International friendly recap: USMNT 0–0 Serbia

The first game back for Bruce Arena after ten years away was a bit of disappointment, as the US failed to catch fire and drew 0–0 with Serbia in San Diego. The team looked comfortable, with some good moments, but nothing quite came together.

First half

Bruce Arena’s first lineup was the same but different from what Jurgen Klinsmann might have put together. Ahead of Nick Rimando in goal, the back line was a complete mishmash, with four new/old faces. As expected, Graham Zusi started at right back, next to Steve Birnbaum. But on the other side, Chad Marshall and Greg Garza got starts. Ahead of them, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were familiar, as was Ale Bedoya, but then Arena included both Sacha Kljestan and Darlington Nagbe, who made his first start for the national team after 11 caps. Up front, Jozy Altidore was another old head.

The game was a slow starter, with neither team doing much moe than trading free kicks outside the 18. Though, in the 23rd, a Garza foul should have resulted in a penalty rather than one of those kicks, as it happened just inside the box. The US defended that well, keeping Serbia at bay, then soon countered up the other end. Nagbe made a terrific turn on the left side to get things started, before Kljestan eventually fed Jones in the box. Jones’s cross through the six was tantalizing, but couldn’t find an American boot and was cleared.

That moved sparked some life into the US and the team began to really turn over, especially through Nagbe on the left. And in the 38th, Nagbe came closest to breaking the deadlock. Taking a ball over the top into the box, he cut back onto his right foot and curled strike just past the far post. It was a great chance, but he had two teammates open to his right if he’d gotten his head up after cutting inside his defender.

Second half

Sebastian Lletget came on for Jones at the half. Lltget had a swift impact getting stuck in and winning a challenge in the middle of the park before starting an incisive attack the resulted in Altidore forcing a one-on-one save from the Serbian keeper. That would be the last chance for nearly fifteen minutes, but Lletget would again be involved when the US had an opportunity. In the 58th, Lletget took the ball up the left side and sent in a cross. Kljestan made contact, but his looping header drifted wide of the post.

Chris Pontius entered for Bedoya in the 65th. In the 69th, Jorge Villafana replaced Garza. Jordan Morris came on for Altidore in the 74th. Very little happened in between. Morris was involved in a good move straight away, found by Kljestan up the right side, but he chance came to nothing. Serbia wasn’t up to much, either, but had a few half chances from crosses coming from the US left, as the sun made it very difficult for Rimando or the defenders to find the ball. Benny Feilhaber made an appearance, as well, and the US started getting closer, with a handful of scrums in the box but no clear-cut chances.

Late on, there were two great chances, one for either team.  A turnover from Lletget led to a hard shot on goal from Serbia that Rimando did well to parry. Then, up the other end, another US substitute, Juan Agudelo, had an opportunity to win it for the US, but dawdled in the box and had the ball poked away. Pontius picked it up and put a shot agonizingly wide.

US verdict

This game was a bit of a wet blanket. While it wasn’t a bad showing, per se, the US never really came together. There was a bit of tactical interest as Bradley would drop between the centerbacks to orchestrate the US’s play, but the US fullbacks were too cautious, as a rule, to make use of the shape. I noted in the comments on the preview for this game that by leaving Keegan Rosenberry home, Arena was making a trade off in favor of international experience over positional experience, and this game did nothing to convince me it was the right choice. Nagbe was a bright spot, but this team felt a little old and a little slow. The addition of the European players, like DeAndre Yedlin and Christian Pulisic, will liven things up considerably.

Final thoughts

Arena gets a C+ for his first game back. It was a bit dull, a bit stale, but games at the end of January camps often are, so it’s hard to say much about that. It will be exciting to see how the game on Friday versus Jamaica goes, and if the gameplan is any different.


USA: 1-Nick Rimando; 19-Graham Zusi, 15-Steve Birnbaum, 5-Chad Marshall, 2-Greg Garza (14-Jorge Villafaña, 69); 4-Michael Bradley (Capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones (18-Sebastian Lletget, 46); 11-Alejandro Bedoya (23-Chris Pontius, 65), 16-Sacha Kljestan (10-Benny Feilhaber, 77), 6-Darlington Nagbe (9-Juan Agudelo, 87); 17-Jozy Altidore (8-Jordan Morris, 74)
Subs not used: 3-Brad Evans, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 12-Luis Robles, 20-Dax McCarty, 21-Walker Zimmerman, 22-David Bingham
Head coach: Bruce Arena

SRB: 1-Filip Manojlović; 3-Nemanja Miletić, 5-Nikola Maraš, 7-Srđan Plavšić (17-Lazar Jovanović, 81), 10-Aleksandar Paločević (9-Marko Mrkić, 64), 11-Marko Gobeljić (2-Marko Klisura, 84), 13-Nikola Ćirković, 14-Nemanja Ćalasan (4-Miloš Simonović, 55), 15-Stefan Panić, 16-Jovan Đokić (6-Marko Jevtović, 77), 18-Saša Jovanović (8-Enver Alivodić, 63)
Subs not used: 12-Ognjen Čančarević
Head coach: Slavoljub Muslin

Stats Summary: USA / SRB
Shots: 12 / 8
Shots on Goal: 1 / 2
Saves: 2 / 1
Corner Kicks: 2 / 7
Fouls: 18 / 14
Offside: 5 / 5

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Sacha Kljestan (caution)     57th minute
SRB – Nikola Ćirković (caution)     80

Referee: Kevin Morrison (JAM)
Assistant Referee 1: Richard Washington (JAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Lloyd Edwards (JAM)
4th Official: Dwight Royal (JAM)


  1. Let down and hanging around... says:

    …crushed like a bug in the ground.
    — that was pretty uninspiring & me thinks if Jurgen produced that people would be troubled and what’s with Taylor Twellman chalking it up as usual to “January Camp” rust. Yeah… rust.
    Pretty over that excuse.
    oh and another thing Graham Zusi at RB– over valuable experience for Keegan? Not seeing it. Is Zusi the de facto back up in case of Yedlin injury? Is that the reason? Otherwise… total sleeper.

    • shell smashed juices flowing says:

      Wings twitch legs are going…
      (And this absolute gem from Twitter.
      “MLS All Star team at home couldnt beat Serbian National B Team.”)
      … don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel – one day I’m going to grow wings.

    • Yeah rust is annoying. At some point you’d you individual talent would shine through, right?

    • Totally agree on Zuzi. Not that he was terrible, but if he is our second option at RB, for our entire nation, big trouble lay ahead.

  2. I was disappointed and I think that Arena could have found more spark if he was looking to make fire.

  3. This line says it all: “Nagbe was a bright spot, but this team felt a little old and a little slow.”

  4. I think that to many people think Arena is going to make changes. From what I see he is coming in to stabilize what is already there. He is going back to a more common formation for the USMNT and he is going back to putting people in the positions that they succeeded the best in previously (except for the Zusi experiment of course). To me I don’t expect to see any sort of fire or crazy changes, however it would be nice to see some more entertaining soccer and a stronger push to win. I think it was largerly more of the same from the USMNT.

  5. I sort of half watched the match in between chores. So maybe I missed the better moments. Didn’t see much overlapping play from the outside backs. Whole team seemed little more than adequate. Didn’t get enough going in the midfield. Often made the wrong choices in the final third.

    Also, did Serbia come out in a 3-4-3? They were sharp for a bunch of kids with 5 caps among them.

    Team needs it’s European club players. Really missing Bobby Wood and Pulisic.

    • Wood, Pulisic, and Johnson would have been major improvements. This was a team full of role players, but lacking anything resembling a difference-maker.
      I give them (and Arena) a 1-game pass. this was Bruce getting reacclimated, the players coming back from the off-season, [add excuse here]. But they are out of time. That was their one mulligan. It needs to be MUCH better against JAM.

  6. If Bradley is going to drop back to “pull the strings” as part of the double pivot, then they need to team him up with a better play-maker than JJ going forward. JJ has been a beast, but at this stage of his career, he is best used as a late game defensive-lock-down sub for when we are ahead – assuming that actually happens.

  7. Why experiment with a guy out of position. Play Rosenberry and if it’s going bad you have 6 subs. Don’t let him get crushed but let him get real game minutes. Seemed like a missed opportunity. And at least then you would know if he’s up to it or not!

  8. In all honesty, this felt like a Klinnsman lineup/game… except not many young players played.
    Experiment a guy out of position, play a 4-2-3-1, never change the Bradley/Jones pairing, mishmash defense.
    On the other hand, it was good the see Nagbe start, as well as Sascha.
    There is something about Sascha, and I may get ripped for saying it, but he just never did it for me on the international level. He is very smart, clever with the ball, and incisive. He kills MLS because of this. However, he lacks strength and speed, which seems to make him lost more often then he should be when playing the 10 role for the national team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *