Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Youth is Served as U.S. Wins in Basel -- Put this one in Ripley's Believe it or Not. For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. Men's National soccer team has finally won a game on European soil. It was a friendly match in Switzerland, played in poor conditions, on a rainy day and a very slippery field. The U.S.A. has rarely won on European soil, including a losing streak on the continent that dates back to the tune-ups preceding the 1998 World Cup. That record of futility, however, meant little to some of the younger players on the U.S. roster, and it was the kids that combined to deliver the surprising, streak-busting victory.

Coach Bob Bradley fielded a young lineup to begin with, as the most veteran players were Carlos Bocanegra and Eddie Lewis. When DaMarcus Beasley left the game early due to a bruised leg, the lineup got even younger, and younger still when Brad Guzan replaced Marcus Hahnemann in goal, at halftime. The U.S. played the Swiss evenly. The best chances came to the U.S. with a flurry late in the first half, but Eddie Lewis and Carlos Bocanegra both sent balls right at the Swiss goalie.

In the second half, there were few chances before Brad Guzan was called for handling a ball at the edge of the penalty box in the 82nd minute. Although the call could have gone either way, it was an unnecessarily risky play. Fortunately, Guzan made a nice save on the ensuing free kick.

The U.S. attack was lacking much inspiration, and Coach Bradley found the right touch to change that. Freddy Adu came on in the final 15 minutes and immediately made an impact. His first touch was a crafty back heel that set Steve Cherundolo on a run into the box. the most creative play the U.S. had put together. After the close call coming on Guzan's dicey play, Danny Szetela checked in as a substitute. Szetela's insertion further opened up the attack, and proved decisive.

Maurice Edu, who sparkled in his first start for the senior side, recovered a loose ball in the Swiss end. Instead of playing it pointlessly into the defense, Edu turned and sent the ball wide to Szetela, who was unmarked at the touch line. Szetela sent a nearly perfect cross over the defense. The ball fell to a sprinting Clint Dempsey (Dempsey may have intercepted a pass intended for Adu, but no matter). Though Dempsey couldn't control it, the ball went off his knee and over the final defender. As the Swiss goalie raced Dempsey for the loose ball, it was Michael Bradley, the coach's young son, who got his foot to the ball as it came down. Bradley just beat the Swiss goalie to the loose ball and touched it into the goalmouth.

Adu nearly produced a second goal as he got on the end of a nifty pass over the defense from Dempsey. Adu couldn't control the ball, but was able to stretch and chip it over the goalie. Unfortunately, Adu's touch was a bit much, and the ball also floated over the crossbar.

Finally, Robbie Findley came on to earn his first cap, and showed the potential danger that comes with a player that has his speed. Findley's play led to a couple of nice attacks involving Adu. Freddy probably deserved a penalty kick on one, when he was kicked in the face by the defender. Just before the final whistle, Adu was tripped about 25 yards out. He sent the final free kick right into the goalie's midsection, but his talent still shone.

One other American player deserves mention. Heath Pearce came on as a sub, for Beasley, and turned in a very strong game in defense.

For most of this game, the U.S. did nothing very remarkable, except shut down the Swiss attack. This game will be remembered for ending the winless streak in Europe, as well as ending the U.S. team's five-game losing streak. However, the game should really be remembered as the day the torch was passed to a new generation of U.S. soccer players. When the kids got a chance to show their stuff, we got a look at a very promising future.

On a related note, there is an interesting article about Thierry Henry in The New York Times. Henry admits to a fascination with the U.S., and American sports. The best news in the article? The French superstar, supremely talented and probably the most elegant striker in the game, would like to play professionally in the U.S. someday. He's in love with New York City, so it would seem that he might be destined for the Red Bulls. Unless, of course, the MLS comes around to my suggestion of placing a team in New York City. In the meantime, we can expect to see more advertising taking advantage of Henry's fame, paving the way for what we hope will be his eventual Atlantic crossing.

Today was a pretty good day for Henry. He scored two late goals, within 2 minutes of each other to give France a win over a game Lithuania side, in a Europe '08 qualifier. With those goals, Henry become's the all-time leading goal scorere for Les Blues, passing the great Michel Platini. Dare we dream of getting to watch him play in the MLS, perhaps when his current contract with Barcelona runs out? Dream on!

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