Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Team U.S.A. Puts it Together -- After two underwhelming victories in the team's first two Gold Cup matches. the U.S. Men's national team finally played a convincing match, defeating El Salvador 4-0. In the the first two matches, the U.S. outlasted Guatemala 1-0, and registered a 2-0 win over a Trinidad & Tobago team that was more of an U-23 team, than a senior national team. In both games, though, the U.S. looked good early, in grabbing a lead, but then let the other team control the game. The U.S. missed too many chances in those first two games -- though, to be fair, their attack was short-changed by a series of woefully bad offsides calls in the Guatemala game. Tonight, the U.S showed more of a killer instinct.

Tonight, the U.S played much more decisively and insistently. They took a 1-0 lead on delightfully tricky shot by DaMarcus Beasley, following the rebound on a corner kick attempt. Beasley's light shot sneaked through several defenders and found the corner of the net. Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick just before halftime, after Benny Feilhaber pass at the edge of the box was intercepted by a defensive handball. The U.S. did let El Salvador press the attack in the early part of the second half, but soon the U.S. side was delivering effective counter-attacks. Two late goals, one by Taylor Twellman, and Beasley's second of the game, each came off terrific no-look passes on breaks down the center of the defense. The first was set up by Brian Ching, while the second was a truly remarkable bit of full-speed wizardry by Clint Dempsey.

While Landon Donovan remains the star of this team, Clint Dempsey is developing into a wonderful talent, with a tremendous feel for the game, which he combines with great skill on the ball. Dempsey's former Revolution teammate, Taylor Twellman, is becoming a really good option upfront, and continues to justify the complaints of those who criticized then-USMNT coach Bruce Arena for not including the striker in last year's World Cup team.

Beasley made terrific plays on both goals, and showed great hustle throughout, but he also botched two excellent opportunities with widely errant shots. Benny Feilhaber had looked strong in the early games, and shows much promise, but he showed poor decisions or a poor shooting touch with his repeated long-range shots that all missed the target. On defense, Oguchi Onyewu played a pretty strong game, though he made a few errors. His size makes up for other shortcomings, though it also gets him in trouble sometimes. Jonathan Spector continues to disappoint this observer, who would like to see Frank Simek at the right back position. Spector commits too many unforced errors. The real star on defense for the U.S. right now is young Jonathan Bornstein, who seems on his way to becoming the best defensive player the U.S. has had.

Pablo Mastroeni had a few poorly timed tackles, but also one or two real gems, and he remains a better passer than the other options in the midfield. One hopes that Ricardo Clark will grow into the position -- he certainly has the athletic ability and the potential to develop into a great midfielder. Lacking Clark's talents, Michael Bradley always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and just doesn't seem to make many mistakes -- he may not be experienced at this level, but his inexperience doesn't show.

The United States should sail through to the Gold Cup final on cruise control. Though Mexico remains the better team against top-flight international competition, the United States now dominates regional play. Based on the early returns, the U.S. should claim the CONCACAF crown, once again. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. fares in the Copa America, at the end of the month. With genuinely talented players like Donovan, Dempsey and Bornstein, and a strong supporting cast including Twellman, and young Justin Mapp, the U.S. may be poised to take the next step up and play competitive football against the world's best. The future looks pretty bright -- the Copa America will be a chance to see where the U.S. stands right now.

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