U.S. has yet to find the proactive style that Jurgen Klinsmann promised
LONDON -- U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud called his side's 2-1 loss to Colombia "Hawaii football."
He's not sure how that particular description found its way into the soccer lexicon of his native Norway. Perhaps it was the way Colombia attacked in waves, but it generally refers to an end-to-end, back-and-forth game.
Except in this instance there was more back than forth, meaning the match was no day at the beach for Jurgen Klinsmann's side. The first quarter of the game was played at a breakneck pace, and the U.S. had its opportunities. It even went ahead 1-0 on Jozy Altidore's 10th-minute penalty. Then the difference in ability between the two teams revealed itself.
The U.S. couldn't sustain its initial ability to connect passes, while Colombia, led by the dominant skills of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Teofilo Gutierrez, looked utterly comfortable with the game's tempo.
"There was a lot of running back and forth, and not having the ball," said Diskerud. "Then when we had the ball, you're kind of tired and you're spread out. Then it's a couple of passes and then a long ball and then they get it back."
The U.S. did squander a glorious chance early in the second half to go two up, but Rubio Rubin could only direct his header wide. Colombia's dominance then reasserted itself, and the two goals it scored in the last half hour from Carlos Bacca and Gutierrez were entirely in keeping with the run of play.
It provided a haunting sense of déjà vu from last summer's World Cup. In that tournament, the U.S. tended to defend tough, be opportunistic in attack, and fight like hell to get results. That the Americans used those traits to get to the second round is to their credit, but it only gets you so far. And once again one is left to wonder at what point the long-promised proactive style from U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann will begin to reveal itself.
To be fair, there have been moments in recent matches against the Czech Republic, Ecuador and Honduras when the U.S. carried the game. But the match against Colombia showed just how far the U.S. has to go.
Some will no doubt point to the fact that the U.S. lineup contained some young and inexperienced elements. But Rubin, who was making his international debut, mixed some good moments with bad, and overall showed he certainly wasn't overawed by the occasion. Left back Greg Garza revealed his increasing comfort at international level, even as Colombia launched attack after attack.
Klinsmann felt that the problems linking passes were team-wide, but started in the back.
"Colombia is a team that tries high pressure, mostly with five guys going at the [four-man] back line," he said.
"If you don't find that first pass right away, you get into issues, that is just normal. We knew here and there we would have some problems. You can solve it in the way that you say, 'Hit the ball long, and we go from there.' But that's not what we want to learn. That's not how we want to play.
"So I said, 'Even if you are in trouble, I still want you to find people on the ground and play out of the back.'"
He later added about his team's possession difficulties, "I'm not concerned at all."
But the U.S. team's issues weren't just about the first pass. Managing tempo proved to be a problem as well, which was somewhat surprising given the experience level of Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson (before he moved to the back). Beckerman admitted that the U.S. got drawn into Colombia's high-tempo vortex, and couldn't find a way out.
"When you're defending so much, you think, 'This is our chance, we've got to counterattack, and get them while they're out,'" he said. "But it's something we need to work on. There are times when we can go right away to get a counterattacking goal, and times when we can hold it up, get some possession, and get our breath back with the ball. That's definitely a work in progress."
That is where the low-hanging fruit would appear to lie when going up against a team of Colombia's quality. It's not that the U.S. even needs to win the so-called possession battle. But it does need to have enough composure to find that happy medium between going for goal, and taking the foot off the gas and keeping it there for even a few minutes.
The presence of Michael Bradley -- assuming he heals up from his recent foot surgery and is returned to his more comfortable role deeper in midfield -- would certainly do plenty to help the team manage the pace of the game. But even he can only do so much. One can only hope that as this World Cup cycle progresses, the lessons in game management can begin to take root throughout the team, and make "Hawaii football" a more enjoyable experience.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.