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In an impressive display of efficient football, the US dominated Poland in a 3-0 victory in Krakow. The same team that qualified for Euro 2008 ahead of Portugal and Serbia failed to threaten a confident, aggressive US side that made the most of its set piece opportunities. The two center backs, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, scored first half goals on set pieces superbly delivered by Landon Donovan. Donovan, Bocanegra and Onyewu all played excellently as did Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Steve Cherundolo. Poland never really threatened thanks to an organized, committed defense.
The US have really taken to manager Bob Bradley’s high-pressure, quick passing and movement tactics. The incredible fitness levels of Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark make the approach particularly effective. Tonight we saw Donovan helping the defense in his own 18 and battling through the last defender and charging forward uncontested for 40 yards before barely missing wide in a 1v1 with the goalkeeper. Bradley and Clark sat deeper in a box midfield while Donovan and Dempsey had limited defensive responsibilities wide and free roam on the offensive half. Poland found little joy in their offensive half due to the nonstop haranguing of Bradley and Clark. Especially impressive was Bradley’s and Clark’s abilities to play under pressure and their commitment to play forward after recovering the ball. The quick play often offset the Poland defense and opened spaces for the wide defenders as well as the four attacking players. It wasn’t just the trio of young midfielders who performed well tonight.
Onyewu and Bocanegra were strong in the air and tackle and never failed to cover when the outside backs forayed forward to provide width to an offense playing without wide players. Clint Dempsey had an uneven game but seemed to improve as the game progressed. The outside backs, Heath Pearce and Cherundolo, defended capably and distributed well from their wide positions. Eddie Lewis was effective off the bench, scoring on a 22 yard free kick and providing good service from the left side. Brian Ching had a solid night. His effectiveness was limited by his partner up front, Eddie Johnson. It must’ve been a frustrating evening for Ching and any player who tried to link up with the indecisive and ineffective Johnson. In addition to not being aggressive, Johnson failed to hold the ball well and he failed to see multiple opportunities to spring Donovan after Donovan made aggressive runs into space. A sequence that finished with Johnson slowing and trying to pass when confronted with a free path to goal epitomizes all that is wrong with his game: a true striker smells blood in that situation and goes right to goal. Ching came off for Josh Wolff in the 2nd half. Wolff was impressive in limited minutes, making a lot of the runs the fast forward (Johnson) should have been making all night. It would have been interesting to see what a Ching/Wolff partnership could have produced.
The win tonight in a wonderful environment in Europe is another step forward for a US team that has wins in the past year on the road against Switzerland and South Africa. Upcoming matches in England and Spain will be two more stern tests and good opportunities to measure the progress of the US team as it is set to begin World Cup qualifying this summer.