Photo by ISIphotos.com
What a difference three days can make.
Last Thursday morning, after the U.S. national team's 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, pessimism was king and there was little reason for optimism regarding the U.S. team and it's future this summer and beyond. One gutsy comeback win later, there is once again reason to believe that there is something to look forward to in the coming months if you are a U.S. fan.
Yes, the Americans needed a comeback to beat Honduras, but they delivered one of their gutsiest performances in recent memory. That, and the inspired performances of players such as Carlos Bocanegra, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein (to name a few) bodes well for the U.S. team's summer.
Here are my grades for the U.S. players on Saturday:
Tim Howard (7) – Very aggressive in the area, thwarted several aerial attacks from Honduras.
Jonathan Bornstein (7) – The left back job is his for the foreseeable future after this stellar performance.
Carlos Bocanegra (7.5) – A rock in the back and showed tremendous courage on game-winning goal.
Oguchi Onyewu (7) – Slow start but helped lead the defense, especially once Bocanegra left the match.
Jonathan Spector (7) – Effective getting forward and never got beaten, Spector played a smart and effective game. Absolutely should start in the Confederations Cup.
Landon Donovan (7) – As aggressive as I have seen him be with the national team in some time. Still struggling with his set piece delivery, but did hit the corner on the game-winner to go along with his clutch penalty equalizer.
Pablo Mastroeni (5) – Struggled to deal with the tandem of Amado Guevara and Wilson Palacios in the first half. Played better than Wednesday, but has fallen down the pecking order in central midfield.
Ricardo Clark (7.5)– Best national team performance of Clark's young career. He definitely struggled early, but came on strong before halftime and looked completely poised in the second half. Made a few clutch defensive plays.
Clint Dempsey (5.5) – Shocking mistake led to the Honduras goal, but Dempsey made up for it with the header on Bocanegra's goal. Still not having the impact expected of someone coming off such a good EPL season.
Jozy Altidore (5) – Wasn't overly dangerous but put constant pressure on the Honduras defense and put in the type of defensive work coaches love from their strikers.
Conor Casey (4.5) – Wasted a handful of chances, and struggled as one might expect in a first game in four years, but he was active and aggressive and should get some Confederations Cup minutes.
Benny Feilhaber (6.5) – Got off to a slow start after coming in, but quickly found his rhythm and played some beautiful soccer. Looks capable of sliding into a starting role and providing some sorely-needed creativity.
Jay DeMerit (6) – The U.S. team has needed a reliable third centerback for some time and DeMerit sure looked like that player after replacing Bocanegra. He should get some good playing in the Confederations Cup considering the compact schedule.
DaMarcus Beasley (4.5) – Came in to play on the right flank but quickly had to move to left back after Bornstein cramped up. Proceeded to make some awful plays that nearly gave Honduras a chance to equalize. Bob Bradley will be hard-pressed to trust Beasley with starts given his recent form and lack of club playing time.
(NOTE- Player's grades are affected by playing time, so someone who plays 45 minutes and plays great won't get the same grade as someone who played great for 90 minutes.)
Some more thoughts on the match:
The U.S. team was definitely fortunately that Wilson Palacios wasn't fully match fit. Palacios was a beast in the first half and control the middle of the park, but his lack of playing time over the past month (due to the mourning of his brother's murder) hurt him and he eventually left with an injury. Once Palacios left the U.S. team dominated the middle of the field.
Benny Feilhaber could be the missing link. The U.S. team has needed some midfield creativity for some time and Feilhaber looks poised to fill that void. Jose Franciso Torres showed some flashes vs. Costa Rica, but Feilhaber is stronger on the ball and just as good a passer. As for Freddy Adu, he will struggle to get minutes in South Africa and, at this point, looks like a better bet to play a key role in the Gold Cup.
Conor Casey was frustrating to watch at times but he was also very involved and showed no fear despite playing his first national team game in four years. He doesn't lack for confidence and could start showing his MLS form on the international level with some more playing time.
Bob Bradley should seriously consider starting Clint Dempsey up top with Jozy Altidore. Dempsey has struggled badly to make an impact in the past two qualifiers and could be more dangerous closer to goal. Moving him up could also make room for Benny Feilhaber and Ricardo Clark in the U.S. midfield.
Beasley's role at this point should be as a reserve winger, which is what Bradley intended on Saturday before Bornstein came down with cramps, forcing Beasley to drop back. The Confederations Cup was supposed to be a chance for Beasley to showcase himself for potential suitors but his form is so off right now that Bradley would have a tough time justifying starting the veteran midfielder.
Who's performance stood out for you on Saturday? Who disappointed you? What U.S. player surprised you the most on Saturday? Are you feeling better about the Confederations Cup, or are you still fearing an 0-for-3?
Share your thoughts below.