Julian Green takes his chance as U.S. stumbles in draw versus New Zealand
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States and New Zealand played to a 1-1 tie on Tuesday night in a friendly match at RFK Stadium in the Americans' final tune-up before facing Mexico and Costa Rica to kick off the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Julian Green scored in the 27th minute to put the hosts ahead, but Monty Patterson leveled for the visitors late in the second half. Here are three quick thoughts on the match:
1. A disappointing result for the U.S.
Sure, Tuesday's outcome was always supposed to be secondary; the main purpose of the match was to foster competition and assess players ahead of the games that really matter next month. That said, the U.S. is still expected to beat a team like New Zealand -- ranked 88th by FIFA, 68 spots behind the Yanks -- on home soil.
The hosts shouldn't feel aggrieved by the result. The All Whites had the better of the early chances and fully deserved to fly home with the draw, even if Patterson's 72nd-minute equalizer took a deflection before squirming through substitute keeper David Bingham's legs. Had DeAndre Yedlin not cleared his line three minutes from time, the U.S. might have suffered further indignity.
That's not to say there weren't reasons, if not excuses, for the uninspiring performance. The main one was the six lineup changes U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made to the side that beat Cuba 2-0 last week. Meantime, the visitors started eight of the 11 players who narrowly lost to Mexico on Saturday. The result doesn't mean much, to be sure, but it still would have been better to head into November with a win.
2. Green making the most of his chance
Green was a last-minute addition to the U.S. roster for this month's pair of exhibitions, and when he was included in Klinsmann's lineup for last week's match alongside most of the American regulars, many wondered why a player who has made no league appearances for his club this season -- even if that club happens to be Bayern Munich -- was on the field. But Green scored and had an assist in Havana, and on Tuesday, he scored again.
It might have come on a howler by Kiwi goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who barely moved as Green's low blast from just outside the box beat him to the near post. Still, Green once again did what Klinsmann asked him to, namely run at defenders, and Green's pace and silky ball skills were on display right before the strike. Target man Jozy Altidore flicked on a long ball from starting U.S. keeper William Yarbrough, and Green isolated All Whites right-back Liam Graham before firing past Marinovic.
Green is still far from a lock to make the roster against the Ticos and El Tri, especially if he continues to sit at Bayern. But there's no question he has helped himself in the past 10 days, and he'll return to Germany with 168 minutes played over the two tilts, a pair of goals and plenty of well-earned confidence.
3. All eyes on the Hex
Tie or not, this international window served its purpose in terms of looking at new players and fostering competition ahead of the games that matter. Yet there was still an anticlimactic feeling to the proceedings.
The field of play in Cuba was so poor, it prevented the visitors from even attempting a short passing game, forcing them to adopt a more direct style that isn't likely to be repeated in qualifying. Tuesday's encounter in the nation's capital was played before a sparse crowd of 9,012 -- not a huge surprise after plans to play World Cup nemesis Ghana fell through. There was also a sense that for fans and players alike -- not least surefire November starters such as Altidore or Yedlin -- were already thinking about next month.
Why wouldn't they be? The Americans will play two of their three toughest matches -- the other being Mexico away -- to open CONCACAF's six team "Hexagonal." That will be their sole focus when they reconvene in Columbus, Ohio, in four weeks.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.