USA hits right notes in Nashville for Beijing Ticket

Duly, but certainly not dully, did the U.S. under-23 team qualify for the 2008 Olympics Thursday night in Nashville, the City of Music, by composing and playing a tune its rivals appreciated but never matched in tempo or timbre. Every member joined in to play melodic passages, and with a pair of Freddy Adu free kicks and a stirring, sweeping movement that Sasha Kljestan ended with a sharp, stinging arpeggio did the USA beat Canada, 3-0, to confirm its August reservation in China.

A few of the Canadians tried to instill their rhythm and riffs into the performance but seldom did they and their teammates strike complementary chords. Occasional solos and rare duets were the best they could produce, while the Americans regularly formed trios, quartets and quintets playing crisp and succulent notes.

The goals by virtuoso Adu. ....

OK, that's enough musical malarkey. Suffice to say the USA played its best show when it had to and had far more inspiration and implementation than Canada.

The outclassed Canadians seldom looked capable of scoring, and try as they might to cover space and keep pace, they found Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector too rugged, Adu and Kljestan and Michael Orozco too clever, Dax McCarty and Maurice Edu too tenacious, and Marvell Wynne just too powerful.

None of the chances (nine shots) the Canadians did create hit the frame.

Keeper Chris Seitz rarely touched the ball and never made a save as the Americans controlled play for long periods and used myriad methods of attack. Spector hit long balls up toward Altidore and Adu to soften the Canadian resistance, and Orozco threaded shorter passes to the feet of Kljestan, Stuart Holden and McCarty. Wynne got forward often but usually checked his runs at the edge of the attacking third, so as not to crowd Adu and Kljestan as they sought opportunities to pierce the Canadian back four.

Coach Peter Nowak realigned his team in a 4-2-3-1, with Spector paired with Orozco in central defense, Nathan Sturgis (left) and Marvell Wynne (right) as outside backs; Edu and McCarty as holding midfielders in front of the back four; and a line of three attackers - Kljestan, Holden, and Adu - buttressing Altidore.

Adu and Altidore roamed more or less freely, and occasionally Kljestan and Holden slid into the middle, but most of the time the team kept is shape and stuck to the tasks of clogging space, winning duels, and using possession wisely. Aside from a few sloppy streaks of giveaways in the middle third and a defender occasionally stranded out of position, defensive errors were rare.

While Adu and Kljestan used craft and guile, Altidore simply barreled at the Canadians, forcing them to hack and grab.

In the 28th minute, Nikolas Legerwood took Altidore down well outside the box on the right side and Adu whipped a left-footed free kick past the two(?)-man wall. Kljestan, crossing in front of the goal, stuck out his foot to divert the shot; he missed it, but so did lunging Canadian keeper Josh Wagenaar, and the ball bounced well inside the far post.

Two minutes later, a nice ball from Holden set up McCarty, who drilled a low shot Wagenaar blocked but let bounce away a yard or two. As he sprawled to cover it up a sliding Altidore cleated his arm, and brief, bitter argument ensued.

The Canadians, on their heels, refused to bow their heads.

Two minutes into the second half, Andrew Hainault tackled Altidore in the middle of the field, just beyond the penalty arc. This time, Canada packed five men into a shield, so rather than go past the wall, Adu went over it. He bent a beauty with the inside of his left foot and Wagenaar stood rooted like a Canadian redwood as the ball sailed into the top corner.

Some careless U.S. play enabled Will Johnson and Kyle Hall to launch shots as Canada refused to roll over. But as the Canadians regrouped and caught their breath following a brief spurt, they let slip their pressure, and a lazy U.S. knockaround turned into a lethal attack when a wide-open Adu, granted eons and acres, sprayed a ball down the left flank for an unchallenged Holden, who cut it back diagonally.

Kljestan ran to meet the pass as two defenders converged. He beat both tacklers with a most insidious toe touch, then deked the keeper into leaning left by opening up his hips before drilling a shot between him and the near post.

That goal typified the class and savvy exuded by the U.S. players: A fluid, crisp sequence probing for openings, a perfectly weighted pass by Adu to release Holden, and a confident Kljestan calling for the ball before dispatching it coolly and cleverly.

Long strides must still be taken, and additional talent must be added, if the Americans are to light up Beijing in four and a half months. Cynics can point out had Mexico been the opposition in this match a different scoreline, and perhaps result, might have occurred.

Yet Mexico - which lacked a few European-based players, but then so did the Americans -- dug its own hole by tying this same Canadian team and squandering a one-goal lead while losing to Guatemala, which lost a penalty-kick shootout to Honduras in the other semifinal and won't be going to the Olympics, either.

"I was really proud and pleased to see everything that we had discussed before this kind of tournament come to fruition," said Nowak. "I think that from the beginning to the end there was only one team that was going to win this game, and it was us."

March 20 in Nashville, Tenn.

USA 3 Canada 0

Goals: Adu 27, Adu 48, Kljestan (Holden) 78.

USA - Seitz, Wynne, Orozco, Spector, Sturgis, Kljestan (Findley, 88), Edu, McCarty, Holden, Adu (Gaven, 82,) Altidore (Davies, 75).

Canada - Wagenaar, Ramalho (Lombardo, 54), Jakovic, Hainault, Ledgerwood, Ornoch, Johnson, Ricketts, Hemming, Roselund (Haber, 76), Ayre (Hall, 30)

Referee: Walter Quesada (Costa Rica)
Attendance: 13,201


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