Thursday, February 07, 2008

USA 2 - Mexico 2 Analysis

Last night the US national soccer team played the Mexican national soccer team to a 2-2 tie in Houston, Texas. Like most games between the two teams, it was a very intense affair with back and forth action. There are definitely some kinks to be worked out, but overall I was fairly encouraged with the US team’s performance.

The Good:

Josie Altidore. Altidore is one of the brightest prospects we’ve ever had. He’s only 18 years old but will start his third season with the MLS’s RedBulls this spring. He’s a bonafide goal scorer (something we’ve never had) and has already drawn interest from Real Madrid.

Last night he held his own against Mexico’s best defender, Rafael Márquez, and scored his first international goal on a header that any other of our current strikers would have blown. It’s still a little early to say that he’s “arrived” but he’s one to keep an eye on for the future.

Our Tactics. It now looks like we are moving away from playing with a target striker a la Brian McBride. This strategy worked well for us against teams in our region and with the limited player pool we had.

But let’s face it, we’re never going to be successful playing a European team with a target man. We cannot outmuscle Europe like we can with say, Guatemala; and if we want to really be taken seriously at the World Cup we have to come up with something else. With the player pool we have, it looks like we can now do that.

We have Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley (who’s currently injured), Donovan, and some talented young players. Let’s see how Altidore, Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, and Benny Feilhaber progress in the coming years. We might have a real team here.

The Bad:

Landon Donovan. Yes, I said it. Apart from ten minutes in the first half, he did absolutely nothing last night. Granted, this is the off season for him and midfield distribution was very poor last night, but if he wants people to believe he’s as good as he says he is he needs to step up in games like this.

The midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark. I like both of these players, but they don’t seem to compliment each other. They're both hardnosed destroyers but don’t distribute the ball very well. This became even more evident once Bradley came off for Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber is a more technical player than either of them and the US held onto the ball much better with him on the field. Who knows what type of player Bradley will turn out to be as he continues to progress in the Dutch league, but for now I would pair one of them with Feilhaber.

Ramiro Corrales. He was above average in MLS but is NOT a national team caliber player. He got burned by Mexican attackers all night and shouldn’t be on the field for us again.

Set Pieces. The team gives up way to many goals from free kicks and corner kicks. Definitely something for coach Bradley to work on.

Mexico played with their top players minus Nery Castillo and Andrés Guardado who were both injured. Coach Hugo Sanchez is also grooming a lot of young players like Gio Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela. Some commentators are frustrated that he hasn’t given them more time already.
Lest we forget, Sanchez is one of the greatest strikers of the last thirty years. Great players do not necessarily make great coaches. Nevertheless, to be that good a player you certainly have to know more than a thing or two about the game. I would trust Sanchez in what he’s doing. Mexico could truly have a scary team in a couple years.

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