As the US took the field to play Honduras Saturday night at the Home Depot Center, nobody was any under illusions about the nature of the game. It was a friendly in the friendliest sense. The pregame party in the parking lot was full of good cheer. The Honduras fans, which outnumbered the US fans by 4 to 1, heartily applauded when Jonathan Bornstein, whose late strike against Costa Rica in October sent Honduras into the World Cup finals, was introduced. The Ole’s and the wave rebounded around the stadium.
For the US players, though the outcome was unimportant, the performances were critical. This was not so much a game as an audition. With Charlie Davis all but ruled out this summer, Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu out of action until Easter, questions about who the right partner for Michael Bradley is in the middle, and a left back position that still seems up for grabs, this was a chance for a number of players to make a case for themselves.
Unfortunately, if this was an audition, after the 17thminute the lines they had memorized had to be trashed and it was improv theater for the rest of the evening. Jimmy Conrad was caught out of position twice, hacked his opponent down twice, gave up a PK, was given two yellow cards and shown the shower before the game had even developed a rhythm. Were the yellow cards harsh? Perhaps a tad. But the US picked up yellows and reds at an alarming rate in both the Confederations Cup and at the last World Cup in Germany, If the US is going to succeed in South Africa, they are going to have to avoid giving international referees a reason to reach into their pockets.
With Conrad gone, Jonathan Bornstein was shifted to a more central position, Robbie Rodgers played a little more in the back, and any experimenting with width was pretty much over. For the rest of the half, Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham were isolated up front, and when they did get a toe on the ball, it was in the midst of three defenders without a sight at goal.
At the other end of the field, Chad Marshall had a night to forget. Beaten badly for the second goal and unable to get the challenge in time for the third, he was subbed out in the 60th minute. He slumped onto the bench with his arms folded, banged the back of his head against the bench shield, and spent the next couple of minutes staring straight at the ground. There are a lot of questions about the US central defense at the moment, and Marshall did not provide any evidence he has the answers.
On the other hand, when Clarence Goodson came on in the 60th minute, he looked very useful. Beyond the goal he scored off a corner, he tracked back superbly and seemed to win every ball in the air. Don’t be surprised to see Goodson get a good look when the US plays the Netherlands in March.
On the flip side, aside from Conrad, the most disappointing player this evening had to be Benny Feilhaber. If he had a good touch all night, it escaped me. He lost the ball, had his passes intercepted, and generally looked out of sorts all game. In his post game news conference, Bradley highlighted how poor the team passing was in general, noting that even when passes were not intercepted, they were often received chest high and unplayable for quick advantage.
In the end, Bradley called is an “educational” evening. Having Conrad sent off gave Bradley to opportunity to see some players perform under stress, out of position, and in uncomfortable situations. It may have not been the screen test that Bradley was designing, but it still yielded some valuable insights. On the positives, Bornstein looked comfortable switching from a wide position to a more central role, Goodson looked worthy of further investigation, Robbie Rogers looked industrious, and Alejandro Bedoya got his first Senior Cap.
On the downside, there was just about everything else.