Starting his second World Cup cycle as U.S. coach, Jurgen Klinsmann set a bold goal for the Americans: reach the final four of the 2018 tournament in Russia.
The U.S. opened four years of preparation by beating the Czech Republic for the first time in four meetings, using a youthful roster to win 1-0 in an exhibition Wednesday night on Alejandro Bedoya’s 39th-minute goal in Prague.
“It just shows that the States has a deeper pool,” Bedoya said. “There’s a bunch of great, young, talented players coming through.”
After finishing second in a tough World Cup group that included eventual champion Germany, Portugal and Ghana, the Americans were eliminated with a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium in the round of 16 on July 1. While it marked the Americans’ first consecutive appearances in the knockout rounds, Klinsmann wasn’t satisfied.
“Once you get out of the most difficult group in the World Cup, you should go further than just (the) round of 16,” the former German star player and coach told NBC Sports before Wednesday’s game. “This is our goal going towards Russia, not to stop at the round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal, to say clearly, listen: We have four years to prepare this cycle. Our goal is going into a semifinal in a World Cup. And that means a lot of work, a lot of competition, a lot of grind.”
The U.S. has reached the semifinals just once, at the first World Cup in 1930. The furthest the Americans have advanced since then is a quarterfinal loss to Germany in 2002.
Three players made their U.S. debuts against the Czechs: 21-year-old forward Joe Gyau played the entire match, 23-year-old defender Greg Garza entered in the 63rd, and 18-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman came in four minutes later.
“I think we came together pretty well in this game,” said Gyau, whose father, Philip, made six appearances for the U.S. national team, and whose grandfather, Joseph, played for Ghana.
Hyndman, a grandson of former FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, made his debut last month with Fulham in England’s second tier.
“Most of it is a blur,” Hyndman said. “I remember my giveaway and then my tackle after it.”
Julian Green, the 19-year-old attacker who scored against Belgium, got his first start, and the lineup included John Brooks, the 21-year-old defender who scored the go-ahead goal in the 2-1 win over Ghana.
Tim Ream, a 26-year-old defender who failed to make this year’s World Cup roster, entered at the start of the second half, his first national team match since October 2011. Brad Guzan played the first half as he took over as the Americans’ No. 1 goalkeeper from Tim Howard, who is taking a year off from the national team. Guzan, who turns 30 on Sept. 9, was the oldest player in the U.S. starting lineup.
“It was important to see what is coming through in our talent pool,” Klinsmann said. “For 65, 70 minutes, it went really well.”
The only U.S. player over 30 was 35-year-old goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who made a left-footed save on Ladislav Krejci in the 65th, knocked away Darida’s close-range attempt in the 65th, blocked Radim Rezik’s right-footed shot in the 85th and used a leg to deflect Daniel Punil’s point-blank shot in the 89th.
“We wanted to set the tone and make some impressions,” Rimando said.