The U.S. men's national team had plenty of bright spots and highlights in 2009, but the final game of the year had few moments worth remembering.
With most of the team's top stars unavailable, Bob Bradley handed opportunities to several players to show that they deserve more playing time. Not many stepped up to that challenge. Instead, what we were treated to on Wednesday was a reminder of just how shallow the U.S. national team pool really is.
The result itself didn't matter, and never was going to matter. What mattered was how the players responded to facing a tough opponent. Most didn't respond, turning the match into a forgettable finale to a memorable 2009.
What were some of the more forgettable developments?
Frankie Hejduk's meltdown. Anyone who watched Hejduk's awful performance in the Columbus Crew's series-losing match against Real Salt Lake probably knew that things wouldn't go well as soon as Hejduk was announced as the starting right back on Wednesday. Hejduk was just lost, reacting late to plays and putting his defense into tough spots repeatedly.
The decision to start Hejduk was predictable, but Bob Bradley should have considered that Crew-RSL match, and realized he was about to play a player who isn't on form. Bradley was put in a tough spot coming into this match, what with three of the national team's top four centerbacks all injured, and with Steve Cherundolo needing to leave early to attend the funeral for, and recover from the death of club teammate Robert Enke. All that said, Bradley decided to have a second look at Jonathan Spector at centerback rather than playing him at right back and starting Jimmy Conrad. That decision gave U.S. fans the treat of watching Hejduk deliver one of his worst national team performances ever.
Now I'm not going to write Hejduk off completely as a national team option. He's battled back far too many times for me to ever totally write him off, but he shouldn't have started against Denmark.
The Clark-Bradley tandem struggled. Remember when Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark played so well together in helping the Americans shut down mighty Spain? That performance was miles away from the tandem's showing against Denmark. Clark and Bradley never found a good rhythm and lost the possession battle to the Danes. Bradley's passing was below his usual standard and Clark spent more time chasing than breaking up attacks. The reality is that this combo hasn't had a solid game in a while together, leaving us to wonder what combination Bob Bradley will wind up turning to down the road. One thing is clear. Jermaine Jones should step in and provide an upgrade once he is healthy.
Altidore and Johnson were just plain flat. The midfield didn't provide much service to the forwards, but Jeff Cunningham's effort and quickness magnified the poor efforts of Altidore and Johnson, who played more like poster children for what a lack of playing time will do to your form. Altidore has the talent to be the team's top striker, but he needs to find more consistency or the U.S. team can't rely on him to be a starter.
Castillo didn't get to do much. Edgar Castillo came in as a second-half sub and played on the left wing. He didn't have much of a chance to make an impact since it was already 3-1 Denmark and the U.S. team had pretty much stopped playing effectively. As much as I would have liked to see him play more, it was probably unrealistic to think Castillo would start when he had just been in his first U.S. camp for a few days. You can see the quickness and the touch, but we're going to have to wait until early next year to get a chance to see what he can really do.
Jeff Cunningham deserves more looks. Yes, he was a bit fortunate to have the Danish defense slip up, but Cunningham created the play that led to a turnover, and finished a great shot. He showed speed and certainly played well enough to leave you wondering how he would do playing alongside Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.
Benny Feilhaber is a good option on the left. Feilhaber was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. team, and particularly in midfield. If he can develop into a viable option on the left flank, it could free up Landon Donovan to start up top, which may be necessary if the current crop of American forwards doesn't step up.
SOME OTHER THOUGHTS
Jonathan Spector didn't have as good a second game at centerback as he had in the first game, but he still showed some promise. The first goal wasn't his fault, and the second goal came courtesy of his clearance attempt that appeared to hit a Danish player's arm. Having a shaky Hejduk alongside him was a major handicap, but Spector still looks capable of being a good centerback option.
Bob Bradley didn't make subs until after the score was 3-1, but I'm not about to get on him for the timing. This was a friendly and Bradley clearly came into the match intending to give his first unit 60 minutes of playing time together. I still think he could have yanked Hejduk at halftime, but it looks like he wanted to see more of Spector in central defense, which meant keeping Hejduk on the field. Unfortunately for Bradley, Hejduk's poor play wound up affecting Spector's play in central defense
What did you think of Wednesday's match? What were you most frustrated with? What were you happy about, if anything?
Share your thoughts below.