Before I move on to rating the performances from Saturday’s final “Send-Off Series” match, a 2-1 American comeback victory over an outstanding Turkish team, I thought I’d share my three observations from my seat at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. I’ll do my best to keep them short, as Raf Crowley’s insights covered most the things I would have noted.
- Jose Torres has earned the right to start alongside Michael Bradley
Torres gave the Americans exactly what they lacked in the first half Saturday afternoon—a calming presence on the ball whose passes were sharp (as usual) but who more importantly found ways to get involved just enough defensively to allow his central midfield partner to play more aggressive soccer. Torres’ movements and patience were much improved and it was indicative that not only is he growing more comfortable in the US 4-4-2 system, which is foreign to the style and manner of football he plays at his club Pachuca, but also that Bradley Sr. has done a fine job teaching Torres the system and instilling confidence in the highly skilled young Texan. The U.S. was far more organized with Torres in the game and MB 90 was far more effective with Torres at his side. I thought MB 90’s first-half didn’t so much lack for effort (a dangerous tackle late in the first half showed his frustration and conjured up frightening images in the coming month) as it lacked for organization—meaning simply that MB 90 was too caught up in his defensive responsibilities to be an effective orchestrator of the American midfield. He’ll need to better in situations where it feels as if the Yanks midfield is being overrun, and that was certainly the feeling I got in the first half—despite the Yanks being relatively equal in possession. The upside is that MB 90 was outstanding in the second half, playing far more aggressive football and concise in his passing, while still doing the things with his energy and effort on the defensive end that make him so valuable to the American team. Now if we can only get him to smile a bit and shoot when he makes a brilliant late run up a goal—we’d be perfectly content with the 22 year old American mainstay. Perhaps Torres, who brought back Claudio Reyna midfield dominance memories yesterday, can help him do just that.
- Clint Dempsey’s Stanky Leg needs a bit of work
With all due respect to Deuce, who did extremely well finishing yesterday after a last-gasp challenge from the Turkish defense—after the brush the hair back portion, Deuce’s stanky leg was a C- at best. I’m not certain if that was a trial run for what will be his World Cup goal-scoring celebration or if Deuce has other celebrations in queue- but I’m certain he needs to work harder on his stanky leg. He looked about as confident as Lionsgate is in the upcoming Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl blockbuster The Killers—and let me go ahead and tell you—that’s not a good thing. That said, it can’t be any worse than Sex and the City 2—but the bottom line is we knew the second installment of Carrie and her girlfriends was going to be poor, but Lionsgate and Deuce can do better.
- That was the best crowd of the cycle, and the third best win
Turkey isn’t going to the World Cup, but in their defense they were drawn in a group with Spain and a plucky, defense-first Bosnia-Herzegovina side that simply gave them fits. With Guus Hiddink on board, I don’t think the 2008 EURO darlings will miss out on the Brazilian fun. Even having missed the Cup, Turkey is without question a class side and has two to three field players in Nihat, Hamit Altintop, and Arda Turan that are as good if not better than nearly any American field player. Outside of the Miracle on Grass and the 3-0 win over Egypt, this is the third best team the U.S. have beaten in this cycle. There was a draw with Argentina that was a quality result, and sound performances in a few home-soil wins over Mexico, but all in all this was an outstanding result. It is even better that it took place on the eve of the World Cup and that it happened in come from behind fashion. That’s compelling because the Americans have proven to be sound front runners in this cycle but outside of one qualifier, they have not played well from behind—which they may need to do at the World Cup. The crowd was splendid and the support was evident—a very pro-American group and to me suggestive that maybe the U.S. have finally turned a corner playing at home in large, immigrant-heavy cities—which will be a concern hosting in 2018 or 2022.
On a sadder note, I feel bad for The Yanks Are Coming reader and awesome third-grade teacher and USA coozie designer Erin Dutka, who was escorted out of the Linc before the anthem, falsely accused of setting off a smoke-bomb. To make such a long trip requires dedication, and here’s hoping the USMNT corrects this injustice with some token of appreciation and that the huge Brian Ching fan is rewarded for her dedication with a marvelous, safe and fun trip to South Africa. See you in Rustenburg, Erin.
You can buy Erin’s awesome coozies here.
Tim Howard, GK, 5.5 – Made a pair of nice stops in the first half that were vital because the Americans looked so out-of-sync. Was blameless on the goal. Showed moments in the second half, such as a charging header on a Turkish counterattack, that made you think he doesn’t trust his centerbacks. At Everton, he never goes and heads that particular ball—he just yells at Jagielka for making him think about doing it.
Jon Spector, RB, 3 – Looked awful, mostly. Actually made a nice run preceding the goal-allowing counterattack, but then lost the ball. He looked slow and his service, usually reliable, was too slow and indecisive.
Jay DeMerit, CB 4.5—Seemed a bit passive and didn’t look comfortable holding such a high line in the first half. Was better with Onyewu, which is promising, but needs to communicate better. His passing asks questions when it is forward and a lazy moment after the American equalizer nearly led to a Turkish goal. Not the steady-Eddie version we saw last summer. Must do better.
Clarence Goodson, CB, 5—A bit better than DeMerit. He was fine with his marking and better with his passing to the midfielders. Needs to communicate better, which is a universal criticism of our back four in the first half, at least.
Carlos Bocanegra, LB, 6.5—Not always comfortable coming forward, and a bit indecisive with the ball in that role. That said, he’s not out there for his offense and at least he tried to provide width at intelligent times. He’s certainly our best option at side back, and his defensive intensity was palpable. He was missed when taken off.
Landon Donovan, M, 8—One of his finest games in an American shirt. I love him in the Everton role on the right—it really provides an opportunity for him to gnash defenses. He wasn’t as involved in the first half, mostly because the center of the American midfield was being overrun. Once he got his touches, he did well with the ball and made good runs after distributing it. Cheeky move past Volkan on the first goal, and good decision to make the extra pass. Ball to Dempsey setting up the winner was quality, but not as quality as a later one which Deuce just missed for a third goal. He’s breathtaking when he gets defenders backpedalling, and that was the second half.
Ricardo Clark, M, 3—Might have fallen to third on the depth chart for the other starting Mid spot. Clark was aimless on offense and looked confused in his positioning. I understand that he runs eleventy billion meters a match, and the first half had him on that pace—the problem is he can’t do that because he’s lost and needs to gain the ground back to quell scoring chances. Too many turnovers too.
MB 90, M, 6.5—At 22, he’s the heart of the American center, and while he was dependable on defense in the first 45, he needs to be calmer and more decisive when things aren’t going well. Made a rash challenge but thankfully whiffed early. Leagues better when Torres came on. Made sharp passes throughout, and a patented, late-developing, and altogether brilliant run in the 87th would have been a goal if he had shot instead of making the extra pass.
Benny Feilhaver, M, 4—Bad Benny? Maybe just invisible Benny. Seemed a bit out of sorts on the left and was altogether too responsible for the Americans appalling organization in the first half. Short passes were okay, but he’s supposed to be a creative, initiating force and he never seemed to have any ideas or genuine nerve in the attack.
Clint Dempsey, F/M, 6.5—Look—this is basically the average of his grades at each position. He wasn’t sharp in the first half and a late effort on goal would have made Eagles Placekicker David Akers proud, as he buried a field goal from around 35. Unusually bad first touch in the first half. Switched to the left in the second, he was far more probing and he was simply stronger than Sabri Sarlogu on the winning goal. Stanky leg, as well as his chemistry with Altidore, need work.
Jozy Altidore, F, 6—Can play better and will need to, at least in terms of going after defenders and holding up the ball. Made a brilliant run in the first half that nearly created a goal, but then missed a high-school level pass to an onrushing Dempsey. The goal salvaged the afternoon, but you hardly need world class to finish that one-two work by Findley and Donovan.
Gooch, CB, 6.5—Raf’s piece correctly summed it up—Gooch seemed far more comfortable after he deflected a blistering shot in the 62nd minute. His rating is elevated because he elevated the play of DeMerit, who appeared to have communications issues with Howard and Goodson in the first half.
Jose Torres, M, 8—Changed the game and helped the Americans dominate the center after the break. His passing, as I said above, is always quality but what separated him Saturday was his defensive dirty-work and his fine decision making with his passes. Hit the post and just missed what would have been a deserved goal.
Robbie Findley, F, 7.5—Who the hell was that guy and what did they do to Robbie Findley? His pass to Donovan on the first goal was a flawless chip that might have been the nicest play of his career. Relentless effort and went directly at the Turkish center, which is what he’ll be asked to do as a sparkplug off the bench. Let’s see if it was an “I’ll prove you wrong” performance for those shocked he was on the roster, or if he can sustain it next week against the Socceroos, who offer more organization at the center.
Stu Holden, M, 7—Really impressed with his defensive effort in his limited time. He’s continuing to prove his class involves more than brilliant crosses and set pieces. His pass to MB 90 late should have resulted in a third American goal, and his presence on the field truly gives the Yanks a more organized sense of width in attack.
Steve Cherundolo, RB, 6—Probably won the starting job with a strong performance. Years of big matches make him seem comfortable, which is good given Spector’s nerve-wracking first 45. His crosses were fine but more importantly he made the right choices about when to probe forward. That caution will be critical in a month. Committed a bad foul late.
Jon Bornstein, LB, 2.5—Awful. It was almost amusing seeing him get torched late, and then I remembered the World Cup was in two weeks. Bornstein is simply not good enough at this level.
Proper Stanky Leg
Neil W. Blackmon is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com or @nwb_USMNT.