Today’s 2-0 loss to England at the new Wembley was a difficult match to watch. It reminded me of the old egg frying commercial: (“This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs”) rather than making a statement about drugs, the lesson learned was about Landon Donovan. This is your team. This is your team without Landon Donovan. There was no real outlet for quick play and fast counterattacks which can do so much to unbalance a team. England was able to congest the midfield and apply high pressure and the midfielders and forwards of the US were unable to absorb the pressure and maintain possession. The quick interchanges that were so successful against Poland, that are the hallmark of Bob Bradley teams were absent for large stretches of the match. The high pressure, up-tempo style was also missing.
Maybe the players bought into the English belief that it is their game and they are the best, history be damned. When it wasn’t dropping off, too often the US resorted to fouling. It played like a team without confidence and without ideas. One unnecessary foul and then poor marking led to the first goal. Credit to England, the second goal was class: two quick one-touch passes, the second a sublime through ball that split Bocanegra and Onyewu, and an exquisite run and finish by Stevie G.
For US players it is hard to stand out one way or the other in a game like today’s. Ricardo Clark played particularly poorly, rarely winning a tackle or maintaining possession when he did. In a battle of Stevies, Cherundolo did not handle Gerrard well. Only Heath Pearce was able to connect passes from a defensive position which had as much to do with DaMarcus Beasley opening up for him than it did Pearce’s skill. Beasley looked decent considering he is just coming off a major injury. He never broke free, but he was one of the few players who was available and connected passes. Michael Bradley also played a few nice balls forward but the forwards were unable to hold the ball long enough to allow him to get forward to support. Clint Dempsey put in an honest day’s work and showed a few nice pieces of skill, but none of them led to a chance. The best chance for the US came from substitute Eddie Lewis’s cross that Calamity James barely got a finger on. Lewis was effective in his limited minutes. Josh Wolff was perhaps the biggest disappointment. Always a player who does the hard work, he really struggled to control the ball and have any kind of connection with Eddie Johnson. Johnson also struggled; he was incapable of staying on his feet while absorbing the physical English pressure. He had one decent shot off a smart cross from Pearce but was mostly ineffective.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. Next week the US faces Spain in Santander. With or without Donovan, the US will need to better assert itself and find the balance needed to get a hold of the ball and keep it.