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Bob Bradley's starting lineup choices continue to frustrate, but at least he was willing to go outside his comfort zone with his substitutions against South Africa.
Five players made their senior national team debuts during the United States' 1-0 victory over South Africa, with two of those players coming off the bench to create the game's only goal.
Juan Agudelo and Mikkel Diskerud were the brightest of the U.S. debutants. Agudelo scored his first senior team goal and Diskerud registered his first assist despite the pair combining for less than a half worth of playing time.
Agudelo started the goal-scoring sequence in the 85th minute with a through ball to Diskerud, who controlled it just inside the penalty area. After fending off two defenders with some clever footwork, Diskerud found Agudelo following his own pass with a run through the middle. Diskerud floated the ball forward, Agudelo controlled it with a nifty touch off his thigh and then struck it off the underside of the crossbar with the outside of his foot. The show of skill by both players is the exact kind of thing USMNT followers have been craving for years, but have rarely witnessed from their own players.
With the goal, the 17-year-old became the youngest player to ever score for the United States' senior team.
Ream got off to a rough start, but played well after the first 15-20 minutes. Bunbury did not get a lot of touches, but was much more effective as a lone striker than Robbie Findley, who started up top. Bunbury had one nice attempt on goal where he controlled a ball and struck a nice ball on the pivot.
Prior to the goal, the U.S. had looked solid if unspectacular while playing with a roster mostly made up of second- and third-choice national teamers.
Brad Guzan, who has rarely played either at the club or national team levels in the past couple seasons, was sharp in goal and did an admirable job directing the defense. Robbie Rogers had one of his better games in awhile and made some dangerous runs, especially early on. Alejandro Bedoya, one of the last players to be left off the World Cup team, was strong on the right side before giving way to Diskerud in the 78th minute.
The one player who looked particularly bad was Findley, one of only two Americans on the roster who started during the most recent World Cup (Jonathan Bornstein was the other). Findley was obviously overmatched as a lone striker, had tremendous trouble controlling and keeping the ball and was justly pulled at halftime. SB Nation Soccer colleague Kevin McCauley counted six first-half giveaways for a player who has recently expressed his desire to play professionally in Europe.
The win brought the USMNT's record in 2010 across all competitions to 5-4-5, meaning they've won at least as many games as they've lost every year since at least 1998 (the year the records at ussoccer.com go back to).
Mikkel Diskerud has made quite a impression in his debut.
Diskerud was able to win a ball inside the penalty area, made a nice touch to Agudelo who was cutting in. Agudelo controlled the ball off his thigh just outside the six-yard box and beat the South African keeper with a shot off the outside of his foot that ricocheted off the crossbar and in.
It was an impressive show of skill from both players, neither of whom are older than 20.
Diskerud and Agudelo are just two of the five players who have made their U.S. debuts today.
All of them except Ream are eligible to play for other national teams, but have apparently chosen to cast their lots with the United States.
Young enough to justify a permission slip joke, 17-year-old Juan Agudelo has come on for Robbie Rogers, making his senior national team debut. The 61st minute substitution means both Agudelo and Teal Bunbury are on, giving optimistic U.S. Men's National Team supporters are glimpse into the team's future.
Through eight minutes, Agudelo's been quiet, but Bunbury's had a decent start. The Kansas City Wizards' striker trapped and turned on a ball from 17 yards out in the 54th minute, giving the United States their second solid shot of the match. While the `keeper wasn't severely tested, it was a nice piece of skill to put the ball on his left foot and turning into a quick shot.
The chance was part of the United States attack that's woken-up for the second half. While the States have not been as controlling as the Bafana Bafana were in the first half, they've been the slightly better of the side through the half's first 20 minutes. The States are actually holding some possession, something they're not accustomed to doing even with a full squad.
South Africa seems to be adjusting to this more prescient States team, but as the second half moves forward, the States look slightly more likely to find a goal.
In a comment on one of our earlier updates, one of our readers pointed out that the announcers calling the game, Ian Darke and John Harkes, have not mentioned the words "Red Bull" or "Red Bulls" when referring to Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo of the United States, who play for the New York franchise in Major League Soccer. The full name of this team is, of course, Red Bull New York, more commonly referred to as the New York Red Bulls. After watching the halftime show where the host and both analysts, Bob Ley, Alexi Lalas, and Steve McManaman, all refused to use the term "Red Bull" in any context.
Regular ESPN watchers might be familiar with ESPN's incessant NASCAR advertisements. I'm not a NASCAR fan or basher, but they do seem to promote the product heavily. Along with promoting the races that they have, they also promote Amp, one of Red Bull's direct competitors. Is it possible that ESPN producers have explicitly told their soccer staff not to mention the Austrian drink that tastes like carbonated, liquefied Sweet Tarts? Yes or no, it's funny to speculate about.
For those of you who are actually interested in football, I've been keeping track of what Robbie Findley and Teal Bunbury are producing, as Richard mentioned in a previous update. At the time of this posting, 62 minutes into the game, Teal Bunbury has not had an uncontested turnover and has had two positive touches. That is the same number of positive touches that Robbie Findley, who had six uncontested giveaways, had in 45 minutes. I'm classifying a positive touch as a touch that led to an advancement of an attack. Bunbury's second positive touch came in the 54th minute, meaning it took the debutant nine minutes to equal Findley's 45 minute output
Bob Bradley has made two changes at halftime, and for those counting the number of times Robbie Findley's given away the ball, their fun is over. The Real Salt Lake attacker is off for Teal Bunbury, making his international debut for the States. Jonathan Spector has also come on for Jonathan Bornstein.
For Findley, it was a tough half. SB Nation Soccer contributor Kevin McCauley spent the period counting how many times Findley gave the ball away under little resistance. Hopefully you weren't playing the corresponding drinking game, because Kevin got to six.
If you were playing the drinking game, we want your comments, below. Please, don't use spell check.
Kansas City Wizards' forward Teal Bunbury's come on in Findley's place. More capable of playing a lone striker than Findley, Bunbury's been the object of Canada's scorn for choosing the United States over the Canucks as his senior international choice. Although today's match won't tie him to the States, it's a clear signal that the duel citizen plans to represent the stars and stripes.
Now 53 minutes into the match, the game is still scoreless, with Eddie Gaven having a near-chance in the 51st minute.
The United States gave South Africa their chances to take the lead at the Nelson Mandela Challenge, but with the Bafana Bafana unable to break through a sharp Brad Guzan, today's friendly has gone to halftime scoreless.
For the States, is has been all Guzan. The nominal number two for both club and country has not seen much action over the last two-and-a-half years, but whatever rust had accumulated on the former Chivas USA `keeper was knocked off pre-match, with the Villa stopper making numerous strong reads in the first half. Three times he saved Bafana chances after the hosts broke through the line, and toward the end of the half Guzan was decisive coming off his line to swallow-up a through ball.
By that time, the States' defense had shored-up. Tim Ream's rough start gave way to some decisive play over the final 15 minutes. Eric Lichaj has looked confident on the right. Jonathan Bornstein stepped-up his game as halftime approached, while Clarence Goodson has been solid. By the end of the half, commentators had forgotten early struggles and started praising the States' defense.
In attack, the States' have broken down whenever the ball's been played to Robbie Findley. The Real Salt Lake attacker is playing alone up-top and has been unable to bring his teammates into play (before losing the ball), Robbie Rogers has show some aggression in getting the ball on frame as well as attempting to serve his teammates, but for the most part the midfield has been anonymous.
It's a tough task - going to South Africa mid-week with a team that's not used to playing with each other. In that like, the States' performance has been understandable. With Bob Bradley telling Jeremy Schaap that Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo could be coming on, hopefully the second half will see a United States team that's more effective going forward.
Three times in the first 25 minutes, South Africa has been able to move through the left side of the United States' defense and in on Brad Guzan's goal. Though the Aston Villa `keeper has done well to come off his line and cut-down all angles, Tim Ream and Jonathan Bornstein are having trouble slowing down the hosts, continuing the States' problems in defense.
We talked about those problems earlier today, with the U.S. keeping only three clean sheets in their proceeding 20 matches. Today was a chance for change, with Ream and Eric Lichaj getting starts. While Lichaj has made a crucial block, Ream has been less convincing, one time giving the Bafana Bafana a change when he mistimed a challenge.
While Robbie Rogers just put a nice shot on goal from 19 yards out, South Africa has looked far more dangerous through 25 minutes. The match is in South Africa and this is a second (or third) choice United States squad. But still, it's been a mixed bag early for the States.
This is becoming a disturbing pattern in Ian Darke's commentary. Two weeks ago, he fell in love with Stu Holden and ruined ESPN2's coverage of Bolton's match against Spurs. We heard about Stu's bravery in returning to England, his Mom's breakfast choices, his pioneering work in puppy dog heart transplants. Darke was in love - we get it - but surprisingly, he's not being monogamous.
Ten minutes into the United States' match against South Africa's become clear: Tim Ream has become Darke's latest lust, and John Harkes is playing match-maker. The New York Red Bulls defender, making his first senior national appearance for the States, has had his name mentioned 81 times thus far. Maybe less, I don't know, but this is quickly turning into the Tim Ream show.
Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh on Darke, but let's face it. After his coverage of Holden in the Bolton-Spurs match, this type of scrutiny is in play. You can't so blatantly pander without your credibility being an issue. Ian Darke was one of my favorite commentators before the World Cup, but since he decided getting work with ESPN was a priority, he's more of a USSF PR man than source for reliable coverage.
Now 14 minutes into the first half, the U.S. defense has been tested twice. Thus far, no score.
One of the things people tend to dislike about U.S. Men's National Team coach Bob Bradley is his insistence on using players with whom he's already comfortable.
Today's starting lineup would be a perfect case in point. Robbie Findley gets the nod as a lone striker, three-fifths of the starting midfield play for the eighth best team in MLS and none of the offensive youngsters that intrigued many of the country's fans will be in the starting XI.
The most interesting players that we're guaranteed to see heavy minutes of are Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj, both of whom receive their first national team starts.
USA: GK: Brad Guzan; DF: Eric Lichaj, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Jonathan Bornstein; MF: Logan Pause and Brian Carroll; Robbie Rogers, Eddie Gaven, Alejandro Bedoya; FW: Robbie Findley
South Africa: GK: Itumeleng Khune; DF: Anele Ngcongca, Tsepo Masilela, Morgan Gould, Siyabonga Sangweni; MF:Kagisho Dikgacoi,Thanduyise Khuboni, Steven Pienaar, Siphiwe Tshabalala; FW: Davide Somma, Bernard Parker
With a single midweek date on the FIFA calendar, scheduling a match in Cape Town, South Africa removed a lot of the team building and competitive advantages of the United States' friendly versus Bafana Bafana on Wednesday. It's not reasonable for U.S. head coach Bob Bradley to call in his best team of players who play important parts in their club teams and have them fly on Monday all the way to South Africa, which could take upwards of 24 hours, and them back up on Thursday for their club matches over the weekend. From a competitive standpoint, Wednesday's match is nearly a throwaway, but with rumors floating around that South African Danny Jordaan will vote in place of one of the suspended FIFA Executive Committee members in December on the country that will host the 2022 World Cup, the sold out stadium in Cape Town to see the U.S. might be worth a vote for the United States bid.
Although the match is not a team-building exercise, it does present an opportunity for the squad to build its depth and get a look at some young players. Probably most importantly, though, the match can give a couple players the chance to prove that they can compete for time at next summer's Gold Cup at positions where the U.S. is vulnerable. Despite the U.S. not having anything resembling their best team, South Africa does so the players that see the field for the Yanks will be tested by some quality opposition.
The two most obvious areas for concern in the United States' player pool is at right back and left back. Steve Cherundolo is the class of the U.S. right backs and was one of the better Americans at the World Cup, but at 31 years old, Bradley has to find a younger option at the position if not for the 2011 Gold Cup then for the 2014 World Cup. Jonathan Spector has long been touted as the Yanks' future right back, but he is in the midst of the worst form of his life, is on the verge of being dropped by his club, West Ham, and hasn't put in a good shift for the U.S. in months. In steps Eric Lichaj, who earned his first cap last month versus Colombia as a substitute where the Aston Villa youngster showed flashes of being able to step into the position for the U.S. by next summer. Another good performance could push Lichaj past Spector on the depth chart and put his name atop the list of future right backs.
On the other side of the back line is the continued inability for the U.S. to find a quality left back. The last four years have largely been a two-man show with Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce trading bad performances that knocked them below the other until Carlos Bocanegra had to go over and spell them both. That was the case until the Americans' last two games of the World Cup when Bornstein stepped back into the starting XI and had two very good performances, making him the preferred left back option. He will be in Cape Town to try to grab a hold of the position, but he's struggled to put together a string of good matches for the U.S. since he debut in 2007 and the job would very well open up yet again. Tim Ream, the heralded rookie who plays for the New York Red Bulls, has forged himself a professional career as a center back, but he did play left back in college and Bradley has shown a willingness in the past to play players slightly out of position so it's not unthinkable that Ream gets a crack at left back in his first ever international match.
Another area where the U.S. is lacking is true wingers. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey start at outside midfield for the U.S. and both are very effective there, but Donovan is a right-footed player on the left who likes to cut in and Dempsey roams often, sometimes centrally. Neither hug the touch line and really stretch the field wide, not that it is an issue for them in particular because they are playing to their strengths. Benny Feilhaber is often Bradley's first sub used, going in on the left and like Donovan, he is right-footed and likes to cut in. Feilhaber plays well too, but Bradley could use true wingers who will stretch the field wide and change up the match some, even if it is only as a substitute. Alejandro Bedoya is a player who will get a chance in South Africa to fill that role after coming on strong for Orebro in Sweden in the last two years and being one of the last players left off of the World Cup roster. Robbie Rogers could fill that role as well, although his play has plateaued in the last couple years and some speculate a move to left back could be his best chance at an international career. If Mikkel Diskerud is deployed on the wing, he could be an answer as well, although he also plays centrally and may not get time outside versus South Africa.
After the outside back and midfield spots, there are also the young players to watch. Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury both just finished their rookie seasons in MLS and showed flashes of a bright future, although most agree they are still a couple years of development away from being able to crack the United States' roster when at its strongest. Even so, it will be each of their first matches and an opportunity to get a look at the team's possible future strikers, a very thing position for the U.S. right now. Gale Agbossoumonde has long been touted as one of the brightest young centerbacks to come through the U.S. system in a long time and after a strong performance at last year's FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Agbossoumonde will make his senior international debut on his 19th birthday should he enter the match in Cape Town.
On the whole, there isn't a lot to look for with regards to the whole team. With minimal practice time and little familiarity between the players, it is unlikely that the U.S. looks flawless, but the match is an opportunity to look at individual players who could step forward and wrest a spot even with the full team at certain positions or those who could be the future of the national team.
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