Nagbe impresses, but US struggle to goalless draw in Arena's return
Bruce Arena's return as coach of the U.S. men's national team came in the form of a friendly against Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. With the stakes just a bit higher than for a usual January camp friendly, the Americans ended the day with a slightly dispiriting goalless draw.
A wave of enthusiasm swept in with Bruce Arena, as the former USMNT boss returned to the job after Jurgen Klinsmann's dismissal, and there was at least some evidence of it on the field in San Diego. The Americans certainly looked more organized than in recent times, with a clear division of roles and players in their best positions. Balance wasn't an issue, nor was possession. A few of the names returning to the fold showed well, including Darlington Nagbe.
The Americans lacked a cutting edge in the attacking end of the field. Despite the encouraging performances of players like Nagbe and Sacha Kljestan, the result of numerous moves was a wayward shot or a cross eaten up by Serbian defenders. On the other end, the U.S. defense looks a bit out of sorts, with the full-backs struggling to find a rhythm up and down the flanks.
Manager rating out of 10
5.5 -- Failing to win on home soil against a weak Serbian team is a mark against the returning USMNT boss. That said, nothing about Arena's lineup or approach was necessarily wrong -- his team simply failed to create a wealth of chances and did not convert the chances that were created. Arena's substitutions provided good looks at a number of players who will help as he tries to build depth and competition at several positions.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Nick Rimando, 7 -- Had very little to do until late in the match, when he was called upon to make a pair of easy saves, and a save that salvaged the draw when Serbia hit the Americans on a break.
DF Graham Zusi, 6 -- Stepped into an unfamiliar position and got stronger as the game went on. Beaten by speed on a few occasions, though.
DF Steve Birnbaum, 5.5 -- Did not stand out -- for either good or bad play. The D.C. United man made one important intervention in the second half when the game was stretched.
DF Chad Marshall, 6 -- Solid defensively and brave winning balls in the air. The Seattle Sounders player was guilty of more than one egregious giveaway when trying to play out of the back.
DF Greg Garza, 4.5 -- Should have been whistled for a penalty in the first half but was saved by the referee mis-spotting the call. Up and down defensively and did little going forward.
MF Michael Bradley, 5.5 -- Effectively played balls over the top in the first half and covered the back line well. Tired as the game went along and gave the ball away too often as a result.
MF Jermaine Jones, 6 -- Had an up and down first half before giving way to Sebastian Lletget. Committed a few painful giveaways but gave the amount of effort expected.
MF Alejandro Bedoya, 5.5 -- Played smart soccer on the right-hand side of midfield, but was limited in his ability to impact the game going forward.
MF Sacha Kljestan, 6 -- Pressed well and earned the Americans a couple of chances because of it. Combined well with Nagbe in particular.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 7 -- Nearly everything he did was good, save a few moments of indecision in the final third. Impressed enough that we should expect to see him in the team moving forward.
FW Jozy Altidore, 6 -- Earned his 100th cap and did a yeoman's job with holdup play and passing. Isolated as lone striker and didn't get many looks at goal.
MF Sebastian Lletget, 6.5 -- Guilty of a bad turnover that led to a Serbian chance, but was otherwise a bright spot in relief of Jermaine Jones. Drove into space and set up teammates.
MF Chris Pontius, NR -- Popped up in a few good places and tracked back well on the right side.
DF Jorge Villafana, NR -- Good on the ball, smart with his passes, and a danger overlapping in his USMNT debut.
FW Jordan Morris, NR -- Stretched a tired Serbian defense with his speed. Wasted a late chance with a shot well over the bar.
MF Benny Feilhaber, NR -- Took opponents on with his dribbling ability, to good effect, during a late-game cameo.
MF Juan Agudelo, NR -- Added a late spark, and found himself with a good chance in the dying moments only to stay too long on the ball.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.