Jay Bell checks in from Nashville
Bob Bradley’s men had every intention of coming out and dictating the match against a team that was willing to invite pressure. Paraguay was even more willing once they scored the game’s lone goal. The US squeezed the match to their right side of the field to enable Timothy Chandler as much influence as possible and to push Clint Dempsey high enough and tight enough to essentially be a third striker. This was the US’s formation until Eric Lichaj entered into the match in the second half for Jozy Altidore, pushing Dempsey up top.
In this type of game, which the US will experience at the Gold Cup, the US needs more creativity. The US has shown an over-reliance on Landon Donovan, especially, but also Clint Dempsey when it comes to creating goals from the run of play. Very rarely is Michael Bradley trailing the play as he used to, Jermaine Jones is not making those runs either and Jozy Altidore has not been very effective lately unless he is receiving long balls and fighting defenders for possession.
Stuart Holden may have been able to create from the center, but without him, who will create chances if Donovan and Dempsey are not? The US could have benefited from the presence of Jose Torres (not called up) or Benny Feilhaber (injury) for this match. Torres’ ability to switch the point of attack and Feilhaber’s aggressiveness as a super-sub could have changed the game in favor of the red stars with blue stripes, er, sashes.
Agudelo and Dempsey were the hardest working attackers on the pitch, but the final ball and the final shot were not there. In one particular instance, Clint Dempsey took a pass from Chandler at the top of the box and attempted to curl it in with his left foot. Agudelo just threw his hands up, but somehow without making too much of a show of it in a “hey, I was open over here, but you’re the boss” kind of a way. The cohesion and the chemistry was not there.
The crowd of almost 29,000+ was trying to will the team to a win. Rarely does a US team play in front of pro-US crowd of that size. They were dying to throw their hands up in celebration, but they were unable to receive that opportunity.
And what was up with the ineffectiveness on set-pieces? Paraguay is one of the bigger teams the US will face, but set-pieces are normally a strong suit for the Americans. For one, Landon Donovan’s delivery was off. Too often his free kicks did not make it past the first line of defenders or sailed long. When the ball did reach a dangerous spot, no one took advantage of it. With Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore, Demerit/Boca, Edu/Jones, etc. on the field, more was expected of the US.
The Americans were certainly pushing for a result as they lined up in several formations that will likely not be used again. The US played with three in the back after Sacha Kljestan entered for Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector entered as a right mid. The lineup morphed into a 3-4-1-2 with Spector and Kljestan as wide midfielders, Dempsey and Agudelo up top and Donovan in between the mids and forwards.
The US needed a moment of brilliance with only Donovan and Dempsey ever looking capable of providing it, while Bradley and Jones’ late stings giving hope to the crowd. For being the “better” team throughout the match, the US still did not earn a result against an organized and resilient Paraguay squad.
Same team, same problem: finishing.
The team created chances and were much more efficient at it than Saturday. Despite bad performances from Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore, there were still chances. Clint Dempsey had several attempts in and around the box, Landon Donovan missed from a tight angle on the left and there were missed opportunities on free kicks.
Its no fluke that the US has gone two World Cups without a goal being scored by a striker. Agudelo was active, but he found it difficult to find space to shoot against a compact and organized Paraguayan defense. His more experienced partner, Jozy Altidore, had one of his worst national team performances in the same stadium as arguably his best.
The US had 13 shots, but only three on goal. Those three included Michael Bradley’s blast in the upper 90 and Clint Dempsey “he tries shit” attempt from 35+ yards out.
Final ball was off more than usual.
Forget finishing, the US should have had even more opportunities if the passes were more effective in the final third. Bornstein became an attacking option on the left. For all the criticism he receives, there has not been another left back since Heath Pearce that has been anything more than an outlet. Bornstein repeatedly popped up in dangerous positions. He was able to serve in some teasing crosses, but others were sliced into the stands or cut in too close to the keeper.
Set-pieces were the area that best exhibited the lack of a killer ball. Landon Donovan’s service was lacking throughout the night.
This team is missing a third attacker
For a time, there was rejoice that Charlie Davies had finally completed an attacking quartet that made the US dangerous. He joined playmakers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as well as striker Jozy Altidore as a group of attackers who could earn the US victories against top quality opponents. Charlie Davies was removed from the national team picture and Jozy Altidore has regressed to a low point Tuesday night at LP Field.
Now the US lacks any player that can or will take some of the attacking impetus off of the shoulders of Donovan and Dempsey. Stuart Holden was supposed to become that player, but for the second year in a row, he has been stripped of an opportunity to make a major impact for the US in a major tournament.
Agudelo may be ready to step up in the near future, but he cannot be considered the #3 option quite yet. Well, actually he can, but only because no one else deserves it.
The players may have felt more pressure than usual.
Tim Howard, for one, has spoken about feeling more pressure to perform in front of a large pro-US crowd as opposed to a hostile environment. The record (for a soccer game in Tennessee) crowd at LP Field was certainly Pro-US. The lower bowl was filled and the fans were active throughout the match despite some lulls in the on-field action.
This may have been one reason why Edu and Altidore were so ineffective, and why Dempsey and Donovan were not up to their usual level. Many of the players, especially those four, looked like they were “forcing it” at times. Hopefully over time with more pro-US matches, this will not be an issue.
Best play of the game: Good US possession towards the right corner of the penalty box ended with Donovan setting up Chandler for a cross from the right flank. Dempsey gets on the end of the cross, but was unable to put it on target. It was the most well executed play of the US’s attacking plan and yet still did not result in a goal.
Most unheralded play(s) of the game (by someone other than me): Bornstein’s runs along the left flank. Bornstein was off target on several crosses, but the simple fact of the matter is that no other US left back would have even been in the dangerous positions he ran into, except possibly Bobby Convey. Bornstein helped stretch the Paraguay defense and helped develop goal scoring opportunities. If Agudelo’s hold up play was not so noticeable, then that could have won this award.
The Golden Shinguard: Timothy Chandler. He was everywhere. He covered in defense, he got forward and he was solid for the US on both sides. He was able to beat his player on the dribble and then provide good crosses that tested the Paraguayan defenders. Clint Dempsey won the “Budweiser Man of the Match” at the stadium, but for me his finishing stood out for how poor it was for his standards.
C: Bob Bradley: 7
Bradley went back to old reliable with the 4-4-2 circa 2009: flat line across the back, 2 deep lying CMs, 2 wide attacking midfielders and 2 dynamic forwards. He played everyone that fans wanted to see, except Diskerud: Chandler, Lichaj, Ream, Yelldell and Agudelo. In the second half he threw more attackers on the ball and even left three in the back to try to obtain the result.
G: Marcus Hahnemann: 5
He did not have much to do. One shot ricocheted off of him which resulted in another opportunity for Paraguay, but then he caught the resulting shot from outside of the box.
RB: Timothy Chandler: 7
He was solid in the attack and on defense. He is crossing the ball better than anyone since Spector’s best days in the Confederations Cup.
CB: Jay Demerit: 5.5
He was not able to stay on the field as long as everyone liked, but he was a good leader in the back in between two youngsters. Had to count off a little bit for not clearing the corner kick that led to Paraguay’s goal.
CB: Tim Ream: 6
I think that rating him any higher would mean that someone is seeing what they wanted to see. He had some really egregious giveaways for being THE guy that everyone is looking to for fixing distribution issues with the US back line. His defensive positioning was iffy a few times and he would have been punished by a team that was more attacking-minded. Ream ended up on the ground from a push from a Paraguayan player on the goal. Still, the potential is obviously there and he had a good game overall.
LB: Jonathan Bornstein: 6
Solid game from Bornstein and it would have been even better if some of his attacking forays had gone better, but worse had his mark finished off a header in the early going. He was solid in defense and made runs that US fans rarely see from the left side of the field. I’m really baffled as to where much of the criticism of him is coming from since he made himself available on the left flank for most of the time he was on the field.
RM: Landon Donovan: 5
By normal player standards, this is maybe a 6, but more is expected of Landon Donovan. He sent his one chance into the side netting and his set-piece delivery was off for much of the night. In a match where the US had numerous free kicks, he should have done better. With Paraguay sitting as deep as they were, Donovan should have taken control of the match and been the creative influence the US was so deeply lacking.
CM: Maurice Edu: 4
He had a stinker. He was pretty ineffective and that is why the switch was made at halftime. His passing and positioning was about as bad as it had been since his worst US performance against Trinidad & Tobago in 2008.
CM: Michael Bradley: 5.5
He stood out for being better than Edu in the first half, but he still had a rather pedestrian match. He unleashed a shot late in the match that could have brought the match level, but Villar made the save of the match to keep it out of the net.
LM: Dempsey: 6
Deuce was playing as tight and as high to be considered a third forward before eventually moving up top with Agudelo. Dempsey was the US’s best player in tight spaces and creatively, but his finishing was so very lacking by his own standards. He shanked one into the stands in the first half, mishit a high bouncer from about 10 yards out, took a quick left-footed curler from outside of the box that missed very wide and was unable to put a header on target from what ended up being Chandler’s best cross of the match.
F: Jozy Altidore: 4
This may be a low point for the former national team starlet. He looked less composed, less mature, less talented and generally less effective than his teenaged strike partner. His tweet after the match says a lot about where the guy’s head is at right now. He seems confused on the field and off of it.
F: Juan Agudelo: 6
In his first start, Agudelo found it harder to find open spaces to get shots on goal. He was one of the most effective US attackers, but he was still unable to make the final pass or finish off a chance. Agudelo found out for the first time what it feels like to be pummeled by an opponent who is looking to slow the match down; valuable experience for the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
D: Carlos Bocanegra: 6
Slid in nicely after Demerit left the match. He had one horrible giveaway in the US’s side of the field that could have been taken advantage of by Paraguay.
G: David Yelldell: 5
Not much to talk about from him on the night with the US attacking virtually the entire second half. He did start his international career off better than Luis Robles did last summer. He did so by simply catching a cross.
CM: Jermaine Jones: 5.5
None of the CMs were really effective on the night and Jones was no different, though his night was much better than Edu’s. His shot at the very end almost earned the US draw, but Villar kept it out.
D: Eric Lichaj: 6
He showed again why he is such a good prospect at RB. He was composed, had good positioning and makes dangerous runs down the right flank, just not quite as fast as Chandler. He could have had an assist if Dempsey had finished off a chance in the box.
M: Sacha Kljestan: 6
Kljestan brought a calming influence to the midfield that the US was lacking all night. He made simple passes and did not give the ball away when the US needed possession the most.
M: Jonathan Spector: 5
Specs was deployed as a wide midfielder with the US pushing for an equalizer late in the match, but was unable to be involved much with the match.