It was a tough night to be a US fan. Similar to the debacles against Czech Republic in 2006 and El Salvador earlier this year, the US conceded an early goal and had to chase the game from the second minute. Playing on a horrible surface in a hostile environment with unfamiliar personnel and a new formation, the US played too soft.
The first goal resulted from sloppy play out of the back and unfortunately was a microcosm of how the rest of the match would go. Captain Carlos Bocanegra put converted left back DaMarcus Beasley in a bad spot by playing him a ball that put him under immediate pressure. Beasley should have played safe, out or forward. Instead he took a touch to the inside and had the ball taken off his foot by a Costa Rican attacker. Costa Rica’s nine shirt picked up the ball and cut between Pable Mastroeni and Jose Francisco Torres and hit a driven shot over Tim Howard. Both Torres and Mastroeni should have gone in harder. In big matches you often pay for one mistake: on this play the US made four.
The US lacked the bite it needed. Michael Bradley played like he knew he would miss the next match with a yellow, and, sadly he was given one on one of the few poor calls on the night. Bradley was visibly distraught and repeatedly asked, “How is that a yellow?” It looked like manager Bradley put Michael in a more advanced role, supporting him with Torres and Mastroeni. Bradley did not get the support needed, support commentator John Harkes repeatedly talked about. Someone needed to make a tone-setting, crunching tackle in the middle of the field but it never happened. The best example of Bradley’s teammates letting him down came on the third goal when he covered 60+ yards, chasing a Costa Rican attacker. Beasley and substitute Sacha Kljestan both stood idly by after Bradley slowed the Costa Rican down, only to allow him to glide into the box and pass one past Howard.
On the second goal two Costa Rican players beat three US players. From midfield, a ball was played forward on the touch line to a player Mastroeni instructed Onyewu or Wynne to pick up. There’s no reason at that point for Onyewu to be pulled so far wide. Perhaps he was not confident in newcomer Wynne’s ability to defend. Regardless, Onyewu forced the player to move back, but Mastroeni was slow to pressure. The Costa Rican slipped the ball between Onyewu and Wynne and was into the box alone. Bocanegra slid out to pressure the ball and the Costa Rican dropped the ball back to the penalty spot; the Costa Rican defensive midfielder beat Torres to the spot and drove a half-volley into a gaping net. The play never should have developed. Once Onyewu was drawn out, he or Wynne or Mastroeni have to recognize the situation and foul. Foul!
Initially I did not understand why Torres was removed at half-time because he was one of the few players who showed the ability to move the ball forward and to stay composed on the ball. On second viewing, however, his culpability on both goals made him a prime suspect to be removed. After the goal Bocanegra screamed at him, presumably for not providing the necessary cover. I’d rather have seen Mastroeni removed for Ricardo Clark though. Clark surely would’ve provided the tenacity required. I really would have preferred to see a double sub, with Mastroeni and Dempsey removed. I don’t know if Dempsey wasn’t able to adjust to the turf or the formation, but he was completely ineffective in his 50th appearance for the US.
In his first meaningful match with the full national team, Wynne was okay. Except for the mistake on the second goal which was a naive mistake, his defending was solid. Wynne was able to get forward on occasion, but did not prove dangerous due to his indecisive, unimaginative choices. On the opposite side Beasley was awful. If he wasn’t losing the ball he was passing backward and not tackling with conviction. Not playing for Rangers the past several months has taken its toll. Onyewu and Bocanegra were exposed several times and Bocanegra in particular was slow to close down players in the box. It wasn’t their best performance as a tandem, for sure.
Of course it is the goals that are discussed and the goals that are most important, but when considering how the game went outside of the goals the US was not terrible. They had several good spells of possession and there are some positive takeaways. Jozy Altidore drew several fouls. Bradley and Torres were able to ping the ball around a bit. Donovan was aggressive with the ball and clinical with the penalty though his set piece distribution was poor. All three substitutes–Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu and Charlie Davies–had a positive impact on the game. The US was fortunate to get a penalty in the dying minutes to break Costa Rica’s scoreless streak. Realisticially there isn’t much to build on. Faced with a quick turnaround the US must regroup and face Honduras Saturday without Bradley, its midfield engine. I’d like to see the US resort to the box midfield with Torres and Kljestan deep and Dempsey and Donovan forward, then Altidore and Adu up top. Most importantly I’d like to see Beasley on the bench. Jonathan Bornstein or Jonathan Spector can fill in. Manager Bob Bradley and I were not on the same page tonight, however, so there’s no telling what we’ll see Saturday.