The USMNT, featuring nearly all MLS players, notched its first win since early October with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over El Salvador in Tampa Bay.
Following a familiar script against lesser foes, the US controlled most of the game, struggled in the offensive third, conceded a goal against the run of play and then came to life.
When the US last faced El Salvador in Rio Tinto Stadium in September it was a Jonathan Bornstein miscue that led to a goal by Los Cuscatlecos with the US dominating. Tonight it was Brad Evan’s defensive gaffe that produced the lone Salvadoran goal in one of the few forays into the box for the visiting team.
Though this match could be better called an audition for a few remaining World Cup spots, it was nice to see the US finally finish strong behind second half substitute Brian Ching. The Big Aloha’s head produced the equalizer off a Heath Pearce cross while his feet provided a one-touch assist to Sacha Kljestan who put home the game winner in stoppage time.
The win will play well on Sportcenter (hopefully) and is a good thing for a program coming off three lackluster performances. However, it should be noted that the Salvadorans play made one wonder if they stayed out late last night at the infamous Tampa Ballet. Well that, or maybe they just didn’t care.
The more significant story for the USMNT is whose performance got them one step closer to packing their US Soccer duffel for South Africa. Of the 13 World Cup hopefuls Matthew mentioned in the preview…
5 boosted their stock…Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, Sacha Kljestan, Clarence Goodson and Heath Pearce
2 held their spot…new Captain Jonathan Bornstein and versatile Robbie Rogers
2 didn’t help or hurt their chances…Kyle Beckerman and Jeff Cunningham
1 took (another) step backwards…Conor Casey
3 never saw the pitch (which probably isn’t a good thing)…Chad Marshall, Troy Perkins and Chris Pontius.
Before jumping to conclusions, it’s worth remembering the level of competition in this match and reading Bob Bradley’s post-match comments about Ching-Casey, the Netherlands roster selection and the World Cup roster.
» Best Play of the Game: The Sacha Kljestan game-winner. El Sal’s Gonzalez mental mistake combined with Kljestan’s effort led to an odd-man rush by the USMNT. Mr. Victoria’s Secret then laid off a pass to Ching who dropped a nice one-touch back to Klestan for the finish.
One question: Was it me or did Montes (SLV’s keeper) look like he got shot in the back? He started to challenge SK, then dropped to his knees prematurely and fell down. Either way…it was a great give-and-go.
» Most Unheralded Play: Conor Casey struggled on offense playing the first 45 minutes, but his defensive effort kept El Salvador off the scoreboard midway through the first half. The visitors sent a free kick deep into the box that look destined to allude the defense in favor of an on-rushing Custcatleco. Just before the ball dropped at the far post, Casey rose up and used his noggin to get the US out of danger.
» Golden Shinguard: A number of candidates, but TSG is going with The Big Aloha. Ching scored and assisted on the two US goals and was a consistent target for the attack in the second half. Granted he could have been marked better, but that’s not his fault.
What We Were Looking For
» Getting close to closing time: Who’s going? Goodson or Marshall…
Goodson was flown in from across the pond for the start and had a solid game. He looks to have the edge over Marshall who rode the pine for the duration.
» Is Kyle Beckerman, beyond Sacha Kljestan, in play for a World Cup roster spot?
Not anymore after Bobbo singled-out Kljestan at half-time and then Mr. Victoria Secret followed it up with the game winner. Kyle Beckerman was steady, but you have to wonder if he can contribute at a World Class level or if he peaks at Gold Cup / CONCACAF friendly competition.
» The Striker Spot?
The Ching-Cunningham pairing was on the field for both of the USMNT goals, but it was the Ching-Findley combo that proved the most dangerous. As for Casey, the herculean Honduran effort is fading further and further into the rear-view mirror.
» Who’s our sleeper? The guy who goes starting line-up or makes a move in the pecking order?
TSG picked Pontius in the preview, but the obvious post-game choice is midfielder Eddie Gaven. He asserted himself in a big way throughout the second half drawing a number of fouls and wreaking havoc down the right flank.
C: Bob Bradley – 6.5
This grade could be entirely based on the fact that the team didn’t come out flat to start the second half for the first time in forever. Bobbo was clearly looking at specific players in arranging the line-up and substituting, but he orchestrated some different tactics in the midfield almost playing Beckerman as CDM and Kljestan as CAM.
GK: Nick Rimando – 5
The 30-year-old took time to brush up on U.S. labor law as he was rarely tested and couldn’t do much on the lone El Salvador goal due to the defensive lapse.
CB Jonathan Bornstein – 6
Bornstein sported the captain’s armband and held his own playing out of position in the middle of the defense. There was another over-the-head kick again, but this time it worked…sometimes you just don’t learn.
CB: Clarence Goodson – 6.5
Goodson was confident and showed a good understanding of when to challenge and when to lay back (a la Jay DeMerit). His early first half tackle at the top of the area was a high-risk, high-reward maneuver that he pulled off well. He certainly helped his case to make it on the plane to South Africa.
CB: Heath Pearce: 6
Pearce provided excellent support to the attack on the overlap down the wing. His laser cross to the head of Ching produced the first goal. One has to wonder how he might have looked if he had to actually play defense at all during the game.
With the start you have to stay he is still in the conversation for the World Cup, but his lack of consistency will make it tough to put him in the 23.
RB: Brad Evans: 5
He is getting an olympic like deduction for whatever-it-is-he-was-trying-to-do when he inadvertently centered the ball for the Salvdorans’ only goal.
LM: Robbie Rogers: 6.5
Despite Rogers’ brainlock that led to him take a tough shot instead of passing off to a waiting and open Ching or Gaven, Roger made the right decisions most of the evening. A double team coming..he’s goes one-on-one quickly. With time..he waits….etc.
Rogers definitely endeared himself to Coach Bradley playing effectively on both sides of the field and dropping dimes on a number of set pieces.
CM: Kyle Beckerman: 5
No need to reinvent the wheel…here is Beckerman’s Honduras grade that seems just as appropriate for his SLV performance. “An average one for the RSL man. Created nothing on offense and didn’t destroy the middle on defense….Showed for outlet passes and didn’t make dumb mistakes.”
CM: Sascha Kljestan: 6
An improvement over his recent work. Kljestan put himself in some good positions but went only 1-for-3 on high quality chances inside the 18. Given the conditions, the low shots were a plus, but he was aiming instead of shooting in the first half.
TSG would have liked to see Klestan link better with Beckerman and the wings.
RM: Brad Davis: 5
With the first half attacked focus down the right flank, Davis wasn’t heavily involved in his 45 minutes of work. However, he showed excellent reception of the ball when the team switched fields before exiting at the half due to a hammy.
STR: Robbie Findley: 5
Showed good burst and some inexperience. What looked like a collision early in the second half limited his effectiveness until he was ultimately subbed for Cunningham.
He’ll need to show well versus the Netherlands (assuming he gets the opportunity) to earn a spot in Bradley’s 23.
STR: Conor Casey: 4
One nice hold-and-dish was about the only positive for Casey tonight. He won a few balls in the air near the goal, but they were against much smaller defenders. His complete lack of acceleration and struggles with his back to the goal will makes it tough for Bradley trot him out there in June.
Brian Ching (46th minute) – 7
Came in with his customary work-rate to change the game on the offensive end for the US. He was a big reason the US started out well and finished strong in the second half.
Eddie Gaven (46th minute) – 7
Gave the Salvadorans all they could handle the entire second half…tackling balls away, drawing fouls, distributing from the wing and creating some scoring chances.
Jeff Cunningham (68th minute) – 4.5
Didn’t assert himself at all and whiffed on a nice Rogers free kick into the area. Hard to think he is the answer up top for the US heading into the World Cup.
Dax McCarty (79th minute) – INC
According to US Soccer he was inserted into the game to count the crowd from his vantage point in the center of the field. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4….
Geoff Cameron (86th minute) – Congratulations
Cap #1 for the Houston Dynamo. He almost made it “magical” with a shot from the top of the area that sailed just over the cross bar.