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Soccer US National Team

USMNT vs. Azerbaijan: Time to Stop Focusing On Who Didn’t Play

Mix Diskerud and USMNT vs Azerbaijan 2014

Ezra Shaw – Getty Images

Before the USMNT began its send-off series tonight in a sadly empty-looking Candlestick Park (especially considering it’s one of the last events that will ever be held there), commentator Taylor Twellman said he wanted to see Tim Howard keep a clean sheet and Jozy Altidore get a goal through an iffy-looking Azerbaijan defense. Both reasonable goals, and one out of two wasn’t bad.

The story of the night turned out to be who wasn’t there. Landon Donovan‘s absence from the final  World Cup roster continues to be a hot topic of conversation, and Clint Dempsey went to the locker room with a last-moment injury during warm-ups. Word has it that Dempsey’s injury wasn’t overly serious, and it was just not worth pushing through for a friendly.

With Dempsey out, Chris Wondolowski got the start, as well as several early scoring chances that didn’t quite go, prompting a few “Dempsey/Donovan would have scored that” remarks on Twitter. When Mix Diskerud scored in the second half, the story was that he was the guy now wearing Donovan’s No. 10 jersey.

Though the Americans won as expected, something about this iteration of the team has yet to capture my imagination. Maybe it was the absence of both Dempsey and Donovan. Maybe it’s the red uniforms, or maybe something about this team just hasn’t quite gelled yet.

Nothing popped off the screen, though the last 30 minutes felt better than the first 60. Jozy seemed largely absent, and Tim Howard (who was captain in Dempsey’s absence) saw a little more action than I would have preferred.

The game, especially the first half, felt a little like the USMNT had all sorts of strange and unexpected stuff thrown at them just to see how well and how quickly they’d adjust. This entire last week has felt a little like a social experiment, like in the movie Miracle when 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team coach Herb Brooks introduced a wildcard player to mess with the team’s chemistry.

Are we positive Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t attempting whatever the German equivalent of a Herb Brooks might be?

I like Klinsmann a lot, though I can’t understand exactly how it was he won my heart. Maybe my vision is clouded after a few months of watching a semi-dysfunctional Indiana Pacers team, but that’s what these friendlies are for, to give the guys some reps together prior to the games that count.

However, it would have made me feel a little better if the fellas had shown the ability to adjust and prosper a little more quickly. It would just be nice to prove that the team can step on the field and dominate from start to finish instead of looking a little generic.

We’ve reached a point where a healthy percentage of Americans are hungry for soccer that features our guys playing it well. It would be a shame if the next few weeks didn’t give the nation someone to fall in love with. Howard, Jozy, Landon, and Dempsey have all given us memorable big-game moments; time for some of the other guys to step up and do the same.

Bethany Robison is an Indianapolis Colts writer for RantSports.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyRobison and add her to your network on Google.