June 22, 2009
The men’s national team achieved a feat many thought impossible by advancing to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup on Sunday with a 3-0 win over Egypt.
It took Brazil pounding Italy 3-0 in other game of Group B for the Americans to make up the goal differential. Could it be called lucky? Yeah, but as they say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
After taking beatings from both Brazil and Italy, just competing with an Egypt side that had given the Samba Boys the hardest match of their group stage and beaten the Azzuri 1-0 seemed difficult. It was certainly going to have to be a much more inspired performance from the Yanks to get it done.
The lineup changes from match two against Brazil played an important role in this match. Sliding Charlie Davies into a striker role and giving Landon Donovan the responsibility of playing on the left instead of Damarcus Beasley turned out to be a key part of the Americans’ success.
It was vital that the U.S. not only break their recent trend of allowing early goals, but also start their own scoring early as they had to overcome a minus six goal differential to beat the Italians who simultaneously were playing Brazil.
The breakthrough came in the 22nd minute when Davies put the U.S. in the lead in the by winning a tough battle against the Egyptian keeper and two defenders to score the go-ahead goal. The opportunity started with Jonathan Bornstein’s throw-in from the left sideline. Bornstein found Altidore near the endline where he was able to turn and put a ball in toward Davies in the six-yard box. Egyptian keeper Essam El Hadary came out and grabbed the ball but lost control after running into his defender. The ball bounced away from him toward the left post where Davies tried to put it in the net only to be denied again. Once again, however, the ball squirted free and was going toward the endline at the left post, but Davies was able to pull it back and unleash a shot that deflected off El Hadary and into the net.
El Hadary picked up a knock on the play and nearly had to be replaced. The U.S. waited to resume its attack and when play finally resumed they did just that by creating a flurry of chances before and after the half.
Landon Donovan was as dangerous as ever and the U.S. midfield play was the best it has been in the tournament. The possession didn’t favor the U.S. but the quality of what they did with their time on the ball was far superior to the Egyptians.
That’s not to say the Egyptians didn’t generate chances of their own. The American backline was kept the same and is beginning to look like a more coordinated unit than they were against Brazil or Italy. Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu played particularly well with each other in this one but were still bailed out by goalkeeper Brad Guzan on a few occasions. In the opening fifteen minutes the Egyptians had enough chances to score but were unable to put the ball the back of the net.
It looked like the U.S. had a goal in the 51st minute when Oguchi Onyewu stole the ball in the Americans’ half and started the attack with a 35-yard dribbling run down the pitch where he found Dempsey to his right. The Fulham player touched it into the right side of the penalty area for a streaking Davies who hit a low one-timer across the goalmouth where it slipped through to an unmarked Altidore. He took one touch getting off a shot that deflected off defender Ahmed Said’s right thigh and then his right arm as he stood on the goal line but no penalty was awarded regardless of the Americans’ fuming objections.
Despite creating so many chances the Americans didn’t have the ability to finish any of them until the 63rd when Michael Bradley knocked in the second goal. Back at midfield, Ricardo Clark had won possession with a header and gotten it to Donovan who played it to Bradley and started making a run down the left side of midfield. Bradley found Donovan on the left and continued his run into the box. Donovan smoothly slipped the ball across the box back to the streaking Bradley for a one timer to the far post and a goal. Knowing what Brazil was doing to Italy, the Americans were one goal away from conquering the gap between them and the Italians.
Throughout the entire game, Clint Dempsey had once again been irrelevant. He brought very little to the game that was positive throughout the entire match until a substitution was made. It was surprising that it wasn’t Dempsey being taken off but as Benny Feilhaber came on for Jozy Altidore, Dempsey was moved from his position on the right to playing forward. Having not scored a goal in seven matches, Dempsey had brought little to the tournament that would explain Bob Bradley moving him to forward but he did it and within two minutes achieved the desired result.
Michael Bradley collected the ball in the middle of the park and found Jonathon Spector streaking down the right side. The West Ham defender struck a beautiful bending cross that sailed over the Egyptian defenders and landed on the head of Clint Dempsey. With a flick toward the far post from Dempsey, the U.S had all it needed to get out of the group, the only thing left to chance was if the results would hold.
The defensive effort from everyone on the pitch after that was good enough to keep the Egyptians out. Conor Casey came on for Davies and was able to hold the ball up on a few occasions to help the U.S. maintain enough possession to frustrate the Egyptians. Scary moments for the U.S. were there in later portion of the match, however.
In the 90th minute, the Egyptians nearly spoiled the comeback when a cross from Wahid on the left side found the head of Wael Gomaa whose header sailed just over the bar.
Despite the pressure from the Egyptians, the U.S. and Guzan were able to defuse their attacks enough to keep the clean sheet and advance themselves to next round.
This was clearly the most inspired performance the U.S. gave throughout the entire tournament. The energy coming out of the locker room was that of a team determined to leave South Africa with their heads held high and the result was that they’ll be staying for at least a few more days until they play Spain in the semi-finals on Wednesday. For U.S. fans, the result couldn’t be more refreshing.
Brad Guzan: Having not played since late in the Premier League season when he came on against Liverpool during a penalty kick and Guzan looked like he was chomping at the bit to play. Finishing with four saves, Guzan’s presence may be underscored by the stat sheet. He was able to break up several Egyptian opportunities and showed good shot stopping ability. I’m not saying that Guzan is a replacement for Tim Howard, but if something should happen to U.S. number one, Guzan proved he can be an adequate replacement.
Jonathon Spector: With all due respect to Frankie Hejduk and Steve Cherundolo, the U.S. has a new right back in Spector. He was not only solid in defense all day, but he crossed in the ball that led to the game winning goal. His physical style of defending combined with his ability to have moments of quality going forward is so encouraging and important to the Americans’ success that he should be given the job permanently. Some of the best moments in attack in this tournament have come through Spector. Where better to prove yourself than in a tournament that is a preview to the World Cup?
Jay Demerit: Carlos Bocanegra getting hurt is unfortunate, but Jay Demerit has done such a good job filling in for Boca in this tournament that he has secured a place in Bradley’s memory if Bocanegra slips in form. In this match, Demerit was showing up everywhere on the defensive end. Numerous times he came crashing in to break up the oppositions attack and redistribute the ball. It’s been a good tournament for Demerit and he capped it off nicely in this one.
Oguchi Onyewu: Gooch has played well all through the Confederations Cup but in this one he looked like a true leader for the back line. It wasn’t just his defensive ability in this one but at times he offered something in attack. The goal that Altidore should have been awarded the penalty for handball was created by Onyewu making a 35-yard sweeper-like run. His distribution after collecting it in the back was top notch and if he can play like that consistently in the World Cup, U.S. fans can feel good about the spine of the squad.
Jonathon Bornstein: I keep saying that Heath Pearce deserves a chance again but the Chivas USA left back just keeps giving performances of strong character that keep him in the squad without much argument. He wasn’t incredible in this one, but with Landon Donovan in front of him doing so much damage on the attack, Bornstein’s main role was to guard the left flank which he did adequately. It wasn’t great but Bornstein got the job done again. He hasn’t secured that role indefinitely, but the backline should be kept intact for the match against Spain on Wednesday.
Landon Donovan: Having a player like Donovan on the left and seeing the difference only further supports the argument that Damarcus Beasley is a detriment to the squad. Running at defenders, putting in dangerous balls, cutting inside and distributing the ball to forwards, and set piece quality are just examples of what Landon brings the U.S. in attack, never mind his ability to track back and win the ball in the midfield. It’s difficult to argue against him playing up front, but what he brings to the table in the midfield makes it worthwhile to let him play there. The only complaint about Donovan in this one is that he was perhaps a bit too unselfish. He had several chances to attempt a shot on his own, but instead opted to dish the ball off to a teammate. Given his ability, I’d like to see Donovan fire it himself.
Ricardo Clark: He is a good complement to Bradley. His natural tendency is to be more defensive and distribute the ball to players in front of him making runs, so he corresponds well with the reckless all over the field style that Bradley plays. Bradley is thought by many to be more of a defensive midfielder, but if you watch him play at the club level and what his tendencies are with the U.S. he really isn’t and it’s hard to argue with him going forward when he can. Having Clark in the lineup allows him to do that with more freedom.
Michael Bradley: I called him a wild card that needs to settle down after the last game. This match shows the positive side of what the wild card can bring to the table, however, as he set up the game winning goal by finding Spector on the right wing and scored the second after some good play with Landon Donovan on the run. He often makes reckless challenges and commits errors in attack, but the intensity he brings to the U.S. is a motivating force and something this team needs more of.
Clint Dempsey: Throughout the match I wanted to see him substituted. I had hopes at the half that Bradley would see that he was bad enough to warrant taking him off for the second half. He didn’t and Dempsey continued to disappoint. His passing was awful, he gave the ball away easily and brought little to the table for the attack. At one point, it became clear that he wasn’t part of the game at all and was the worst U.S. player on the pitch. When Bradley moved him up top, however, Dempsey was in position to provide one moment of quality and he did. I still think he needs to be left out of the squad sometimes and that he doesn’t play well enough in the midfield to warrant him being on that right flank. That being said, scoring a goal that important goes a long way with both fans and coaches, so I doubt this is the last we’ll see of Dempsey. I just wish he was coming off the bench.
Jozy Altidore: It’s a stretch to say that Jozy played excellent but he was effective in setting up that first goal. He looked slower and lacking in intensity when looking at his strike partner Charlie Davies. He did well to serve as the bridge between the gap from midfield to forwards but overall Jozy didn’t bring a whole lot to the game. The goal that hit the hand of Said could have been better struck toward a post and overall I would have liked to see him be a bit more aggressive. That being said, the team looks better and more dangerous with him in there and he is quickly becoming irreplaceable on this squad.
Charlie Davies: I’m not sure if Bob Bradley told Davies to unleash his speed in this one, but this match was the most dangerous Davies has ever looked in a national team uniform. Running onto every long ball, tracking down loose balls, pressuring defenders, Davies was all over the pitch. He played like he had something to prove and he showed grit in getting that first goal. I doubt he’ll start more consistently, but I guarantee we’ll see the Hammarby forward again soon. What will be important when we do is if he and Altidore can get on the same page consistently.
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