Jurgen Klinsmann sticks with U.S.'s young defense despite Honduras test

FRISCO, Texas -- The Americans' new-look back line is here to stay. That was the message from U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann following the team's 2-1 Gold Cup-opening victory over Honduras on Tuesday night, a win in which Klinsmann's young defense looked wobbly early but was victimized only by Catracho midfielder Carlos Discua's second-half strike.

Center back Ventura Alvarado got the nod ahead of the more experienced Omar Gonzalez, who started two games for the Americans at last summer's World Cup, but the 22-year-old's inclusion shouldn't have come as a surprise. It was the third time in four matches that Klinsmann has deployed the Mexican-based defender alongside his other 22-year-old center back, German-American John Brooks. And even though the duo had a couple of dicey moments at Toyota Park, it certainly won't be the last time.

"Overall, they did fine," Klinsmann said of his back four afterward. "Of course it will take a bit of time for them to grow together, but it's definitely a back line that has a future."

The future is now for Klinsmann's team. Also in the lineup against Honduras were wingers Gyasi Zardes, 23, and DeAndre Yedlin, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Thursday. Along with 25-year-old right back Timmy Chandler, they are representing Klinsmann's ongoing youth movement at this tournament, even as the U.S. continues to rely heavily on old hands like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who scored both American goals on Tuesday.

"All of them have speed, technique," Klinsmann said of the youngsters. "They need more experience. This will only come with games." Growing pains are just part of the deal, according to starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

"There's going to be mistakes," said Guzan, who made several key early saves to prevent the hosts from falling behind. "You're obviously trying to get on the same page with the guys in front of you. It's an ongoing process and it will be until the next World Cup.

"At the same time," Guzan continued, "when you win games, it builds confidence and gives a good feeling -- especially when things don't go according to plan."

The U.S. certainly didn't plan on being dominated for the opening 25 minutes of the match. Honduras was all over the Yanks late, too, pushing furiously for the equalizer that never game.

Catrachos coach Jorge Luis Pinto said only a pair of mistakes cost his side two points and possibly three.

"With all respect due to Clint Dempsey," Pinto said, "we made it too easy for him."

But Klinsmann and his players were quick to credit the visitors for imposing themselves for large portions of the night.

"They're a good team," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "They're always tough to play against. They're very athletic. I think we could hold the ball a little bit better. But the main goal was to win, and we'll improve off of that."

With the next game looming Friday against Haiti in Foxborough, Massachusetts, lineup changes are possible.

But it's more likely that Klinsmann will stick with his favorites in an effort to qualify for the quarterfinals with one group game to spare, then gives his reserves a run-out against Panama in the first-round finale on July 13.

Such an approach would also reinforce his belief in the youngsters.

"He gives a lot of opportunity to young guys," Alvarado said of Klinsmann. "And a lot of confidence."


-- Dempsey admitted that the U.S. was fortunate to escape with all three points.

"The first goal was maybe a little bit lucky, because the keeper made the save and it came to me," he said. "I was able to get my jaw on it. I just happened to be right in the right place."

He was more than happy to take it, though -- as was Klinsmann, with Altidore still well short of full fitness.

"Jozy is still in a phase where we have to build him after his hamstring [injury]," Klinsmann said. "The only way to get him stronger every day is by giving him minutes, by playing games and working him hard also in training. He's not there yet.

"We'll do everything possible to get him in top form as quickly as possible, but it's not going to happen overnight."

-- Chandler struggled in possession throughout and was replaced at right back by Brad Evans 18 minutes into the second half. Yet Klinsmann insisted that overall, he was pleased with the German-American's performance.

"I think Timmy had a couple of difficult moments, especially in the first half, but then he really had an impact on the game," Klinsmann said. "One of his strengths is he shakes things off right away. He knows he made a mistake, but it doesn't influence his next touch. I think this is really important."

-- The crowd of 22,357 was the largest for an international match in Toyota Stadium's 10-year history. It was also decidedly behind the home team, which was somewhat surprising considering Honduran fans' propensity to travel long distances to see their country play.

"I remember when I first started with the national team, there would be more fans for the other team sometimes," said Dempsey, a Texas native. "So to be able to nowadays play in front of pro-American crowds, I think the team definitely feeds off that energy."

Klinsmann said the supporters played a role when the U.S. was on its heels.

"Big thank-you to that crowd," the coach said. "When things didn't go so well at times, they were behind us cheering for the team, and that's exactly what we need."