I started to write this post yesterday, but thought the better of it. I was angry at the result, I was miffed at the U.S. wall that jumped to let the Dutch daisy cutter through, I was really mad at Adu, Holden and Bradley for their stupid cards in the final minutes of the match (costing Adu and Bradley for the Nigeria match), and as a goalkeeper, I thought I was ready to feed Brad Guzan to the lions when I thought he could have stopped the free kick. There was a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda in my thinking and that wasn't going to lead to good analysis.
But now that I have spent a day looking back, the result is not nearly as bad as I had hoped. Sure, it is disappointing, since a win would have guaranteed that the U.S. would advance no matter what result against Nigeria. A win would have put the Netherlands in the position of a needing a multi-goal win over Japan and a Nigeria loss to the U.S. to advance. But a win or a tie with the Nigerians and the U.S. advances, so clearly their destiny is still in their hands, unlike the Dutch.
So, with a day to digest, I have to say this: this was one of the best U.S. team peformances I have seen at any level in years. Before getting to that I need to say something about the stadium. My goodness that pitch looked terrible. I know it had rained and had seen some previous play, but it was shocking considering how much effort the Chinese have put into other facilities. But the pitch is a neutral factor, so it is what it is.
As I was saying, the U.S. performance was solid and aside from the dumb mistakes at the end of the match, a quality performance against a side that was a pre-tournament favorite to make the semi-finals. Despite going down a goal, the U.S. didn't abandon its play, it continued to possess the ball, making good passing, solid run and creating chances. As the time ticked away, I was certain and equalizer would come--I had no doubts about it. I think the Dutch confidence was shaken by the draw with Nigeria and I was not sure that they thought they would win with a single goal.
I have to admit to questioning the wisdom of Peter Novak selecting a lot of midfielders, but it seems to be paying off. Well, see in the next game if he was smart, more on that in a second.
I have to also admit that I was worried about the American back line, but this game the back line played well. Parkhurst is a rock that should see more senior team action. Orozco bounced back from a dismal first game to play solid on the left. Mo Edu, the converted midfielder looked comfortable in the middle and for all the kiddies out there, that is what a quality footballer can do, fill in at any position when called upon. And Marvelle Wynne--wow. I was not a fan of Wynne's, thinking he would probably develop in a year or two to be a quality defender who would add a lot to the MLS, but he has really stepped up his performance. He roams that right side without an ounce of fear and made a dozen if not more quality runs contributing to the attack. Wynne has been my surprise of the tournament.
Sacha Klejstan's goal was a tribute to individual effort, but overlooked was the outstanding pass from Freddy Adu to give Klejstan the ball. It was a great goal. But the Americans weren't satisfied with a 1-1 tie and I am glad they weren't. I thinik in the past, some American coaches (see Bruce Arena, Steve Sampson and yes, even Bob Bradley) would have bunkered down and played for the draw. But the U.S. boys were not to be denied. A junk scrum leads to an Orozco cross and a Jozy Altidore thigh (hip?) goal. It was not a pretty goal, but like they say, a goal scored with the hip three yards from teh goal counts just as much as a twenty yard smash into the upper corner.
Then things got ugly as the game wound down. The U.S. was doing pretty well on defense and then Freddy Adu had a brain fart, getting his second yellow in two games in the 78th minute. Which led promptly to his substituion and Adu looking like a 10 year kid saying "what did I do" as he left the field. In stoppage time Michael Bradley did a "Bradley" committing a stupid foul and getting his second yellow in two games. Finally, in the last minute, Stuart Holden gets his yellow leading to the penultimate free kick on a very clumsy challenge. As a result of their cards, Adu and Bradley are sitting the next game. Of course, it is not so bad since Nigeria's big central defenders are also sitting due to yellow card accumulation.
I like the fact that Peter Novak has shown a willingness to change tactics and formations to suit the opposition and the staff he has available. He has essentially benched Jozy Altidore, bringning the young striker on as an impact sub. He has shown understanding of total football by having Edu play on defense (although that may change next game). Novak has also placed his faith in good players to step up to teh challenge see Wynne and Holden. So here is Novak's dilemma for the next match.
As noted, Nigeria's big central defenders are sitting. This is the time to exploit Altidore's size, strength and speed. I think Novak needs to start Altidore alongside Brian McBride. Let McBride's height, experience, strength and courage play balls off to Altidore to just attack. It is time to put the fresh legs of Danny Szetela and Benny Feilhaber to work the midfield. I would put Klejstan into the midfield playmaker role. He has performed well there this tournament and I think he can play the ball around well, but he needs support and here is where Mo Edu comes in. Novak needs to take Edu out of the back line and push him just foward in a defensive midfielder role.
Here is the line-up I would like to see against Nigeria:
Edu will be needed to shut down the speedy midfield runners of Nigeria.