So there we were, about twelve minutes into the Gold Cup final against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, when the TV flashed to the sidelines and showed Jonathan Bornstein ready to enter the game. I had already noted Steve Cherundolo limping around after a nice exchange with Freddy Adu upfield a few minutes earlier. Reactions from the two guys watching with me were unanimous: “Not Bornstein! Anyone but him…”
The US secured an early lead off a corner kick header and another beautiful Adu-Dempsey-Donovan combo, but Mexico roared back. With Cherundolo out, Eric Lichaj switched to his natural right side of the field, leaving Bornstein on the left. And the Mexicans exposed him as the worst player on the field. They scored the next four goals from buildup or direct breakdowns on that side – two of which were directly attributable to Bornstein getting caught out and beat. 4-2 Mex, no trophy, no Confederations Cup for the US. Not. Good. Enough.
Does this mean the end of Coach Bob Bradley’s tenure? Hard to say, but probably not. It should be the end, though. The same flaws the exhibited the last two years remain a problem. One could argue that Coach Stoneface was a victim of circumstances with his best defender going down to injury, but Mexico also had to sub two of their starting defenders for injury (Salcido and Marquez). And it was Bradley who selected this roster, who didn’t press the issue with Germany-based Timothy Chandler, who inserted Bornstein (once again). The US will not play another truly meaningful game until sometime next Spring, when they begin World Cup Qualification (and that will be against a minnow). It’s the perfect time for transition.
Five points in the final Gold Cup pentagram:
- Anyone but him. Why did Coach Bradley go with Bornstein? We can’t know. We were thinking, why not Jonathan Spector deployed on the right and leave the speedy and physical Eric Lichaj on the left to deal with Gio Dos Santos (who was a terror all night). Why not Tim Ream or Oguchi Onyewu and push Bocanegra wide left? Why not Mo Edu at right back? As it turned out, Mexico did not go down their left and challenge Lichaj, even though their best midfielder for the tournament (Guardado) was stationed there. Conicidence? No. Why Bornstein even makes the roster is enough to make us angry. Paging Bobby Convey, Anthony Wallace, Brek Shea…
- Lack of depth on the back line apparent. In any tournament, you have to play a lot of games in a short time if you want to advance. This becomes a problem if you can’t rotate players or deploy backups. Current US stalwarts Bocanegra and Cherundolo are in their 30s and could break down (as Cherundolo did in the final) at any time. They cannot be counted on by 2014 – the best we can hope for with them is quality reserve time. Oguchi Onyewu still hasn’t recovered from his knee injury and perhaps never will. Goodson looked shaky at times, Tim Ream ditto. We would hope that Timothy Chandler remains an option for the future. If you look at where the various options are playing professionally, you just don’t have a lot of options, and with Bradley in charge there seems to be a propensity to fall back on failing combos (like Bornstein). Rebuilding the defense is a tall order, but it’s the most important aspect of this team moving forward.
- Midfield couldn’t hack it. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones weren’t that good. They gave up space, reacted slowly, and in Bradley’s case, turned over the ball in bad spots far too often. Again, fatigue and the fact that Coach never really rotated anyone else in their (ahem, Mo Edu anyone? Jose Torres?) hurt us. But Coach never seems to take his son out – even when it’s warranted. Michael Bradley wasn’t cutting it. Jermaine Jones was continuously covering for his give-aways and Bornstein out of position. Not a fun shift. The attacking midfield combos played better but still seemed stagnant when moving off the ball. Is this a tactical problem? A selection problem? What? A five-man midfield may put the best possible US players on the field, but we need some different ideas and approaches if we want to improve.
- Tim could have done better. On another day, with a little luck, Tim Howard stops three of the four Mexico goals. Just like last summer’s finale against Ghana, you would expect more out of him. That’s not to say any of those goals where his fault (clearly they weren’t), but for the US to beat good teams, we still need our goalkeepers to pull off a crazy save or three. That didn’t happen.
- He’s back… Freddy Adu, looking committed, physically stronger, aware of what it takes to succeed. Freddy Adu, key contributor to the last three US goals in this tournament. Freddy caused the Mexicans problems the whole game. He drew double-teams, put himself and his teammates in good positions, and resembled the player we’ve all been hoping for. No one has had more scrutiny and unfair expectations than Adu. And yet if you strictly looked at his age and his contributions the last two games (and took out all the hype), you’d have to say, there’s a guy we can build with. If Bradley deserves scorn for Bornstein and other poor selections, he also deserves credit for giving Freddy another shot. Adu just needs to stick with a team, play attacking mid, and continue his progression. If he can do that, he could be the offensive difference maker for the next World Cup cycle. With Donovan and Dempsey approaching their 30s, we will need him.