In a match that was little more than an opportunity for second choice players to improve their standing, the US dropped its first game of World Cup qualifying 2-1 to an experienced, stronger Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) side. The result was huge for T&T; it propelled them to second place, three points ahead of Guatemala which was upset by Cuba 2-1. With just one match remaining T&T is set to qualify for the final round of qualification at the expense of the Guatemalans.
A sloppy field and hot, humid conditions made for an ugly game devoid of chances or creative interplay. I was excited to get a chance to see young players like Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, Jose Torres, Michael Orozco, Danny Szetela, Maurice Edu and Charlie Davies play in a pressure environment on the road against a regional rival’s best players. Unfortunately no player positively stood out in this game, an absolute luxury earned by grinding out results on the road and routing opponents at home.
Starting negatively, Edu was a liability for the Americans. His first touch and passing were so off that I checked more than once to see if he was wearing concrete boots. Frankie Hejduk’s crossing was terrible. He had four or five opportunities to play dangerous balls from deep positions but his crosses never beat the first defender. I am a staunch supporter of Frankie and greatly appreciate his contributions to the US team, but his inability to create scoring opportunities tonight with the time and space he had is inexcusable. Perhaps the biggest mistake was made by Altidore, just a few minutes after he was instrumental in creating the US goal. Altidore reached out and grabbed the shirt of his mark while a corner kick was flying in; the decision was rash, naive and unneccessary. The referee correctly whistled a penalty, which was the difference in the game.
On the more positive side, Brad Guzan looked solid in the net. He was sure-handed and decisive and not at fault for the two goals conceded. In the center of defense Michael Orozco and Dan Califf were solid; they were exposed once, but on the whole won their individual battles. Heath Pearce also defended ably and in the second half pressed forward and disbalanced the Trinidadians. Torres was a calming presence in the center of midfield; his passing was crisp, smart and often positive. Several times I saw him imploring his teammates to be patient and possess the ball. Kljestan was decent; with a better pair of cleats or perhaps a better pitch he could have been more influential. He again showed flashes of the smart, creative player who makes his teammates better. Adu was very good. In his limited touches he consistently beat players off the dribble and played dangerous balls forward. The only criticism I have of him is that he didn’t find the ball enough and that is more an indictment of his teammates than Adu.
Two other players who were successful getting forward are captain DaMarcus Beasley and Altidore. Both were incorrectly ajudged offside on clear goal scoring opportunities in the first half. With a better assistant referee the US has a much better shot of going up 1-0 or 2-0 in the first half, which would have obviously had a large impact on the match. Beasley was more influential in the first half when he stayed wide left. As he drifted more and more into the already congested middle, his impact waned. Altidore found little joy as the lone front runner, but he battled valiantly. His stick-to-ittiveness resulted in the US goal; after picking up a deflected ball he beat the committed keeper and found Davies in front of the open net. Altidore was not effective winning or holding the ball, an important role for target forwards. He is dangerous in front of the goal and good with the ball, but his ability to relieve the defense by holding the ball needs to improve. Davies was the first substitute for the US. In addition to getting the goal, he injected energy and ergency into the US attack. His speed and tenacity are excellent attributes that will prove useful in the coming years. In just over six minutes Szetela played a good cross, but had little time to exert any other influence.
For me tonight’s match validated Bob Bradley’s player selection for the first four matches. The only player who looked ready for more time is Freddy Adu. With one more game in the already decided qualifying group in November and then a few friendlies in the winter, this young crop of players will gain international experience and deepen the player pool. Good move Bob Bradley, the future is looking brighter already.