Pat Sullivan/Associated Press
HOUSTON – Omar Gonzalez was glad to be back playing with the United States men’s soccer team after two years away.
Like his teammates, the young defender wasn’t happy with their disappointing showing against Canada on Tuesday night.
The U.S. prepped for its opening game in the final round of World Cup qualifying with a dull 0-0 tie. The Americans will begin the final round of World Cup qualifying against Honduras on Feb. 6 in San Pedro Sula.
“We just couldn’t find the back of the net,” said Gonzalez, the 6-5 center back for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann changed all 11 starters from November’s 2-2 tie at Russia and likely will change the entire lineup again for the Honduras game. These players were auditioning for backup roles on next week’s trip, and most of them didn’t show much.
Gonzalez needed to impress Klinsmann, too. He made his national team debut in August 2010 against Brazil and played against Chile the next January. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last January on his first day training with Nuremberg and returned to the field for the Galaxy on July 4, so this was his first time on the field under Klinsmann.
“To be out there, wearing the crest on my shirt was amazing,” Gonzalez said. “I want to be doing that a lot more often.”
Gonzalez was joined in the back by three players making their national team debuts: Tony Beltran, Matt Besler and Justin Morrow. Will Bruin and Alfredo Morales made their debuts when they entered in the 74th minute.
With Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and the other regulars remaining with their clubs in Europe for weekend matches, the U.S. started an all-MLS lineup for the first time since January 2007 against Denmark.
The game, which followed three weeks of training during the annual January camp in Carson, Calif., was the second consecutive scoreless draw against Canada, following another yawner at Toronto last June. Klinsmann thought his team looked tired in this one.
“You could see 3½ weeks of a lot of work in their legs,” Klinsmann said. “They were missing kind of the last little piece to it, creating final chances, finishing things off.”
On a night when the 28th-ranked Americans’ movement was slow and accuracy was sloppy, Benny Feilhaber generated the only U.S. shot on target in the second half.
No. 64 Canada, rebuilding after getting knocked out in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying last fall, were coming off a 4-0 loss to Denmark on Saturday. Hard rain began falling with about 10 minutes left, putting an extra damper on the night for the U.S. team.
MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski, playing a day after his 30th birthday, had the first two shots for the U.S., a soft bicycle kick in the 13th minute and a long try from the top of the penalty area in the 18th. Otherwise, the Americans looked disjointed on offense, misfiring on most of their passes and giving away sloppy turnovers in traffic.
Feilhaber entered the game after halftime as Klinsmann switched from a 4-1-3-2 to a 4-3-3 in search of a spark. Feilhaber passed to Brad Evans down the flank, and Evans squared the ball for Eddie Johnson, who skied a point-blank shot from about 15 yards. Feilhaber sent a free kick to Gonzalez, whose header was over the bar in the 68th.
“Frustrated that we didn’t get the win,” Feilhaber said. “Now it’s back to work, and we don’t know who’s going to get called in for the Honduras game. But that’s an exceptionally important game for us.”
The Americans’ only consolation in the tuneup was extending their unbeaten streak against Canada to 16 games (8-0-8) since a 2-0 loss at Vancouver, British Columbia, in April 1985.
Canada goalkeeper Simon Thomas easily scooped up Feilhaber’s shot from the right side in stoppage time.
“Couldn’t be more proud of the team after an effort like that,” Canada’s interim coach Colin Miller said. “They gave everything.”
When Honduran referee Raul Castro blew the final whistle, several Americans bent over and shook their heads in frustration. The Canadians seemed content to crowd their end of the field and defend, rather than attack the U.S. zone for scoring chances. While the Americans had an 11-4 advantage in shots, just four of them were on goal.
“They made it tough for us,” Feilhaber said. “They put essentially 10 guys behind the ball. Watching the first half, that’s what it seemed like.”