Paul Caliguri had the shot heard round the world on this pitch, but tonight, Rico Clark had the shot that saved the US. With their backs against the wall the US responded after a poor first half.
In the second half tonight, the United States Men’s National Team showed the heart of a champion and the roar of a lion. The character shown by Bob Bradley’s side was not only impressive but it should have been inspiring to any American. This however, came after a first half that could have been filed away with some of the haters of this sport as to why they hate football (soccer).
Facing virtual elimination from the World Cup in a hostile environment which has historic significance, the US responded. Some people will claim the US continues to under perform, but to those fans I would respectfully state have vastly over rated the American talent pool. (As it turns out Costa Rica’s loss to El Salvador, which I predicted the other day has virtually assured the US a top three finish, thus an automatic World Cup berth. The US could still technically miss the World Cup, but it would take something akin to the parting of the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan River when flooded to do so.)
The US right now has arguably its least talented side since Bora Milutinonivc took his boys up to Mission Viejo. But Bradley has managed to scrape by with this rag tag bunch of players who lack the technical gifts of their predecessors and also seem to often lack the pride in wearing the shirt that previous US teams have demonstrated.
This team has no Claudio Reyna, nor John O’Brien type holding midfielder. This team has no Latin maestro like Tab Ramos. This team has no on-field vocal leader like John Harkes or Marcelo Balboa. And this team has only one classy wide/attacking player like Cobi Jones, Joe Max Moore or Earnie Stewart. That man is Landon Donovan, and without him the US would have missed qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
Tonight, Bob Bradley got his tactics and team sheet right. The US came out flying in the first ten minutes taking the game to the home standing Soca Warriors, and declaring a statement of intent. Bradley intended to play a high tempo, one touch passing game, which pinched the middle of the pitch. Instead, we saw an error prone, lazy American midfield get run over.
From about minute ten until minute 55, Trinidad and Tobago controlled the action and created better chances. Kenwyne Jones, a player we see every week in the EPL was particularly good. T&T had a clear penalty shout in the final ten minutes of the first half. Courtney Campbell awarded a PK for something similar to Mexico, later in the night versus Honduras, but sometimes the breaks go your way, and no call was made. This comes despite the fact that this same official has twice called fouls in the box for less in the qualifying tournament for the 2010 World Cup. (Had a call been made on either Carlos Bocanegra or Jonathan Spector, both of which appeared to foul Cornell Glen, it would have been harsh, but could have easily been defended as well, especially given the previous record of referee Joel Aguilar.
Regarding the handball in the bix against T&T it is a letter of the law penalty, but it is not often given in the circumstance where both players are wrestling for position on the ground. Handballs in the box are more often given when a defender is standing upright and his arms are not tucked in)
The Soca Warriors prospered from the poor play of American midfielders Clint Dempsey and Rico Clark (prior to Clark’s goal). Wasteful possession and bad giveaways once again dogged the Americans on the road. Against CONCACAF level opposition this does not matter, and Bradley’s tactics were designed to minimize the damage the wasteful, technically challenged midfield. Tim Howard made several solid saves. Howard is a good shot stopper, particularly on set pieces. But his communication with the back four continues to be of concern. When Brad Guzan has played for the US, he has been a more authoriatize keeper, though he obviously is not as skilled as Howard.
Bob Bradley again rose to the challenge today. But as for the American players, they once again stumbled in a road game in CONCACAF. For much of the first sixty minutes they showed little motivation or interest in what was essentially an elimination game. Much like last year’s woeful efforts in Havana and Guatemala City, the Yanks scraped by when they probably shouldn’t have, against a team that on paper looked outmatched.
Let’s hope the American players show some more urgency in the final two fixtures of qualifying. This team is lacking in football savvy, and quality but can improve dramatically in the effort department. If we don’t see any improvement from the US in these final two games, it will be a long World Cup.