By Ridge Mahoney
Whether or not the U.S. national team is ready, the Hexagonal can’t come soon enough.
Friendlies can be wildly, entertaining affairs, or they can be deathly flat, and a 0-0 tie with Canada in Houston Tuesday night was certainly the latter.
Three starters and two substitutes earned their first caps and while a seldom-tested defense posted a clean sheet, the attack seldom conjured up a good scoring chance. Centerbacks Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Kyle Beckerman were the most prominent of the U.S. players, but off this showing not many would be serious candidates to play in Honduras next Wednesday.
RATING PLAYER (TEAM) GP/G
5 Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) 3/0. Sauntered through a very quiet night, other than a good reflex save of a Dwayne De Rosario shot hit right at him at a comfortable height. Canada’s sporadic, mediocre crossing didn’t trouble him.
4 Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake) 1/0. Completely lost on far post cross that De Ro hit on the bounce at goal, played competently going forward, yet with time and space and Chris Wondolowski at the near post clipped a ball that hopped waist-high. Showed a willingness to play combinations and overlap but shied away from the byline.
6 Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) 1/0. Sure, Canada showed little in the attack other than De Ro, but Besler whacked a few balls out of danger areas, stepped into midfield when required, and always looked to play through the middle or out wide. This is probably sacrilege to some, but he’s faster than his central partner and just as good on the ball.
6 Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) 3/0. Strong in the air and confident on the ground, Gonzalez also asserted himself in other ways. He looked like a leader, gesturing to his teammates and organizing them as necessary, since he had the middle locked down. On a well-timed leap he headed a free kick over the crossbar and he also served well as a decoy to draw defenders.
5 Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes) 1/0. A couple of shaky moments allowed Touissant Ricketts and others more space than was wise but he more often than not had the measure of his opponents once he chased them down. Unlucky a couple of times to have crosses blocked when he joined in the attack.
6 Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) 24/1. Latched onto a half-clearance and took a first-timer from about 40 yards that looped right to the keeper, which unfortunately turned out to be one of the better-hit U.S. shots. Played a sharp, lively game screening the back four and pushing past to the midfield line to deliver balls into effective spots. Floated to the right and served a good ball that was headed over the bar.
5 Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) 7/0. Skinned in the opening minutes when Nik Ledgerwood got past him to hit a dangerous cross, for the most part he worked well with Beckerman in central midfield though neither took on a true playmaking role. He shifted from midfield to right back in the second half and handled that job adequately.
4 Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) 7/1. With a pair of straightforward central mids, he and Davis were expected to spark the attack and though he probed for openings, he didn’t deliver ideal service and seldom burst past opponents on the dribble. He took a nasty knock at the end of the first half and was subbed in the 64th minute.
5 Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo) 6/0. Looked clean and sharp on the ball but the ideas and instincts we see so often in MLS seldom materialized. Elected to trap and shoot from close range when a first-time hit looked like the better option. Drove a few threatening balls on set plays that weren’t exploited. Unfortunately, all too typical of his performance was a low, dribbling cross from near the byline after a nice ball from Eddie Johnson played him into space.
4 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) 11/0. Worked both sides of the field to combine with Zusi and others, but couldn’t test the keeper with any of his shots: a long bouncer from distance, an overhead kick off a knockdown, a header from a Beckerman cross, and a tough-bounce delivery from Beltran. On the good side was his ability to escape the stifling Canadian defense and contribute some clever one-twos.
5 Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) 45/14. Didn’t pose the goalmouth threat that was expected, though his hold-up work and linking play created openings and drew fouls. A very slick collection and pass freed Davis down the left side late in the first half, and he also set up Davis for a shot with a crisp cutback. He faded in the second half and was replaced in the 74th minute.
4 Joshua Gatt (Molde/NOR) 2/0. Can be applauded for his willingness to take people on, but the renowned speed wasn’t there and neither was a knack for knowing what to do on the left side.
5 Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City) 32/2. Hit at least two excellent set plays and used the ball well, yet also hit a few clunkers including one right into the wall with a few minutes left.
5 Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA) 17/2. Made his 24-plus minutes count by drawing two fouls that produced cautions and spiritedly running through the attacking third.
6 Alejandro Bedoya (no club) 14/0/. Got into the flow right away to hit a sharp ball to Agudelo, whipped in a good corner kick, and got wide to drive a telling cross; maybe fitness precluded him from starting, perhaps centrally?
5 Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin/GER) 1/0. For some reason, he got the shot on a last-second free kick and saw it blocked; otherwise he filled the bill.
4 Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo) 1/0. More or less invisible after his entry in the 74th minute.
(1-low; 5-average; 10-high.)