Making the case for eight U.S. players
Reading into the results of the U.S. national team's traditional January friendlies is likely to lead to shaky conclusions. For these games, the U.S. is never at full strength, its opponent usually isn't either and most of the players are in their off-seasons and have only been training together for a few weeks. The exercise does, however, offer a good view of individual performance and progression. So while consecutive 1-0 wins over Venezuela in Phoenix and Panama in Panama City might mean little for the big picture, eight players put in strong applications for a promotion up Jurgen Klinsmann's depth chart.
The versatile Houston Dynamo defender started in both games and made a strong impression. Until he was sent off in the 52nd minute against Panama, that is, when he bundled down Blas Perez, who had broken through the line on yet another long ball over the top. Nevertheless, Cameron looked composed on the ball, strong in the air and, crucially, revealed himself as that rare breed of American defender capable of playing the ball out of the back -- a style of play that Klinsmann yearns for. That alone should get him plenty of more looks, even if at 26 he's no longer really a prospect.
It took a year and a half for Clark's standing with the national team to recover from the 2010 World Cup debacle, when his performance in the second round against Ghana was so dire that he was subbed off in the 31st minute. But against Venezuela and Panama, Clark made solid substitute and starting appearances, respectively. His distribution was good and he closed down well, making him a long-term candidate for a midfield job. The Eintracht Frankfurt player desperately needs to make minutes at the club level though.
In his first appearance under Klinsmann, Feilhaber showed that he was miscast as a winger, his previous role on the national team. Playing in the hole under deep striker Teal Bunbury against Venezuela, Feilhaber was a revelation, sending deft through balls from miniscule pockets of space, connecting well laterally and holding up play when necessary. That made it surprising that he didn't play at all in the second game. Klinsmann shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, wherein there might not be a role for Feilhaber. It's up to him now to turn in a strong season with the New England Revolution and carve out a national team spot for himself.
The two-way midfielder remains unpredictable. He's as likely to stamp on or plow through an opponent as he is to split the opposing defense with a brilliant ball or pelt the goal with an air-searing shot. That said, he got the game-winning assist against Venezuela and was plainly the fittest and best player the U.S. had over two games, even if he did incur a yellow card in each and committed silly turnovers. Jones, who was called in by virtue of an eight-game Bundesliga suspension with Schalke, was always more A-team than B.
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Against Venezuela, the U.S. played in the same 4-3-3 system it often has under Klinsmann, which mandates a holding midfield anchorman to shield the back line by positioning himself 10 yards upfield and staying there all game. That role had been Kyle Beckerman's, who has gained Klinsmann's approval there. Beckerman was injured for these games, drafting Larentowicz into that role against Venezuela and for almost half an hour against Panama. He performed it ably and quietly, just the way Klinsmann likes, making the Colorado Rapids midfielder a likely candidate for backup.
Zach LoydThe natural right back made two appearances as a left back. Against Venezuela, he came on in the 73rd minute and looked steady defensively and aggressive going forward, building on a man-of-the-match performance in the 2011 January game against Chile. Against Panama he earned the start. At times Loyd looked shaky defensively, but his forays into the attacking half, including the one that induced the game-winner through his sharp cross, recommended more playing time in the future for the 24-year old FC Dallas defender before coming off injured in the 42nd minute.
The Denmark-based FC Nordsjaelland center half was steady in two full games in central defense, showing composure and a reliable aerial game. In a thin pool of mostly aging or inexperienced central defenders, the steady Parkhurst, who is two days past his 28th birthday, can only have boosted his stock.
By consistently calling in 21-year-old Bill Hamid as his backup to Tim Howard, Klinsmann has indicated that he sees the job of backup goalkeeper as one for learning, to act as an understudy in order to eventually take over. But Rimando might have thrown a wrench into that plan by excelling in his half of work against Panama. His audacious charges and point-blank saves confirmed what Rimando's recent body of work with Real Salt Lake had already suggested: his polish and maturity make him a safer bet coming off the bench.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderESPN.
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