3 things I learned watching the U.S. defeat Ecuador

Three things I learned watching the U.S. men’s national team defeat Ecuador 1-0 on ESPN2 on Wednesday in Texas:

It may be time for permanent changes for these vets. Watching Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman in the first half was like watching a team going through a scrimmage: they played and looked very slow.

That was evident in the first half on Wednesday when the U.S. had two shots in the first half (both by Dempsey) and neither on target. The most excitement in the game was the yellow cards.

The team built one solid attack. It got caught on counter-attacks a few times. It was painful.

We know what the older group can do. We’ve seen the mixed results for years.

Manager Jurgen Klinsmann should play the youngsters in the Copa America Centenario. Give Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic and Alejandro Bedoya (29 but still quick) the bulk of the minutes. He should continue to play Bradley, who is just 28 but has been capped more than 110 times, in his prefered deeper role like he did in the second half on Wednesday, breaking from his tradition of forcing him to play higher up the pitch despite a consistent lack of results.

Klinsmann says over and over that players need to push themselves by playing against the world’s best to improve. It’s time for him to do the same with his lineup choices. Give these young players a chance to play as a group against the world’s best.

If they show sparks of life in the group games against Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay then Klinsmann knows he has something to work with for World Cup qualifying for Russia 2018.

If they don’t, Klinsmann knows he needs to keep looking and tinkering

With those younger, fresher, quicker players, the U.S. dominated the second half by pressing Ecuador when it had the ball. Once it regained possession, the U.S. rarely lost it, finally breaking through with Nagbe’s winning goal off a Wood header. It was the Portland standout’s first goal.

Wither Yedlin and Johnson? The two most in-form players to start for the U.S., DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson, were very quiet throughout the game.

When the lineup was announced and they were starting at left and right back, I assumed that they would be used more as wingers to take advantage of the speed and crossing ability each showed for their club teams in their recently completed seasons.

Instead, they stayed back.

Yedlin was tasked with trying to contain Jefferson Montero, a very fast player, so his hesitation to go forward was understandable if not frustrating considering how poor the U.S. attack was in the first half. Johnson rarely got an opportunity because the U.S., despite playing a 4-3-3, rarely tried to build an attack up his side.

Those players are too good to not be given some license to attack. Perhaps Klinsmann was worried about his team’s lack of speed in the first half compared to Ecuador’s, so he told them to stay back.

Either way, let them loose.

The heart of the defense. It was an up-and-down night for the two center backs, but a solid night for goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

John Brooks and D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum had several bad giveaways in the first half that led to Ecuador attacks. Brooks began to settle into the game and made a vital sliding tackle to deprive a goal-scoring change. Birnbaum had chances on set pieces on the other end to score, flubbing one glorious chance when instead of shooting he tried to put the ball back across goal.

The pairing didn’t inspire confidence and likely won’t be used again in the upcoming Copa America Centenario.