8:30pm (Pacific): Post has been updated with player ratings
“You measure this game by the next.”
“You measure this game by the next.”
While the U.S. lost a heart-breaking and hard-fought game in Mexico this afternoon, how successful you judge their play, and their coaching I might add, will be the quality of their play–and coaching–come September 5th against El Salvador.
If you didn’t watch the game, I’ll sum up the first half by a play in the 2nd half at the 3:05 mark. Landon Donovan is peeling down the right flank.
He outpaces everyone, throws his hands up (as is to say, “Where are you guys?), flips, to his dismay, a square/back pass to Michael Bradley, Bradley squares it to Clark, who has an errant touch to Boca coming up the left flank. Ball out of bounds.
Offensive chance closed, first half encapsulated.
The story of the first half is a familiar story for the U.S., tucked in their defensive third, absorbing combination after combination, and shot attempt after shot attempt, from the Mexicans in the hopes of preserving a clean sheet.
Once a possession was gained by the US defense, they’d launch an 80/20 ball (that’s 80 Mexico, 20 US) halfway up the pitch just to get it out of their end. Four out of five times, the ballstarted coming right back their way with the Mexicans on the attack
Why was this the case? Two defensive central midfielders.
Unable to maintain possession and waiting on Donovan and Dempsey to leave their rear guards (or unable to work the ball up the central field space), the U.S. had to relieve pressure with the longball.
Much was the same at the 3:10 mark of the 2nd half with Donovan having flashed up the line with the ball streaking out of the back instead of being worked through possession.
In fact, the next 14 minutes of the 2nd half, saw frustrated and tired defenders (Cherundolo at the 6-min mark, Gooch (or it may have been Boca) at the 8-min mark and Howard at the 17-min mark) just say forget it and punt the ball up the field to try and give them a breather.
I’m checking my watch at this point and seething, “Okay, let’s see the sideline shot of Benny….c’mon Bob.”
And then it happened, Benny up off the lumber…..and, wait, Holden right behind him. I was watching at Kell’s Pub in San Francisco, only downing ginger ales mind you, but I had to do a double take. Tie game, 1-1 in the 2nd half and we’ve got Benny AND STU coming in.
That was a moment of progression, I hope, for Bob Bradley. With a collapsed central midfield that was not helping out the pressure on the defense, Bradley stepped away from his conservative approach and said, “I’m going for it. We need it. We’re good enough.”
This was a good moment for US Soccer.
While the US went minus-one (-1) the rest of the way, that 20-min mark hopefully saw the introduction of even better things to come from US soccer in the coming year.
While Benny didn’t have his best game, he slowed the pace down. A simple back tap to Gooch found the team some working room out of the back. Then you had Holden, showing no fear, attempting some trickery in the Mexican half before literally flying down the right flank and launching perhaps the most gorgeous on-the-fly cross, I’ve seen from the Americans in awhile. A revelation and hopefully the future. (Now if only Charlie had a big head like my brother.)
If I’m Bob Bradley, here’s what else I learned today:
- Stevie Cherundolo’s going to fight Jonathan Spector for the starting nod on the right. Calm and composed all day long, consistent and solid in possession and always providing cover, Cherundolo shined today.
- I’ve got Clint Dempsey problems. Dempsey was virtually non-existent this game and whatever the opposite of crisp is (ruffled?). He was lacksadasical in possession and inconsistent in effort, maybe Holden’s entrance was a wake-up call. (More on Dempsey-Bradley in another post).
- Oguchi Oneywu is irresponsible in central defense. Coming off his play in the Brazil game, Gooch needed to show consistent awareness of offenders. I’m sorry Gooch, the 2nd goal is nearly all yours, what were you doing?
- Charlie Davies is the best I’ve got up top. He put forth an enormous effort elongating and pressuring upfield all day long. Calm and composed on the US lone goal. The best is ahead for Davies.
- And the hallmark point, two holding midfields in the center puts way too much pressure on my defense. Can’t work, won’t work. Clark had a mildly bad game (solid in defense, charitable in offense), Bradley had a horrendous game. That being said, they don’t get upfield with consistency and leave the U.S. perilously weak in attack and thus weak in defense as well.
Best Play of the Game: (Donovan-to-Davies): I’m going with the obvious here. Less than 10 minutes in, Landon draws two defenders, slots the ball to Davies in the seam, Davies calmly makes sure the rest is history. That’s twice for this combination. Good chemistry; well-done.
The runner-up, Timmy Howard–nothing short of brilliant the whole day long–blocking a blind shot from the left flank in the first half at the 29-minute mark. Not only blocking it, but parrying it to the only place (top left of the box) where there were no offenders–did you see that?!
Most Unheralded Play of the Game: (Benny Feilhaber): Just a few weeks ago, after the US loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup, I said this team had fight. I then retold how the lowest point for me for the USMNT was Tim Howard’s head getting stepped on down in Guatemala. Flash forward to today at the 74 minute mark, Davies is getting jostled and chumped because Mexico wants to take a quick corner kick. Without hesitation Benny Feilhaber comes in and bowling balls them off him. You think the US team didn’t want to be there together at the Azteca Eric Wynalda–think again.
Golden Shinguard: (Tim Howard) A no-brainer. Saved the US again. Did you notice Howard hollered a bit less this game? He expected the US defense to get beat a few times in the altitude and heat and so he let a few go and choose his spots. Veteran. Speaking of veteran, short by the thickness of a dime, Stevie Cherundolo staked claim to the back right and displayed the savvy veteran play from the corner that the US needs. Well done Steve.
Here’s what TSG was looking for as key differential points before the game:
- Clint Dempsey to be active, enthused and present a threat. Didn’t happen and now the questions around his position and playing time will continue. Rightfully so, Clint looked lost out there. That would be okay if he was a rookie getting his feet wet, but you can’t have that on your senior staff. That can’t be the example set. Bob Bradley’s got some questions.
- The US to show a veteran presence coming out of the locker room and that starts just after Tim Howard with Gooch and Jay DeMerit (and then correspondingly with the wingfulls) The U.S. played, let’s say, not the smartest in the central defense, but in fairness, they were being water-boarded for 45 minutes to start the match. Gooch, why did you pick up the ball and what was with the hand ball? I am more forgiving of DeMerit, played decent cover and I thought his foul on Dos Santos rounding the corner was okay. (My brother disagrees) Oh, and a note, hear a near-Brooklyn cheer for keeping the sheet clean for the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half–but thank Howard for his point blank stop of Dos Santos at the 15 minute mark.
- Jonathan Bornstein will return to form and somehow factor in this game. Didn’t get in there. I’ll note this point on the player rating of my own commentary. Possibly due to the Davies sub, but it would have been good to have Bornstein back there as Boca tired after the 60 minute mark.
- Speaking of which, Bob Bradley to use a quick hook, especially on Jozy Altidore if he’s in the clouds or whichever wingback is opening up the D. Bradley was aggressive at omnipotent in getting Davies in there to start the game. The wingfulls held their own for the most part. I’ll turn this observation around and say again, Stu and Benny–good recognition Bob.
C: Bob Bradley – 7.5
Okay, I hate, and possibly everyone hates, two defensive central midfielders. Drum. Beaten. After that, Bradley did an excellent job of managing the game today. He choose Davies to start and was rewarded with effort and a goal. The Interwebs were crying for Spector, yet Bradley was on target with Cherundolo. Bradley focused on fitness and speed and it worked with his gameplan. After the first half of static US ball, Bradley went for the win in the 2nd half when the offense was beyond sputtering. Just two months ago, the chances of that were beyond remote.
However, let’s see what Bob does against El Salvador. If it’s the same line-up as today, I’m going to come back here and knock this rating down a few pegs.
G: Tim Howard – 9.5
Beyond his one scuffed ball that got a rise out of fans everywhere, Tim was perfect. Most impressively, understood the environment and how he needed to manage the game. Thank you Tim from US fans everywhere
D: Steve Cherundolo – 8.5
Took a few moments to get his footing and then was “on” the rest of the game. Knew which offenders to contain and which to attack. Was always in the right place at the right time. Managed possession. Spector-Cherundolo….let’s get to the weigh in. The purse, South Africa pitch time.
D: Jay DeMerit – 7
Was overly aggressive, but usually in the right place at the right time. Provided cover against the sneaky Dos Santos. Need to understand better how the game was being called which leads up to….
D: Oguchi Oneywu – 5
His play was, in one word, concerning. Fell asleep on offenders and picked up stupid fouls. Let his temper get the best of him. His athleticism saved him today. He needs to be, and should be, further along with his intelligence and discipline. Knock, Knock. Yes. It’s Chad Marshall.
D: Carlos Bocanegro – 5
Not the best game for the captain. Was shaky in positioning and certainly in possession. He wasn’t match fit–I’ll be concerned if El Salvador reveals the same issues.
M: Clint Dempsey – 2.5
We are now beating a dead horse — covered above.
M: Michael Bradley – 3
Erratic the entire day long. Was not thorough on tackles and looked like he was holding a field goal convention instead of playing the beautiful game. Did not threaten on offense at all (what was that 40 yard attempt in the 1st half?), so why was he constantly out of position.
M: Ricardo Clark – 4
Tireless on defense and consistently provided cover for Bradley and the flankers. His first touch though often left the ball at the Mexicans’ feet. You simply can’t have that.
M: Landon Donovan – 6.5
Couldn’t get his rhythm today and had to carry the ball all by himself a bit. Tracked back in defense, but got beaten on the second Mexican goal. He looked authoritative though and did a Betsy Ross of threading the needle on the beautiful assist to Davies. Not his greatest game or even close, but I liked his attitude.
F: Brian Ching – 6
My brother and I will differ here for sure. Beyond Davies, Ching was the only American to provide any respite of possession in the 1st half. Got called a few times, but that’s his job. He’s the bruiser. Tracked back on defense. Did his job in my mind.
F: Charlie Davies – 8
The new lead striker. Slotted in the lone US opportunity in the first half, Cool Hand Luke-style. Worked to attack defenders and track down the long balls. Got pulled down in the box because he mixed it up and that was good. Well done Charlie.
SUB: Benny Feilhaber – 6 (gets an extra 0.5 for the clear-out)
The TSG favorite was a little spotty on his touch today, but helped to settle down the midfield a bit when he took the pitch in the 57th minute. Great to see him mix it up when the Mexicans were jostling Davies. Don’t Tread On Me, indeed.
SUB: Stu Holden – 7.5
As mentioned in the previous post, TSG headquarters was going crazy as Stu stepped on the pitch behind Benny. Talk about gaining the confidence of the coach. Stu didn’t disappoint and wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment. An errant pass or two, but some good possession, high work rate and great cross made it a good showing for “Iceman” (Hey, it is currently leading the poll.)
SUB: Jozy Altidore – INC
A non-factor after coming in for Davies. Not sure if it was the altitude, but as a late (late) sub he should have had his track shoes on and been sprinting (not jogging) around.