[GOLD CUP] While fans are usually more impressed by talent, coaches know the value of experience, especially when a seemingly undermanned opponent gains the upper hand and a game gets out of hand. Only a few of the American players chosen by Coach Bob Bradley to face Haiti Saturday in the final game of Concacaf Gold Cup group play had significant number of caps and another handful came in at zero.
That inexperience showed; once the Haitians shook off the shock of conceding an early goal, they took command for long periods, scored less than a minute into the second half and again two minutes later, and only by a spectacular strike in stoppage time by Stuart Holden did the USA scrape out a 2-2 tie that clinched first place in Group B.
Haiti's spirited, sometimes skillful play and robust defending tested the Americans, including Holden, named Man of the Match after setting up the first goal for Davy Arnaud as well as smashing home the equalizer. Like his teammates, he couldn't always find a safe passing option or hold the ball to relieve pressure, and while those turnovers didn't lead directly to goals, they impaired American efforts to reverse the momentum once Haiti had gained it.
In addition to inexperience, several players simply weren't able to stand up to the pace. Once the Haitians got into their stride, they played with a fierceness and at a speed beyond that of most MLS matches, and a U.S. team comprised mostly of current or recent MLS players labored to keep up.
Colin Clark, making his debut on the left side of midfield, faded after a good start and spent much of his time chasing in vain just to find the ball. Central partners Holden and Sam Cronin, another debutant, clicked when they could put a few passes together, yet seldom found the time and space to do so after the first 20 minutes.
Jay Heaps, earning his first cap, and former New England teammate Michael Parkhurst got starting assignments and both were unable to withstand the thrusts of Leonel Saint-Preux, who overpowered Parkhurst on the left side and maneuvered along the byline before setting up a chance at the end of the first half, and got past Heaps twice on the sequences that created Haiti's two goals.
Former MLS player Fabrice Noel was just as dangerous playing a mostly central role, and the Americans couldn't contain his blend of strength and agility. He fired a rising shot that U.S. keeper Luis Robles let slip through his gloves, and only a spectacular backward dive by Robles kept the ball from crossing the line.
The Americans were lucky when Noel whiffed on the ball Saint-Preux cut back from the byline after muscling past Parkhurst, and Robles did well to deflect Vaniel Sirin's shot with a sliding block.
But nobody picked up Sirin at the back post just seconds into the second half when Saint-Preux spun past Heaps and crossed a ball Robles didn't come close to. Two minutes later, Heaps recovered after Saint-Preux bolted past him but his sliding clearance up the middle went right to Monas Chery, who unloaded from distance and hit the top corner.
The insertion of Charlie Davies and Kyle Beckerman in the 63rd minute brought the U.S. greater stability and balance, and when Brian Ching came on 13 minutes later he gave the U.S. more heft and savvy positioning up top.
Fortunately for the Americans, in just his second international start, Holden, when a loose ball rolled into his path summoned up the strength and audacity to score just his second international goal.
July 11 in Foxborough, Mass.
USA 2 Haiti 2.
Goals: Arnaud 6, Holden 92+; Sirin 46, Chery 48.
USA -- Robles, Evans, Conrad, Parkhurst, Heaps, Quaranta (Beckerman, 63), Holden, Cronin, Clark (Ching, 76), Cooper (Davies, 63), Arnaud.
Haiti -- Zerphirin, Gilles, Bertin, Bruny, Sirin, Raymond, Marcelin, Aveska, Chery,Saint-Preux (Sampeur 84), Noel (Thermueus, 79).
Yellow cards: Arnaud 27, Parkhurst 31, Beckerman 80.
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