Friday, July 06, 2007

The Freddy and Jozy Show: U.S.A. beats Brazil 2-1 -- In a crucial game, with both teams needing to secure at least a point to advance out of the group stage, the U.S.A.'s U-20 squad held off a talented Brazilian team to capture first place in their group in U-20 World Cup play. The second half of this game offered some of of the most exciting football, or soccer (call it what you will), that I have ever watched (I took in the game at Summers Restaurant in Arlington, the best soccer bar in the land). It was probably the most electrifying soccer that I have ever seen a U.S. team play. In the end, the U.S. came out on top, with a stunning and memorable victory.

The stars of the game for the U.S. were Jozy Altidore, who scored both goals, and Freddy Adu, who set up both goals. The Man of the Match, though, had to be goalie Chris Seitz, who somehow seemed to be in the way of every Brazilian effort. Seitz made some terrific saves, but his positional play was remarkable. Shot after shot peppered the U.S. goal, but Seitz was always in the right place to stop the shot.

The U.S. had a 1-0 lead at halftime, and was badly outplaying the Brazilians over the first fifteen minutes of the second half, when Brazil finally struck the back of the net. Seitz made a terrific save of a great shot from outside the penalty area, but a sliding Leandro Lima was there to put away the rebound. Lima's momentum carried him into Seitz. Though there was no indication that Seitz was injured on the play, he must have taken quite a knock. Subsequently, goal kicks were taken by a fullback. In the closing minute, Seitz was limping noticeably -- and he collapsed with the final whistle, in obvious pain. His injury made his performance all the more remarkable and heroic. Brazilians no doubt still recall the game Kasey Keller played to beat Brazil in the Gold Cup, back in the 1990s. Seitz's performance will have to be similarly remembered. He was credited with 14 saves, but it almost seemed like twice that number.

With this game, though, Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore served notice to the rest of the world that the U.S. is developing world-class talents. Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley used the U-17 World Cup to showcase their skills. Adu and Altidore might be exceeding their performance, with this tournament. Late in the first half, Adu challenged on a ball in the defensive zone. The deflection went forward to Jozy Altidore, at the edge of the Brazilian box. Altidore did a little dancing to create some space, and then drilled a shot past the Brazilian 'keeper. After the Brazilians had tied the game in the 64th minute, Adu and Altidore clicked again. Adu took a ball in the corner, and fought his way through two defenders, with some truly gifted footwork. As he drove toward goal, Adu blasted a shot that deflected off a Brazilian defender to the waiting Altidore. Jozy put the ball in the back of the net, and put the U.S. ahead to stay.

Actually, the niftiest combination between Adu and Altidore was one that just missed producing a goal. The ball came to Adu about 30-35 yards from goal, but Adu was tightly marked, and had his back to the goal. Still, Adu was able to back heel a pass to Altidore who beat a defender to the ball with his sliding shot that just skidded wide. This was one of many creative, skillful efforts by a U.S. team that showed more talent than I have seen at the senior level. Robbie Rogers, Sal Zizzo, Danny Szetela, Dax McCarty and Michael Bradley all exhibited great understanding, and some flashy ball control, creating chances, and putting the Brazilian defense back on its heels, as the teams were nearly equal in possession.

The Brazilians had two talented attackers with Pato and Jo. Pato was quiet for much of hte night, but just missed a goal on a breakaway, when he chipped the ball over Sietz, but sent it into the side netting. Carlos Eduardo also had Seitz beaten late in the game, but also sent his shot just wide. Jo sent some terrific shots Seitz's way, but Seitz hadled each one.

The U.S. team showed some weaknesses -- Michael Bradley had some indifferent touches that caused real trouble, and Tony Beltran was consistently beaten on the defense -- but the defense survived, thanks to great goalkeeping by Seitz, and the great offense provided by Adu and Altidore.

As good as the young Brazilians, Pato and Jo, are, Adu and Altidore were the two best players on the field tonight. If they can stay healthy themselves, and continue on this trajectory, U.S. fans will be drooling with anticipation for the day the Freddy and Jozy show takes to the senior circuit. The U.S. has a tough road ahead in the knockout stages, but they are a legitimate contender for the title...especially if Chris Seitz heals before the next game.

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