The 1-0 Slovakia win was not the most exciting match and the lack of fans, dreary weather and field conditions made the game seem entirely unimportant. With injuries, MLS playoffs and roster decisions it was a toss-up heading into the game whether the US would really learn anything in Bratislava. It ended up being what we didn’t see that was the most telling.
We didn’t see:
…the US disorganized as a result of the patchwork line-up…however, as the second half progressed and subs came on the attack came apart a bit
…Altidore and Casey get involved in the first half…a direct result of lack of Lando?
…the ball go in the back of the net for the Yanks…with Davies and Donovan it was challenging at times…without them it was a constant struggle
…the backline in disarray without Gooch…and surprise central defense starter Spector added a different dimension as the ball was played back to him routinely
…Rogers give the ball away all day like he did during the Gold Cup..nice to see the maturation process continue
…Dempsey checking his watch to see how much time was left…Clint did some work today, but still expect more
…Guzan channel his PK heroics from last week to stop the Marek Hamšík effort in the first half
…One second of stoppage time…in fact the first half came in under 45 minutes on FSC’s game clock
Coach Bradley’s strategy was clear. Play the best players you have and let the newcomers and re-comers sub in late. The first half saw the US play more down the right side with Rogers getting off some good crosses, the best of which came in the 2nd minute. The duo of Junior and Feilhaber played well for about the first 50 minutes or so and the US was able to maintain a sizeable possession advantage for the duration of the game.
Again, however, it was the USMNT’s inability to find the back of the net despite a number of chances was glaring. (At TSG that is now referred to as USMNTitis.)
Best Play of the Game — Guzan’s point blank stop in the 74th minute: Coming off a free kick for Slovakia, Dax McCarty’s poor clearance led to strike on goal that was deflected right to a waiting Satislav Sestak about 10 yards from goal. Sestak walked in on Guzan who challenged and then made a terrific kick save with his left boot.
Most Unheralded Play — Cherundolo’s hustle in the 60th minute: Only Dolo’s hustle prevented a certain breakaway after a US set piece deep in Slovak territory. The ball was kicked out to a sprinting attacker, but Dolo got there just in time to poke it over to Johnny B.
The Golden Shin Guard — Jonathan Spector: Playing out of position at center back, the recently shaky Spector seemed confident and provided great support to the front six
♦ Mr. Robbie Rogers, please report to the starting line-up. Claim your ticket to South Africa now.
Rogers is clearly a Bradley favorite at this point and added a strong game to his resume for South Africa. He provided good service including a moon ball from the deep right corner on a set piece that dropped right at the back post and the 6-yard line
♦ Eddie Johnson vs. Cunningham: Let’s get it on.
Eddie Johnson came on for Casey at the start of the second half. The US changed tactics slightly to see if he could be a Charlie Davies-light by serving up a few longer balls to Altidore and hoping EJ could run off him. The US found a little more room to work in the offensive zone when EJ came in and Johnson even got a few shots, but overall his speed was neutralized by the soggy turf.
Cuningham entered late for Casey and you could immediately see why he’ll remain a long shot for the World Cup roster. Unfortunately, Cunningham’s slight frame allows him to get knocked off the ball with a pinkie-check. Eight minutes in Bratislava may be all the run Cunningham gets.
♦ Can the Bradley-Benny! pairing recapture Gold Cup (’07) magic?
Wonder of wonders, the US was able to play up the middle for the first time since in well…let’s just say its been a long time. Bradley and Benny seemed more comfortable with each other and seemed to remember where each other was on the pitch this time which helped to make some room in the middle and not leave the back line exposed. We didn’t see a dynamic duo in the middle, but the pairing made progress today.
♦ Does Clint Dempsey shine or sputter in Donovan’s absence?
There was much more shine than sputter for Deuce today including a cracker of shot on goal from thirty yards out on a free kick. Some of Dempsey’s creativity was on display and he seemed more active overall. But as Matthew mentioned in game observations Dempsey seemed a little visibly frustrated at times when he didn’t think the right play was made by his teammates.
♦ Make us believe Conor Casey
We are closer to believing…that Casey may have been a one-game wonder in Honduras. He had more opportunities than Altidore with the ball, but didn’t really do anything with them. Came off at the half, but that was probably planned to give EJ and JC some run in the second half.
C: Bob Bradley – 6
Bob-O did pretty well with a cobbled together line-up missing its spark-plug (Davies) and trigger man (Donovan). The Spector start in the middle was surprising, but can only be viewed as a success. All ten of the midfielders and strikers on the roster got into the mix including youngster Dax McCarty.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6.5
Played well as expected, but wasn’t tested too frequently as the US held possession. Was forced to make a few saves including the aforementioned kick save. Guessed the wrong way on the penalty kick.
DEF: Jonathan Spector – 6.5
Nice job, Specs! Held it down in the midfield, seemed comfortable with the ball (as usual) and communicated well across the back line. Didn’t see too much (if any) aerial work which has been a weakness.
DEF: Carlos Bocanegra – 6
Played the role of confident and calming veteran throughout the game. Smartly worked into the attack without getting caught too far upfield
DEF: Jonathan Bornstein – 4
Did his best Rico Clark impersonation by committing the foul in the box that led to the eventual game winning PK. Struggled with Weiss on the wing and was beaten a few times. However, he did get up the pitch some and generally played well in the offensive half. It continues to be a tale of two Bornsteins for the LB.
DEF: Steve Cherundolo – 5.5
Matthew suggested Steve should get graded by half as he wore down in the second after playing very solid first half. Played well coming up but was sometimes careless on the back right. Injured his knee late…hope it is not serious.
MID: Benny Feilhaber – 5
Worked better with Bradley for the first 72 minutes then shifted over to the left side. He had the ball a fair amount, but should have done better. Did get a header on frame and get close from 20-yards out on another shot. Perhaps he is just better coming off the bench when he has a chance to watch the game unfold from a distance first. (Oh yeah, he also crushed one right to the face of Skrtel from close range.)
MID: Michael Bradley – 6
Note Matthew’s in game comments that Bradley needs to improve his first touch as we missed a number of opportunities to go sideways with the ball instead of backwards. But Bradley pushed forward well today and forced at least one defender to commit to him in the middle of the pitch. Was tireless on defense as well; making it outside to shut down flank runs, but also recovering to the middle of the pitch. Sulked for a few minutes after he made a run at the 50th or so minute and didn’t get a foul call; he needs to knock that off.
MID: Robbie Rogers – 6
TSG’s opinion is split on Rogers as a vialbe option in the mid-field, but he acquitted himself well today in his first non-Gold Cup start for the big boys. In addition to his good service, he looked strong drawing in on the wing and letting the outside back make a run.
MID: Clint Dempsey – 5.5
A bounce game for Deuce, i.e. not strong enough to be called a bounce back game. Seemed interested in playing, but gets frustrated with the quality of those around him.
ST: Jozy Altidore – 4.5
It’s tempting to give Jozy an 82-minute Incomplete rating. He didn’t do much when he had the ball, but didn’t get much in the way of service from his mates.
ST: Conor Casey – 4
His utter lack of giddy-up at the international level will require the US to make a significant change to their attacking style if he is going to be the full-time starter.
SUB1: Eddie Johnson – 5
Showed some flashes in the second half, but needs to be more dangerous if he is going to merit serious consideration for South Africa.
SUB2: Dax McCarty – 5
Nice work by the youngster in earning his first cap. Quick movement off the ball and good positioning. Could have done a little better on the clearance that led to the point blank save by Guzan.
SUB3: Clarence Goodson – 4.5
Didn’t notice him much in his 28 minutes of work except when he let a Slovak attacker get behind him.
SUB4: Jeff Cunnigham – INC-minus
The MLS leading scorer did have some opportunities in the eight minutes he played, but didn’t do anything with them. His stature may just not hold up in the international game.
SUB5: Sascha Kljestan – INC-minus
Showed some of his skill on service in his limited time, but finished the game off by tagging the ref with the ball after the whistle. Mr. Victoria’s Secret’s time in the player pool may be coming to a close.