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There weren’t many positives coach Bob Bradley or the U.S.A fans could take from the 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic Tuesday night in Hartford. The most promising aspect was that neither Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, or Carlos Bocanegra had anything to do with the thrashing the very young Czech’s handed to the Americans. The U.S. National team will play another prep game against Turkey on Saturday before taking off to South Africa over the weekend. They’ll play a final tune up game on June 5 against Australia before kicking off the tournament against England. Before we take deeper dive into some of the troubling aspects, lets focus on the positive.
Well, despite losing 4-2, back up keeper Brad Guzan looked very decisive and strong and almost certainly solidified his ticket to South Africa. All of the four goals scored on Guzan were a product of lackluster and disorganized defense. When given an opportunity, Guzan owned any ball played into the box and handled all the shots where he wasn’t completely thrown under the bus by his defense.
In the second half, the midfield pair of Bring Ching and Robbie Rogers was the sole source of creativity and energy out of the American midfield, which looked like it was running underwater most of the night. Ching worked tirelessly in the second half and through that effort really opened up a lot of space for the attack. Meanwhile Rogers showed surprising pace and even laced a few shots at Czech keeper Petr Cech causing a few problems.
Lastly, the Americans looked strong off of set pieces, scoring both of their goals off of them. This shouldn’t be surprising because this team is bigger and more athletic (minus Landon Donovan) than most of the teams they will face in the World Cup. Still, it’s nice to see them actually execute.
For starters everything not mentioned above. Most startlingly would be the play of Oguchi Onyewu. Tuesday night was his first appearance since hurting himself in the last World Cup qualifier back in October, when he tore his left patellar tendon. The good news is that Onyewu only played 65 minutes and said he felt no ill effects from his previous injury. The bad news is that he was a key factor in the American defense looking sluggish and disorganized for the most of the night. All of the Czech’s goals were 100% a product of poor defending, whether it was just letting players settle in the box or failing to clear routine balls (which is what happened on the last goal by Tomas Necid).
While we’re on the subject of Onyewu, I would be remiss if I didn’t share what I believe to be one of the commendable acts I’ve seen from a professional athlete…pretty much ever. A few weeks ago Onyewu went to his club team, AC Milan, and said he wanted to extend his contract for an extra year for free. Onyewu did this because he essentially didn’t get to play the entire season after sustaining that injury last October. Granted it’s good for Onyewu to stay with Milan for both the experience and the exposure. However, he could have gotten paid (nicely) elsewhere and in this day and age are there really any other professional athletes out there that would do the same thing? I highly doubt it. Be that as it may, I’m willing to chalk up Onyewu’s subpar performance to rust and I’m sure he’ll be a big part of America’s success in the back.
Just as troublesome was the American attack. Without Dempsey and Donovan shepherding the midfield, there was a severe lack of urgency and inventiveness. Sure, Gomez and Edu scored, but both came off of set pieces and at no point was there any fluidity in ball movement. I’m sure the fact that most of the American top flight attacking players watched this game from the sideline played a factor, but I’m terrified at what could happen if one of them goes down. Edu’s goal was just a case of right time, right place. He was also the reason for the last goal of the game because he completely spaced out and didn’t head a routine lob out of the zone.
The bigger issue is Hercules Gomez. It might just be me, but I really don’t get what Bob Bradley sees in this stiff. He was given the nod for the preliminary roster due to his play in the Mexican league this spring where he had 10 goals and led the league in scoring (never been done before by an American). However, as John Harkes so deftly pointed out Tuesday night during the game, by and large goalkeeping in the Mexican league is suspect at best and deplorable at worst. So is Bradley putting too much emphasis on his form of late? I think so. During Tuesday night’s game, there were a number of times where Gomez looked out of sorts on the pitch. In the 74th minute, Gomez led the charge with a quick counter attack. He had one helper and basically one defender to beat before going to goal. He showed little to no interest in taking the defender on and severely lacked the pace to make up for his lack of inventiveness. Granted he scored a goal but, again, that is a product of some good work by his teammates to head an errant corner back into the box. Not to mention on more that a few occasions Gomez looked lost during offensive rushes often times finding himself in an off-side position. Watching his performance really made me miss the injured Charlie Davies because had he been healthy, Gomez wouldn’t have even sniffed the prelim roster.
Overall I’d give the performance a C- and I’m hoping more of the starters suit up for this weekend’s match-up against Turkey, so they can continue to work on their chemistry.