The US Soccer Team defeated Panama 1-0 in Houston last night to advance to the Gold Cup final in Pasadena. There they will find Mexico and the matchup everyone envisioned for this regional championship. Last night’s match was no beauty pageant as both sides fatigue from the last two weeks showed prominently. But Coach Bob Bradley pulled the strings again with a solid 4-5-1 gameplan, again bringing Landon Donovan off the bench to save his legs, and this time it was a familiar face, a guy lost in the wilderness and absent for two years who finally unhinged the stingy Panamanian defense. That’s right: Freddy Adu.
The Return of the Freddy comes after Adu’s two plus ineffectual years of bouncing around in Europe (earning a nice paycheck) without much playing time. He went on loan to a second division side in Turkey this past Spring and started playing again – and playing well. Coach Stoneface called him for the Gold Cup (minor controversy) and some of us wondered if he’d even make the 18 man gameday roster, let alone the field. But by all accounts he’s practiced hard, run hard, and adopted the team mentality so prized by Bradley and his staff. And thus…
Yeah, that’s the Fred on the setup ball. Five points in the Pentagram…
- Fatigue a big factor. Whether it was defender Clarence Goodson’s flagging ability to win headers or midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones getting sucked into the middle, the US was looking very tired the last 20 minutes. Panama manufactured a couple of decent chances by spraying wide when the US was tucked in. Panama also looked gassed, which was one reason second half subs Adu and Donovan were able to get forward. The one guy who never seemed to give in to tired legs: Clint Dempsey. How much will fatigue affect Saturday’s final?
- Formation of choice. Coach Stoneface switched to a 4-5-1 against Jamaica on Sunday, and the formation was once again effective last night. It morphed into a 4-3-3 at times but allowed the defense to remain compact. The ability of Bedoya, Dempsey, Donvan, and yes, Adu to shift forward is a welcome site. You have to figure the US will stay with it this Saturday as Mexico always seems to control possession in these games.
- Pulling the strings. About a week ago, the US didn’t look so good and many were speculating Bob Bradley was on thin ice. Then he switches the formation, brings Donovan and Adu off the bench, and generally out-coaches his next two opponents. Credit where its due. We’ve said it before – Bob’s a good coach. Is it enough for this team and this country? Win against Mexico on Saturday, and the answer for the immediate future is a resounding yes.
- Still not enough movement off the ball. For long periods the offense struggled, even while maintaining possession in the opponents half. Guys simply weren’t making the right runs and the movement looked poor. As we’ve said – fatigue certainly played into this, as did the gameplan to stop the Panamanian counterattack at tall costs. Somehow the US will need to improve on this between now and Saturday. Playing Landon from the start will certainly help, and here again we really miss the likes of Stuart Holden and a crafty forward like Herculez Gomez.
- Why can’t Fox televise the final? A quick glance at the TV schedule says Fox will have ‘Baseball: TBA’ that afternoon, while the Gold Cup final (likely a sellout at the Rose Bowl), an intense rivalry matchup between the US and Mexico is on premium Fox Soccer Channel. Why not preempt another boring baseball game for something unique, with real passion? Or, alternatively, why not move the Gold Cup kickoff back into prime time? Fox Sports has stated they intend to broadcast more soccer to a wider audience, and they did put the Champion’s League final on the parent network. This smells like a missed opportunity.