Watching the USMNT play Grenada last Saturday in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, something dawned on me. A strong core of our squad in this installment of the continental championship, played for our country at the Olympics in Beijinlist of players on roster at both competition at bottom). It’s apparent that since departed Peter Nowak had a very good feel for the pulse of our young talent. He had an eye for what the future might look like, and cultivated a solid group of young talent.
I’ve heard people say that the US didn’t play very well at the olympic games. Having woken up early to watch each match, I have to strongly disagree with such thoughts. We actually played quite well in Beijing, though not without some problems.
In fact, three critical errors in an otherwise brilliant effort, proved to be our undoing. While the Japan game was hardly a barn burner of a match, we played reasonably well en route to a 1 – 0 victory. Stuart Holden scored the game’s only goal in the 47th minute.
In the game against Holland, the US controlled several stretches of the match and lost due to the first critical error. Playing agasint the likes of Ryan Babel and Jonathan de Guzman, the US squad showed just as much if not more quality. Holland got off to the better start and Babel put them up 1 – 0 in the 16th minute. However the US took the lead on goals by Sacha Kljestan in the 64th and Jozy Altidore in the 72nd. The first critical error occured when Stuart commited a bad foul on Gerald Sibon just outside the penalty error. The US was up by a goal and the match was in the final minute of stoppage time. Sibon stepped up and managed to drive a shot that skimmed under the wall and found the back of the net. It was heartbreaking because the US would have advanced with the win.
The second critical error occurred when Adu and Bradley both received their second yellow cards in the tournament, eliminating them from the key final group match(seems to be a recurring theme unfortunately for Bradley). In the final, only a point was needed to secure advancement. However the third critical error reared it’s ugly head just three minutes in … Michael Orozco was sent off by perhaps a questionable red card. He lamely elbowed Solomon Okoronko, regardless of whether the ejection was warranted, he hurt his team by putting the match in the hands of the official. Forced to play a man down for virtually the whole match, the US valiantly warded off wave after wave of attacks from the very talented young Nigerian team. Nigeria ended up scoring in the 39th and 79th minutes. But the US refused to give up,halving the deficit on a Kljestan penatly kick in the 88th. Needing only a draw to move on, Charlie Davies nearly got us there heading a free kick off the crossbar in the 90th minute. In the end, these errors undid us and it clouded some of the positives to be take from the tournament.
The US featured a midfield of Stuart Holden, Robbie Rogers, Sacha Kljestan and Michael Bradley. Freddy split time in the midfield and as a striker. Benny Feilhaber was used as a sub often. Altidore played a lot and Charlie Davies was brought in as a supersub. Brad Guzan was the starting keeper and Michael Parkhurst partnered with Maurice Edu(showing his versatility) at centerback. Watching how this team played together, the interchanges in their passing, team cohesion … a glimpse of the future for the USMNT was revealled. Kljestan actually played some of his best footy at this tournament. Unfortunately for him, that momentum didn’t carry him too far forward. But Stuart Holden used his excellent Olympic performance as a springboard. With the departure of Dwayne De Rosario, he has begun to really mature in the starting playmaking role for Houston. The Dynamo havn’t missed a beat with Holden there, once again on top of the West.
Robbie Rogers is a bit of an enigma. It’s hard to tell what you’re going to get out of him on a consistent basis. He had a great showing in Beijing. Then has gone on to show flashes at Columbus, yet also disappear and hasn’t earned steady playing time. Brad Guzan also did well in the Olympics, but hasn’t gotten much time on the pitch since then, playing behind fellow American Brad Friedel. He was great in the Egypt game at the Confed Cup and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him a bit in the Gold Cup.
So really, the future isn’t so bleak … the talent is on the way. As the Gold Cup continues, we will know even more about these younger elements. The unfortunate thing is that Peter Nowak will be dearly missed. He was one of the first people to recognize the talent we had in young players like Charlie Davies and Robbie Rogers. Will the person who replaces him have the same knack?
GK : Brad Guzan(overage exception)
DEF : Michael Parkhurs(overage exception)
MID : Robbie Rogers, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan
ST : Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Freddy Adu