Sunday, September 6, 2009
US 2 - El Sal 1
This was one tense game. Not picking up 3 points against the 2nd worst team in the hexagonal at home would have been a disaster. Its bad enough that we barely escaped with a draw in El Salvador, but with 3 others squads vying for one of the top 3 positions (Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico) all within a point or two with 3 games to play, we had to win this home game. We also have to win on the road vs T&T tomorrow but more on that later.
When El Salvador scored first midway through the 1st half, it must have been extremely worrisome for Bob Bradley. We also went down early to Honduras at home in May and had to claw our way back as well. This is clearly not the pattern that Bradley is hoping for. The dominant power in the region should not be allowing visitors to score first, if at all, on home soil. Skeptics may claim that Mexico is the dominant power in Concacaf now but that's for a different day. (We beat Mexico 2-0 here and they beat us 2-1 there. And we're still above them in the standings. But I digress.) Still, after losing 2 straight games to Mexico though one was our C(rap) team in the Gold Cup, it was not a good feeling to be down early to El Salvador.
Charlie Davies has been a revelation this summer. I would say that he's been all that Freddy Adu was supposed to be - fast, strong and threatening in the box. Also, some of his skills on the ball have been outstanding and he repeatedly created awesome chances for the attack. Unlike Adu, he has clearly benefited from his move to Europe. Playing well at Sochaux in France so far this season may even get him noticed by a bigger club, hopefully? At any rate, his goal vs Mexico earned him the affections of US fans everywhere.
Bradley deciding to start Jozy instead of a healthy Ching may be the final sign of Jozy's ascendancy to prominence in the US team. Jozy's game winning header was a thing of beauty. His second goal exemplified what he can do with the ball at his feet. Too bad the ref was ridiculously stupid. I still don't know what was called there. Anyway, hopefully playing time in the EPL will help Jozy develop into the consistent big forward we've needed since McBride retired. He still needs to learn how to hold up the ball better and draw fouls like Ching does, however. But it is nice to see that we finally have a starting tandem that can be stalwarts for us for years to come. It appears that Dempsey is currently still the main backup but at this point, I'm not complaining.
Bradley Jr has not been in form, according to his club coach in Deutschland. The common criticism is that sometimes he loses his temper and self control. I'm not really that worried about it. Having a tactical minded coach as a father, it is good to see that he's playing instinctively and not paralyzed by thinking too much on the field. Learning to harness his competitiveness is something I'm sure that he can learn over time as he matures. He does however seem to be in a bit of a rut lately. Perhaps he's played too many high pressure games over the past few years and just needs a little time off? Who knows. If we had Jermaine Jones at our disposal, maybe we could afford to let Mike sit, but we don't have many other reliable options in the heart of the midfield.
A source of concern vs ES was his partnership with Benny Feilhaber. It seemed that Bradley should have played behind Benny, allowing Benny the offensive playmaking role but they often seemed to occupy the same space. Benny didn't have the same effect on the game as I thought he would, threading passes to open up that ES defense. However, I still like having Benny on the field instead of a purely defensive player like Ricardo Clark. When JJ comes and Edu returns into the fold, we'll have 4 guys we can trust, perhaps 5 if we can get Francisco Torres some playing time. His resounding header that was miraculously saved by the ES keeper is one that everyone will remember. Beckerman and Holden are an example of opposites. Holden is young, energetic and active. He contributed positively on that right wing and sent in that great cross to Torres' head. Beckerman is old and was ineffective on almost every play he was involved in. While this opportunity is just to reward him for his hard work at the GC, he is merely warming the spot for JJ, Edu or Clark.
Donovan and Dempsey were indispensable as always. Landon's crosses led to both goals late in the 1st half. The first goal was a set piece that ES tried to play as an offside trap. Fortunately, Dempsey made a late run to tuck it in near post while none of the US players smartly made a play on the ball. Landon's second cross in particular was a thing of beauty. He feigned left, then perfectly controlled the ball back to his right foot in one swift motion and sent in a perfect 30 yard ball to Jozy, who deflated ES right before the half.
With Onyewu yellow carded and DeMerit injured, we were without either of our starting CBs from the Confederations Cup. Captain Bocanegra started with Marshall and they both seemed to do an okay job. Marshall gave up the ES header goal that was partly his fault and partly Timmy's for coming out too far. Timmy did redeem himself later in the 86th minute for a victory saving stop at point blank. But the biggest blunder on ES goal must be attributed to Bornstein for trying a overhead kick and accidently centering it for ES. He was again the weak spot in the lineup and the source of the greatest consternation for Bob Bradley as he tries to find an answer to all those fleet footed right-sided wingers in the international game. Again, perhaps the newly FIFA approved transfer, Edgar Castillo, is the answer? At least he contributes something offensively.
Jonathan Spector was solid at RB and was again dangerous in his crossing ability. There's a chance, I would guess, that we will see both he and Cherundolo on the field vs T&T, for lack of a better option. Spector would slot over to LB and be forced to deal with the fastest winger in Concacaf, Carlos Edwards. Actually, perhaps we should put the faster Dolo on the left... But who knows how fast the elder Dolo actually is after his injury. The only other option is to play Marshall with Gooch and put Boca at LB. scary.
We need 3 points at T&T. We must have it. Its not easy to play on the road in Concacaf and clearly this team is down and out. Some would say that they have little to play for but if I were T&T, I would treat this game as my World Cup. Losing or drawing this game against the worst team left would put the US into the scary position of possibly ending up 4th in the Hexagonal with 2 games left. A loser-goes-home 2 game series with Conmebol's 5th place could mean a suicidal meeting with Argentina. umm, yeah, no thanks.
My preferred lineup:
------------Davies* - Jozy-------------
Donovan ----- Feilhaber ----- Dempsey
Dolo ----- Boca ----- Gooch---- Spector
*assuming Davies is healthy, of course. Otherwise, Dempsey up top and Holden on the right.