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United States

Three Points: USA vs. Czech Republic

Three quick thoughts after the U.S. national team's 1-0 win over the Czech Republic at the Generali Arena in Prague, the Americans' first game since their memorable round-of-16 run at the 2014 World Cup.

1. Return of the 4-3-3

The three-man front line was a staple of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's early games in charge of the Yanks back in 2011, but he relied mostly on variations of a more conservative 4-5-1 during World Cup qualifying in 2012 and '13 and at the main event in Brazil. Against the Czechs, though, Klinsmann reverted to his favorite formation, using Julian Green and debutant Joe Gyau on either side of target striker Jozy Altidore. The result was promising. While it was only one game, Green and Gyau seemed well suited to the role. The speedy, youthful German-based duo are smart, skilled and fearless going forward, even if they sometimes made the wrong decision in the final third of the field.

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Still, they both gave Altidore the support he lacked three years ago, before Klinsmann scrapped his plan and reverted to other sets. Altidore's hold-up play is much improved since then, too, and don't forget that the Americans were already 14 months into the four-year cycle when Klinsmann took the job. All of those are reasons the coach could be tempted to stick with the 4-3-3 a little bit longer this time.

2. It was a promising start for Gyau

The 21-year-old was a surprise starter on Wednesday, but he was easily the Yanks' most active player, especially in the first half. At the very least, Gyau, who moved from Bundesliga club Hoffenheim to Borussia Dortmund (where he plays for the powerhouse's under-23 squad) this summer, didn't look like a guy with just two top-flight appearances -- both off the bench -- so far in his career.

Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya celebrate after Bedoya put the U.S. up 1-0 in the 39th minute.

Not only did Gyau's quickness on the left side give the home team fits early on, he even showed a willingness to track back and assist his back line. Just before the hour mark, at the top of Nick Rimando's six-yard box, Gyau did just enough to put off Czech striker Ladislav Krejci, who fired his low shot straight into the U.S. keeper.

No, Gyau wasn't perfect. He faded as the match wore on, and didn't do as well defensively on a dangerous cross that he misjudged moments after the aforementioned play. But the fact that he was there trying to help out -- something older, more-experienced players don't always do -- is a positive sign. No wonder Klinsmann left him on for the full 90 minutes.

3. The result matters, even if it doesn't count

It took some late heroics from Rimando, whose saves kept the U.S. in the game after relieving starter Brad Guzan at halftime. But the young, hastily assembled visitors were the better team over the first 45 minutes, before a slew of substitutions after the break disrupted the rhythm of the game. And still the Yanks were able to hang on for a shutout win against a quality opponent on European soil -- something American teams haven't done often over the years.

That the Czechs fielded close to a full-strength side and were treating the tilt as their final tuneup before opening Euro 2016 qualifying against the Netherlands next week makes the victory even more impressive.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.


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