Thursday, February 12, 2009

USA 2:0 Mexico World Cup Qualifying

Last night in Columbus, the U.S. Men's National Team kept alive their unbeaten streak against Mexico and World Cup qualifying at home with a 2-0 win over El Tri. On the strength of two goals by Michael Bradley, the U.S., for the third straight game won 2-0 and the Mexicans look even further a shambolic mess. Mexican coach Sven-Goran Erikson might be for the sack this week.

The game included its usual beating up on each other, particularly in the second half with Marquez's karate kick against Tim Howard's left knee which earned him a straight red card in the 65th minute. There were some hard tackles and a little gamesmanship, but I have to give the Referee credit for calling a consistent game but keeping control and not letting the cheap shots get out of hand. I didn't see the Referee as being in the game and that is the best compliment I can give.

The U.S. line up was ultimately quite predictable. I would like to have seen Marvell Wynne at right back, but as the game wore on, I could see why Frankie Hejduk got the call. Bocanegra and Onyewu showed why they will be the starting center backs for the U.S. until the World Cup. I was surprised at the quality of DaMarcus Beasley, who hasn't gotten any real time with Rangers in the past months, and the strength of Brian Ching up top. Howard was just his normal consisten self and it is clear why he is one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League and if not the world.

Tactically, I think the U.S. was very solid. Both Hejduk and Heath Pearce were bombing up and down the wings with aplomb, making good crosses and really attacking well. Defensively, Hejduk was a machine, he didn't make mistakes, made great tackles and even after looking like he took a hard knock, stayed in the match and continued to contribute. Pearce is still about half a step too slow on the international level, but his positioning was solid and Boca and Gooch protect well for the marauding backs. The U.S. kept their shape in the back very well, were disciplined in keeping their line and aside from a couple of poor clearances, didn't really make any mistakes.

Offensively, the U.S. were very active off the ball, making runs, playing out of trouble and getting some good attacks going. They also spiced up the game pretty well, combining fast break counter attacks, crisp build ups, traditional down the wing and cross attacks and long range shooting to keep the Mexican defense honest. As usual, the Americans' skill on set pieces proved effective. The U.S., for the first time in while, looked very good with the ball, there were a lot of precise, one-touch, two-touch passes that were accurate and effectively worked the U.S. out of jams that previously would have resulted in turn-overs. It seems apparent to me that Bob Bradley has been emphasizing this aspect of the U.S. possession game a lot more and it proved effective.

I have only two small complaints and one larger complaint about the game. First, the U.S. tended to get bogged down on one side of the attack too much. They would start down one side and then instead of pulling back and quickly switching field, they would try to pursue the attack. Sometimes, the best way to go forward is to go backward and sideways. The Mexicans looked like they were ripe for getting burned on the weak side and the U.S. didn't really exploit it.

Second, toward the end of the game, Clint Dempsey was getting sucked into the middle a little too much, leaving a massive, gaping hole on the right side. If Mexico had a left sided attack that was worth anything, the U.S. could have gotten burned. But Hejduk was solid over there, but I don't know if Cherundolo or Wynne could have been as good.

Third and this is the big one, a number of U.S. breakouts and counterattacks are not being supported by the midfield coming forward and getting into position to take a quick cross or provide options for Donovan, Beasely or Ching/Altidore to exploit with the defense collapses on them during a counter attack. On no less that seven occaisions, a U.S. counter attack would materialize with a U.S. man getting on the ball deep in the Mexican defense but the defense would do a good job pushing the attack wide (just like they teach in junior soccer) but when Donovan or Ching or Beasley or later Altidore would look up and around, there was no one to play to. The central midfielders and weak side midfielders have to get down the pitch, have to get in position to receive a pass, a cross or poach a goal and it just wasn't happening.

I blame this on Bob Bradley, who tends to take a defensive set in big games like this. Taking a defensive set is not a bad thing, but if you are going to rely on the counter attack, you have to give your counters a chance of working, which means center midfielders like Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan have to get down the pitch and provide some options, make the defense think and either react or get burned.

The U.S.'s next match is March 28, 2009 against El Salvador in probably San Salvador. El Salvador came back last night from two goals down to earn a draw against Trinidad & Tobago in San Salvador. In the other CONCACAF match, Costa Rica grabbed a 2-0 win over Honduras in Estadio Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica. The standings after one game are

USA 1-0-0 3pts +2GD
Costa Rica 1-0-0 3pts +2GD
Trin & Tob. 0-0-1 1pt E
El Salvador 0-0-1 1pt E
Honduras 0-1-0 0pts -2GD
Mexico 0-1-0 0pts -2GD

Quick notes. Tim Howard is suspended from the next match due to yellow card accumulations (which is a bloody stupid rule that yellow cards carry over from the previous round). Brad Guzan will likely get the start with probably Troy Perkins being called in as the back up while Howard gets to stay home with his club at Everton.

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