Photo by John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
The U.S. men's national team began its new year on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Chile, and while the first match of 2011 had some of the sloppiness often associated with January friendlies, there were also the bright spots that come with seeing new faces perform.
No, there weren't any hat-tricks or jaw-dropping revelations, but there were players who stepped up and impressed. Unfortunately there were also those who fell flat in their U.S. national team auditions.
Here is my Fox Soccer column on Sunday's match, a piece that lists the players I thought impressed, and those who I felt hurt their standing in the national team pecking order.
Here are some more thoughts on Saturday's match:
The 4-2-3-1 lost out to the 4-4-2 on Saturday, but that had as much to do with Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury shining as it had to do with the overall teams not being suited to play the 4-2-3-1. Chris Wondolowski was mis-cast as a target striker, but with 4-2-3-1 likely being the formation of choice in 2011, it's tough to argue that he's any more suited to be a speedy flank option. He's a good one-touch player, makes very smart runs, and can finish, but pace isn't one of his strengths.
It would have been nice to see Wondolowski in a 4-4-2, but it's clear that seeing Bunbury and Agudelo together was more of a priority for Bob Bradley and it's tough to argue with that. Personally, I would like to see Wondolowski again, and if he tears up MLS again this season, it would be tough not to give him a look for the Gold Cup team.
So why didn't Agudelo and Bunbury start? Bob Bradley has used games like these in the past to give longer looks to those he's less certain about. He wasn't as concerned about the result as he was about seeing some who perhaps hadn't done enough in camp, or those he wasn't sold on. If the match was a qualifier or actual tournament, it's a safe bet Agudelo and Bunbury would have been in the starting lineup.
Dax McCarty stood out and only served to make it even more perplexing that FC Dallas gave him away for nothing. Dallas just might see Eric Alexander as his natural replacement, but based on what we saw against Chile, McCarty is a quality talent who just might help D.C. United pull off a dramatic turnaround.
Sean Johnson didn't have a ton to do in his 45 minutes of action, but the fact that he did play bodes well for his standing as the future of the goalkeeping position. Bill Hamid should be a worthy challenger in the coming years, but Johnson clearly showed enough in camp to earn himself some minutes. Not bad at all for a young goalkeeper.
Omar Gonzalez is dominant in the air, and a threat on set pieces, but he really needs to work on his passing out of the back to be a truly effective centerback. Being paired with Tim Ream helps take some of the distribution pressure off Gonzalez, but he'll be second choice to Ream on the national team until his passing and footwork improve.
Any criticism of Tim Ream's performance is laughable and mis-guided. Some observers choose to get hung up on one or two passes that don't connect without realizing or acknowledging the sheer number of passes, and smart, effective passes he makes. His ability to find teammates up the field is a valuable tool that gives him an advantage over the other young centerbacks in the national team pool.
Brek Shea looked good early on Saturday, but he'll be remembered more for being largely ineffective the rest of the match. He's got the physical tools, but you just have to wonder about his soccer IQ sometimes. Perhaps he can improve on some of his decision-making as he gets older, but I can't help but wonder if he simply doesn't have the soccer brain to be effective on the international level. At least as an attacking player (perhaps a change to centerback could play to his strengths more and hide his deficiencies).
Which players surprised you the most on Saturday? Who impressed you? What are you hoping to see in the Egypt friendly?
Share your thoughts below.