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USA 3 Honduras 2, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

Conor Casey

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Mission Accomplished. The US is going to South Africa after scoring three goals in the second half and surviving a few scares in the dying moments against a Honduras team that had won all eight of its prior home games in 2010 qualifying.  Conor Casey scored the first two goals and drew the foul that led to the third.  Donovan scored the third, expertly hitting a direct kick over a five-man wall and into the upper corner from 20 yards.  Honduras had scored in the first two minutes of the second half on a similar direct kick.  They were fortunate to be credited with a second goal after a missed offside call, but unfortunate to miss a penalty with five minutes remaining.  Having missed the first 30 minutes and only able to watch the remainder of the game on an Internet feed, it is difficult to judge individual performances.  What I will say is that qualification is not easy, no matter where you are in the world (ask fans of Portugal or Argentina or Nigeria), and the US is in for the sixth consecutive World Cup.  Kudos to Bob Bradley.  The US won all its home matches (with one remaining) and won in Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras.

Here are some good articles/posts from journalists who were either at the game or able to watch it on a decent feed.

Americans Qualify for World Cup Steven Goff, Washington Post

Where’s the Love for U.S.’ Casey? Greg Lalas, Sports Illustrated

USA 3, Honduras 2: The U.S. is in the 2010 World Cup Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated

Best Thing I Saw Today

Loser: Literal Video Version – watch more funny videos

USA 1 Trinidad and Tobago 0, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

Ricardo Clark celebrates scoring

(AFP/Bertrand de Peaza)

With two matchdays remaining, the United States is back on top of the CONCACAF table after it posted a rare away victory against Trinidad and Tobago.  In the 24 matches played in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, the away team has only won three times (the US and Costa Rica at T&T, and Mexico at Costa Rica).  In the other two CONCACAF matches last night the home team won 1-0: Mexico over Honduras and El Salvador over the suddenly pedestrian Costa Rica.  The US also won 1-0 on the strength of a wonderstrike by midfielder Ricardo Clark, who particularly relished scoring while his Trinidadian father was in attendance in the Port of Spain.

The performance of the US is not something to remember: looking tired and unmotivated, it was only the woodwork that kept Cornell Glen and T&T off the scoreboard in the first half.  The US was unable to possess the ball or close down T&T quickly which can often lead to exciting open matches.  On this night, however, it led to sloppy play that just left me scratching my head.  Is this the team that beat Spain 2-0?  Excuses abound: you play down to the level of your opponent; eight plus hours of travel from Salt Lake City to Port of Spain, just seven miles off the coast of Venezuela, took its toll; it was hot; the pitch was bumpy; T&T was playing without pressure; the stadium lacked atmosphere as the stands were only half-full.  As a family friend used to say, “Excuses are like b-holes; everyone has one.”  So it was good to see an improved performance in the second half and a grind-it-out victory that teams with greater histories are known for.

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USA 2 El Salvador 1, 2010 World Cup Qualifying

Clint Dempsey

(AFP/File/Pierre-Philippe Marcou)

In a press conference leading up to last night’s World Cup Qualifying match against El Salvador in Utah a reporter asked manager Bob Bradley when it becomes about style rather than just points; Bradley said, “It’s always about points.”  Though I agree it sure would have been nice to see a neater performance from a makeshift US side that needed the full three points to remain in one of the three top spots in the table that guarantee a spot in South Africa next year.

Similar to the Honduras match, the US went down 1-0 in the first half.  El Salvador’s two best players on the night, Zelaya and Castillo, combined to beat five US players with a cutback, cross and an innocuous header that Tim Howard badly misplayed.  Zelaya collected a “clearance” from Jonathan Bornstein that landed at the top of the 18.  Ridiculous.  Bornstein had the worst game of the US players, defending with panic and consistently turning the ball over when trying to possess.  Too often with the ball and without an idea, Bornstein would simply lump it forward. His chance for continued playing time took a severe blow when it was announced that Mexican-American Edgar Castillo is now eligible to play for the US, after FIFA accepted his transfer request from Mexico.  Last night I was hoping to see Jonathan Spector on the left side of defense with Steve Cherundolo on the right, something we’ll likely see Wednesday against Trinidad & Tobago.  Spector was beat on the goal, but put enough pressure on Castillo to force a weak, savable header.  The rest of the night he was solid defending and composed in possession.  He delivered a wonderful cross to Clint Dempsey, but Dempsey bungled it.  It is hard to imagine a fully healthy US side without Spector.

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USA 1 Mexico 2, 2010 World Cup Qualifier


REUTERS/Henry Romero (MEXICO SPORT SOCCER)

Rivalry games are rarely pretty.  Yesterday was no exception: the US defended for the better part of 90 minutes and ended up paying for it when it surrendered the go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute after a defensive breakdown and a lucky bounce.  I hoped for better after such a bright start.  A quick passing sequence, from Michael Bradley to Landon Donovan to Charlie Davies, led to a goal inside 10 minutes.  Unfortunately we were only able to hold the lead for 10 minutes.  Besides Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno, the most disappointing performances on the day came from Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey, the occupants of the left side of the US defense where both goals came from.

The first goal for Mexico was a spectacular 25 yard shot.  The ball flew over Tim Howard and then dipped under the crossbar.  For me, the play started when Moreno didn’t call a clear foul on Mexico which allowed Mexico to unbalance the Americans.   If you don’t believe me, go to the video (the foul is at 1:20).   Israel Castro clearly grabs Donovan as Donovan dribbles past him.  Then Donovan is possibly fouled a second time on the tackle though that is not clear from the video.  Central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley got caught on the right side covering for Donovan when Cuauhtémoc Blanco broke the pressure with a cutting move and then toe poke to the cheater Castro.  Castro hit the shot of his life.  I’m still not sure how Howard didn’t get a finger on it.

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US Gold Cup 2009 Group Stage (2-0-1)

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.

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US 2 Brazil 3, 2009 Confederations Cup Final

AP Photo

What a heartbreaking way to lose.  The US went up 2-0 before the half before surrendering three second half goals to a powerful Brazilian team that features several of the world’s most expensive players.    In the first half the US was clinical, finishing its first two shots on goal on excellent passing sequences and movements.  The first goal came on a Spector to Dempsey combination, the same that was responsible for the third goal against Egypt.  The second goal was very similar to the second goal the US surrendered to Brazil in their group match.  The US progressed 90 yards at full speed with three passes–Ricardo Clark to Landon Donovan, Donovan to Davies, Davies back to Donovan–before Donovan cut inside the box and buried a low left-footed shot into the corner.  The first international trophy was within our grasp.  The US was playing excellent, smart soccer: defending in blocks with conviction and then moving forward purposefully after it won possession.

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US 2 Spain 0, 2009 Confederations Cup Semifinal

Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

It is hard to imagine the US playing better than it did against Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal.  We all knew it would take 100% commitment to compete with the heavily favored, unfairly talented Spain team that had not lost in 35 matches and 100% commitment is what we got.  Pictured above, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scored goals on each side of half-time to propel the US to the first final of a major competition open to the world’s best.  In post-match posts I typically rate the performances of players and personnel or tactical moves of the manager.  For every player who played, 1-14, I only have the highest respect and praise for what they accomplished.  This is the team we love to love, why we are fanatics.  I’ll let the headlines from around the world (most via the USMNT blog) tell the rest of the story.

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Gearing up for US/Spain

The following post was written by my youngest brother Jared. He is a recent high school graduate who is heading to the University of Pittsburgh this fall.  Jared is a better soccer player than I ever was but I beat him in tennis 6-0, 6-3 last week. He has a unique, hilarious perspective on US soccer, its fans and naysayers, and its upcoming match against his adopted homeland, Spain, in tomorrow’s Confederations Cup semifinal.

USA……. 24 June 2008, 2:30 PM E ……. ESP

On Wednesday my two favorite countries and my two favorite teams will be playing each other in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup; USA vs Spain.  Born and raised in America, do not mistake me for anything close to a Judas Rossi who would jump across to the old world if Spain called (technically speaking I am not of Spanish descent), nor am I one of those obnoxious people who doesn’t think US soccer is good enough so I only watch EPL or Champions League games and talk trash about MLS, without ever attending a live match standing in the middle of the Screaming Eagles, and even less am I one of those immigrants who are so grateful to live and work and eat and sleep in the United States  that show up to American qualifiers to support the opposing country.  Allow me to explain:

In the summer before I entered my junior year of high school (that is 2 summers ago), I had the pleasure of touring and living in Spain for 3 weeks with a group from my school.  To be succinct, I had a blast.  I stayed in Madrid, saw the Bernabeu, bought a Real Madrid jersey, and have supported them since (I had always liked Raul).  On top of this, for two weeks I lived on the southern coast with a Spanish mother, or mama, if you will, in her apartment about a mile from the, yes, topless beach — although I think that everyone would appreciate it if there were some sort of screening process for who was allowed to exercise this privilege.  Ever since, I have been very fond of Spain.  It remains the only other country I have visited with the exception of San Francisco, and so last summer I watched every minute of, and supported them all through Euro 2008.  When they won, and my favorite player (not named Michael Bradley) Fernando Torres scored the winning goal, I was very happy.  But I am an American all the way through.  I can put away hot dogs with the best of them, and when it comes to apple pie, let’s just say I know how to punish one.

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US 3 Egypt 0, 2009 Confederations Cup

©  isiphotos.com

The US is on to the seminfinals after the unlikeliest of scenarios unfolded today in South Africa.  Twin 3-0 wins by the US over Egypt and Brazil over Italy left three teams tied for second on points after each recorded one win during the round robin group stage.  On the first tiebreaker the US and Italy were tied with an unimpressive -2 goal differential; the US went through thanks to scoring four goals compared to Italy’s three (all scored against 10-men US in both teams’ first game of the tournament).

US manager Bob Bradley made three changes to the team that lost 3-0 to Brazil: Brad Guzan replaced Tim Howard in goal; Ricardo Clark returned from suspension to replace the suspended Sacha Kljestan; and Charlie Davies replaced DaMarcus Beasley.  In addition to the personnel changes Bradley switched from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 with Davies paired with Jozy Altidore up front, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in relatively free roles in the midfield supported by Michael Bradley and Clark.  The back four remained unchanged with Jonathan Bornstein, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector across the back left to right.

First, the positives.  Donovan was the best player on the field today.  The Egyptians had no answer for his direct dribbling.  My only criticism of his play is that it was too unselfish: on two occasions when he entered the penatly area, Donovan elected to pass when he had good opportunities to shoot.  On the second goal Donovan had the assist; he played a one-two with Bradley who side-footed Donovan’s pass into the right corner with his first touch.  Bradley was also excellent today.  He willed the US forward with charging runs with and without the ball and by playing balls wide to forward-pushing outside backs.  On his goal Bradley picked up the ball in the middle of the field and pressed forward immediately.  After an Egyptian defender committed Bradley played the ball and continued his run.  Donovan one-timed a perfectly weighted pass into Bradley’s stride and Bradley made no mistake finishing calmly.  On the third goal Bradley picked out a wide open Spector, again one of the top performers, on the right.  Spector hit an inch-perfect cross that Dempsey headed into the far corner.  Presumably the third-choice right back behind injured Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk, Spector may be winning himself a spot in the starting eleven with his performances this tournament.  He is always turned on, fully committed and he is neat with the ball.  As long as he can stay healthy there should be a spot for him on this team.

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