Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gold Cup Semi: US v Panama Player Ratings

The two huge surprises in this match, for two completely different reasons, were that both Landon and Adu came on as subs.

Landon Donovan not in starting lineup again, this time with no family wedding or red-eye flight to blame, was a major shocker.  It was possibly a combination of Donovan's supposed subpar contributions so far and the surprising emergence of Bedoya.  For US Soccer, this was a tectonic shifting of the plates - a landmark event that we don't quite know how to respond to or how it affects the team going forward.  Donovan's unarguably the best player the US has ever produced and he'll hold every record by the time he's done, which shouldn't be until after the next World Cup in 2014.  For me, I still think a subpar Donovan is still better than anything we've got in reserve, but it is notable that his replacement on the flank opposite Dempsey, Bedoya, has been extraordinary.  Bedoya went from not being on the Gold Cup roster to solid 1st team starter (in Holden's place) in a matter of weeks.  In my opinion, Donovan hadn't really played poorly enough to be benched - he was an integral part of our attack in every game.  And just as we found out, Donovan indeed should have been a starter in Kljestan's place, whom I still do not rate highly.

The first shot we saw of Freddy Adu handing in his lineup card midway through the 2nd half absolutely floored me.  Our offense was by then clearly stagnant, but I thought the only offensive option Bradley would even consider was the ineffective MLSer, Wondolowki.  It was either going to look like brilliance, or desperation - in reality, probably both.  While Donovan has been starting for our team since June 2007, Freddy hasn't played for us since June 2009, and that was with the C team's Gold Cup run.  Essentially, this performance may have been the first real contribution to our 1st team in Adu's entire career.

Overall, the match was actually extremely frustrating to watch until our goal.  Panama pressed us the way Jamaica should have and it seemed like our back 4 spent an inordinately long time passing to each other trying to begin our attack.  Our midfielders weren't clean enough on their touches and were closed down quickly, which really bogged down any kind of flow in our possession.  Panama surely deserves credit for their gameplan and its no accident that our lone goal came only off a counter-attack.

Tim Howard 8.5 - 4 shutouts in 5 games, including in the last 3 matches which were all must wins.  He was busiest this game, making several key reaction saves that our backups may not have made.  Deserves as much credit as any other player for this win.

Steve Cherundolo 7.5 - provided the perfect cross to Agudelo, who's header hit the post.  This man is a tireless wonder and continues to be a huge part of our flank attack.  He'll have to be fearless in defense against Mexico's skilled wings in the Final though.

Clarence Goodson 7 - his aerial prowess is now key to our central defense and is a huge target on set pieces.

Carlos Bocanegra 7.5 - deserves just as much credit for the 3 shutout performances since his transition back centrally.

Eric Lichaj 6.5 - have our LB problems been solved?  (Fingers crossed.)  Even his left-footed crosses aren't terrible.  Still, his touches need to be faster when linking with attack.

Michael Bradley 6.5 - after last game's tired performance and taking backseat to Jones, Bradley again emerged as the central distributor we need him to be.  After seeing the battle that this game became, I'm glad my suggestion to bench Bradley for Edu was not heeded.

Jermaine Jones 5.5 - not as offensive as last game, but was a defensive shield while somehow avoiding the much-feared yellow card, even though his physical fouls were plentiful.

Alejandro Bedoya 7 - in the 1st half, it seemed like our attack was running through him.  Feilhaber probably wouldn't have been as effective (although in my opinion, Feilhaber should replace Kljestan in that central role).

Clint Dempsey 7 - he seemed less uninvolved in the 1st half (possibly a result of Kljestan's poor central play), but did better when he replaced Agudelo as lone forward.  Got the vital goal the scrappy Dempsey way.  All US fans gotta love that he recognized Donovan's importance to US Soccer in his celebration.  I've always figured that he and and Donovan weren't the best of friends because of their extremely different personalities and the fact that they are respectively the best domestic based and best European based US players.  And they still probably won't be hanging out in their spare time - but we see their mutual respect.

Sasha Kljestan 4.5 - his job in this game was to find away to open the stingy Panama defense, but he seemed overwhelmed by their physicality and the lack of time he had on the ball.  Again, Landon should've started for him from the beginning.

Juan Agudelo 6 - was thisclose to scoring game-winner on his header.  His fearlessness and physical play portends well for the future, but he needs to work on holding the ball up and linking with attacking mids.


Landon Donovan 6.5 - seems to have responded to benching positively.  First took over for Kljestan centrally but he was more effective on the wing when Adu came in.  His driving cross was inch perfect to Dempsey's foot.  After two games of 2nd half play only, he better be extremely fresh for his upcoming hat trick vs Mexico.  How is it possible that Dempsey has 3 goals in this tourney and Landon might not even have 3 shot attempts?  Please be more aggressive.

Freddy Adu 7 - was impressive in his confidence on the ball and brought some much needed creativity to our stagnant attack.  Interestingly, our goal came on a counter-attack when Adu perfectly lofted a long ball out to Donovan.  Also, his time-wasting ball skills in the corner were very reminiscent of Cobi Jones.

I'm not sure why Maurice Edu didn't come in to spell Jermaine Jones after we scored.  Especially in the last 5-7 minutes of play, Panama's attack was energized while we were obviously worn down.  Jones could've easily picked up the yellow card during that time.

However, he didn't and now we are set for another clash vs Mexico in the Final.  Honduras was very close to scoring on Mexico at the end of regulation  - why wasn't Costly a starter to begin with? - but ran out of gas in their 2nd straight extra time match.  At least Mexico had to play the extra 30 minutes.  But now, it should be an epic clash, as long as Chicharito doesn't run wild on us.

Had Honduras won, I would've brought my 2 year old to his first USMNT match.  But now, I'm just going to go, keeping my hands unencumbered and myself mobile.  Hopefully there are no dodger fans amongst the 70,000 Mexican national team fans there, if you know what I mean.  I've been to several USMNT games, including the 3 in Deutschland, but never in the US supporter's section.  Can't wait.

Either way, it will be a memorable night.  Prediction: what else?  dos y cero.

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