The US Men’s National Team knew they needed a quality performance against a lesser side on Tuesday night. They dominated the match, but only managed a 1-0 victory over Guadeloupe, after squandering countless chances to put the match out of reach.
Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City was filled to capacity, and the gathered watched Bob Bradley’s men advance to the knockout stages of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Entering the tournament as the favorites in Group C, a substandard match against Panama had put them in a precarious position heading into the Guadeloupe match. The victory assured them of a disappointing 2nd place in the group.
Jozy Altidore netted the lone goal for the Yanks, a 25 yard strike that had eyes for the upper right corner. It was the second goal of the tournament for the forward who plays club football for Turkish side Bursaspor. While his outstanding shot set the tone for the entire match, the storyline became the number of wasted chances by the Americans.
The best chance to double their lead came in the 76th minute, as 2nd-half substitute Alejandro Bedoya laid a perfect pass to Clint Dempsey inside the 6. The goal was all but certain, but as Dempsey tried to control and guide to the net, a Guadeloupan defender swept in to clear the ball from his feet. The chance typified night for the Americans, who managed nine shots on goal and many quality chances inside the 18 yard area, yet the only tally came off Altidore’s long-range missile.
The US side had a few personnel changes from the Panama defeat. The most notable change was Carlos Bocanegra moving to center halfback from the left. This meant Tim Ream was not in the side for this match. He was replaced in the starting XI with Eric Lichaj, the Aston Villa fullback who finished the 2010-11 campaign on loan at Leeds United. The only other change came up front, with San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski getting the start in place of New York’s Juan Agudelo.
Tactically, the one large change that I noticed was that the duties in the double-pivot had shifted. In this match, Jermaine Jones appeared to take responsibility for more of the incisive passes into space. In the Panama match, one concern had been the poor passing regimen laid by Michael Bradley. In last night’s match, Jones showed a knack for playing through balls and also finding open teammates in the area.
With all of the positive play that came from the US, the scoreline still frustrates American fans. It’s easy to draw a conclusion that the current version of the National Team lacks the killer instinct to put teams away. There is a stark contrast between the way the Mexican National Team has easily dispensed of every one of their inferior competitors, and the US squad which seems to struggle in rising above weaker opponents. Last night’s Canada-Panama match was a classic example, where Panama was clearly not as strong as the Yanks made them look on Saturday. It took a late equalizer for the Canal Men to assert themselves as Group C victors with 7 points, one ahead of the US.
For the US, they now will face Group B winners Jamaica in the quarterfinals, to be held at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. The match will be played on Sunday afternoon at 3 PM, and will be televised on FOX Soccer. The other match from DC will feature Panama and El Salvador, Group A third place finishers. If the US can overcome the Reggae Boyz, they will likely have a chance at redemption against Panama in the semifinals. Perhaps the best news from last night’s match was that no cautions were given to the US. Six Americans were in danger of a match ban if carded last night. Instead, their disciplinary record will now be wiped clean, and Bradley will enjoy the full complement of players against Jamaica.