…until the U.S. Soccer Team opens the World Cup against England, and yesterday the Yanks played Holland in Amsterdam as a tune-up. The result was a 2-1 loss to the Orange in a match dominated by the Dutch for long stretches, a U.S. squad looking disjointed and ill-prepared, and another injury. Not exactly what we were looking for, but not really a surprise.
The injury came courtesy of a dirty, studs-up, shin-cracking tackle of Stuart Holden by Nigel de Jong (that didn’t even result in a card – what a joke). Holden was the only U.S. Midfielder who looked active and dangerous in the first 20 minutes, and he’s only just earned a couple of starts for Bolton in the EPL after a winter transfer from Houston. The timing is terrible for him and U.S. fans, but according to reports he has a six-week timetable for return. Bolton is also seeking to extend his contract, and the break could’ve been much worse, so some sliver lining. In a real game with a ref who cares, that tackle is a red card. We saw Ricardo Clark and Sacha Klejistan sent off for much less last summer in the Confederations Cup. In true American fashion, Stu refused the stretcher and limped off the field under his own power – broken shin and all. Good luck rehabbing, Stu.
The rest of the match was equally disheartening, as Team America had a difficult time maintaining possession and mounting any kind of attacking prowess in the final third. Part of this is the quality of the opponent; the Dutch are very good and on paper capable of winning the whole thing this summer. And the U.S. looked like a team that has neither trained or played together in months, which is true for this mostly European-based crew. Part of it is all the injuries – by my count we are currently missing 4 of our best 10 field players – but you never go to a World Cup with everyone healthy.
Still, it was disappointing to see our boys so thoroughly handled for most of the game. Landon Donovan looked tentative, Robbie Findley ran around like a chicken with his head cut off but did not threaten, and Jose Torres looked uncomfortable in the middle. Jonathan Bornstein, after looking solid against a couple of weaker opponents in the States, appeared out of his depth and gave up a stupid, stupid penalty to start the Dutch scoring. The second goal by the Orange was kind of a fluky deflection (also off Bornstein) but you couldn’t really claim they didn’t deserve it based on their creativity and class.
A performance like this makes you wonder how Coach Bob Bradley will set this team up to play against England. We tried to play the Dutch straight up and couldn’t, so I would guess we will play like we did against Brazil and Spain last summer, i.e. pack it in and hope to counter. Maybe that’s the only way against teams that are better on paper. Still it would be nice to see some kind of tactical variation, some other ideas in our arsenal. When we play Algeria and Slovenia, they are likely to be the ones employing the bunker-and-counter method, so what do we do then?
Several players looked pretty good, at least for stretches. Jay DeMerit was solid in the back after a long injury layoff. Jozy Altidore was dangerous and worked hard, and he looks like the only sure thing up top. Michael Bradley had some moments after a shaky start, and Mo Edu seemed on his game. But the real development here was DaMarcus Beasley’s play. It took some time after coming in for Holden, but Run-DMB started to look like his old self in the second half. He was running at people, looking quick and shifty, and working hard. This was a far cry from the player who basically played himself off the team last summer. If (and this is a big if) Beasley can continue to get playing time in Scotland and avoid another injury, he looks like a solid pick for the World Cup. This would be great news for Coach Stoneface, because it would mean he could slide Dempsey or Donovan onto the front line with Altidore. U.S. fans can also take heart that Jermaine Jones drove in from Germany to meet with the team and attend the game.
We have more questions than answers at this point, but isn’t this always the case when your best players are split between two continents and a dozen leagues? We do know the players will have plenty of time to get it together and gel prior to South Africa. We also know this team can play with anyone on their day. Just who will be included and what (if any) strategic changes Bob Bradley will employ remain the foremost questions as the countdown continues.