The new four-year cycle began in earnest for the U.S. national team Saturday night in Chicago with a game that didn’t matter and a performance that suggested a lot more progress will be needed before the next World Cup kicks off in 2014.
But no sense in looking too deeply into the 2-2 draw with Poland at Soldier Field. Coach Bob Bradley fielded an all-European lineup -- Galaxy captain Landon Donovan and other statesiders stayed with their clubs in Major League Soccer and Mexico -- that included locals Maurice Edu (Fontana/Etiwanda HS) in central defense, Carlos Bocanegra (Alta Loma/Alta Loma HS and UCLA) at left back, and Benny Feilhaber (Irvine/Northwood HS and UCLA) and Michael Bradley (Manhattan Beach) in midfield.
Jozy Altidore scored his first international goal since May, and Oguchi Onyewu, who hasn’t seen the field for AC Milan this season, also tallied as the Americans twice took leads they couldn’t hold onto.
The only really notable occurrence was the debut of German-born midfielder Jermaine Jones, who partnered Michael Bradley and generated a few what-ifs with a solid performance. As in: What if he’d been healthy for the World Cup? (Answer: Bob Bradley wouldn’t have started Ricardo Clark against the Ghanaians, and perhaps the U.S. gets to the quarterfinals.)
Jones, whose father was an American serviceman and who lived in Chicago and Louisiana as a youngster, missed all of last season for Schalke 04 with a fractured shin. He switched allegiances from Germany last year, after FIFA altered eligibility rules, but it was pretty clear by April that he wasn’t going to be ready in time. Too bad.
Jones set up Altidore’s goal in the 13th minute with a ball over the top from just behind the midfield stripe, a really fine sequence, and he was decent managing the game and supporting the attack. One mistake late led to Jakub Blaszczykowski’s 73rd-minute equalizer, but all in all, a promising start.
Winger Stuart Holden also looked good, generating chances and sending in the corner kick that Onyewu headed home seven minutes into the second half. Right back Steve Cherundolo was reliable as always, and Tim Howard was outstanding in the nets, turning away several dangerous shots, the best a 21st-minute Robert Lewandowski breakaway.
Defense was a problem, just like in the World Cup. Bocanegra, the U.S. captain, struggled, and giveaways compounded by poor clearances led to both Poland goals. Adam Matuszczyk got the first, in the 30th minute, after Holden and Onyewu failed to get the ball out of the U.S. box; shoddy defending made Jones’ turnover costly on the second.
The U.S. plays Colombia on Tuesday in Chester, Pa., and the Europeans will be supplemented by FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, hoping to make his international debut, and left back Heath Pearce. Both were released to their club for Saturday’s game against Colorado -- a 2-2 draw -- after training this week with the U.S.