Its too late at night for a preface. Far later than I intended to get this up. Let’s dive right in.
1. First things first: it doesn’t matter that we just lost.
This game had nothing to do with winning or losing. It had to do with evaluating players. Most people recognize this, but I feel that it should be stated. If Bob Bradley can come away from this match with what he needs to fill out the best roster for South Africa, then it was a success. We were never going to see any grand revelations from any one player. Alejandro Bedoya or Herculez Gomez was not going to put in some kind of virtuoso performance that left the Czech defense in tearful awe at their skill. The players that had something to prove were going to go out and try to prove it and that’s what happened.
2. The part of the match that I thought was most interesting was the part where Heath Pearce calmly got up from his seat on an airplane heading to Johanesburg, South Africa, thanked Bob Bradley for two weeks of free food, walked back into the the airport, and purchased a one way ticket for Dallas.
The second and third Czech goals were directly attributable to Pearce. On the first, his poor marking let Jan Polak get inside of him and then was easily beat on Polak’s run at goal. Polak scored and then Pearce started screaming a the linesmen like he was offside. Pearce, none of the other defenders raised their arms in agreement because got beat. Plain and simple. On the second goal Pearce made a lazy, two footed slide tackle that completely missed Jan Polak and gave him wide open space inside our box. Martin Fenin put the ball off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net from the resulting cross. It should also be noted that Kljestan got beat on this goal.
Pearce made himself a liability, when all he needed to do was just remain a neutral factor. When you’ve got nagging injury issues with your defense like Bradley does and your first choice is tired or injured, you don’t care if you second choice isn’t quite as good, so long as they aren’t a liability. He didn’t have to prove that he was better than Jonathan Bornstein. He didn’t have to prove that he wasn’t a step down from a tired or injured Jonathan Bornstein. All he had to prove was that he wasn’t a liability compared to a tired of injured Jonathan Bornstein.
3. Onyewu is not as fit as I had hoped.
You could hear them a couple of times when he was running in the second half; his legs were yelling, “Dude, we can’t do this much longer!” This is something that I’ve heard from my legs pretty regularly. After I keep training, they shut up about it. I just hope that Onyewu can reach that point in two weeks. Hopefully, the big bag of ice that they tapped over his knee after he came out in the 66th minute was just a precaution. There was a slight limp when he approached the bench, but that could have just been stiffness in both legs after such a long time off.
4. Seven months out of practice wasn’t long enough to make Onyewu forget how to play defense.
Yes, he misread a cross and got out jumped on the header for the first Czech goal. Aside from that he looked pretty solid. He had a great sliding block on Fenin in the first half. His footwork coming out of tight spaces looked good. He made a number of good clearances when they were needed. It wasn’t the greatest performance that he’s ever put in, but it was solid. If he can regain his fitness, he should have the form to go with it.
5. DaMarcus Beasley looked good.
Lots of energy. Lots of pace. Got forward well a drew fouls in dangerous places. He showed his usual ability to provide some solid defense when its needed. He was much more like the Beasley of old and a lot less like the Beasley of missed traps that we saw at the Confederations Cup.
6. Stuart Holden showed that he can create offense.
First it was on the right side and then in the middle when Bedoya came in. He had some great combination play with Cherudolo. He took both the set pieces that the US scored on and distributed well all night.
7. Carlos Bocanegra is not a health nut.
Several times during the match, ESPN cut to shots of the players that hadn’t dressed watching the match from a corporate suite at the top of the stadium. Most of the guys were just chilling, but Bocanegra looked to be eating a hamburger and mowwing down on chicken wings. At one point, Landon Donovan was talking to him while he ate. Most of you don’t probably know this, but I’m a professional lip reader. I’m pretty sure that this is what they were saying:
Donovan: I don’t normally put a lot of stock in dreams, Bocs, but I’m pretty sure the one I had about a golden statue of Fabio Capelo getting devoured by a beast with the names of different British newspapers written across its forehead means that we’re going to beat England. Say, you’re really pounding down the chicken wings. You’d better watch it, man. You’re gonna to get fat.
Bocanegra: You’re gonna go bald.
8. Brad Guzan should be our number three, not our number two.
The first three goals would have been incredibly hard for anyone to stop, but it looked to me like his reaction was a little slow on the last one and looked a little shaky through out the game. After seeig Hanehman at Wolves this year, I’m expecting Guzan to be the backup backup goalkeeper in South Africa. Tim Howard will still probably play every game.
9. Maurice Edu did not look comfortable at center back.
He had a pretty solid showing in the midfield and demonstrated the knack that he has for scoring poachers up goals in the six yard box (like he did for Rangers several times), but he looked a little out of place at centerback. His ineffective challenge on a header led directly to the final Czech goal. I see Goodson or Onyewu making that one every time.
10. Jonathan Bornstein still has a tendency for stupid fouls.
Bornstein got beat a couple times, but didn’t look terrible. He didn’t have any terrible clearances like he did against the game against El Salvador in Utah last year. What stuck out to me was the number of silly fouls he continues to make. One in particular where he went in with a really high, one footed challenge looked like a sure yellow card in a World Cup match.
11. ESPN still can’t figure out how to shoot a soccer game.
There were at least three times where they had a shot of Bob Bradley or the regular starters up in their hospitality suite and had to cut back to the field in the middle of an attack that had been building. Fellas, the game is on the field. That’s where you should be pointing the cameras.
12. Edson Buddle should go over Eddie Johnson, but Brian Ching should go over both of them.
Ching did what Ching does. He held up the ball, he dished it off, he made life harder for the opposing defense, and he ran like a 32 year old who used to move a little faster (this is very much how I run). Buddle was credited with an assist on Edu’s goal, but both really failed to impress when they had the best offensive midfield line up to work with in the first half.
13. Sacha who?
I’m not sure who was on the field in the second half, but it wasn’t the Sacha Kljestan that scored a hat-trick against Sweden. The player that I saw was the same, anonymous guy that’s showed up too many times during qualifying. I did see a guy name Alejandro Bedoya that put in some solid play on the right wing. It was nothing flashy, but Sacha has disappeared for so long that I’m ready to see another name in the midfield.
14. Jose Torres can adapt.
His performance tonight was as good as I’ve seen him for the US. We know what he can do for Pachuca and it looks like he’s finally adjusting to Bradley’s style of play. I thought he wiped out doubts that anyone would have about his place on the team.
15. Clarence Goodson gets motivated on set pieces.
Goodson had a role in both set pieces that we scored on. He crashed the goal hard in the first, drawing out Cech and adding to the confusion that allowed Edu to strike home. On the second, he picked up an assist by once again crashing the goal and heading a beautiful ball back across the goal mouth for Gomez to put in. His defending was a little shaky at times, especially after Onyewu was subbed out, but at the worst, he was competent. Chad Marshal didn’t even make the field, so its a pretty safe bet that Goodson will still be on the team after the roster is announced tomorrow.
16. Steve Cherudolo is a complete right back.
He’s got sufficient speed. He has the endurance to still go strong at 90 minutes. He showed good footwork a number of times moving the ball up the line past defenders. He had good combination play with both Holden and Bedoya. He made his share of stops and broke up plays all evening. Reliable and well-rounded.
17. Robbie Rogers provided good service on set pieces, but not from the run of play.
He had one smashing shot that Petr Cech made a beautiful diving save to stop, but aside from set pieces, he didn’t look that hot. Several times when he tried to make runs at defenders and get in positions to cross, he was stymied too easily. His combination play with other players on the left side looked flat, which may not have been completely his fault; Pearce looked scared to get forward a lot of times.
18. We’re still lacking the final pass.
With both goals scored from set pieces, that familiar final-pass deficiency rears its ugly head again. Aside from Brian Ching’s sweet back-heel, nutmeg that Gomez smashed straight at Petr Cech (grimace), I’m struggling to remember any time where we really worked the ball into a wide open shot. We got the ball into dangerous places. There were several blocked shots in traffic. But we couldn’t consistently find the open man and feed him that last pass to get the ball into the net. Frustrating.
After watching the match tonight, here’s my guess at the roster we’ll see tomorrow.
3 Goalies – Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard
7 Defenders – Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector
9 Midfielders – DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres
4 Forwards – Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey, Hercules Gomez