US 4 Grenada 0 / US 2 Honduras 0 / US 2 Haiti 2
Photo by ISI Photos
The US, fielding a roster of mostly second and third choice players, won its group and qualified for the Gold Cup quarterfinals on the strength of two wins and a tie. Manager Bob Bradley has chosen to use the tournament to give fringe players a chance to impress. For those who have not seen the matches, you have not missed much. Unfortunately everything about the tournament has been second-rate: the opponents were weak; two of the three games were on artificial turf; and the games are only available on Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura.
A handful of first-team players have made appearances. Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies appeared as substitutes in the game against Honduras and both were clearly a step above everyone else on the field. Almost from the moment they entered the game it was clear why they are first-team players and players like Freddy Adu, Logan Pause and Brad Evans are not. Before returning to their club teams this week Heath Pearce and Steve Cherundolo patrolled the fullback positions. Both were excellent as you would expect players with their experience to be in less challenging circumstances.
The only players making strong claims for inclusion on the first-team roster are Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers. Holden has shown the ability to score, with a headed goal in the first game and a rocket from 25 yards in the third game, while proving to be an adept two-way midfielder with an excellent work rate. Rogers looked strong in the Grenada much before falling somewhat flat against Honduras. His speed can cause real problems for defenders. Rogers is good with both feet and he can serve a good ball. Defensively he is a liability, however, so I don’t see him pushing for anything more than a supersub role when we need a goal. Chad Marshall, Kyle Beckerman and Santino Quaranta have all shown well also and with strong performances in the knockout stages may garner more attention. Unfortunately for Marshall and Beckerman, each plays a position (central defender and central midfielder) where we have depth. Marshall is big and strong, and a threat on set pieces. His feet are pretty good. He may be our fourth best central defender behind Onyewu, Bocanegra and DeMerit. Beckerman has been very influential controlling the flow of the game. He does the work of two, and he can pass incisively. We haven’t seen it in this tournament but Beckerman can shoot from distance as well. He is a long shot to make a first-choice team, however, due to the long list of central midfielders ahead of him: Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Pablo Mastroeni, and possibly Jermaine Jones. Quaranta is a player who can create opportunities from wide spaces and as a second forward. In this tournament he has only been used as a midfielder so far. He has a skillset not many Americans have, the ability to see things a second before anyone else and to pass accurately over distance.
The evident dropoff from first-choice to second- and third-choice players has been somewhat of a revealing disappointment. In the first two games Adu showed the form that caused Bradley to leave him on the bench for the entire Confederations Cup. He looked slow, in terms of thought and movement. His decisions were poor and his passing ordinary. Most of the Confederations Cup I was calling for Bradley to employ Adu, but now I am glad he did not.
Next up for the US is the quarterfinal match in Philadelphia Saturday against Panama on grass thank goodness. Panama has proved to be a difficult opponent in the last three years. It is a physically gifted team with some individual talent. The US can certainly succeed with the personnel at its disposal, but it won’t be easy.