There was plenty of ugliness, but some promising moments for the U.S. national team in its 2-1 loss to the Netherlands.
The Dutch midfield dominated, its wingers showed up great speed and moves and the Americans struggled to find many of their own chances in the first half.
Why was any of this a surprise?
Did people forget who the United States was playing? Did people think it would be a team of imposters posing as the same Dutch team that finished unbeaten in World Cup qualifying and is currently No. 3 in the world?
There was nothing surprising about the Netherlands' control of most of the match. What was surprising was how certainly American players responded, both positively and negatively. You may have already seen my rundown of the winners and losers from Wednesday's night match. Here are some more observations from Wednesday night.
Maurice Edu looked very steady in the second half playing as a deep-lying midfielder. He played with confidence on the ball and is going to make Bob Bradley's decision a tough one when Bradley picks his central midfielders for South Africa. You basically have four players vying for three spots, with Edu, Ricardo Clark, Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber all battling.
I noticed some comments critical of Jozy Altidore. I realize he didn't score on Wednesday but if people can't see the improvements he has made I'm not sure what else to say. He went up against a strong pair of centerbacks and won some dangerous free kicks, made some nice moves, dished off some quality passes and hit one nice shot late in the match that forced a top save. Is he Wayne Rooney? No, but Altidore is maturing as a player and the goals will come if the midfield gets sorted out by the summer.
Altidore's had some good battles with Dutch centerback Johnny Heitinga in what was Part One of a two-part battle this week between the two. Altidore's Hull travels to Heitinga's Everton on Sunday so they should clash again (assuming Phil Brown doesn't have another brain cramp and chooses to bench Altidore).
Call it one game but I can definitely see DaMarcus Beasley regaining his starting left wing role and being in the lineup when the USA faces England. He's got his confidence back and just needs to stay healthy and find some consistent minutes against Rangers (yes, I know, easier said than done for Beasley).
Best longshot pick to make the World Cup team has to be Alejandro Bedoya after his impressive performance in just his second national team appearance. Bedoya can play on either flank and provides quickness and good movement away from the ball. He's still young, but given the underwhelming wing options after Donovan, Dempsey and Stuart Holden (when he returns, Bedoya could very well be Bob Bradley's surprise pick, especially if Donovan or Dempsey has to be used at forward.
I know I listed Jose Torres among the losers in my Winners & Losers, but it should be noted that he did manage to settle down a bit after a rough first 20-25 minutes. He spent a bit too much time chasing the ball rather than reading the flow of the game, which is why he had so few interceptions while Michael Bradley thwarted several Dutch attacks with interventions. I still like Torres as a prospect but he's gotten off to shaky starts in his two big opportunities to start, at Costa Rica in June and Wednesday vs. the Netherlands.
Heath Pearce didn't look bad as a late sub at left back, but it should also be noted that he didn't have to deal with the scary wing tandem of Arjen Roben and Eljero Elia.
If you didn't know about Elia before Wednesday, you had better learn. He's one of the best young wingers in Europe and could be a breakout star at the World Cup.
As bad a night as Jonathan Bornstein had, his performance probably doesn't mean Pearce is a front-runner to start now. If anything, it makes it even more likely that we'll see Carlos Bocanegra moved to left back once Oguchi Onyewu returns to give the Americans the same back four they used to reach the Confederations Cup final (and beat Spain in the semifinal).
From the "Shooting aside, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?" department, here's a question. Take away the penalty tug on Wesley Sneijder, and his unlucky deflection on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (okay, and his ball-plays-the-hand handball no call), and tell me how you think Bornstein did against the Dutch team's wingers? He didn't instill confidence but we also didn't see much in the way of dangerous service coming from his side, though Elia did sneak in behind the defense a few times. I don't think Bornstein will be off the World Cup squad, but I think the chances are more remote that he'll be starting come June.
Jonathan Spector's service wasn't as sharp as usual, but he held his own against some difficult assignments at right back. He's still ahead of Steve Cherundolo as far as I'm concerned and I don't see him moving to left back come June.
Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk was asked who he thought the best American player was, and he responded by saying he doesn't focus on such things. After thinking for a moment, he promptly pointed out U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard as being very good.
Van Marwijk may have done Bob Bradley a bit of a favor by taking out both Nigel DeJong and Mark Van Bommel and failing to replace their defensive bite in the Dutch lineup. The move had probably more to do with the fact that Marwijk wanted to give a run-out to his midfielders, which happened to include attacking stars Rafael Van Der Vaart and Ibrahim Afellay.
Could it have been a sort of birthday present for Bradley (yes, lost in the wake of the match was the fact that Wednesday was Bradley's birthday. Van Marwijk didn't forget, wishing him a happy birthday in the post-match press conference).
I know plenty can happen in the next three months, but I can't see Eddie Johnson or Robbie Findley making the World Cup squad. As it stands, I think Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching could wind up being the only pure forwards taken if Charlie Davies can't recover. If that happens, you can expect Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey to inherit a striker's role. The resurgence of DaMarcus Beasley and promising play from Alejandro Bedoya makes that even more likely.
That's all for now. What do you think of the above observations? Agree? Disagree?
Share your thoughts below (PLEASE DON'T INCLUDE WORLD CUP ROSTERS! Save that for Friday. I'll have a post addressing that).