Photo by ISIphotos.com
Consider it a valuable lesson in international soccer.
The U.S. men’s national team fielded a young squad with several top prospects and the team got a first-hand look at how tough World Cup qualifying can be.
Trinidad & Tobago was tougher, created more chances and showed more energy than its younger opponent.
To be fair, the U.S. team was very inexperienced and hadn’t played together previous to Wednesday (although many of the starters were Olympic teammates). That still didn’t explain away several disappointing individual performances.
Here is a closer look at how the U.S. national team’s players did on Wednesday night:
Brad Guzan (5). Looked shaky in the area and wasn’t overly aggressive. Made one good save on a dangerous free kick in the first half, but probably showed the rust that comes from not having played in recent months.
Heath Pearce (5). Had his hands full with Carlos Edwards, and lost him on T&T’s first goal, but Pearce showed a willingness to get into the attack and even beat his man a few times. Not a great performance but the quality of his individual match-up can’t be ignored.
Dan Califf (5). Caught in no-man’s land on Latapy’s goal. Showed his physical limitations as well as the positives of his experience. Doesn’t look like a great option behind the U.S. team’s regular starters.
Michael Orozco (5.5). Much steadier than I thought he would be in his first senior national team start. He doesn’t have the size you look for, but Orozco put himself in good positions and avoided mistakes. Is a promising center back prospect who just might have moved ahead of Califf on the depth chart.
Frankie Hejduk (3). You love his hustle but hate his lack of skill. It was his poor pass that led to the breakout and eventual Russell Latapy goal. He mis-hit crosses and turned the ball over repeatedly. The performance makes you pray for Marvell Wynne to start getting minutes.
DaMarcus Beasley (6). Very active and tried his best to initiate attacks, but never did connect well with the rest of the midfield. Tried his best to carry the play at times but that’s not really his game. He definitely missed Landon Donovan and Brian Ching tonight.
Jose Torres (5.5). He was pushed around early on, and even gave up a very dangerous free kick early, but Torres eventually settled down and showed a good combination of skill, vision and work rate. Where Freddy Adu was flashier with the ball, Torres did much more work off the ball. Some blame him for losing Latapy on the first goal but he was racing back and was at least near the danger area, whereas teammates Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan were very late getting back. Torres showed enough to merit another start in the qualifying finale against Guatemala.
Freddy Adu (5). He can look very good on the ball, and kept possession better than most, but it’s easy to remember his bright spots when the reality is he was actually not that effective. I thought he played well initially, but on second viewing you realize how much he disappeared in the second half and how ineffective he was at trying to go at the defense. He had a promising first half, finding a lot of the ball and helping keep possession, but he didn’t create any real chances on the night and faded in the second half. The talent is there, but you have to wonder how much not playing for Monaco is hurting his development.
Maurice Edu (4). Wow. His first 30 minutes on Wednesday night were 30 of the worst minutes a player has ever played in a national team uniform. Turnover after turnover left you wondering what was wrong. He eventually settled down and played a much better second half, but still failed to impose himself and was nowhere to be found on the first T&T goal.
Sacha Kljestan (4). After two solid games in qualifying, Kljestan delivered a real stinker. Turnovers and ineffectiveness made him look like a shell of the player who looked so good in the first T&T game. Blame it on him playing on the wing if you want. That’s no excuse for some of the simple mistakes he made and the general lack of contributions.
Jozy Altidore (5). An Eddie Johnson-like first half (though Johnson actually scored a goal in qualifying at T&T four years ago), where he just provided nothing, then a silly shirt grab in the penalty area that set up T&T’s game winner. Altidore avoided a worse grade with his impressive effort to go at the Trinidad defense and set up Davies with a perfect cross, but an overall disappointing night.
Charlie Davies (7). I’ve been a fan for a while and Davies showed why on Wednesday, coming on late and providing energy and purpose to the attack. Just as he did in the closing minutes against Nigeria in the Olympics, Davies was relentless in his pursuit of a goal, only this time he found one.
Danny Szetela (6). Looked good in limited action. Showed a good touch and his dangerous cross into the penalty area deserved to at least create a shot on goal, but no Americans were there to take advantage. With Edu and Kljestan looking so bad, and Szetela playing regularly in Italy’s Serie B, I can’t help but wonder if Szetela will make a move up the depth charts come 2009.
Chris Rolfe (DNP). Not enough time to make an impression.
Not that it should have taken last night’s match to prove it, but the performance certainly helped put into perspective just how strong the full senior national team is and how important all of the current starters are to the team’s recent success. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place or role for any of the young players who played on Wednesday. I still see one or two of them having starting roles in the Hexagonal Round, but we saw first-hand that the development and evolution of young talents is a process and isn’t something that can or should be rushed.
Lastly, I wanted to discuss Latapy’s goal and the multitude of breakdowns on the play. It starts with Hejduk, who receives a good header pass from Kljestan with some time to make a decision. Hejduk’s touch lets him down and his attempted pass back to Kljestan is off the mark and is intercepted by Birchall. Birchall races through an empty middle of the field and faces no pressure until Torres races back to try and challenge him. Birchall slides a pass to Latapy, who gives it up to Edwards on the wing. Edwards puts a few moves on Heath Pearce to give himself enough space to send a chip cross to a wide-open Latapy, who hits a shot off the left post and off Guzan’s back, into the net.
I won’t fault Torres on the goal because he’s the only one to get back and pressure both Birchall and Latapy before sliding over to try and provide some help on Edwards. Latapy is left wide open because A) Maurice Edu is nowhere to be found (he doesn’t even show up on the screen until after the shot) and B) Dan Califf puts himself in no-man’s land. Orozco and Califf are both facing the left flank, where Edwards is coming in from, but it is Califf who is just a few feet behind Orozco instead of posting up at the penalty spot. By the time Califf reacts to Edwards’ cross, it’s too late.
So that’s Hejduk’s turnover, Pearce beaten by Edwards on the cross and both Edu and Califf failing to account for Latapy. It took four breakdowns for that goal to happen, four chances for an American player to prevent it.
That’s just one of the many lessons learned on Wednesday night, lessons the young Americans will hopefully carry over into 2009, when some of them will be called on to play bigger roles with the national team in much tougher World Cup qualifying matches. Yes, the loss was disappointing, but not as disappointing as it would be if the youngsters didn’t learn from it.
What did you think of the match? Which players impressed you? Which players disappointed you? Share your thoughts below.