If World Cup tuneups are designed to build confidence and improve team chemistry, then Ukraine's emotional 2-0 win over the U.S. on Wednesday in Larnaca, Cyprus, was a disaster for the Americans.
But if the idea is to identify weaknesses and expose mistakes, then the match was a huge success. Because the U.S. did little right in a sloppy, confused effort that is all the more worrisome since it came less than 100 days from the start of this summer's tournament in Brazil.
"It was difficult for a lot of players to get into a rhythm, to stand out," said U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann, who used the match as a final evaluation for the European-based players on the fringes of his World Cup roster. "It's important for us to know where these players are at this specific point, and we can give them a lot of good information for the next 10 weeks, before we meet then for the preparation for the World Cup."
Given the way many of those players performed, though, it's likely few of them will be called back, probably leaving the U.S. with a World Cup roster dominated by players from Major League Soccer.
The makeshift back line of Geoff Cameron, Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks and Edgar Castillo, was particularly ragged and confused Wednesday, with coverage errors leading directly to Andriy Yarmolenko's goal in the 12th minute and Marko Devic's score 23 minutes into the second half.
As a result, only Cameron seems assured of being on the plane to Brazil.
In the midfield Michael Bradley's absence left a huge hole — a gap that grew bigger when Clint Dempsey and Sacha Kljestan proved to be nonfactors and Jermaine Jones' nagging groin problem forced him to the sidelines. The game may have ended Kljestan's World Cup hopes as well.
And up front a punchless attack led by slumping striker Jozy Altidore required Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov to make only two saves.
"It would be totally wrong now to criticize what went wrong. It was clear to us that playing a completely new back line, playing players that come out of the club system, who are in a difficult situation, not having the same confidence they usually have," Klinsmann said. "There's a lot of work to be done and a lot to build on."
Wednesday's game was played in a near-empty stadium in Cyprus after the teams agreed last week to move the game from Ukraine, the site of growing political violence, to a neutral site. The Ukrainians nearly backed out of the game anyway, threatening Monday to stay home following Russia's occupation of the Crimean peninsula.
Instead the players turned the game into a stirring display of patriotism, draping arms over one another's shoulder and singing the Ukrainian national anthem before observing a pregame moment of silence in honor of those who died in the street protests that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovich.
Baxter reported from Phoenix.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun