Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIPhotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The score was different, but the final result was the same.
Nearly three years after the U.S. men's national team played to a scoreless draw with Argentina, the Americans tied the albiceleste 1-1 through an equalizer from substitute Juan Agudelo in front of a record crowd of 78,936 fans at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Saturday.
The 18-year-old's second goal in three international matches not only pulled the United States level after Esteban Cambiasso's first half goal, but also helped the team overcome a sluggish first half in which Lionel Messi and co. thoroughly dominated possession and the majorty of the goal-scoring chances.
"As the game moved along, the responses were good," said head coach Bob Bradley, who switched the team's formation at halftime from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 when he inserted Agudelo and newcomer Timmy Chandler. "I think to come away with a good result against a very good team, (there are) some things to talk about, things that need to be improved, but also some positives."
Among those positives was the performance of Agudelo, who built on his first two impressive national team caps by injecting some life into a U.S. attack that looked to be on the brink of flatlining in the opening 45 minutes. Agudelo showed a willingness to take on defenders and made dangerous runs as the U.S. team got itself back into a game that displayed Messi's magical touch throughout .
Agudelo's second-half cameo was highlighted by his goal in the 59th minute, when he knocked in a rebound after Mariano Andujar swatted away a Carlos Bocanegra header.
"For a young player, whenever you put (Agudelo) on the field, you can tell he has confidence," said Bradley. "He puts himself in good positions and when the ball comes, he's strong and he has something where he's looking to try things, things that make sense."
Chandler was another youngster who impressed. The 20-year-old right back made his U.S. national team debut by coming off the bench at halftime, and although he had some trouble containing Ezequiel Lavezzi, he demonstrated an ability to get forward well and swing in nice crosses.
"I thought he played very well," said Jay DeMerit, who played in his first U.S. game since last summer's World Cup defeat to Ghana. "He got up and down, he recovered well, played some very good balls into the box, and that's what you always ask from your right back. I thought he did all of those things very well tonight."
A veteran who shone in the match was Tim Howard, who came up with big save after big save, just as he did in the match in June 2008. Howard kept the Americans in the match by denying Messi, Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria repeatedly, and there was little he could do on the Argentines' lone goal.
After Messi played a ball into the middle of the penalty box, Howard made a kick save on Di Maria's effort from point blank range, but Cambiasso was there to rifle home the loose ball.
The U.S. team almost gave up a second before the intermission, but the defense, which included Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra, held firm.
"We understood that the first half didn't go the way we wanted, and you can't against a very good team come out and just, in your attempt to push the game, leave things wide open," said Bradley. "But we felt that there was more in us. Now we wanted to push a little bit higher, defend a little bit higher, be more confident with the ball."
In order to help accomplish that, Bradley began the second half by switching to a 4-4-2 formation and replacing Jonathan Spector and Jermaine Jones with Chandler and Agudelo. Those changes paid divends as the Americans found their rhythm, jumpstarted their attack and ultimately got the equalizing goal from Agudelo.
The United States next faces Paraguay at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday.
What do you think of the United States' draw against Argentina? Who was your Man of the Match? Impressed even more by Messi and Argentina after this game?