DUBLIN (AP) – The first win is always the toughest.
Jurgen Klinsmann's first victory as US national team manager is in the books, which should ease some of the mounting pressure to see his philosophical changes and personnel experimentation produce results.
Ecuador comes in fresh off an impressive 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Venezuela boasting dynamic threats in midfield and at forward - threats that should test a defense that showed signs of vulnerability against Honduras. In many ways, Ecuador will present a tougher challenge, which could mean Klinsmann calls on many of the same names who featured against Honduras to try and improve on Saturday's performance.
Truth be told, while the United States managed just one goal against Honduras, it wasn't due to a lack of chances created. Finishing continues to be a problem for a US offense that has put together a good number of scoring opportunities in all but one of its matches under Klinsmann (the 1-0 loss to Belgium lacked real scoring opportunities).
Execution in the attacking third should be a focus on Tuesday, which makes you wonder just how many changes we should expect in the lineup. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey both looked sharp against Honduras, while Brek Shea was threatening all match. Both Shea and Danny Williams had bad misses in the run of play on clear looks at goal.
One change that seems likely is the inclusion of DaMarcus Beasley in the starting lineup. Beasley looked good coming off the bench, his stellar form with Mexican side Puebla carrying over to the national team. He should get a look as a starter on the left, with a move to the right wing for Shea a very real possibility.
The American defense looked very vulnerable against Honduras, particularly in the first half, with Michael Orozco Fiscal looking over-matched against Honduras' strong and athletic strikers. His own issues eventually infected the entire defense as the back four scrambled to cover for him. Even Carlos Bocanegra, who was outstanding in the first third of the match, had his own issues keeping tabs on Honduras' counterattack.
Ecuador won't be any easier to contain up top, with Cristian Benitez and Jefferson Montero among the options for the South Americans. If the Honduras match did anything, it had to show Klinsmann that his continued grooming of Orozco Fiscal is misguided, and the San Luis central defender just isn't ready to be a national team starter.
Oguchi Onyewu showed us he is, and as much as their age might make some wonder if an Onyewu-Bocanegra centerback tandem is something worth grooming for 2014, the reality is that for right now, and for the immediate future, that remains the best center back option available, one the rest of the team needs to be built around until viable younger options emerge.
You could call the Ecuador friendly just the type of match to experiment with younger players, particularly defenders, so someone like Tim Ream could be handed a test, but we saw against Honduras that it doesn't really help the full squad to throw in a player who just isn't ready to play at that level.
Klinsmann's toughest decision heading into the Ecuador will likely be who to play in central midfield. He made the surprising decision to start Michael Bradley on the bench versus Honduras, but the tandem of Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman struggled badly as a combo in a match-up the Americans were expected to dominate. Whether or not Klinsmann sat Bradley against Honduras to have him rested to take on Ecuador, only he knows, but the Honduras match should have helped provide the latest evidence that Bradley remains a first-choice option in central midfield.
What should be on Klinsmann's agenda is figuring out who best to partner with Bradley in the middle. A Bradley-Edu tandem has long been seen as a potential combination to build around, but it hasn't necessarily clicked when used lately (though the two worked well together in the 2010 World Cup). Klinsmann rates Beckerman highly and could choose to go with a Bradley-Beckerman tandem against the Ecuadorians, particularly with Beckerman not set to play any league games in coming weeks to due an MLS suspension.
Ecuador will offer a similar challenge to Honduras from a standpoint of featuring some dangerous technical players and a speedy counterattack, but Ecuador could be an even bigger threat if the squad features all its top attacking players, such as Manchester United's Antonio Valencia, Benitez, Walter Ayovi and Montero. Having just played a qualifier on Friday, head coach Reinaldo Rueda could choose to rest some of his players, but if he fields close to a full-strength side, then the US defense will face the kind of challenge Klinsmann will want to have a first-choice defense on the field to try and stop.
In other words, don't expect too much experimentation from the United States on Tuesday. Ecuador isn't a world power, but they're still capable of beating the Americans if Klinsmann trots out an experimental side. There were plenty of questions still to be answered coming out of the Honduras match, so nobody will begrudge Klinsmann if he wants to have another look at what is, at least right now, his first-choice squad.