Thursday, March 4, 2010

USA-Netherlands Fallout

The big news from the US game against the Netherlands yesterday was Stuart Holden's fractured fibula that will keep him out for six weeks. The current long-term injury list for the US includes Charlie Davies, Oguchi Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo, and now Stuart Holden.

On the plus side, all (including Davies, according to reports) will be back on the field in time for the World Cup. The bad is still that five potential starters (at least three being locks) will be coming off injury layoffs and will not have the type of match sharpness and form heading into the World Cup that US fans would prefer.

This on top of the fact that potential US man Jermaine Jones is unlikely to suit up for the USMNT this summer either. Interesting, however, were reports that Jones was seen with the US team in Amsterdam wearing the US team gear. Clearly both he and Bob Bradley have spoken and wish for him to be around the team because the plan is to get him in the squad if he's ever healthy and they'd like it to be as smooth an introduction into the locker room as possible.

Back to Holden, despite his injury, Bolton manager Owen Coyle has stated his intent to extend Holden's option for the next season. Definitely good news that the Bolton manager see's the talent in Holden and views him as a key player for the future, "because of the belief I have in him, and the quality he has shown since he came to the club."

The injury occurred on a pretty bad foul by Nigel de Jong in midfield, but I disagree with anyone who puts particular fault with de Jong or thinks it should've been a red. Ref's have given reds for worse, but it wasn't necessarily malicious.

The thing that de Jong and midfield partner Wesley Sneijder did best was completely control the midfield and outclass their American counterparts. This is to be expected, the two being key players for Manchester City and Inter Milan respectively, versus the starting duo of Michael Bradley and Jose Francisco Torres.

Despite the Dutch pretty much controlling the entire match, the consensus is that there were a lot of positives to take from the game. Those positives include:

-The central defense, with the help of Bradley and Maurice Edu, after his second half introduction, more than held their own and weren't particularly bothered.

-Jozy Altidore, despite getting little in the way of good service, acquitted himself against the Dutch defense and threatened a late leveler.

-DaMarcus Beasley has gone from purgatory to being a lock for the World Cup roster. He was lively and the best American attacker, assisting on Bocanegra's goal.

-The US stayed compact and organized while continuing to show the type of spirit and fight that they showed last summer by never giving up, fighting back to score a goal and nearly tying the game late. This identity, borne in the Confederations Cup and solidified in the final match of World Cup Qualifying, is the most notable trait of the USMNT and surely their best hope for this summer. That and Tim Howard (what a save at the end!).

Still, this all masks some glaring trouble areas:

-Landon Donovan was a huge disappointment. If ever you needed proof that the US offense is entirely reliant on him being the midfield fulcrum, last night was it.

-Torres was even worse than Donovan. He played himself right out of any future starts and and he's now further down the list of substitutes, especially considering Bob Bradley never seemed to want to play him in the past anyway.

-Bornstein was torched. He had a rough night with the penalty and the deflection on the second goal. But every time the Dutch threatened on his side you never thought he could handle himself. Not good. He's a favorite of Bradley's but he's also allowing Heath Pearce to stake a claim to that problematic left back. For the thousandth time... Cherundolo on the right (when healthy) and Spector on the left. Please.

-Michael Bradley has horrible distribution. His defensive work remains strong, for the most part, but he needs someone who can distribute better. That was supposed to be Torres but he was not good. Edu is a much better distributor than Bradley, which is why I think Bradley's starting spot could eventually be threatened. Edu should be starting in his place with an attacking mid like Benny Feilhaber or eventually if Jermaine Jones is put on the team you pair Jones with Edu, since Bradley senior loves playing two d-mids.

-The US has absolutely no second forward options to play with Altidore other than injured players Davies and Dempsey, or Donovan. In fact, I'd say the next best player is Brian Ching because he's proven he can hold up the ball, distribute ok, draw fouls, and at least presents something of an aerial threat from set pieces. If the above three aren't starting up top, I'd rather have Ching than Robbie Findley or Jeff Cunningham, or god forbid the awful Eddie Johnson. Ching and Altidore may not be the best pair in terms of complementary talents, but you get the players out there who will help you the most and have the least amount of downside.

-Lastly, and I fully admit this is total nitpicking, but is Tim Howard any good at penalty kicks? He always seems to guess wrong and never comes close. Is there an example that I'm just not remembering? If so, let me know. Because even though it's not really good form to pull out your unquestioned #1 ahead of penalties (and you usually don't have that substitute luxury anyway, having subbed for field players and maybe one sub for a penalty kick taking specialist), I'd have to say that the US would rather have Brad Guzan. Guzan's turned into something of a penalty saving hero at Aston Villa. Not meaning in anyway to demean Howard, who I said earlier is probably the number one key to the US World Cup hopes, along with Donovan, but am I wrong to worry about that?

Still, I'll take some heart at a 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam, and just keep hoping that sometime in the future the US will have a healthy roster to choose from. Because as much as I have high hopes for this team, it's safe to say those hopes rest on a very narrow pool of players.


  1. I agree with most of your post, my major problem with the team is the burden on Donovan. Why do we not have a new crop of future stars ready to take apart the world's defenses? are we hoping Landon will carry the team on his back to world cup victory, I am very concerned about giving the ball away in the midfield forcing an under developed defence to hold the line against players like Rooney. I hope this WC will be a major wake up for the US program and force them look at the program from the inside out.

  2. Unfortunately the burden on Donovan is exacerbated by the lack of a true playmaking midfielder. Bradley and whoever his partner is can often get hemmed in playing defense, therefore relying on Donovan and the other winger (be it Beasley, Holden, etc.) to spark counterattacks and support Altidore. On good days Bradley goes box to box well and there is a second striker playing well off of Altidore to provide dynamism up top. But just look at the off-and-on form of every other "offensive" midfielder/winger and second striker and you see why Donovan is so important. Despite the occasion poor game, he never has extended periods of bad form, unlike Beasley, Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, and every forward for the US.

    Dempsey helps when healthy but he's the biggest enigma with the US, regardless of his club form. He can disappear for whole games but still provide the key moment. Feilhaber has always been my biggest hope for the central midfield but he's not consistent either and has had injury problems and not always found playing time at the club level.