[USA ANALYSIS] Nineteen players got on the field for the USA at the 2010 World Cup. Here's a rundown on who met or exceeded expectations placed upon them, and who didn't ...
GETTING IT DONE. Forwards need to score, and none of the Americans' frontline men did at the World Cup. Still, Jozy Altidore did just about everything else asked of him, and if not for a saved shot that hit the post against England after a tremendous run to barrel past Jamie Carragher, he’d be on the score sheet with at least one goal.
At age 20, and subjected to tight marking and fouling while three different forward partners – four if you count Clint Dempsey – were shuffled around him, Alidore did well and should come back in the fall sharper and smarter.
The point-blank screamer he blazed over the bar in the Algeria game won’t be soon forgotten nor forgiven. Nevertheless, he held the ball against ruthless tackling, got into wide spots to serve good balls – as per the stoppage-time winner against Algeria – and bottled up defenders to carve out space for his mates.
Opponents knew who the danger men were, and neither Landon Donovan nor Dempsey let down the team. Toggling between forward and midfield, and taking a lot of punishment from opponents, Dempsey sparked some of the team’s brightest attacking sequences and also did a fair share of grunt work defensively.
Dempsey scored three goals last summer in the Confederations Cup and “only” one on this visit to South Africa, yet this time contributed in many more ways.
Donovan came into this World Cup out to prove 2002 wasn’t a fluke and 2006 should be forgiven. Answers: it wasn’t, and it is. He stood up to heavy pressure on and off the field, rallied the team during its darkest moments, and scored three goals in very different circumstances to top the team in that department.
Both Donovan and Dempsey slid into the middle or floated to the off-side to work combinations with teammates as well as each other.
The midfield, like the backline, was very hit-and-miss at the World Cup. Lacking a true left-sided sided player, whoever lined up on that side often floated into the middle. Benny Feilhaber earned serious consideration for future starts by contributing solidly as a substitute.
After Feilhaber’s superb goal in the 2007 Gold Cup final, the sinuous midfielder headed off to Europe and lost his way to an extent that Coach Bob Bradley declared, “He needs to grow up.” He has. Feilhaber’s skill and vision are now augmented by tactical and positional acumen, and he’ll stick in a tackle as well.
Going forward, Bob Bradley or a new coach has to decide how best to utilize Michael Bradley. He provided much of the attacking impetus at times, in other situations he supported the incisive work of Donovan and Dempsey.
Michael Bradley came up from midfield to score a great first-time equalizer against Slovenia and got near enough to goal to hit four of eight shots on target.
Critics can point to moments of sloppiness and sluggish recoveries, but that’s inevitable when you do so much work on both sides of the ball while playing every minute. Yet if a more skilled player like Feilhaber emerges as a playmaker, Bradley could take on more holding responsibilities.
Along with Feilhaber and Altidore, Maurice Edu boosted his stock the most at the World Cup. He started the Algeria game in-between substitute appearances against Slovenia and Ghana, and handled the holding role behind Michael Bradley well despite a few nervous moments of shaky passes and hesitant touches.
Had Edu’s apparent winning goal against Slovenia not been disallowed for a phantom foul call, there might not have been the need for Donovan’s thrilling winner against Algeria.
Outside back turned out to be a fairly reliable position at the World Cup. By tenacity and determination Steve Cherundolo battled foes bigger and heavier than he. His forays forward keyed several good chances, as per his cross that Edson Buddle powered on goal against Algeria, and the ball he played up the right wing that Donovan smashed into the roof of Slovenia’s net.
Rightly derided for a few horror moments with the national team, Jonathan Bornstein restored some of his reputation against Algeria and Ghana when he took over at left back from Carlos Bocanegra.
Aside from a shocking shot that went out for a throw-in, Bornstein used his touches reasonably well though his crosses were few. His positioning must improve.
DID ENOUGH. Captain Bocanegra moved inside after playing the first two matches at left back and while not stellar, tackled solidly, marked up well, and delivered the occasional good ball out of the back.
He failed to get a good shot on goal during set plays and could have been sharper in transition when the ball turned over. As captain of a team that fought back several times, he earned some leadership cred.
Maybe Bocanegra should have taken down Asamoah Gyan before Gyan scored an overtime winner, but he’d already been cautioned, and a red would have left the USA a man down for 27 minutes with no more subs available.
DIDN’T GET IT DONE. Besides the obvious problems suffered by Oguchi Onyewu, Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley, a few other starters came up somewhat short.
In a major tournament, teams need big saves, and though Tim Howard handled some tough situations well, his work didn’t match that of Group C foes Samir Handanovic (Slovenia), Rais Bolhi (Algeria) and Richard Kingson (Ghana), all of whom stopped what seemed to be sure goals.
Exposing his near post against Ghana and playing statue on the long-range curler hit by Slovenia’s Valter Birsa, whether or not Howard was screened, didn’t quite meet the required standard.
What looked to be a solid pairing from their work together at the Confederations Cup collapsed when defender Onyewu was dropped as central partner for Jay DeMerit.
Gaffes by Gooch contributed to some degree in all three goals vs. England and Slovenia, and while DeMerit played reasonably well much of the time, his shortcomings in strength and speed caused some shaky moments.
The premise that Findley’s searing speed would warp defenses and open up lanes for other U.S. attackers made sense. Instead, he lacked the crispness and decisiveness to use his touches effectively, and didn’t look quite dangerous enough or clever enough for this level.
An early shot by Findley against Ghana prompted a decent kick save, yet a chance from close range with time to line it up should equal a goal or a jaw-dropping stop.
Critics of Coach Bob Bradley claim Herculez Gomez didn’t get enough time (85 minutes in three games) at the World Cup; critics of Gomez point out he came on as a sub against Ghana in overtime and did little. In his lone start he failed to seriously test Algerian keeper Bohli with close-range attempts.
The pairing of Michael Bradley and Clark also worked well in the Confederations Cup and at times during the Hexagonal, yet fizzled at the start against England when Clark lost the mark on goalscorer Steven Gerrard.
The duo recovered to quell Gerrard and Frank Lampard for most of the match. After sitting out the next two games, Clark stumbled out of the gate again by losing a ball played to him by Bradley in midfield that Ghana turned into its first goal, and drawing a caution a minute later for a foolish, late tackle.
DID SHOW UP. A relentless attacker of solid build and endless energy, Stuart Holden is embarking on a career in England that should hone him for frequent U.S. appearances despite playing only four minutes.
Edson Buddle (39 minutes) nailed a header on frame that Bohli repelled and botched two other promising situations.
Early use of sub in Ghana game may have negated Buddle’s possible entry in overtime with the USA down by a goal.
Yanked at halftime after he and the team struggled against Slovenia, Jose Francisco Torres should get more opportunities to show his stuff.
Making the final squad of 23 and doing a bit of buzzing in South Africa (10 minutes) after dropping way down the depth chart give DaMarcus Beasley a fighting chance to stay in the picture until 2014, when he’ll be 32. A dearth of options at left mid keeps him in the picture, but not if his club morass continues.
(The only players who did not to see action were defenders Jonathan Spector and Clarence Goodson, and backup keepers Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan.)