What an awesome performance from the US U23 team. In a game that Canada was never in, the US qualified for this summer’s Olympics on the strength of two excellent set piece goals from Freddy Adu and a wonderfully executed counter-attack finished by Sacha Kljestan. Maybe the US U23s watch too much NBA, the league where many players and teams are accused of not trying until the playoffs. After winning its group while playing on cruise control, the US added a level of intensity and concentration that was sometimes lacking in matches against Cuba, Panama and Honduras.
Often the knock on US youth teams is that they are athletic but lacking in technical ability. In tonight’s game, even the staunchest US critic would not dare make that claim: the technical ability of the US was a class above anything displayed by the six participating teams. From back to front, the US comfortably and ably played to feet and shredded the Canadians with a varied array of passing and movements. Jonathan Spector flew in from London after he played 90 minutes for West Ham on Saturday and anchored a US defense that completely shut down a Canadian team that dropped five goals on Guatemala just five days ago. Spector slotted in a back four that consisted of tournament standouts Michael Orozco, Nathan Sturgis and Marvelle Wynne.
The positioning and work rate of deep lying midfielder Dax McCarty eased the pressure the back-line faced. His distribution again was superb and instrumental in the US’s ability to maintain a heavy edge in possession. McCarty’s partner in the midfield and team captain Maurice Edu had his best match of the tournament doing the work of two while always following up his ball-winning with a pass to an open teammate. Kljestan also saved his best performance for the semi-final. In addition to his very classy finish on the counter-attach, Kljestan was an instrumental part of the US attack; he and Stuart Holden both popped up all over the field and linked well with Adu and Jozy Altidore as well as the support players. Altidore drew both fouls that led to Adu’s goals. His size, strength and speed were too much for the Canadian defense. In the first half alone Altidore managed to nutmeg Canada’s captain twice.
As well as the US played collectively the star of the night was Freddy Adu. His two free kick goals were world-class. Every time he touched the ball the stadium buzzed in anticipation. Excitable Fox Soccer Channel commentator Max Bretos took to screaming ‘Magic!’ after more than one display of attacking flair…and who can blame him? It sure was fun to watch. The lack of mention of US netminder Chris Seitz is not a slight on him: he had so little to do that it was hard to judge his performance. I don’t think he touched the ball until after the 25th minute.
As the match wore on discussion turned to which three overage players the US will take to Beijing. In an interview recorded earlier that day Landon Donovan said he would not turn down an invitation. It’s all a little premature to talk about that, however, as injuries, club commitments and World Cup qualifying matches will all impact the decision. For now, it is a night to relish the wonderful play of the US and the commendable accomplishment of qualifying for the Olympics (that poor Mexico was unable to achieve).