USA vs. Colombia Commentary
I’ve decided that I really enjoy writing these so I’m going to keep writing them. :)
My ideal USMNT team out of the two games we’ve seen recently would be the offense from the Poland game (sans Jozy Altidore’s countless missed opportunities for goals) paired with the defense from this game.
Before I continue, I’ll put up the starting line-up in their formation:
Bob Bradley tried out a 4-3-3 style formation today with some mixed results.
DEFENSE-DEFENSE-DEFENSE: The defense tonight was solid. Absolutely solid. Clarence Goodson proved to be a great central defender, clearing the ball quickly and effectively and scarcely leaving Brad Guzan (who managed a clean sheet tonight) to make difficult saves without causing trouble for the attacking Colombian players first. First time captain Oguchi Onyewu was solid in the half that he played as well. Gooch pressed forward a little towards the end of the first half but didn’t provide much in terms of offense especially with a horrible throw in straight into the hands of the Colombian goalkeeper. Heath Pearce filled in for Carlos Bocanegra’s usual left back position tonight and he filled in well. Pearce possesses the speed that Bocanegra lacks (trust me, it really pains me to say that especially because Boca can usually make up for his lack of speed with his skill but it just didn’t prove to be enough against Poland) as well as the skill necessary to cause serious problems for Colombian midfielders and forwards all night that tried to apply pressure to Pearce’s well guarded left flank. Jonathan Spector filled in for veteran Steve Cherundolo at right back and also proved to be a legitimately good defender. Even if a Colombian player looked as if he’d beaten Specs, Spector was relentless and hustled well to clear the ball.
Three’s Company: This 4-3-3 formation proved most problematic in the midfield, specifically the central midfield with Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones. The three play extremely similarly and, in theory, could have been a force to be reckoned with. To the contrary though, they apparently play so similarly that they were completely on top of each other the entire first half. There was no room to play, there was just a constant traffic jam in the middle with all three players used to playing in the middle. That traffic jam caused a lot of turnovers and losses of possession in the midfield for the Americans, attributing to their lack of goal scoring opportunities in the first half. Bradley’s passes still lack the crisp precision they had at the World Cup. Edu seemed more comfortable as a midfielder as opposed to central defender but made few notable contributions. Jones, I’ll get to later.
Texas Wings: With FC Dallas’ Brek Shea and Houston bred Bolton Wanderer Stuart Holden positioned in the wings, I’d hoped for more of the dynamic style that Holden displayed on Saturday and vibrant and eager youthful play from Shea. But I was disappointed. Both tended collapse in on an already crowded central midfield, failing to stretch play out wider along the pitch. With short passes between players already in abundance, the USMNT lacked creativity and variation of passes in the midfield. Holden looked a little tired and worse for the wear after playing 90 minutes against Poland. Shea looked nervous and unsure of himself, not able to create opportunities to score which is uncharacteristic of his usual style of play with Dallas
Oh Jozy: I really do want to like Jozy Altidore. I’ve made conscious efforts to look on the bright side with him. But as of now, I see more negatives than I do positives. That’s not to say he can’t improve but, knowing that he gets virtually no playing time at Villareal, it’s going to be difficult for him to do so. I wanted to slaughter John Harkes when he pulled the “He’s only 20, he has time to develop” card for Altidore. I’m honestly sick of it. He’s been playing for the USMNT since 2007, development should have gone on during the last three years. Progress should be more evident. Altidore lacks creativity once he gets the ball as well as the footwork necessary to evade defenders in order to get to the net in the first place, let alone score goals. He was a complete non-factor in the first half.
After the first half, anyone could see that the formation needs work. The actual formation is fine but the players plugged into the equation, while theoretically sensible, did not pan out in Coach Sweats’ favor. Communication was lacking and the passes were sloppy. Some changes need to be made.
Immediate Substitutions: Michael Parkhurst for Oguchi Onyewu. Clint Dempsey for Brek Shea, also getting handed the captain’s armband in the process. Eric Lichaj for Jonathan Spector. Eddie Johnson for Maurice Edu.
Move!: From the start of the second half, the ball movement was already better. Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson added a different dynamic to the group and helped to improve the movement of the ball as well as increase creativity in passes. The midfield initiated more attacking plays and resulted in the first on goal shot from Holden before he was taken out to make way for Benny Feilhaber. Great job this week, Stuart. And your hair looked spectacular doing it. Dempsey also looked a little worse for the wear but still managed some solid passing and distributing of the ball throughout the second half.
Defensive Upgrade: As pleased as I was with the defense in the first half, I was exponentially more pleased with the back four in the second half. Michael Parkhurst defended well. He had a few slip-ups and mistakes but those things happen. He was able to keep up with the quick attacking players that Colombia kept subbing into the game. I think I may have a crush on Eric Lichaj after tonight. And by “I think,” I meant I absolutely do. Not only was he an extremely capable right back, he pressed forward into the midfield and beyond, helping to distribute the ball and even crossed the ball to Altidore right in front of the box to create what I believe to be the best shot the USMNT had to score tonight. He has a quiet confidence about him even though this was his first cap for the United States. Eric Lichaj, welcome to the team. Pearce continued to play consistently well. He always managed to keep up with the attacking Colombian plays, was smart enough not to fall for fancy footwork and kept the ball out of the box as much as possible. Goodson managed to connect with the ball on the other end of the field but headed it too high.
More Midfield Woes: Despite the improvements in the midfield after the Dempsey, Johnson and Feilhaber substitutions, the passes were still too short and the midfield itself still too crowded. Jones started to show signs of his frustration, at times becoming too aggressive with his tackles, hustling and defense and ultimately garnered a yellow card. A legitimate concern moving forward? Maybe but not a pressing matter at the moment. Only if it proves to be detrimental to the team in future games. In any case, Jones has a way of connecting passes to Altidore to create some goal scoring opportunities and I’d like to see where that can progress to in the future. Johnson didn’t do much for me. In theory, he and Altidore should have been able to split the tough Colombian defense to create more chances to score but that didn’t happen. And so the game ended on a scoreless tie.
Ultimately, I see the two friendly games as trials and errors. Hopefully, Bob Bradley and the rest of the team can take some experience and knowledge away from these games and use them to improve on their lackluster performances this week. There were good points and there were definite bad points but it is just the beginning of another four year cycle. Also take into consideration that several key players were not called up for various reasons. It was an interesting even if frustrating two games and I’m still excited to see where US soccer will go from here.