PHILADELPHIA—Three thoughts from the October set of friendlies and then player ratings from last night’s nil-nil snoozer against Colombia. Keep in mind the thoughts are from both games, not just last evening.
First, Jermaine Jones is a nice player, and yes, he would have helped us this summer in South Africa, but let’s not get too excited about a 28 year-old, injury prone box-to-box midfielder just yet. Jones is a polished player who has played at the highest level consistently with Schalke in the Bundesliga and from time to time in the Champions League. He is calmer on the ball and can help the United States keep the ball—a problem that is odd for a team so good at winning it. He is a fine passer, as his long assist to Jozy Altidore against Poland and similar pass last night showed you. He is patient (critical for the United States if the switch to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 is permanent) and he is fearless, and anyone who saw Ricardo Clark this summer knows that “fearless” is a good quality to have. “Fearless” means the opposite of timid, and the masochists like me who watched the first Ghana goal in the round of sixteen on a loop probably all came to the same conclusion: Clark was timid defensively and his indecision set a course for United States elimination. So what is Jermaine Jones? He’s a great upgrade, a Ricardo Clark-on-steroids (not literally) type of player who confirms the American center midfield will remain the best in CONCACAF and indeed, one of the strongest in the world. Jones is a fine player. But Jones is not a game-changer. Could he and MB 90 break the will of an opposing team of high quality together on the right evening? Absolutely. But Jermaine Jones isn’t a ticket to the quarterfinals in Brazil. He’s a good beginning.
Second, Stu Holden is ready for a more critical role with this team, and it appears Bob knows it. One hundred fifty minutes plus in two friendlies for someone not named Donovan, Dempsey, or Bradley? Wow. Be still my heart. Still, I think it is obvious why, and it goes beyond the form and starting role at mid-table Bolton Wanderers FC. Stu Holden is, as we’ve tried to point out from time to time here at The Yanks Are Coming, pure class. Yes, he was the busiest man on Soldier Field Saturday evening. His play along the right was active, his passing (save one dreadful giveaway) was smart and precise, and his set pieces were splendid.
I was more impressed, however, with Holden last evening in Philadelphia. Maybe it is seeing it live that changes things, or perhaps it was that I focused more on him this time around. Either way, he is pure class because for such an offensive-minded player he is responsible. There were at least two sequences in the latter portion of the first half last night where the United States had given the ball away in the center after shaky moments from an overthinking MB 90 or Maurice Edu, who played a poor game last night. Holden was often the intended target, but as soon as possession was lost he was racing back into position. As a result, a ten minute sequence where Colombia looked to be opening the United States up a bit never really resulted in a great threat on the American goal mouth. Those little things impressed me, and they were why I’m willing to forgive Holden for looking a little maladjusted offensively in the first half. You’ll note, however, that the U.S. were at their most threatening with Holden tucked back into the center, with help from Clint Dempsey, in the first section of the second half, until Holden was relieved by Bob Bradley around the 65th minute. All in all, a fine set of performances for the young Bolton midfielder.
Finally, the forwards struggled again, particularly Jozy Altidore, who scored against Poland, but still looks shaky. Altidore is, I still believe, an immense talent. He’s just too physically blessed with talent to fail. But there are different types of striker success (yes, there really are). There are the best in the world types (Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Eto’o, Diego Forlan). There are strikers who solely score goals—the RVN’s and RVP’s of Holland, Falcao from last night, or Nino Torres, (the tired version of the last year or so) of Spain. Then there are forwards who can score goals but also do other things very well (draw a lot of fouls, hold the ball up)—Petr Crouch, Emile Heskey, Mark Viduka, Yakubu when he’s not eating. Altidore seems to fall more into this final strand. That’s okay too. A more class version of Brian Ching will always help the United States. It just isn’t the answer we all wanted. I’m starting to think, however, it is the answer we are getting. While it is difficult to breakthrough at Villareal when you are behind three of the classier forwards in the universe in Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar and Argentine afterthought Marco Ruben. It’s good that Jozy beat out Jefferson Montero, but he might need to play more than just Europa and Spanish cup matches.
Or maybe that has little to do with it. Perhaps Altidore’s game is just not as electric as we think. It’s hard-nosed and gritty. I was most impressed with Jozy late in last night’s game. He was grinding, pressuring a tired Colombian defense and working extremely hard to help the Yanks find a winner. Problem was the skill was lacking at times. Like his flubbed opportunity against Poland over the weekend, Altidore was just off with a few touches or passes, and his header that was saved in the second half was a fine pace but had no placement. Even a small bit of placement would have found the back of the net. The most trying moment had to be early in the second, after Eddie Johnson had entered. Dempsey played a quick ball to Holden who played a lovely, soft ball to EJ at the top of the box. Johnson, who is showing signs that he may be recovering from the worst first touch in the history of the world, took a quick touch and hit a nice cutting ball towards the spot, thinking Altidore would break for it. Josmer stood still, put his hands on his hips, looked heavenward and yelled at himself. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you wonder if Altidore will ever get it. Matt over at The Shin Guardian noted this body language failure too, and added that he should be careful with the sulking because strikers often set the tone with their mannerisms and the way they carry themselves on the pitch.
As for me, I think the talent is still there. It’s now a question of how much Jozy begins to get it with age, or better stated, a question of what exactly the player himself hopes to be.
COLOMBIA MATCH PLAYER RATINGS:
Brad Friedel’s Ball Boy, 6.5—I feel confident with him back there, which is good, and was evident on his only real test of the night, a shot and rebounded shot after a horrid Edu giveaway. Marvelous save kept the US in the game in the first five minutes.
Jon Spector, 5—I didn’t think he was quite as bad as some colleagues, but maybe I’m overcompensating for his splendid help after Edu’s giveaway. Yes, Guzan made the great stop, but I don’t think Falcao misses from that angle if Spector doesn’t get back and make a play to cut the angle off the first shot. That play resulted in Goodson’s essential block. Watch it again and you’ll likely agree with me. If you don’t, it is probably because of the rest of the evening and Spector’s weak passing to Holden in front of him, as well as the fact that he looked troubled by Victor Ibarbo, a 20 year old domestic Colombian league player. Yep—Spector still “plays” in the world’s best league. We need more from this cat.
Oguchi Onyewu, 7—One of two Yanks field players I thought was useful in the first half. Radamel Falcao is no slouch and anyone who has watched Porto knows he can disappear and re-appear in fine goal scoring positions. That didn’t happen because the big fella didn’t let it. His passing was fine too—not great, but better than the summer. A pretty good set of games for Gooch, who now must get out of Milan this January.
Clarence Goodson, 6.5—A bit unsteady in the first half, save the first five minutes, especially with his timid decisionmaking in the passing game. One such moment ended with Gooch visibly angry at him. Did do well in the fourth to block Falcao’s howitzer at close range, but I credit Spector for forcing the look from a bit wider an angle. Did well and nearly scored on a set piece in the second half too. He’s your starter right now.
Heath Pearce, 5.5—His defending was fine and his clearances were safe. That’s all well and good but Bocanegra does all that too and he’s the captain of the team. My problem is Pearce had no interest in moving forward. This would help in a 4-3-3—Holden’s forays inside, for example, would be better served with overlapping fullback runs. Those didn’t exist, so you get the midfield log jam that was the first half. That’s inexcusable, especially given the fact he was paired with Brek Shea, his teammate at FC Dallas. Their lack of offensive help together makes you wonder how they are dominating MLS right now.
Maurice Edu, 4—Probably his worst night in an American shirt. I tweeted last night that Edu’s lackluster performance was proof that club form doesn’t always correlate with the national shirt, and it’s true. His giveaway early almost put the US behind 1-nil. He was overwhelmed by Giovanni Moreno’s pace as well, which is surprising given his mammoth performance against United’s pace in the Champions League last month. He’ll still be critical in the years to come.
Jermaine Jones, 6—Lost the ball too much in the first half, mostly because he was the only American guilty of being too patient. His piercing balls in the second half were better, and I liked his report with Clint Dempsey, which added teeth to the American attack after the break. Fearless in his challenges as usual, his tackling was part of the reason the Americans sloppy first half passing very rarely resulted in danger.
MB 90, 5—Appeared to be overthinking in the first half, and was sloppy in his distributions. Several turnovers, but at least these days the turnovers aren’t on back passes. I don’t think it’s a question of Jones or Bradley for the Yanks midfield, but last night proved that if it were MB 90 would have work to do to keep his moniker. He was far better Saturday evening.
Brek Shea, 3—Not a banner opening for the 20 year old FC Dallas starlet. At Dallas, Shea has been a difference maker and a confident passer who has also excelled at moving without the ball and finding good positions. Last night he looked timid, nervy and like he’d never played with Heath Pearce before. He’s young, and he’ll have many more opportunities, but he must improve, especially with his first touch and his decisionmaking, as he made several dangerous passes that nearly resulted in danger.
Stu Holden, 6.5—Defensively he reminds you of Landon Donovan just because he covers so much distance and hardly anyone says a word about it. He was guilty in the first half of sliding too far inward in the 4-3-3, but as I stated before that’s okay if the fullbacks are overlapping as they are supposed to do. Heath Pearce is not Gael Clichy, which we didn’t need to be reminded of so thoroughly last night. His service was excellent and his short passing in the final third was solid most the evening, particularly after Dempsey’s addition to the game.
Jozy Altidore, 5—Worked hard, especially late in the game when he started to cause problems for the tiring Colombian defense. If anything, Villareal has done wonders for his fitness. Beyond that, several concerning moments, including his failure to react to Johnson’s cutting ball that would have assured an American lead early in the second half. Header on goal late was nearly a just reward for hard work, but he couldn’t place it. He’s only 20 years old.
Eddie Johnson, 5.5—Drew a couple of fouls in threatening positions, mostly because he’s cleaned up his atrocious first touch. He also works harder than ever, a product of Mark Hughes and his demands at Fulham. Nifty pass to threatening area intended for Altidore deserved better too. Lost the ball on a breakaway late due to a poor first touch, but again, he’s limiting those moments. Probably back in the fold for the Gold Cup, for the time being.
Eric Lichaj, 7- That’s how you want to make your US debut. Confident on the ball and well-positioned in defending, Lichaj was a menace on the right throughout the second half. No coincidence the Yanks played infinitely better in that frame. Cross that found Altidore in the box in the 86th minute was sublime. Bright future for the Villa man.
Michael Parkhurst, 6—The 2008 Olympic Team, sans Edu, had a nice night. Made a couple of nice interceptions reading play in the final third that set the Yanks up for counterattacking moments. His clearances could be better, but he’s going to make it tough on other young center backs in the depth battles that will occur over the next year.
Benny Feilhaber, 5.5—Serviceable I suppose and took a nice set piece or two. He’s so much better in the center of the field, and perhaps we’ll see him there when the Yanks play with Donovan in the fold again in 2011. Was much more willing to defend than I’ve seen him in quite a while last night, tracking back well and covering a bunch of distance for less than a half of work (3000 m).
Clint Dempsey, 6.5—Wasn’t seeing the ball much so made the executive decision to move inside a bit more and get involved. Once he did, the Yanks attack was much stronger, with better movement of the ball and more forward progress. His distribution with Jones was impressive. Drew fouls and could have drawn more in a game more tightly called. Definitely made everyone around him better, which is what the armband wearer should do.
Neil W. Blackmon is co-founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.