HOUSTON – United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann revealed the meager value of his side's 0-0 draw with Canada as he attempted to apply some polish to a pretty uneventful night.
In an ideal world, Klinsmann would have talked about how several players rose to the occasion and swept aside this limited and youthful Canadian side with ease. Instead, he spoke about how he gathered the necessary evidence on the utility of these players for the greater tasks ahead before they muddled through this dour affair.
"I think we saw so much during the whole three weeks that we have a pretty good picture about where they are at," Klinsmann said. "Before the game, we were impressed of the shape, their willingness and also of their qualities. You wish you could finish it off in a nice way in a friendly game, but it's always difficult to start your season with a good game after you've only had training scrimmages."
This particular encounter more or less resembled that sort of exercise. Canada focused on its shape and set out its stall after a weakened Denmark ripped them apart in a 4-0 win on Saturday. Klinsmann deployed his players in a 4-4-2 formation at the start and tinkered with things as he went to try and coax the ingenuity and the tempo required to translate ample possession into a tangible advantage.
It never arrived. Chances were few and far between, particularly during an awful first half. A pair of halftime substitutions perked the US up a touch after the break, but the initial surge petered out to the inevitable conclusion. In the face of determined opposition, the US simply lacked the quality to produce the one or two chances required to alter the course of the match.
The entire scenario did little to help Klinsmann evaluate players on the cusp of making the full team. Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez saw little action in central defense. And the rest of the hopefuls further up the field suffered from the lack of chemistry and sharpness endemic to early season friendlies and the conservative approach preferred by a Canadian side in need of a lift after a poor result.
"We can't really control that," Besler said. "I can't really say that I'd rather have a game where we defended a lot. You take what you are given. In that game, we had to show how we could break down a team. Canada made it tough for us. We're going to face teams like that in qualifying. If you look at some of the games we might face, there might be 10 or 11 guys behind the ball. We're going to have to try to break teams down. That was the exercise for us tonight."
Fortunately for Klinsmann, the next assignment will involve his regulars instead of a raft of hopefuls trying to meet the standard they have already set. Most of the players poised to feature in that group - a list that will almost certainly include captain-for-the-night Kyle Beckerman, Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi plus a couple of others - will feature in more limited roles once the reinforcements arrive.
"We have a pretty clear picture of who we want to take to Honduras, but you will have to be patient with us for a couple of more days," Klinsmann said. "We have to see where our Europeans are at and where our guys are in Mexico. Some have injury problems, some have rhythm problems because they are not playing that much. We are going to evaluate them now in the next two or three days and then get the entire group together in Miami. But that was not depending on tonight, how we look at the guys."
Klinsmann can afford to take a magnanimous approach, after all. He didn't learn much, but he didn't have to do so, either.
While he may have liked a better performance and probably would have liked to see some players perform to a higher standard, the outcome of this game and the inclusion or exclusion of most of these players won't fundamentally alter the composition of his squad. And that fact will allow him to breathe a bit easier as he contemplates how little he gathered from this ultimately unimportant match.