[SLOVAKIA-USA] Slovakia, a middling European team, is just the kind of team the USA must beat if it wants to be taken seriously next summer in South Africa, so the Americans' performance in Bratislava was a reminder of how far it has to go if it is to be considered a World Cup contender.
Saturday's 1-0 loss to Slovakia is a wakeup call that the USA isn't good enough that it can easily win without Landon Donovan or Charlie Davies.
Yes, the Americans had a big edge in possession, but they never looked like they would score on Slovakia goalie John Mucha despite the opportunities the Slovakians gave them to attack.
On defense, a breakdown on the left side of the penalty area, where Vladimir Weiss and Robert Vittek combined to elude Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein, led to Bornstein's foul on Weiss and the penalty converted by Marek Hamsik for the game's only goal, but the final score would have been worse if goalie Brad Guzan had not made two brilliant stops.
If Coach Bob Bradley's goal is to find something new or better than what he already has, the Slovakia game was certainly a disappointment.
Most of what we learned we already knew. To wit:
You have to feel for Brad Guzan. Stuck behind Brad Friedel at Aston Villa and Tim Howard on the national team, Guzan has a big-time future. His saves on Erik Jendrisek and Stanislav Sestak one-on-one attempts were as good we've seen by a U.S. goalie all year.
Jonathan Spector is the most versatile U.S. defender. Spector played on the right side for the USA for the second half of the year. He regularly plays in the left side for West Ham. And he showed against Slovakia he's comfortable in the middle. With Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu both sidelined and Steve Cherundolo in form on the right side, Spector immediately jumped the line at center back and should contend for a starting job.
Eddie Johnson is no Charlie Davies. Four years ago, Johnson was considered the next great U.S. star, blessed with blazing speed and a scoring record that earned him a shot on the international stage. Four years later, his career has stalled in England, but Davies' injury warranted a second look. Johnson wasn't terrible against Slovakia, but he still lacks Davies' ability to link up with teammates at speed and break down defenses.
Nov. 14 in Bratislava
Slovakia 1 USA 0. Goal: Hamsik (pen.) 26.
USA -- Guzan, Cherundolo, Spector, Bocanegra (Goodson, 72), Bornstein, Rogers (Kljestan, 82), Feilhaber, Bradley, Dempsey (McCarty, 72), Altidore (Cunningham, 82), Casey (Johnson, 46)
Slovakia -- Mucha, Zabavnik, Skrtel, Durica, Cech (Pekarik, 90+2), Weiss (Kucka, 82), Karhan (Kozak, 90+1) Hamsik (Strba, 90+1), Stoch (Sestak, 61), Vittek (Svento, 68), Jendrisek.
Referee: Stefan Messner (Austria).
Shots on Goal: 4/4
Corner Kicks: 5/1