Monday Morning Midfielder
For those of us suffering from Premier League withdrawals, the CONCACAF Gold Cup was a welcome dose of legitimate soccer (not all of if, of course, but you know what I mean). On Saturday, the only suitable match for the final pitted a US team that was beginning to find their form against a young Mexican team that was trying to establish itself as the best in the continent. The game had a lot on the line, had some great stories, and was destined to be a classic.
The greatest reward on the line for the winner, of course, wasn’t the title of champion, but the invitation to play in the Confederation Cup in Brazil in 2013. The US was fully aware of this benefit as they used 2009’s Confederation Cup to awaken the nation to their team. The team enjoyed a whirlwind path to the final that included a shock 2-0 win over Spain, and a hard fought game against a loaded Brazilian team provided an early spark that had the entire country looking forward to the World Cup. Casual sports fans were learning the names of the US squads, players like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard became recognized as legitimate US sport stars, and the feeling that the US was finally approaching the status of competing with the best of the world had the soccer faithful buzzing. There was no question that both teams on Saturday were fully aware of what a win could do going into the World Cup in 2014.
Despite being the dominant force in the country, the US had not looked sharp in the beginning of the tournament, or in friendlies leading up to it. The US team in general is in a period of uncertainty. The US is set at goalkeeper and boasts a solid midfield that looks ready to infuse new talent like Stuart Holden and Michael Bradley (who’s already a fixture) once the older players are gone. The defense and strikers are another story. The defense is already aged and none of the young players like Tim Ream or Clarence Goodson have given us reason to get excited about them. Once Cherundolo and Bocanegra retire, the defense is going to be in a sorry state. The only difference between the strikers and defense for Team USA is that there isn’t a good aging veteran currently occupying the spot. I like Jozy Altidore, he’s my favorite player on the team, but he has not shown consistency in the position that builds confidence. Flashes of brilliance are easily extinguished by inconsistency. The other options aren’t better either. I was proud of Freddy Adu for how he came back, and he definitely was dialed in on Saturday, but he’s still got a long way to go if we are to expect him to be a difference maker. Juan Agudelo might be our hope, and he has 2 more years to get ready, but he’ll only be 21 at the world cup, and the lack of experience could affect him. Can you imagine if Giuseppe Rossi had played for Team USA? Ugh, don’t get me started.
Mexico, on the other hand, is a team that has recently shed the skin of old vets and are now young and looking vicious. Their overwhelming strength, which was manifest on Saturday, is their striking power. Javier Hernandez (who will never be called Chicharito on this blog) was more than a handful for the US defense, and his runs were dicing the US defense to shreds. Space was plentiful and the Mexican attack was left to work freely after the chaos he caused. Dos Santos looks much improved as well after spending way too much time not playing for Tottenham this season. Mexico’s midfield was so fast that their constant attack made you forget that their defense wasn’t as sharp was they have been. If El Tri can fortify their back line, they will really make a lot of noise in Brazil in 2014.
The game turned out pretty much how the majority (yes, Mexican majority) of fans at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles thought it would go. Mexico came out of the gates swinging, keeping all the possession and hearing a bunch of ole’s from the supporters. The fact that the US snagged the lead was surprising. After some great play from Freddy Adu to win a corner, Mike Bradley headed in from the well played corner to give the US an early lead. It was further delight from the US as Landon Donovan drilled in a crisp goal from a great Clint Dempsey pass. The 2 goal lead definitely seemed enough to win if for the US. The crowd was deflated and the US had shown that it knew how to break the Mexicans with their counter attack. The only problem for the US was that there was still and hour left to play, and they forgot how to use their counter attack for the rest of the game.
From there, Tim Howard’s nightmares came true as the Mexican attack was given free range to assault his goal. Pablo Barrera, whose speed had been tormenting the back line, knocked in the first of his 2 goals after a great deep pass. After incredibly sloppy goal tied up the game before the half, Giovanni Dos Santos slow motion chip over Eric Lichaj put the nail in the coffin and finished what was a terrible day for the US. The US had chances down the stretch as Dempsey missed a shot from the 18 off the post and Bradley missed what would have been a cracker from deep that went just wide, but they couldn’t find another goal. 4-2 was the final, and the Mexican team proved that they are the new boss of CONCACAF.
From here, the US team find themselves at an impasse. Bob Bradley’s job will again come under question, but the fact is Bob Bradley is doing amazingly well with the talent he’s got. In order to compete with the world’s best, the players represent the defense must, must, must get better. The young order of Ream, Spector, and Chandler have to develop, and quickly. Perhaps it’s even time to sit down the current line, as it is very unlikely that Bocanegra, Cherundolo, and Onyewu will play in the next world cup. For the strikers, we need to pick the ones that will represent us in 2014 and stick with them. If the US is going to go with Altidore and Agudelo, then they have to play in every game, all the time. They must get in a rhythm of working together and with the midfield. If those aren’t the ones, than find the replacements quickly and get them in the system. The US will be back and will be ready for the World Cup in Brazil, I just hope that they can find a team that will finally take us into the quarters or even semis, and currently, that team isn’t here.