© Brad Smith/isiphotos.com
In the opening match of the 2008 Olympic Men’s football tournament, the USA beat Japan on the strength of a 47th minute Stuart Holden goal. Right back Marvell Wynne was instrumental in the build-up to the goal; from his right fullback position he pressed into the attack and delivered a cross that could only be deflected into the path of the on-rushing Holden who powered the ball into the back of the net. The match was rather uneven with bogged down midfield play and persistent fouling from both sides. The heat and humidity in Beijing was responsible for the dull moments as much as the players and tactics. Both sides typically like to play up-tempo. constant pressure soccer but the heat was no match for their collective capacity.
The lineup manager Piotr Nowak ran out looked like an old Bruce Arena line-up: two players playing out of position and just one forward. Michael Orozco moved from his familiar central defender spot to left fullback and Maurice Edu moved from midfield to defense. Turns out, however, that three players were arguably playing out of position–Freddy Adu moved from midfield to forward–and the US was playing with two forwards. In the first half the tactics seemed to be working well. The speedy Japanese midfield was not getting any service and central midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Michael Bradley were able to spread the ball around nicely. Japan was intent on not allowing Adu or overage captain Brian McBride to beat them; each time Adu or McBride came near the ball a swarm of Japanese players was soon to follow, often coupled with grabbing and kicking. The Americans failed to take much advantage of the unbalancing that kind of attention can often cause though the space that Kljestan and Bradley enjoyed was a result of Japan’s focus on the big name players.
It was the type of tight game that nobody really stands out in, more a battle of will than anything. Wynne’s physicality was a force on the right side. Most of the joy Japan found came from attacks on the left side of the USA defense. After the goal, Japan threw numbers forward and the USA was on its back foot most of the second half. Playing a bend but don’t break defense the USA held on for the shutout after a couple nervy moments, including two shouts for penalties.
With favored Holland and Nigeria on the horizon the win is a huge result and a great boost to the chances that the US will advance out of the group stages. Sunday’s match against Holland is being played nearly three hours later; here’s hoping there is cooler weather and cooler football…and another USA win.