“Adversity is the first path to truth.” – Lord Byron
The above quote was considered when TSG was writing an email to Charlie Davies (firstname.lastname@example.org) yesterday. Ultimately, CD9 received a different quote about “seizing fate by the throat”, but Lord Byron’s words proved to be excellent shorthand or even prophetic for last night’s match between the USMNT and Costa Rica.
These truths were revealed to USMNT fans last night:
♦ Heart and courage are not in short supply for the USMNT
In a game that seemed to mean everything and nothing at the same time the USMNT exemplified what it will take for their injured mate to make his way back to the game he loves.
You want heart? A 95th minute equalizer with the US playing a man down by an oft-maligned left back…there you go.
The US was staring adversity straight in the face going into the game last night. No one would have blamed the US for whatever type of game they played given the events of the past 48 hours, especially after putting themselves in a two-goal hole midway through the first half. But the Yanks fight to the whistle no matter how many goals they are down nor how many men they have on the field.
♦ The USMNT and Coach Bob Bradley play to win
Need proof? Bradley sent a clear message with his starting line-up. Eight of eleven starters, including iron man Tim Howard, carried over from Honduras. Only absent were Davies, Spector and Clark. The RB was most likely replaced by Cherundolo for performance while Feilhaber for Clark was an effort to control more possession at home.
More proof? After picking up an early yellow Jozy Altidore never left the pitch. Picking up a second would have led to a disqualification for the first WC match, but Bradley chose to remind Jozy of that (including telling him not to lift his shirt in celebration to reveal his “Davies” jersey) instead of replacing him. Bradley was rewarded for his choice as the youngster played a tremendous game.
Still not convinced? I’ll give you two final pieces of evidence. 1) Coach Bradley’s subs – offense, offense, offense. and 2) Late game hero Johnny Bornstein in his own words, “I don’t normally go up for corner kicks. Usually I stay back,but for that one, I was like, `I’m getting in there. This is a last-shot effort.’”
I think Bradley went convincingly for a win as a result being committed to win the region, out of respect for CONCACAF (and Honduras) and, if only a small motivation, Charlie Davies.
♦ Struggles inside both boxes need to be addressed for the US have any hope in South Africa
In a game that saw the US hold a decisive advantage in possession and get a number of good, early scoring chances the US still found themselves down 0-2 as a result of two defensive lapses.
Not only could the US not find the back of the net in the opening stanza, they couldn’t even put the ball on frame consistently. Perhaps the most disheartening miss given the circumstance was Conor Casey’s wide-open look that would have crossed the goal line as the clock turned from 8:59 to 9:00. Casey’s effort sailed woefully over the frame and the “true poetry” of a goal at 9:00 (as USSF President Sunil Gulati would call it) was lost forever.
Time and time again, great chances were wasted by the US as a result of poor shooting and it was an epidemic. Casey, Donovan, Bradley, Holden
and Altidore all should have and need to do better with their opportunities. Time for more shooting drills, Bob-O.
The defensive woes of the USMNT are well-known and well-chronicled. Last night was no different. After successfully defending out on the wing once around the 9:15 mark, Gooch couldn’t repeat his efforts on Costa Rica’s first goal. Gooch got dusted by Bryan Ruiz who avoided a desperation toe-poke from the Milan Man and then went 5-hole on Tim Howard as Boca couldn’t slide over in time.
Just three minutes later the US would be beaten again. A late defensive rotations on a terrific given-and-go off a throw-in by Costa Rica allowed Ruiz to get to the top of the box untouched. From there, Ruiz unleashed a net-bound rocket that bent away from Tim Howard and found the top left corner of the goal.
No defensive performances are perfect, but two goals against the run of play are just crushing to a team. The US will be playing with fire come South Africa if they don’t find a way to shore-up their leaky defense.
♦ The US will continue to need unlikely heroes to step-up
In Trinidad and Tobago it was Ricardo Clark. In San Pedro Sula it was Conor Casey. Last night at RFK it was Robbie Rogers and Jonathan Bornstein. With Davies injury and the aforementioned shooting struggles, the US is going to need to find offensive production from unlikely sources.
Rogers was the shot in the arm the US needed last night. Playing with energy and fire stoked by having “grown up” soccer-wise with Davies, Rogers created a number of chances and assisted on the game winner via a great corner kick in the 95th minute. Meanwhile, the oft-maligned Jonathan Bornstein buried Roger’s kick to all but make the USMNT fans forget the fact he was picked on repeatedly in the first-half and remains a shaky option at LB.
While I’d be great to have a couple of players (paging Jozy Altidore) repeatedly make the score sheet, it does make it fun to wonder who is going to step-up in each successive contest.
♦ Possession is a mirage if the ball stays at mid-field
Many USMNT fans, myself included, have been clamoring for the US to eschew the long ball strategy and play more of a possession game. The Yanks were able to maintain possessions last night, but struggled with any kind of consistent probing build-up. Following the game, Bradley said the ball needed to move quicker, but I question whether the US had the creativity and skill on the pitch to make that happen. Similar to the El Salvador game, the Bradley / Feilhaber combo failed to produce and due to the consistent success down the right side, Donovan, the US best trigger man increasingly became a spectator as the game wore on.
Sure the US showed flashes of good possession in the offensive third like Casey’s post-up and pass to a streaking Holden that resulted in a great cross but poor finish by Altidore late in the 5th minute. And it was nice to see them switching fields, but players seemed to be holding too long last night (which is the exact opposite of the US recent struggles with possession).
♦ The US isn’t done facing adversity
With just eight months to go before the start of the World Cup, the US finds itself down a speedy, skilful striker and, at least for the next three to four months, their defensive stalwart, Oguchi Onyewu. I think we all saw Gooch’s scary non-contact injury that tore his patellar and led to him immediate calling the training staff over. Sad, but he’ll be back.
Surprisingly, this was a game the US learned a lot from and the performance was a microcosm of the type of team they have heading into the World Cup. In other words, last night was “the truth” for the USMNT—heart, effort, moments of beautiful soccer along with an inability to finish around the goal and defensive lapses that led to an early deficit.
Best Play of the Game: (Rogers to Bornstein, 95th Minute) That combo may not roll off the tongue as well as Donovan to Davies or Dempsey to Altidore, but I doubt anyone really cares. It was those two unlikely heroes that emerged absurdly late in a one-goal contest to propel the USMNT to a draw. A draw that had Tim Howard remarking that, “it felt like a big win…just the way the crowd was.”
Most Unheralded Play: This one goes to Bob Bradley for his decision to go with an offensive substitution after the first goal to press for another.
The Golden Shin Guard: (Jozy Altidore) Sure he was a little too jacked up with the ball at his feet and only the goalie between him and the stanky leg, but he played an excellent all-around game (minus the shooting, of course). His best play was late in the first half when he created a great scoring chance through sheer will and determination. After the US gave away the ball, Jozy sprinted to pressure a defender deep in Honduran territory, tackled the ball away and then laid a great pass into a wide-open Donovan (who unfortunately blasted right at the on-rushing keeper).
♦ Does one Jose Francisco Torres get atonement, vindication and revenge…or even playing time?
All of the above. Torres earned the opportunity and didn’t disappoint. He became a missing link on offense and was heavily involved after being inserted for Feilhaber in the 62nd minute. Did you see when he instructed the younger Rogers to get in the box on his 83rd min (I believe) cross?
♦ Backtracking, what is the USMNT strategy?: Major minutes for the second squad, a continued full-court press to South Africa or a hybrid of the two?
We answered this one in the second truth above. They played to win.
♦ Does the Guz get a shot?
No he didn’t. Based on when we wrote our preview I would have been surprised, but for a lot of reasons you can understand why Bob Bradley kept Tim between the pipes.
C: Bob Bradley – 7
He had a tough job getting the team ready to play after the Davies accident. No real quibbles with his starting eleven. The team’s game plan worked for the most part producing a number of chances and he kept the pedal to the metal with his subs. The ESPN cameras did a great job of picking up Bob right after the 1st goal. Bob looked enlightened and immediately glanced at the clock and called on the offensive support. Well done, Bob.
GK: Tim Howard – 6
Didn’t get tested all that much. Had terrific save on a point blank shot early (11th minute) and stopped another blast late. However, he did let in a pair. He had a chance on the first that went through his legs thought it was from five feet away, but was rendered helpless on the second which was expertly placed and carrying a lot heat. Remained a vocal leader. Demonstrative, yes, but well within the bounds of what his teammates expect from him.
DEF: Oguchi Onyewu – 5.5
Expected this type of performance versus Honduras, but certainly not last night after his strong game on Saturday. Seemed to stray for his central back role more than usual and was toasted on the first Ruiz goal. Late to react a few times. Terrible to see him go down in a heap trying to make a valiant effort to get his head on a poor Holden corner kick.
DEF: Carlos Bocanegra – 6
Played the game with intelligence, but his physical skills have eroded a little due to age. Case in point, he couldn’t get over in time to make a difference on CR’s first goal. Classy move by Captain Carlos to address the crowd…if only ESPN’s Bob Ley didn’t talk over him.
DEF: Jonathan Bornstein – 6.5
Really did get picked on in the first half, but played better as the game progressed. Got really deep in the offensive zone on a number of occasions. Thankfully, one of those was the equalizer at the death that sent America (and Honduras, see below) into a frenzy.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo – 6
Had good chemistry with both Holden and Rogers on the right flank and was on the ball a lot in the offensive half…perhaps too much as he was guilty of holding the ball for too long. With CR triggering what little attack they mustered on the left, didn’t see a helluva lot of action on defensive side.
MID: Benny Feilhaber – 5
TSG’s favorite son didn’t acquit himself well in the starting role, again, and turned the ball over numerous time which invariably led to his somewhat early exit. We have a couple of theories here with one being that Benny may be better suited as a sub which allows him to see the game from a distance first. The second theory is that with Bradley’s inconsistent box-to-box play Benny struggle to figure out where he fits in.
MID: Michael Bradley – 4
Another poor performance from Junior. He was all over the place, out of sync and still another player that couldn’t get the ball on frame inside the 18. His goal, thought timely was of the Johnny-on-the-spot variety and doesn’t help to elevate his overall grade. As one patron yelled out in the bar I was at, “Hey Coach Bradley, take out your daughter!” (Apologies to our female readers, but I did laugh.)
MID: Stu Holden – 5.5
Didn’t seem to bring his bag of magic crosses to RFK last night. He was active, but off target. He may have been pushing a little too hard (like Jozy) for his hospital-ridden roommate.
MID: Landon Donovan – 5.5
From airmailing a free kick to a number of missed opportunities on the offensive end, Landon played a level below where he’s been the last number of months. He did provide the blast that led to the rebound and first goal, but otherwise faded the second half. In our opinion, Donovan clearly suffered from not having Davies in front of him−stretching the defense with his speed or clearing out for a Donovan run. The two had developed quite a chemistry and Davies absence noticeably impact Donovan
ST: Jozy Altidore – 8
Jozy had a very good night that could have been a great one if he connected with the back of the net on any of his chances. Altidore was hustling, passing, posting and drawing fouls for the US; something he will have to do consistently in South Africa as the #1 striker. TSG really liked how he seemed to use his physical gifts first (strength and speed) before resort to fancy footwork to break players down. That was good awareness by a young player and hopefully Coach Brown was watching back in Hull City.
ST: Conor Casey – 4.5
His touch seemed to go leaden somewhere on the trip from San Pedro Sula to RFK. From his now infamous 9:00 miss to poor first touches on post-ups (save for the Holden pass) he evoked feelings of one-hit-wonder status.
SUB1: Jose Francisco Torres – 7
Made an immediate impact as an orchestrator in the offensive end. He certainly earned more playing time and I’m guessing we’ll see more of him versus Denmark on 11/18.
SUB2: Robbie Rogers – 7
If for only one night, took over the spark plug role vacated by Davies. After all, he was donning a number 9 jersey. Rogers brought great energy and service down the right flank. He was active and earned 3 attempts on goal in his short time on the pitch. And let’s not forget, the corner kick that led to the equalizer was class.
SUB3: Kenny Cooper – 6
It’d be easy to give him an incomplete due to playing just 18 or so minutes, but when I saw him galloping back on defense late in the game ahead of almost every other player, I knew I had to give him a shout-out. Subs are supposed to do that, but all too often they don’t. Some nifty footwork along the touch-line as well.
Bonus “Truth”: Hondurans love the USA! Listen to these announcers.