Photo by ISIphotos.com
When Stuart Holden found a loose ball in front of goal and buried it past the Japanese goalkeper, the strike helped relieve a world of pressure off a U.S. Olympic team that could not afford a letdown in its first Olympic match.
A stingy U.S. defense and poor Japanese finishing helped the Holden goal stand up as the Americans posted a 1-0 victory in the opening match for both teams. The American victory, coupled with the Netherlands’ 1-1 tie vs. Nigeria, put the U.S. team atop the group heading into it’s showdown with the Netherlands on Sunday.
The Japanese will count themselves unlucky not to have walked off the field in Tianjin with a victory, as countless chances went begging and a few close calls failed to go their way. Ultimately, the young team did not respond well to Holden’s goal and Japan let the Americans control the game from there on out until the final few minutes.
While an opening win is always a good thing, the Americans leave the Japan match with more questions than answers. Can the midfield get Brian McBride service? If Freddy Adu can’t get going against Japan, will he be able to do so against the group’s tougher teams? Will Michael Orozco get better playing at left back? Who will Peter Nowak turn to on the left flank after Robbie Rogers’ less than inspired performance?
Nowak better come up with an answer for that last one because Ryan Babel will absolutely roast Orozco if Orozco doesn’t get more help than he got against Japan.
I know a lot is being made of the Jozy Altidore benching but I wasn’t completely surprised by it. I mentioned that very possibility earlier in the week and it was clear that Nowak wanted Adu’s creativity on the field but also wanted his midfield to have some defensive balance so he went with Bradley and Kljestan. That said, Altidore showed in his second-half appearance that he is a handful and could be primed for a big tournament. Though I’m not sure if it went into his decision, there is the possibility that Nowak wanted to have Altidore rested for the game against the Netherlands, which doesn’t exactly have a vaunted back-line. Altidore has the size and speed combination, and ability to take on defenders, that can unlock the Dutch defense.
As for Adu, it was very disconcerting to see him so thoroughly neutralized by the Japanese. Japan did well to keep numbers around Adu and match his quickness. The Netherlands may actually be a better match-up for Adu because the Dutch tend to let the opponent play a bit more a they look to strike with the deadly counterattack. If he starts, Adu should have a better chance to show his stuff.
(FOLKS, I just realized at 5:30pm that my positive comments from the match were not included (I just got back from Stamford). Now I get why some of you thought I was overly negative following the win.)
As for the positives, there were a good number of them.Marvell Wynne was my choice for man of the match. He was a beast at right back defensively and picked his spots well in getting forward.
Maurice Edu was a natural at center back today, stifling every chance that came his way. I wouldn’t exactly call Japan’s forwards dangerous, but their midfield was tricky and created some chances that Edu helped thwart.
Michael Parkhurst was steady as every and had a typical Parkhurst game (where you barely notice him but notice the forward he is marking even less). Holden started slow but really came on and put far more effort in in the second half.
Jozy Altidore looked very dangerous in his second-half appearance and I am looking forward to his match up against the Dutch. You can pencil him in for the start.
What did you think of the U.S. team’s performance? Satisfied? Concerned about how well Japan played? Worried about Adu and the rest of the midfield? Happy with the defense? What changes would you like to see Peter Nowak make?
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