Despite some brutal tackles, the opening 45 minutes were rather dull. The game lacked intensity and bad challenges aside, looked like an intra-squad scrimmage.The first half was filled with fouls and turnovers ensuring that neither team found a rhythm.
Both the U.S and Ecuador struggled to generate scoring opportunities and failed to record a shot on target in the first half. The slow first half pace was somewhat understandable, as the Copa America commences next week.
The only particularly notable statistic in the first half was that three Ecuadorian players and Jermaine Jones were booked. Christian Ramirez had a particularly bad sliding challenge from behind on Graham Zusi that could have resulted in a red card but only led to yellow.
The lone bright spot for the U.S. in the first half was the excellent play of John Brooks. Although Brooks was rarely challenged, he easily shut down the Ecuadorian attacks he faced.
Both managers looked to change the match with halftime substitutions. Ecuador made one change with Esteban Dreer replacing Alexander Domínguez. For the USMNT, Darlington Nagbe replaced Kyle Beckerman and Bobby Wood came on for Gyasi Zardes.
When Nagbe entered the game, Bradley dropped deeper into central midfield, playing as a #6. With Bradley playing deeper, the U.S. began to have better possession and looked to be the superior team.
The USMNT had one of its best chances in the 60th minute when Bobby Wood sent a cross from the left wing into the box to Clint Dempsey. Dempsey fired a volley right at the defender and Michael Bradley blasted the rebound over the bar.
Further substitutions took place in the 64th minute. For Ecuador, Michael Arroyo replaced the dangerous looking Jefferson Montero. Jurgen Klinsmann, in turn, brought on Alejandro Bedoya and Christian Pulisic for Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey respectively.
Additional changes continued to come, breaking up the already choppy game. In the 68th minute, Miller Bolaños and Christian Noboa exited for Juan Cazares and Fernando Gaibor.
The USMNT looked destined to score in the 71st minute when Graham Zusi sent a driven cross from the left wing across the face of goal. Alejandro Bedoya latched on to it at the back post and probably should have scored, but missed from a difficult angle.
Darlington Nagbe finally broke the deadlock in the 90th minute with his first goal for the USMNT. DeAndre Yedlin's cross from the right wing was headed up into the air and back across the box by a Colombian defender. Bobby Wood then out-jumped his defender, heading it back across to Darlington Nagbe.
Nagbe brilliantly controlled the ball with his chest and hit a side-volley to score the game winner and his first national team goal.
While the U.S. may not have played well, the victory should help the team continue to build confidence as it heads into the Copa America. The USMNT will face Bolivia on Saturday in a final tune-up before the Copa America.
Lack of Intensity
Some commentators may say there's no such thing as a friendly, but it was quite clear that this wasn't a competitive fixture. This match was tough to watch. They were several players from both sides, particularly in the first half, that looked completely disinterested. The pace was extremely slow and there was plenty of walking.
Hopefully, both teams were trying to save energy as the Copa America begins on June 3rd; otherwise, there was no excuse for the apathetic performances which characterized this match. Jurgen Klinsmann and Gustavo Quinteros will need their teams to perform at much higher levels in order to advance to the knockout stages of the Copa America.
Pulisic Was Good
Christian Pulisic might not have earned himself a starting place with his performance tonight, but he did play well. Pulisic showed good dribbling ability and made several smart runs that unfortunately resulted in nothing. It looks like Pulisic will at least be a super-sub for the Copa America and it wouldn't be surprising if he earns a starting role.
If Pulisic does find himself starting in the Copa America, look for him to play on the wing. Gyasi Zardes was poor tonight and Pulisic was undoubtedly better than him. On the opposite wing, Graham Zusi was okay, but certainly isn't guaranteed to start.
Good Teams Win Games in Which they Play Poorly
The U.S. outplayed Ecuador in the second half while still underperforming. This didn't matter, as the USMNT turned what looked to be a draw into a victory. The U.S. will need to play better in the Copa America, but this result was encouraging.
Ecuador is a solid South American team (currently ranked 12th in the world) and the best teams in the world find a way to get results even when they play poorly. While it's preferable that the USMNT plays well, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is winning.