“You don’t need to really be peaking now. You need to qualify for the World Cup but you need to be peaking next summer.” ~ former USMNT player Clint Mathis in a recent interview with SI.com’s Grant Wahl
I tried to find some solace in this quote as I watched the USMNT’s game versus El Salvador yesterday that had them hunkering down in they dying minutes to hold onto a one goal victory against the supposedly over-matched Custalecos.
As I mentioned at the half, the US served up a performance reminiscent of other recent matches against inferior opponents — control the run of play, prove vulnerable to speedy counter-attacks, give up the first goal, then add in a few moments of brilliance — all to pull out a narrow victory and leave everyone suggesting what the score coulda been if this, that or the other thing happened.
In TSG’s instant reaction right after the match we talked about some of that (the Honduran referee, the disallowed goal and its impact on the team), but all that matters is what did happen, not what shoulda happened. And what did happen was a mixed bag.
There were positives….
- Bob Bradley’s willingness to change the line-up
- The team switching fields more in an attempt to jump start the attack
- Altidore – Davies solidifying their exciting tandem up top
…but many of the same issues persist…
- Inability to put the ball on frame with opportunities from 20-yards in
- Disorganization in the back four (including their glaring willingness to let the opposing player come to them instead of aggressively pursuing to defend)
- Not valuing possession as much as they should
The US once again proved it will play hard and fight back. Absent that, we would have been talking about a loss yesterday as well as a couple of others this summer instead of come-from-behind wins and draws. This mentality will prove valuable should they make it to South Africa next summer.
In the end, it’s a win and three points toward qualifying in a tight CONCACAF quartet with only three guaranteed spots up for grabs. However, with continued missed opportunities and miscues you have to wonder whether the US is progressing at this point or merely treading water.
Best Play of the Game: The Donovan – Dempsey hook-up for the first goal due to its beauty, its timeliness and proper officiating. Donovan put a great ball into the mixer off a set-piece following an El Salvadorean hand ball. Dempsey made up for an earlier miscue (on a brilliant Spector cross) and buried it with authority off a diving header. And nine time out of ten, I am guessing that goal gets erroneously disallowed due to every other US player being offsides when the cross came in except Dempsey.
The runner-up is the Montes save of a power-header by Torres off the great cross by Stu Holden deep in the second half.
Most Unheralded Play: Landon Donovan tracking back inside his own eighteen to win the ball away from Arturo Alvarez at the top of the box in the 45th minute of the first half. More on Landon in a minute, but he showed his desire to do whatever it takes for the team and even kept possession of the ball.
The runner-up is, again Montes, who sought treatment at the 35-minute mark looking to slow down the game. His shenanigans led to the extra stoppage time where Altidore would score the eventual game-winner.
Golden Shin Guard: Landon Donovan. He made a strong case that his Azteca performance was an anomaly in an otherwise brilliant summer. He was breaking down defenders one-on-one, making great passes and providing mostly good service on set pieces. And we already talked about his willingness and desire to defend. Well done, Landon.
What will the central defense look like in the absence of the Gooch man?
Subsequent to our preview DeMerit was ruled out and Marshal was inserted behind Boca. While the entire defense struggled, the weak link wasn’t in the middle.
Is Michael Bradley progressing, regressing…or regressing quite quickly?
Matthew and I disagree here, but I think Bradley played a good game overall. His first half bordered on strong, but he faded in the second half giving away possession a little too easily. Let’s just say, he merely progressed closer to where he was.
On the left side, who defends Rodolfo Zelaya who lit up Heath Pearce like it was 4th of July in March?
Bornstein got the nod on the left and his poor clearance directly led to the lone El Salvadore goal. Zelaya caused issues for the US throughout the day getting past Bornstein, nearly drawing a penalty kick in the 55th-minute and providing the service for the best chance of the second half for El Salvador that required a Tim Howard kick save to prevent the equalizer.
Jose Francisco Torres to relieve early and make the case on how soon or how much later Robbie Rogers will factor.
Torres didn’t get in until the 84th minute, but still made his presence felt as he nearly put the game away with the third US goal. It took a great Montes save to keep Torres off the score sheet. Rogers was on the game day roster, but didn’t get in the game.
Which Clint shows up?
The same one that we’ve seen on all-summer. Dempsey played a disinterested game, wasted a few opportunities, but had a few moments of brilliance – the goal and the pass to Altidore on the disallowed goal.
C: Bob Bradley — 7
Bob made the changes we were all clamoring for pairing Davies and Altidore up top at the whistle. Feilhaber replaced Rico Clark (who didn’t even make the game day roster) in the middle. He was hamstrung in his selection of the back four, but gave Spector and Bornstein the chances they deserved, unfortunately, the didn’t make the most of them. It was also nice to see him recognize what he has in Holden, making Stu the first sub-off the bench and Bradley finally forgave Torres for his Saprissa play and inserted him in the 84th minute.
It was also nice to see better discipline all-around with few cheap fouls and no cards. I’ve been on Bradley in the past about this disturbing (before yesterday) trend, so I have to give him the credit here.
G: Tim Howard — 7
He should have done better on the El Salvador goal, getting caught in no-man’s land, but came up with a brilliant save late to secure the victory. Howard was a lot more vocal and demonstrative as he tried to lead the patchwork back four.
D: Jonathan Spector — 5
I was excited to see Spector starting, but he didn’t have a great game. His most glaring weakness continues to be his ability to defend balls in the air. It was a problem at the Confed Cup and again yesterday on the goal. He had the inside position on Castillo, but got pushed out of the way as Castillo put it over Howard. Spector flashed his ability to provide support in the attack including a great cross that Dempsey mis-hit. (Harkes would comment that it was harder for Dempsey to NOT score than score on a ball like that.)
D: Carlos Bocanegra — 7
I’ll take the American football offensive lineman approach here…he didn’t get mentioned much by the announcers which isn’t a bad thing for a defender in this kind of game.
D: Chad Marshall — 7
Looked confident throughout the game. Allowed a clean rip in the first half when he choose to hang back instead of aggressively defend and had to make a sliding tackle early in the second when an ES player got behind him, but stepped-up for the team when it needed him.
D: Jonathan Bornstein — 4
As mentioned above, he had his hands full with Zelaya and his horrid clearance attempt led to the first goal
M: Clint Dempsey — 5
Even with the timely goal, it is hard to suggest that Dempsey had a good game. Too many wasted opportunities, poor touches and begging for calls.
M: Benny Feilhaber – 7
Provided the deft passing and possession that we were hoping for and even flashed some creativity. He’ll need to play a little bit cleaner going forward.
M: Michael Bradley — 6
In addition to the commentary above, Bradley missed a couple of opportunities to put the ball on frame via a header and some medium-distance shoots. Overall, he was more active and composed than in recent games.
M: Landon Donovan — 9
The man of the match had two assists and a number of great plays
S: Jozy Altidore — 7.5
Except for his plethora of offsides, Jozy’s played a very good game. Surprisingly, he looked to create almost as much as he looked to score. For the most part he used his body well, especially on the post-ups, but did get knocked off possession a little too easily a couple times in the second half. Now, about his dancing…
S: Charlie Davies — 8
Did everything right except put the ball in the back of the net. He showed speed and skill and is fast becoming one of those players that gets you to the edge of your seat when he possesses the ball with even a little space. I liked his desire on the play where he squeezed between two defenders to create a chance of a “hopeful” ball played into the box right after the ES goal. Alas, it was just wide. Only knock would be the dive he took after a heavy touch deep in the ES zone.
Sub 1: Stu Holden — 8
Rewarded Bob Bradley for his confidence in him with a very strong 18+ minutes of play. Had a couple of dynamite crosses (along with one poor one) and was the guy who finally cleared the ball out from the box in the most dangerous (for US fans) scramble at the end of the game. If Bob wanted to be bold, Stu starts over Clint on Wednesday.
Sub 2: Kyle Beckerman — INC
While I made some notes during the game that Beckerman struggled, I am going to give him an incomplete due to only playing 10+ minutes. I’d be surprised if he sees the pitch again in the qualifiers.
Sub 3: Jose Francisco Torres — INC
Despite the power-header I’m going to give him an incomplete as well as we didn’t have the opportunity to see how he learned from Costa Rica given he was subbed in at the 84th minute.