© Brad Smith/isiphotos.com
After falling behind 1-0 and playing poorly for the first 30 minutes, the USA took it to the heavily favored Dutch team that has won the last two U21 European championships before settling for a 2-2 draw. For 20 minutes it appeared that the USA would be in the quarterfinals. The Netherlands was unable to mount a meaningful attack after goals in the 64th and 72nd minutes by Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore. It was only a rash challenge by Stuart Holden and a rather fortunate free kick that earned Holland a point at the death. As seen in the picture above Silbon was the beneficiary of a poor decision by the USA wall to jump as he struck a free kick from 22 yards; Silbon’s worm-burner found its way into the back of the net, under the wall and between goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Michael Parkhurst. No wall inside 30 yards should jump. If a player can get the ball up and down with enough pace to beat the goalkeeper, he deserves the goal. Any player can hit a low ball. The risk far outweighs the benefit, risk of a worm-burner rolling in, risk of a hand-ball, risk of a deflected goal. Guzan should’ve communicated this message to his wall. Or the coaches. Or McBride. Someone. The last minute goal took the tarnish off a wonderful USA performance and left a bitter taste in the mouth of players and fans alike.
Today’s result combined with Nigeria’s win over Japan leaves three teams battling for two spots in the quarterfinal. Japan is eliminated. If the Netherlands loses to Japan, the USA and Nigeria advance. If the Netherlands wins, as it is expected to do, it gets a little more complicated. If there is a winner in the USA/Nigeria match, that winner will advance along with the Netherlands. If the USA and Nigeria tie, the USA will advance because they will have scored more goals than Nigeria but it will also come down to goals scored to determine if Nigeria or the Netherlands go through.
The USA started poorly, playing on its heels for much of the first half hour. Then Adu decided to make a difference. He went on a mazy, Maradona-esque 60 yard run and skinned four Dutch defenders before skying a shot well over the bar. From that moment forward the USA played with a greater confidence and sense of purpose. The Netherlands defenders began to sit deeper and looked much more likely to be exposed. Thanks in part to some excellent goalkeeping from Kenneth Vermeer, it wasn’t until the 64th minute that the USA broke through and unsurprisingly the goal was architected by Adu. He slipped a perfectly weighted pass through the legs of a Dutch defender into the path of an on-rushing Kljestan; Kljestan cut back to the middle, beating another defender and then coolly finished past the charging Vermeer. The pressure continued. Altidore came on for Robbie Rogers after the goal and just eight minutes later knocked home a driven cross from Michael Orozco to give the USA the lead. The way the game was going there was never a doubt that the USA was going to score: it was just a question of when and how many. A third goal looked all but certain as Stuart Holden and Kljestan broke free with only the goalkeeper to beat. Holden opted to shoot, however, and his attempt trickled wide. The Netherlands looked defeated, without hope until a series of poor decisions resulted in the free kick previously discussed.
The good news is that the USA played better today than it did against Japan. If the trend continues it should be able to get a result against Nigeria. Maurice Edu was particularly excellent, playing in the middle of defense. Edu’s partner, Parkhurst, also played error-free, intelligent soccer. Marvell Wynne was solid and caused some problems with his marauding forward runs though his passing left something to be desired. Michael Orozco was solid on the opposite side as well and also unbalanced the Dutch with his forward runs. In the midfield, Bradley and Kljestan were the best players. Both played forward and quickly. Bradley did the dirty work as well, not allowing the Netherlands any joy through the middle. Outside midfielder Robbie Rogers was not very effective. He broke free down the line a few times but his crosses were lacking quality. On the opposite side Holden played excellently; he passed well, tackled well and was tireless in his defending. Unfortunately Holden will be remembered for a trifecta of errors that ultimately may have cost the USA the win: 1) his decision to shoot rather than pass in the 2v1 situation; 2) a poor decision to try to pass out of the back rather than clear which led to 3) the foul that resulted in the free kick that tied the match. Brian McBride did not have a large impact on the match because of the poor service. There was only one occasion when he was given a chance to use his greatest strength, his head, and it resulted in an excellent save and corner kick.
The USA will go into its all-important match on Wednesday without two of its best players, Adu and Bradley; both were issued yellow cards in the first two group matches which automatically earns a one-game suspension. Bradley appeared to deliberately earn a yellow as the USA was on the verge of winning. Smart, calculating move but it backfired. Fortunately the USA has depth in those positions. Both players will be missed for sure but with Altidore ready to step in for Adu and options like Benny Feilhaber, Danny Szetela and Dax McCarty available to replace Bradley the USA is still in good shape.
The game is on at 5 AM. Go USA!