These U.S. men’s national team friendlies aren’t about wins, or even playing well

Last week, the United States played Denmark and lost. Big deal. When they play Switzerland on Tuesday, history says they will lose again, but it will be just as irrelevant.

It’s impossible to overstate just how meaningless these friendlies are. They mean so little that U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t just dismissing the results; he’s not even calling in close to his best team to achieve results. Instead, Klinsmann is giving players “looks,” just to get more time to “evaluate them” while he publicly compliments them for playing hard.

That, essentially, is what these matches are: “good hustle” matches.

Klinsmann isn’t necessarily wrong to approach things in this manner. Post-World Cup years should be used to get teams ready for their next round of competitive matches, which in Klinsmann’s case is the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He should use this time to get a feel for his team. If there was ever a time for team-building, this is it. But team building seems to be all that he’s interested in doing.

The next time Klinsmann has his full team available will be in June, when the Americans will embark on another European field trip to take on Germany and the Netherlands. By then, Klinsmann will need his best team, and the way they play will matter, since real tests at the Gold Cup will be just a month away. These March friendlies are his last chance to play around and de-emphaize results (or even play) in the name of experience and experimentation.

But even if Klinsmann did pretend these matches mattered, called in his best team, and pushed them to win, would it matter? If Jozy Altidore scored four goals against Switzerland or took a dump at midfield, would it affect a single thing come June? Michael Bradley could pick up three assists or put his hands down his pants and not change a thing. You could argue that this is an opportunity for Klinsmann to build chemistry, especially along the backline, but he’ll have 10 days in June and a two-week training camp before the Gold Cup to do that. And that assumes that the Gold Cup group stage won’t be another two-week training camp. Is it worth sacrificing the final chance to get young players experience and evaluate others at the international level for that extra bit of chemistry that can come this summer?

That is why Klinsmann can watch Nicklas Bendtner tear apart his defense and say afterward, “I think the backline overall did a fine job.” The goal of the match was to see the defenders play, and they played. He wanted them to try hard, and they did. So it was fine.

It’s unfortunate for fans, who want to see a competitive match and cheer on their team, but friendlies aren’t really for fans. That’s the sad truth. Friendlies could be played behind closed doors if Klinsmann wasn’t intent on putting the team in a match environment and there weren’t bills to pay.

As much as it pains fans, they’re not watching to see their team win, or at least they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t even be watching to see “progress.” There are no quantifiable or tangible goals. Those will come in June. In the meantime, fans should be watching to be able to say, “I’ve seen Rubio Rubin and Jordan Morris play.” That’s why Klinsmann is watching.

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