This past Wednesday was a very good day for American soccer. Start with the historic 1-0 win by the senior Men’s side in Genoa – the first every victory over Italy, and on European soil no less. At the same time, the Women’s team thrashed Denmark 5-0 as they continue to prepare for the Olympics. Then, a few hours later in Dallas, the Under-23 (Olympic) Men’s team dominated Mexico en route to a 2-0 win.
What stood out in the Italy game was the play of Michael Bradley in midfield. He looks to have taken a step forward – especially in terms of his vision up the field and ability to play out of pressure. It’s ironic, really, that having his father fired as the US coach and his inability to catch on in England spurred him to improve. Many players can’t or don’t accept adversity and learn from it. MB was a very good player before; it was great to see an added sophistication in this match against Italy and really bodes well for World Cup qualifying.
Other players were also very good. Tim Howard was in beast-mode. The Italians weren’t going to beat him without something really special. Maurice Edu had one of his best games – moving forward with purpose and avoiding too many bad turnovers. Fabian Johnson may have solved some short-term problems at left back. Carolos Bocanegra showed he still has it in central defense. And Clint Dempsey… One real chance = one goal. A crafty little run off Jozy Altidore’s hold-up, and Clint finishes. It’s what he does.
After the game, Alexi Lalas was a little critical in analysis. We’ve seen this before, he said, a grit-it-out result against a team that controlled much of the play. Except, that analysis is a little bit off. Yes, the US defended under siege the final 15 mintues. Yes, the Italians generated more chances. But the US did control play for stretches, possessing the ball and advancing repeatedly into the offensive third. The US also pressed a high line that confused Italy’s forwards and proved unsolvable – even by Andrea Pirlo.
This was not the bunker ball of the recent past. The possession and pressure was more evidence of the refinement by Klinnsman. And a win in Italy, which only happens a few times a decade (and never before by the USA), will only improve the confidence and buy-in by the team.
In some ways, the U23’s victory over Mexico was even more encouraging. First, because it showed that Coach Caleb Porter has the team ready for qualification later this month, which is no mean feat with so many players shuttling back and forth from so many different leagues. Second, because of the manner in which the US dominated the game – particularly the first half. They did so by dominating possession with speed and skill. Mexico simply could not hang.
The midfield combination of Mix Diskeruud, Alfredo Morales, and Joe Corona won tackles, played out of pressure, and passed with precision. Freddy Adu tormented on one wing, while Joe Gyau terrified defenders with his speed and aggressive runs on the other. The only slight negative was that the US didn’t hang more goals on them with all that effective play. Ike Opara returned to the pitch in central defense and showed why so many were excited about him when he came into MLS two years ago.
Maybe this team can get to London and compete for a medal. The Olympics are always a crapshoot – you never know which teams will show up and how well they’ll play. The US team has talent, though, and it’s important for the senior team also. A handful of these players will be pushing to be part of the World Cup team. How well guys like Opara, Gyau, Morales, and Corona can integrate the next two years could really propel the team forward.