Possession the priority as USMNT look to exorcise Gold Cup demons vs. Peru

WASHINGTON – Who's starting? Who's wearing the captain's armband? What's the formation? What's the tactical outlook?

Jurgen Klinsmann has made clear who his No. 1 goalkeeper will be. But that's about the only solid piece of information he and his US national team squad have dropped ahead of friendlies against Peru (Friday, 7 pm ET, FOX Sports 1/UniMás/UDN) and Brazil (Tuesday, 8 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas/UDN).

The USMNT are eager to vanquish the memory of their unsatisfying Gold Cup campaign, and have trained hard in the stifling heat and humidity that has settled over the nation's capital this week. Intensity levels are clearly heightened, and a high tempo is thus expected at RFK Stadium on Friday night.

That said, the players' stated priority is a simple one: More of the ball.

“Possession. In training, the drills we do – it's a lot of possession drills,” said Gyasi Zardes at Thursday evening's session on the RFK pitch. “Everything. We're building from the back, midfield, keeping the ball up top. We're just really working on keeping the ball.”

The Yanks actually won the possession battle, sometimes overwhelmingly, in every Gold Cup game save their first, a 2-1 win over Honduras in Frisco, Texas on July 7. But it nonetheless remains the focus as the US prepares to meet two respected South American sides with an eye towards next month's CONCACAF Cup clash against Mexico.

“It's about scoring when we have the chance,” said midfielder Mix Diskerud. “Also we want to be maybe more possession-based. When we have the ball, that's when we have the opportunities to score the goals.

“Moving forward, I think we want to see that more, and that's something we want to work on – but of course every team in the world wants to have the ball more.”

Klinsmann has called on his team to dispatch their scoring chances more efficiently, citing poor finishing – above and beyond what he called some “very doubtful” refereeing – as their undoing in July's stunning semifinal loss to Jamaica in Atlanta.

“We had a very, very good performance against Jamaica. We went out because of some of the things that I mentioned before, but also, we know we had enough chances to put the game away as well,” said Klinsmann at Thursday's pregame press conference, a few hours after turning heads with some strongly-worded criticism of CONCACAF refereeing in an interview with the Washington Post.

“We needed to put the ball in the net with the locations we had in that game. And I'm not only referring to some referee calls that were very doubtful.”

Zardes may be looked to for attacking inspiration, whether as a striker or in a left midfield role. The LA Galaxy standout netted two goals and an assist in his last four MLS games and his USMNT performances this year have showed hints of a breakthrough at international level, drawing particular praise from Klinsmann.

“No, I'm not sure yet,” he said when asked about his likely assignment against Peru. “We haven't had our team meeting as far as positions. But I'm training at both positions.

“I'm more comfortable up top. But playing out wide has been great. I've been learning as much as I can, and I'm trying to learn more defensively.”

Citing his squad's wide variety of fitness levels, Klinsmann said he would “probably maximize the subs” on Friday as he looks to reward the effort shown during a hard week's work of five field sessions in four days.

“We have 24 players now for a purpose. We want to hopefully give them as much exposure as possible and a chance to prove a point, even if it's maybe just a few minutes,” he said. “But the training sessions since Sunday have been very intense, so we saw a lot of good stuff, a great attitude from the players and as I mentioned, always geared towards the Mexico clash.”