Julian Green, Sacha Kljestan make most of USA’s drab draw vs. New Zealand

WASHINGTON — Julian Green scored another goal, Lynden Gooch enjoyed his international debut and Terrence Boyd made a long-awaited return to the field. But it wasn’t all rosy for the U.S. national team on Tuesday night in the nation’s capital, where unheralded New Zealand recovered from a first-half deficit to tie the Americans, 1-1, at RFK Stadium.

Here are three thoughts on the final friendly scheduled before the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the Hexagonal, kicks off next month with matches against Mexico and Costa Rica.

Green makes the most of a long-awaited opportunity

Green scored the Americans’ final goal of the 2014 World Cup, returned to Germany and as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said Monday, he “went into his dive in a certain way.” Green struggled while on loan at Hamburger SV and didn’t play for the U.S. at all last year. But Klinsmann still kept track and when Green earned a spot on Bayern’s senior squad this summer, that represented “a signal” to the U.S. manager.

“When you train alongside [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribéry and Thomas Müller and all those guys day in day out, that means you train on the highest level possible,” Klinsmann said this week. “This might be a good moment to bring him back, see where he’s at.”

Klinsmann had been hoping that Green would come out of his “dive” and play to his strength, which is challenging defenders and creating chances off the dribble. That requires confidence, and Klinsmann said the 21-year-old showed up at camp brimming with it.

“It kind of felt like he still has that stuff in the back of his mind. We don’t have to repeat it anymore,” Klinsmann said.

Green may have been the only U.S. player who looked consistently comfortable on the ball in Friday’s win over Cuba. He scored the second goal and helped set up the first in the Americans’ 2-0 victory. He maintained that run of form Tuesday and tallied a goal that required confidence and a bit of daring. Jozy Altidore knocked down a long restart from U.S. goalkeeper William Yarbrough and the ball fell to Green. New Zealand defender Liam Graham backed off, hoping to keep Green in front him. Green was all too happy to take the space on offer and he deftly froze Graham on the edge of the penalty area before firing a shot inside the near post.

Graham plays in the English third division. All White goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who was befuddled by Green’s shot, makes his living in Germany’s fourth tier. Neither Cuba nor New Zealand represent world-class opposition. But as Klinsmann said, Green is getting an up close look at that every day at Bayern, and now he can return to Munich with a bit more spring in his step.

This otherwise forgettable international window may be remembered as a turning point for a player who really needed one.

GALLERY: U.S. Soccer in 2016

Julian Green is congratulated by captain Michael Bradley after scoring the opener, but the U.S. was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw vs. New Zealand in the last game before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal kicks off.

Chris Wondolowski scored a goal and assisted on another, as the USA continued World Cup qualifying preparations by beating Cuba 2-0 in a historic friendly in Havana.

Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal that kicks off the scoring for the USA in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

U.S. women's national team co-captain Carli Lloyd happily signs autographs after scoring a hat trick in a 9-0 romp over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.

Megan Rapinoe kneels for the national anthem ahead of the U.S. women's national team's match vs. Thailand, continuing her public protest in line with that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan celebrate during a 4-0 win, which cemented the USA's place atop its World Cup qualifying group and a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal.

The long and stunned faces say it all, as the U.S. women try to comprehend a penalty-kick loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. The 4-3 PK defeat after a 1-1 draw marked the earliest ouster for the U.S. women in a major competition ever.

Hope Solo lets a Catalina Usme free kick slip through her hands and legs in a shocking 2-2 draw. The USA still won its Olympic group despite the slip-up.

Carli Lloyd scores the only goal in a 1-0 win over a stout France side to punch the USA's ticket to the knockout stage at the Olympics.

Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal in the USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening match of group play at the Olympics. Alex Morgan doubled the USA's lead in the second half.

Christen Press and Carli Lloyd celebrate an easy 4-0 win, which sent the U.S. on its way to Rio with an unbeaten record in 2016.

Hope Solo salutes the crowd after posting the 100th clean sheet of her career in a 1-0 win in Chicago. Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal.

For a second time at Copa America, the USA falls to Colombia, with Carlos Bacca's goal the difference in a 1-0 result in the third-place match in Arizona.

Lionel Messi converts an incredible free kick to punctuate a dominant performance for Argentina against the USA in the Copa America semifinals.

Goal scorers Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes share a celebratory hug with Matt Besler in the Copa America quarterfinals, where the Americans held on for a 2-1 win and a place in the semis.

Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal in a 1-0 win over Paraguay, which secured the USA's place in the Copa America knockout stage.

Bobby Wood caps a dominating first half for the USA in a must-win game vs. Costa Rica in Chicago at Copa America. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi also scored.

Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn defends as the U.S. bounces back to shut out Japan 2-0 in a rain-shortened friendly in Cleveland.

James Rodriguez beats Brad Guzan from the penalty spot in Colombia's 2-0 win over the USA to open Copa America Centenario.

Lindsey Horan heads the USA in front to cap a comeback from two goals down, but the Americans conceded in extra time to 10-woman Japan, settling for a 3-3 draw.

Christian Pulisic scores his first international goal in the USA's 4-0 win over Bolivia in a final tune-up for Copa America. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, and John Brooks added one of his own in the triumph.

Darlington Nagbe is hugged by Christian Pulisic after his 90th-minute volley delivers a 1-0 victory for the USA in a pre-Copa America friendly.

Tim Ream scores the opening goal in the USA's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides. Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola scored as well.

Julie Johnston, left, is mobbed after one of her two goals in a 3-0 USA win at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Allie Long, left scores twice, and five other players score as well in a 7-0 rout of Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Christian Pulisic, 17, makes his U.S. debut in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, becoming cap-tied to the USA. He was otherwise eligible for Croatia.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore celebrate during a thorough 4-0 World Cup qualifying win, putting the USA's campaign back on track after the setback in Guatemala.

There was no way through for DeAndre Yedlin and the USA during a 2-0 loss in Guatemala in what was a stunning setback in the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign.

The USWNT celebrates the inaugural SheBelieves Cup title after beating European powers England, France and Germany in succession.

The U.S. celebrates Alex Morgan's equalizer vs. Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in Boca Raton, Florida. Samantha Mewis's winner a few minutes later cemented the Americans' overall triumph in the competition.

Alex Morgan scores the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over France in the second game of the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.

Crystal Dunn is mobbed after her game-winning goal kicks off the SheBelieves Cup in a 1-0 triumph in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal that helps the USA to a 2-0 win over Canada and a first-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.

Alex Morgan celebrates one of her three goals that helped the U.S. clinch a berth in the 2016 Olympics after a 5-0 triumph in Houston.

Crystal Dunn scores one of her five goals, tying a single-game U.S. record in a 10-0 rout to close group play in Olympic qualifying.

The U.S. needed a penalty kick from Carli Lloyd to beat Mexico 1-0 in the second match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.

Alex Morgan scores the fastest goal in U.S. history, netting 12 seconds into the USWNT's Olympic qualifying campaign and sending the Americans on their way to a 5-0 win.

Jozy Altidore heads in the winner to secure a 1-0 win over Canada at StubHub Center to cap the annual winter training camp.

Steve Birnbaum heads in a late winner in a 3-2 victory over Iceland in the opening match of the year.

17-year-old Mallory Pugh scores on her debut, helping cap a 5-0 win for the USA to open the year. Carli Lloyd led the way with a hat trick, and Alex Morgan scored as well in San Diego.

Close

Slow start and slow finish lead to the first tie of 2016

The Americans were fortunate not to fall behind in the opening minute but couldn’t hold off the All Whites late. The U.S. entered the game 12-4-0 in 2016 and settled for its first draw of the year. The hosts took a lead into intermission thanks to Green and seemed to be settling into the 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1) deployed by Klinsmann. It wasn’t a typical alignment and there were players at new positions, so a few early struggles weren’t a surprise. But the ball was moving well and an inability to get a second goal came back to bite the Americans in the end.

“They had a bit of control there, USA,” New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson said following the game, but added that he thought the win was there for the taking at the end. The All Whites dominated the ball in the final 15-20 minutes as the U.S. wore down.

“They’re a very physical team and play in a bit more of the traditional style,” Klinsmann said. “They’re not easy to play.”

In the 72nd minute, a New Zealand corner kick created a bit of chaos in the U.S. penalty area. Kiwi defender Michael Boxall shielded the ball from a couple U.S. defenders and forward Monty Patterson slid a shot between the legs of U.S. goalkeeper David Bingham. The San Jose Earthquakes netminder had relieved starter William Yarbrough at halftime. Yarbrough also faltered, although he wasn’t punished. He spilled a first-minute shot from New Zealand’s Chris Wood, leaving a tasty rebound for another forward who failed to finish the chance

Neither goalkeeper is in frame to play next month and the slow start and finish on Tuesday won’t trouble Klinsmann too much. Friendlies are just that. They’re often several games in one. Changes are made and chemistry is altered on the fly. Overall, Klinsmann said he got what he needed out of the 10-day camp.

“For us, it was important to see the individual performances,” he said.

Kljestan fills a need

For a while, Klinsmann was so desperate to find a playmaker that he insisted Michael Bradley fill the role. That never looked like a permanent solution. And although Alejandro Bedoya can be effective in that spot and Darlington Nagbe still hasn’t gotten a consistent national team run, the position—and perhaps minutes against Mexico and Costa Rica next month—now appears to be Sacha Kljestan’s to lose.

Tuesday was Kljestan’s 50th cap, but his absence from the program and the sense that Klinsmann had moved on leaves this feeling like a rebirth. Kljestan couldn’t get a look from Klinsmann while playing more of a holding role at Anderlecht. Now as a playmaker and MLS assists leader for the New York Red Bulls, he fills more of a need.

Kljestan was outstanding in last month’s World Cup qualifiers and did well to find the game in a new formation on Tuesday night. Kljestan was at the top of a triangle anchored by Bradley and Perry Kitchen, with DeAndre Yedlin and Green on the flanks. It took around 20 minutes for them to find their spacing and rhythm but once they did, the U.S. carried the play. Although the hosts scored only once, they dominated possession (with around 58%) and let New Zealand back into the game late only once several substitutions were made.

Kljestan’s ability to combine with Bradley and bring his teammates into the game is a rare commodity, and he has the vision to see passes that can beat a defense (New Zealand played with five in the back). Like Green, he appears to have made a dramatic return from the international wilderness in time for the Hex.



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