Thursday, February 07, 2008

U.S. Men's National Team 2:2 Mexico

Before a sold out Reliant Stadium in Houston, where the crowd was decidedly Mexican it their partisanship, the U.S. Men's National Team tied the Mexican team 2 all in a game that had all the hallmarks of the intense rivalry, from pushing, shoving, hard challenges, rought fouls and even a skirmish between U.S. Goalkeeper Tim Howard and Mexican striker Antonio De Nigris in the second half. The U.S. racked up four yellow cards and Mexico two as tempers flared and the match got rough.

Were it not for a questionable offside call, the Americans might have won 3-2 as a Clint Dempsey goal in the 42nd minuted was called back. As mentioned before in my first half reactions, Jozy Altidore scored his first goal for the senior squad in his first start and third appearance on the MNT.

What was perhaps most striking about the U.S. Team last night was the youth of the squad in general. The average age of the players was just 24.5 years and when Freddy Adu came on in the second half, the U.S. sported two teenagers on the pitch for the first time ever. In fact, five of the U.S. squad last night appeared in the U-20 World Cup last year and six or seven will be eligible for the U-23 Olympic squad which will begin qualifying next month, inluduing Altidore and Adu. U.S. Coach Bob Bradley is using these "friendlies" as a means of getting players exposed to World Cup atmospheres (and last night was certainly that feeling) and getting some confidence in playing in tough situations.

Last night there were lots of glaring negatives. First, Landon Donovan and Bobby Convey, playing on the outside midfields were essentially non-existant for most of the game. Despite switching sides regularly, neither was able to make much of an impact, alhtough Donovan did get his 29th career assist with the first goal by Oguchi Onyewu. In the second half Donovan was shut down. The midfield play of starters Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley did not help the situation. There is no doubt that Bradley is a capable player (he has scored a goal in five consecutive games for his Dutch club team), and Bradley is fast, energetic and at times a bit rash. But neither Clark nor Bradley can serve as a holding midfielder, which is what the U.S. desperately needed last night. Benny Feilhaber looks like he could be that guy, but his development as a player is stunted because he is not getting playing time for his English Premier League club Derby County. Feilhaber (the hero of the last match against Mexico with a thundering full volley that gave the U.S the win in the CONCACAAF Gold Cup) came in the 63 minute and tried to settle the midfield down, but no particularly successfully.

The back line is a bit of a mystery right now for Bradley. I think he has solidified a solid middle pair in Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, but the outside backs are a trouble spot. Ramiro Corrales looked over matched last night and despite the assist on Altidore's goal, Drew Moor was outplayed as well. Bradley left the pair in the for the entire match, possibly to see how they would react. Moor seemed to settle down a little, but the outside backs certainly did not play well.

The bright spots were Tim Howard and the attacking line for the U.S. Tim Howard had a great game individually, but he was clearly very frustrated on a number of occaisions by the fact that players did not hear him or listen to him, particuarly on set piece situations with a wall. He was regularly screaming and a few times cursing (thank goodness he wasn't miked up) at his field players for not listening. He made some excellent saves that quite frankly kept the U.S. in the match.

Despite being a bit more of a midfielder by tradition, Clint Dempsey continued to show why he is respected worldwide and in the EPL for Fulham. Although clearly tired and probably jet lagged, Dempsey played with flair and it was only bad luck that kept is excellent strike off the score sheet.

Finally, Altidore was positively stellar in his first start. His goal on a header was spectacular and demonstrates why he is perhaps the best up and coming U.S. striker around. by this time two years from now, expect to see him with an EPL, La Liga or Serie A club. While he needs to listen to his goalkeeper when working in the wall, Altidore showed that he is not only a gifted striker, but was willing to work hard on defense and winning the ball back. He is not intimidated by opposing players despite his youth and a 6'1" tall and a solid 175 pounds and possible growing a little, Altidore has the size, speed and strength to compete against the best defenders in the world. Bradley will have to allow him to develop a little more and Altidore needs to work on his fitness as he was clearly tired at the end of the match, but he should be fit for U.S. Olympic and World Cup qualifying later this year after the MLS starts its season.

Overall, Coach Bob Bradley got an excellent look at lots of young, inexperienced players. If the U.S. can get more comfortable on the ball, be patient and workd the game better, they can certainly do well in teh coming years. The more matches these players play the better off they will be.

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