third. I was honestly surprised at the amount of love he was getting both on the broadcast and on Twitter, and this:
The folly of youth: lovely of Joe Gyau to freeze in possession long enough for more defenders to get back and mark him.— James Tyler (@JamesTylerESPN) September 3, 2014
It isn't just a throw-away problem. While I'm still not enamored of Julian Green – and he's not yet the athlete that Gyau is – the clear difference between the two players is just how quickly Green makes his decisions, how fast he "sees the game."
Now, this doesn't mean we write Gyau off for the cycle, or even for the immediate future. He's playing for one of the world's great clubs (Borussia Dortmund) and, if he makes the jump from the reserves to the full team, will be working under Jurgen Klopp, who is maybe the best developer of attacking talent in the world today. Plus he showed pretty good positional understanding, as evidenced by his Influence+ and Centrality numbers:
Yes, that's pretty granular, and both Centrality and Influence+ are biased toward players who get more minutes. And – let's make this very clear – we are kicking the angry demon of sample size square below the belt. But basically: Making yourself available to receive passes is a skill. Based upon today's viewing, Gyau's got it.
Next step is completing some dangerous passes himself. Once he gets that – if he gets that – then I'll join the hype train, too.