The Yanks 3-0 victory Wednesday in what at the very least could be called an “important” fixture in their World Cup journey brought the breathing among Sam’s Army, the American Outlaws, and other followers back to a measured pace, but it also highlighted both the problems that still exist with Bob Bradley’s side and, on the brighter edge of the story, the potential (a word I loathe) the side has.
Bradley’s choice to employ a 4-4-2 very possibly could be the more long-lasting story of a game that will be remembered quite simply as Jozy Altidore’s coming out party. Many are critical of the idea of deploying two strikers who are hold-the-ball up players and very similar– but for the Yanks, the strategy may have been one that gives the United States its best offensive opportunities. In what was its most dominant performance of qualifying (with all due respect to the blasting of Barbados in the semifinal round), the U.S. finally involved my man of the match, Landon Donovan, in a way that allowed him to make deep and penetrating runs onto his dominant right foot. By utilizing him at the left of the midfield, Bradley managed to put Donovan (FINALLY) in a place where he is best fit– attacking defenders with the ball and receiving constant passes that eliminate the problems he was having as a second forward trying to find the ball heavily marked.
Additionally, Altidore’s hat trick suggests that he is, despite the insanity of Xerez coaches, ready for prime time and certainly ready to be a fixture in the American lineup. Much of his great play should be credited to the workmanlike, efficient Brian Ching, whose head flick to Donovan on the first goal was absolutely brilliant and whose physicality and ability to hold the ball is the perfect complement for the 19 year old Floridian Altidore, who again demonstrated his ability to find himself in great positions on the field. While Altidore missed an open net from a yard away that is youtube “How did that happen worthy”– his performance was admirable, and even though the T and T defense often looked unorganized and undisciplined, Altidore took his goals well, particularly his second goal, where he put a move on the T and T defender following a fine ball from the left by Landon Donovan, who had three assists.
Altidore still shows flashes of curiosity alongside his brilliance, and at times Yanksarecoming blogger friend Raf Crowley looked at me in astonishment– as if to ask– “What exactly is Jozy doing?”– but all-in-all when you score three goals the little things, such as his tendency to come too far way from the middle of the attack, or questionable passes backwards, are less immediately concerning.
These positives are further enhanced by the fine wine play of Frankie Hejduk– who continued to make blistering runs (often aided by tremendous footwork and flick passing of Clint Dempsey, who played an undervalued game on the American right flank) up the right flank. While Hejduk’s crosses were for the most part poor and one wonders if he’ll ever lift his head when he crosses the ball– the runs are dangerous in stretching defenses and questions will have to be asked when Steve Cherundolo returns as to whether or not both will play, or DeMarcus Beasley, who started on the left and made terrific overlapping runs and has great chemistry with Donovan, will continue to start.
Beasley has always been a tenacious defender for a midfielder, and his substitution against Italy in the World Cup in 06 was more than likely the difference between the outmanned Americans losing or gaining their only point in Germany against the eventual World Champions, and while analysts are right that the speedy Carlos Edwards ran by DeMarcus at times, they are wrong to omit that never did Edwards turn the corner on Beasley, and all of the fine T and T flank man’s crosses were contested– resulting in very little service from the most dangerous service man the Soca Warriors have to offer.
These positives should elicit a tinge of concern, or at least questions, going forward. I’ve listed these in a-d order– and welcome any comments and hope a discussion begins on these questions:
a. Michael Bradley’s passing is so good that a move permanantly to non-holding mid is beginning to make sense– but Mastroeni at home against a weak opponent reeks of desperation. Why not supply a creative force in the back and then have a luxury most teams don’t– a defensive mid who can make brilliant passes in the attack ? With Klejstan (my choice), Freddy Adu ( a common choice), or even Jose Francisco Torres, whose imagination led to the third American goal and who heavily influenced the comeback in San Salvador– the U.S. could deploy Bradley as the holding mid and retain offensive creativity– much like the Netherlands gets to do with the exceptional Nigel DeJong.
b. Why are Jon Spector and Freddy Adu relegated to the bench and not playing ? It could be club form– but Spector continues to play a great deal for a team vying for Europe (West Ham of London). If it is club form– two things are notable– first– the 2010 team is coming into view because players are running out of time to make an impression. Two– thank God the US trailed 2-0 in El Salvador. If not– who knows if Altidore plays and impacts the game, and if he does not play, his hat trick in Nashville does not happen because Bradley has no reason or confidence to play him or change formulas.
c. Carlos Bocanegra was much better, and is the captain, but Danny Califf was better against El Salvador and how sure are we that he is the right complement with Oneywu, who was solid Wednesday but continues to be a bit foul prone ??
d. Tougher sledding ahead…. two qualifiers (@ Costa, Honduras) and then the Confederations Cup… is the Gold Cup that follows the last chance a Robbie Findlay, or Stu Holden, or GASP Freddy Adu has to make an impression on Bob Bradley and contribute in the World Cup ?
That’s all. All in all, a Rachel Getting Married performance for the Yanks and a lead in the Hexagonal.