In the 4-1 Copa America loss to Argentina, the Americans brought Eddie Gaven on for Ben Olsen a few minutes after Pablo Aimar replaced Esteban Cambiasso.
Any questions? Both were offensive substitutions, yet the Argentinian move prised open the U.S. midfield even wider than it had been, and Argentina scored three times in the final 26 minutes to win going away.
True, Lionel Messi did skip past Gaven to start the sequence Hernan Crespo finished off with his second goal of the game, but Ricardo Clark and Jonathan Bornstein were no less culpable. Like a lot of players in a lot of countries, especially those who might have run nearly non-stop for an hour, they were gassed and outclassed.
A glaring disparity in talent won't be as prevalent Monday when the Americans take on Paraguay in Barinas, Venezuela, yet Paraguay has its own star power. Roque Santa Cruz of Bayern Munich hit the first three goals against Colombia as Paraguay played a fluid, organized game unlike their rigid, defense-first squads at previous World Cups. If the Americans are again rocked back on their heels, they could be chasing the game for longer than they did against Argentina.
After battling valiantly for an hour, the Americans wilted because of fatigue as much as their foes' brilliance. Their lack of experience -- besides keeper Kasey Keller, the most-capped player is midfielder Olsen (35 appearances) -- and dearth of game-breakers in the mold of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley puts even more emphasis on retaining possession and searching for openings. Without Donovan and Beasley, the U.S. game has to be crisper and smarter.
Benny Feilhabercan pierce defenses with his runs and passes, but he'll need flank support from Justin Mapp, some backing from Clark or whoever plays with him in midfield, and most of all, forwards on the move in search of space. Eddie Johnson ran onto a Feilhaber ball to win and convert a penalty against Argentina, but he seldom clicked with forward partner Taylor Twellman and wasn't much of a factor in the second half.
This is a young U.S. team, yet Coach Bob Bradley has even younger options in Charlie Davies and Lee Nguyen, both of whom earned their first caps a month ago in a friendly against China. He also has midfielder Sacha Kljestan and Bornstein, whom he drafted while coach of Chivas USA and turned into excellent pros rather quickly.
Argentina brought its stars to Copa America and class prevailed in the first game. There's not a ton of talent in the U.S. squad, but there's enough flair and guile to get a result against Paraguay if the other elements -- organization, determination, resiliency -- are present.