With a 3-1 (oops, I mean 2-1) victory over El Salvador in Utah, Saturday night, Team America remains in the mix to win the hex. Here are the standings with three more to play – one game on Wednesday and two more in October: Honduras – 13 pts, USA – 13 – pts, Mexico – 12 pts, Costa Rica – 12 pts. Trinidad & Tobago and El Salvador are both virtually eliminated with 5 apiece. The top three teams qualify automatically for South Africa, while 4th place is a play-in with the 5th place team from South America. As that could be Argentina the way things are rolling, the USA would do well to avoid the drama.
Wednesday we travel to Trinidad in a game we should win and the chance for some breathing room. As we have two of the more difficult matches next month – at Honduras and home against Costa Rica – you take your three points from the Soca Warrior if at all possible.
Against El Salvador, Coach Bradley trotted out the more attack-oriented lineup many of us we’re hoping to see. Finally, we saw Altidore and Davies starting up top with Feilhaber, Donovan, and Dempsey in the midfield. The result was some attractive soccer at points, as well as some defensive lapses. Five points in the pentagram…
Altidore and Davies – get used to them. The two young forwards finally started the game together, forming the partnership that could form the US strike force for years to come. Both looked dangerous and confident as well as athletic and a little raw. I like how Charlie Davies thinks ‘shoot first’. You need that up top. I like how Altidore has added some variation to his runs and the ability to combine well with his team. It was by no means a smooth performance, but these guys are serving notice of intent to score next summer.
What was up with the disallowed goal? You always get some head-scratchers with CONCACAF refs, it would seem. Much was written about Jozy’s disallowed goal in the second half. He was clearly onside, and the idea of calling a foul on Dempsey releasing the pass is ludicrous. Why does this continue to happen? Is their any disciplinary policy in our region for this kind of thing. Honduran ref Jose Pineda should receive censure for this, but it probably won’t happen. Just like there was never any discipline handed out to the Mexican assistant coach who slapped Frankie Hejduk in Columbus, CONCACAF continues to operate in highly shady terms.
Can’t wait for the converts. Edgar Castillo has supposedly received his clearance to play for Team America, and hopefully German Jones will also be available next month. Castillo at left back couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve seen this year from Pearce, Bocanegra, and Bornstein. Jones should supplant Michael Bradley based on current form, although Coach Stoneface seems incapable of not starting and his son and giving him the full 90. It will likely be a Jones-Bradley partnership in the center.
Young midfielders making their case. Benny Feilhaber is defintely back. He looked poised and confident on the ball and always seems dangerous on the through-ball. If only he would track back a little more, Bob would have no excuses. Holden again looked strong as a sub. He’s athletic enough and seems to have few problems with the increased tempo of the international game. Jose Torres looked good in his brief cameo as well, and was unlucky not to score on his powerful late header. Coach needs to trust these young guys to play and find opportunities to fit them in, because you can’t succeed in an international tourney without using your bench, and guys like Dempsey and Bradley continue to look vulnerable and apt to tire late.
Finishing was suspect, but you have to like the chances. If you count Jozy’s disallowed fiasco goal, the two chances Dempsey scuffed prior to his goal, Michael Bradley’s missed shot (we’ve seen him put those in), the Torres header, and Charlie Davies’ chance, Team America could’ve and probably should’ve put in four or five. As they should against El Salvador at home. You can criticize the finishing, but at least they put themselves in good positions and attacked the goal. That’s more than could be said for last month’s game in Mexico City.
What will we get from T&T on Wednesday? Fouls. Hard fouls. And likely some cards and the now requisite ridiculous CONCACAF referee call or no-call. Will the Trinidadians play hard and try to act as spoiler or will they capitulate? A lot will depend on who manages to score first. The last few times we’ve played them, T&T have played very conservatively and pretty much packed it in after a half. I’m hoping that trend continues. You know they’ll play a physical game, and they have some newly minted T&T citizens of UK origin, as well as their pride. Also with Jack Warner pulling the strings in CONCACAF, the potential for hijinks remains. If the USA can score early, they should be able to get out of there with three vital points, and we can begin the South Africa travel plans in earnest.. Tune in to see what happens (ESPN Classic, Wednesday, 6:30 CST).