International Friendly: USA 2-4 Czech Republic
A few weeks ago, I was clicking around online and thinking seriously about driving to East Hartford, CT for last night's U.S. Men's National Team World Cup tune-up match against the Czech Republic. I'm glad I didn't waste my time; instead of working out the starting eleven and looking to build chemistry and confidence against a team we've never beaten, Coach Bob Bradley used the occasion as an audition for several players struggling to make the final roster. It showed; The Czechs drubbed us 4-2, all four goals coming from really poor defensive plays by the USA. It's not a big deal to lose a friendly against a quality European opponent when you're simply trying to figure out who's going to be riding the pine all the way to South Africa, but I (and probably most other fans of Team USA) would prefer not to spend our money to watch the B-Team take an ass-whooping just days before the team heads to the big show. How about firing up the fan base?
My thoughts on the game...
* As I mentioned in my positional analysis, the defensive back four is a big problem. Even though Coach Bradley rested probable starters Carlos Bocanegra (the captain of Team USA and a vocal leader on the pitch) and Jay DeMerit, all four Czech goals came from defensive blunders; After Jonathan Bornstein made one in a string of atrocious tackles and fouled a Czech attacker, 6'4" Ogucvhi Onyewu got out-jumped by Tomas Slvak for goal #1, Steve Cherundolo didn't close down an attacking passer, allowing Jan Polak to burst past the stagnant USA defense and onto the cross for goal #2, Heath Pearce went sliding in for a ill-timed challenge outside of the box, over committing like he was playing FIFA10 on Xbox, allowing a cross, which Clarence Goodson failed to clear by whiffing on the ball, before Martin Fenin tucked it under the cross bar for goal #3, and finally poor Maurice Edu, moving into the CB position after a very good night in the Defensive Midfield role, headed the ball toward his own goal, allowing Tomas Necid to latch onto it and sprint into the box, tucking the ball home past a helpless Brad Guzan for goal #4.
Am I missing anyone?
*Left Back was a particularly sore spot, with Bornstein just getting torched all night long and Pearce making bad decision after bad decision. Carlos Bocanegra is a far more disciplined player, but much slower. That said, based on Onyewu's performance, Bocanegra may be forced into the middle with DeMerit (or maybe Goodson can play in the middle?) and we'll have to hope for Spector to play out of his mind, especially against England who will throw Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott on the right to blow past any and all of our Left Backs. HUGE RED FLAG.
*Despite whiffing on a clearence, Clarence Goodson outmuscled Petr Cech to free Maurice Edu to score the first US goal and then headed a corner back across the box for Hercules Gomez to nod in for the second; he was impressive in the attacking third. The problem? He's a defender. And he's not very good. And he was by far the best defender on the pitch tonight and, I think, cemented his place in South Africa. This should frighten you.
*Steve Cherundolo on the right was inaccurate all night long in pressing forward, giving the ball away with stray passes. He also seems to refuse to close players down on his wing, which was the main cause of the goal #3 tonight. Yikes.
*Oguchi Onyewu is struggling for fitness and he is at about 60%. He did not look good tonight; he was very tentative and without any explosiveness. If he is up against in-form strikers, we're in real trouble if he plays. Based on tonights's showing, I don't even know if he should make the team but knowing Bob Bradley, there is no question he'll be on the roster. Ironically, the goal he allowed came from the same situation (running backward for a ball coming in from his left, over his head) during which he blew out his knee seven months ago; maybe it was déja-vú for him, but he should have done better. I feel for him, but he doesn't look ready to me.
* Okay defense, say it with me: CLEAR THE BALL!
* Eddie Johnson looked decent but offered nothing in attack, and Edson Buddle also had a few bright moments, showing some deft control and good hold up play. Still, with Francisco Torres getting overrun in the midfield after a bright U.S. opening, Johnson and Buddle were left starving for service in the first half. Unfortunately for both of them, Brian Ching looked very sharp and crafty while Hercules Gomez scored on his only true opportunity (and also wasted a few half-chances by shooting instead of passing to an open player). My guess? Altidore, Ching and Gomez make the team and Buddle squeaks in because of the wealth in midfield. I still feel for Buddle, though: If he makes the team, I will smile. On the inside.
* If depth in defense is a problem, the midfield showed signs of life, especially Stuart Holden and DaMarcus Beasley, who was scrappy as ever, tracking back and making plays all over the pitch. Holden in particular played a great game and carried Torres (and Kljestan when he came on), but he spent a lot of time drifting into midfield as we were unable to get anything going through the middle of the park. Maurice Edu scored and was solid when played in position, and I was also impressed with the attacking mentality of Robbie Rogers, who played several decent balls and was effective taking corner kicks. Alejandro Bedoya did not have much of a chance to make an impression, which says it all really.
All in all, while the score line sucked, the match served its purpose for the coaching staff (if not the supporters, some of whom spent $85 a ticket to watch that team). But, onwards and upwards as we prepare for the match against Turkey this Saturday, a very dangerous and skillful team who will probably also kick our ass. Memorize this name: Arda Turan. He is going to torture our defense all match long.
Turan Is Amazing
With Bob Bradley announcing his final 23 today at 1:00 PM, I am going out on a limb and guessing:
Bornstein (and may he never see the field)
That should do. Still, scary times ahead...Ah, the joys of football in America...