When the United States Soccer Federation first scheduled Friday's friendly at RFK Stadium against Peru, the USMNT's plans for the game were likely far different than they are today. The announcement came at the beginning of July, when the USA had just embarked on a mission to defend their Gold Cup title. However, a 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the semifinals means this friendly has taken a different tone, as the US will face Mexico next month in California to determine which team will represent CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
"We looked at it before as preparation towards next summer's Copa America - if it's going to happen," manager Jurgen Klinsmann said on Thursday during a press conference of the friendlies with Peru and Brazil. "With what happened in the Gold Cup, it changes that. It changes the dynamic, and we adjust to it, and our preparations are focused on the October 10 game in Pasadena. So it changes the approach for these two friendlies."
Instead of being able to use the friendlies to give opportunities to the fringes of the player pool, Klinsmann will now have to use the pair of friendlies to figure out which combination of regulars gives him the best chance of beating Mexico next month.
"Right now all the focus is towards October 10th. We have started that process already. We are very hungry for that game at the Rose Bowl," Klinsmann said of his team's direction ahead of the Peru game. "I mentioned to the group on Sunday when they got here, that I want to see that hunger, that drive, that ambition in every session. The fight for the spots is ongoing anyway, and the players picked up on those words very positively."
For their part, the players have also turned their focus to the ongoing positional battles that they'll face if they want to start against El Tri. Brad Guzan will have to hold off the returning Tim Howard in goal, and questions about who will play in the center of defense and up top remain.
"These two games will serve as a good starting point for us players, to see where we're at," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya during Thursday's press conference. "Every player has to pull up their socks, look in the mirror, and really show what they're capable of, and prove to the coach that we deserve a starting spot and to be part of the team moving forward."
The sour taste that the players have from this summer's Gold Cup still lingers as the Peru friendly is the first time the team will be back on the field since finishing fourth in the Gold Cup. Following that loss to Jamaica, the US struggled against a Panama side in a state of mental disarray after their semifinal loss to Mexico. Clint Dempsey's goal sent the game into overtime, but the US eventually fell in penalties to Los Canaleros. Fourth place is the USMNT's worst Gold Cup finish since 2000.
Any feelings of disappointment will have to be forgotten quickly: Peru and Brazil present challenges of their own, while the bigger match is just around the corner.
"Everybody is ready. Everybody is in the right state of mind," DeAndre Yedlin of the team's outlook on the two friendlies. "We want to set a tone, gain confidence in each other, gain confidence in the team, and build the momentum going into the Mexico game."
The signs that the failure to qualify directly for the Confederations Cup has increased the importance of this international window are clear. Though Klinsmann admitted that he would use his full allotment of subs given the different stages of the seasons players are in, the feeling around the team is that these friendlies have that extra edge that they lacked back in July.
"It's not two normal friendlies. It's two important games that we have coming now. Everyone has to fight for his position, and everyone is trying to push themselves [within] the team," midfielder Jermaine Jones - back in the squad after missing the Gold Cup due to injury - said.