It was an historic night on Saturday and the United States Men's Naitonal Team opened their 2008 matches with a strong 2-0 win over Sweden. The U.S. continued an 10 year unbeaten streak in their first match of the year, and against progressively stronger teams. Defender Eddie Robinson became the 44th American player to score a goal in their first international match and Landon Donovan became the all-time leading scorer for the U.S. men after netting a penalty kick.
Although Donovan was named the Sierra Mist Man of the Match, for the the true light was goalkeeper Brad Guzan who make two crucial saves in the last fifteen minutes of the first half, when the U.S. defense got a little shaky. Twice in three minutes, Guzan denied Swedish striker Pontus Wernbloom a goal by quick reactions and making his 6'4" frame very big, very close to the goal. Guzan also looked very sharp in the second half, handling well some tough play from the Swedes. Guzan, who plays for Chivas USA in the MLS has four caps and a promising international career if Saturday is any indication. Competition for a starting goalkeeping spot on the U.S. Men's national team has always been keen, with long time international Kasey Keller, Brad Freidel, Marcus Hahnemann, and Tim Howard seeing routine action in the English Premier League. Four goalkeepers were brought to the most recent camp and Guzan was the most experienced international player with four caps. The other goalkeepers, Will Hesmer, Zach Wells, and Matt Pickens have no international appearances.
For the most part, the United States looked good despite the dearth of full international experience among the players. U.S. Coach Bob Bradley invited a large group of young players and MLS vets as the more seasoned U.S. internationals are in the midst of league play in Europe, aside from the Scandanavian countries. A number of the more well-known U.S. Internationals will return to the U.S. camp for the next match against arch-rival Mexico.
Some players that looked very good included 18-year-old striker Jozy Altidore, who despite his young age, looked very strong, quick and smart with the ball. Clarence Goodson looked strong in the air against the big Swedish strikers, although his game on the ground needs some work.
This young U.S. crew looks very promising, but they will need to settle down in the mid-field and control the ball better. At times they looked sloppy and rushed on the ball. This crew does play faster than previous U.S. Teams and that will serve them well in future play. There were flashes of brilliance among some of the younger inexperienced players and times when the U.S. was able to move the ball at will.
World Cup Qualifying begins this summer and with young players ready to step into the shoes of the more experienced international players, Bradley has put the team on a good track.