The latest round of World Cup qualifying for Team USA yielded a 2-2 tie in El Salvador and a 3-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago in Nashville. That’s four points in two games, good for the lead atop CONCACAF qualifying. All according to Bob Bradley’s strategy and the mantra for making the World Cup since the 90s: win at home, tie on the road.
So, everything’s cool, right? Could be a lot worse. Like, to pick a totally random example, say, Mexico (coach fired, foundering in 4th place). Or perennial World Cup qualifier/underachiever, Portugal (in third in their group and in real trouble). Or usual World Cup participants like the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Turkey (all in danger).
After all, the kid just scored a hat-trick – the youngest American to achieve such a feat. Jozy Altidore, step right up…
And DaMarcus Beasley just turned in the first effective performance by an American playing left back in many-a-game. No one’s suspended for the next match in Costa Rica (currently in second). Veterans like Frankie Hejduk and Pablo Mastroeni continue to step up, while youngsters like Jozy and Jose Torres continue to show promise. Let’s be frank: we’re going to qualify. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of room for improvement. Five points to your Pentagram…
- These opponents were weak. Yeah, El Salvador is better than 106 in the World or whatever when they play in San Salvador. Sure, Trinidad and Tobago have some dangerous attackers and wily vets, but these two teams are the weakest in the hex. Yet that didn’t stop the U.S. from looking seriously spooked on the road. Suddenly we couldn’t complete a pass or receive a ball. Doesn’t really bode well for a high pressure World Cup match, does it. T&T just looked bad. In the second half, they seemed thoroughly whipped, even though they were one play away from tying it up and applying some serious pressure. The next round of matches will surely be tougher.
- Finally, a goal-scorer. We’ve seen Jozy do it for the Red Bulls and Youth teams. We’ve been clamoring for him to get more looks on the Sr. team. 4 goals in 2 games. Yeah, it’s eerily similar to the Eddie Johnson experience of four years ago, but… Now the only question is can Altidore actually get some club games. It makes you wonder what the Xerez management is doing over there in Spain (oh yeah, getting arrested for assaulting whores). Regardless, Jozy will get plenty of PT this summer, hopefully leading to an improved situation this fall. Sidenote: most strikers will look good when paired with a tireless worker like Ching and being fed by Landon when on his game.
- The left back conundrum. El Salvador may have been Heath Pearce’s last time to stink it up at Left Back. He hasn’t put in a good performance in many, many games back there. So Coach Stoneface went with DaMarcus Beasley against T&T, shifthing him back from left wing. We all still remember the failed Eddie Lewis experiment, but DMB looked pretty good and he’s always been a good one-on-one defender. Maybe Jonathan Bornstein gets another look, but I’m hoping it’s Jon Spector combining with the ocassional DMB cameo on the left.
- More ideas needed. For most of the El Salvador game and all the T&T game, the opponent was content to concede space and camp behind the ball. While the U.S. looked more confident than in the past, they still tended to get bogged down. Jose Torres provided a spark in that first game, and Landon was on against T&T, still it would be nice to see a few more shots from outside and quick combinations in the center. You get the idea Coach Stoneface would much rather play 4-5-1 bunker/counter all day. Sadly, he’ll probably get his chance on several ocassions this summer.
- Who else can contribute? Although there’s been a certain reluctance on the part of the coaching staff to try much that’s new, we still have time to integrate a few more players into the squad. There’s a busy slate of games this summer, with the Confed Cup and Gold Cup along with the next qualifiers. So which of our younger talented players will get their shot. I’m hoping for Spector and Torres, as well as yes, Freddy Adu. It would nice to see guys like Kenny Cooper, Marvell Wynne, Stuart Holden, Charlie Davies, and Chad Marshall step up as well. But if Bob Bradley has shown us anything it’s that a spot once earned is difficult to lose. We shall see.