The prior game had been a lesson to anyone willing to open their mind a bit and pay attention. Maybe it was a light in the head a bit brighter than the pitch in Havana. The United States and Bob Bradley’s very, very conservative roster had managed two goals in two road matches (three in three really) and six points in the semifinal qualifying stage. 2-0-0, but unsatisfactory to many not willing to pay attention. It’s tough on the road in WC qualifying, particularly in non-European qualifying where it’s not just opposing fans– it’s the pitch itself (bumpy and uneven, with long grass to slow the fast Yanks down, such as one sees when USC Football plays on the road in the Pac-10). It’s a Hurricane on one side of the island. It’s security details to escort injured players off the pitch and into dank dressing rooms, such as Eddie Lewis received in Guatemala. Such is life on the road. And amidst criticisms from even friendly commentators that the U.S. Men’s National Team was making no progress under Bob Bradley,
the Americans “limped” home atop their group, with the knowledge that their most technical opponent lie in front of them.
My how a beautiful Wednesday night in suburban Chicago can change one’s tune. Finally, there was video evidence of one thing I’d been preaching to fellow US Men’s National Team fans and skeptical, not yet on the wagon friends all along: “These guys are good…it is hard on the road, and Bradley wants the points so he can have liberty and safe freedom to experiment with a roster we are more likely to see in 2010.” I can’t say that is my exact quote to my pals, but give me some leeway. The U.S. win last night certainly does that for them. A couple of things are worth noting immediately.
a. The Michael Bradley “slump” is over, and the youngster is emerging as the type of force most terrific European sides have.
It wasn’t just the goal–it was the proof that at 21 he’s our best option in the central midfield. Defensively last night he intercepted several passes that set up chances for his teammates. His interception and quick pass to Klejstan in the first half directly led to Clint Dempsey’s goal which gave the U.S. a commanding 2-nil lead. His move to the Bundesliga will challenge him in ways that will help in the final stage of qualifying– notably in helping him continue to do what he did last night– which is venture a bit further into the attacking third and be involved in the attack. His diagonal passing is superior to everyone on the team save Demarcus Beasley, which leads me to observation
b. Beasley is back
The Cuba game can either be chalked up to fitness, the wet pitch, the tall grass (Beas changed cleats three times) or a tough night at the office. Either way, he was back to his defensive best last night, intercepting balls, making aggressive yet safe tackles, and quickly turning his defense into offense– the very trait that makes him among the most successful Yanks abroad. Beasley won a free kick that led to the Americans opening goal, and his two man game with Dempsey led to the second. Not to be denied a part in all 3 American scores, his free kick in the second half led to Brian Ching’s final goal. DeMarcus is not the creative force offensively that Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey is. But if Beasley can regain his starting spot in Scotland, which he should, he can continue to improve and be the Yanks’ most viable threat in quick transition.
Finally, I think Jon will have other thoughts– but how about
c. Eddie Johnson is out of time.
With nine points in our back pocket, it is certainly time for new faces at the forward spot. And while terminally this decision is up to coach Bradley, and we are without evidence at this point that EJ does not have naked photos of Bradley with another woman, addressed to Bob’s wife to hold as blackmail– one can only imagine that the 23 uninspired minutes of play from EJ last night may be the final straw. Johnson’s career began with so much promise. But last night, even his only remaining attribute, his great speed, was lacking. He lacked hustle, continued to display the worst first touch in the history of the world (mishandling a great ball from Klejstan) and could not stay onside. His two flailing attempts in the box denied the Yanks a throat cutting fourth, and with Jozy Altidore appearing ready to go in Villareal, and MLS leading scorer and European Super Club target Kenny Cooper finally on Bradley’s radar, Johnson’s only real play may come in Cardiff City, where he is certain to not have the space that Trinidad and Tobago, trailing three goals, afforded the struggling Yank last night. All in all- a splendid result.