U.S. men just good, and lucky,
Anyone who had bet that the U.S. women would be at the bottom of their group after one game at the 2008 Olympic Games and the U.S. men would be at the top figured to cash in,
and cash in big.
Yet so stand the American teams following a 1-0 victory by the men in Tianjin over Japan Thursday, a day after Norway stunned the U.S. women, 2-0. Both teams return
to action over the weekend, with the women facing Japan on Saturday and the men going up against the Netherlands, the European U-21 champion, on Sunday. Stuart Holden
scored shortly after the second-half kickoff and the Americans deservedly held that 1-0 advantage to the final whistle, dodging a late penalty decision when defender
tugged on the jersey of Yohei Toyoda as they raced for a long ball.
Up to that point, Edu had been nearly impeccable, breaking up
plays with timely interceptions and sure tackles, and occasionally stepping into midfield to deliver good passes. Japan appealed for a penalty when he bodied Hiroyuki Taniguchi
off the ball during a goalmouth scrum in the 80th minute, but a much stronger case could be made for his tug on Toyoda that referee Badara Diatta
Right back Marvell Wynne
played nearly as well on the flank, and not only nicked away a cross that
could have been a goal but set up Holden's strike in the 47th minute. Holden played a ball wide to Wynne, who burst past Yuto Nagamoto
to hit a low cross
that caromed off the knee of captain Hiroki Mizumoto
and out to Holden, who struck a low shot from just inside the area that squeezed under the left hand of
goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa
and slithered over the goal line.
The U.S. certainly benefited from good fortune on several occasions, two of them
during the first half. Japan turned a seemingly innocuous short corner kick into a great chance when Masato Morishige
ghosted in at the far post and got on the
end of a low cross from Atsuto Uchida
but stabbed his shot off-target. On another corner four minutes before halftime, Uchida curled a cross that a wide-open
and blatantly offside Hiroyuki Taniguchi
stooped to head wide of the post. Robbie Rogers
, who had been
rather quiet on the left midfield flank, took on more of the attacking load in the second half, and by forcing Uchida and midfielder Keisuke Honda
limited their attacking forays. Honda and Uchida had unhinged the left corner of the U.S. defense several times, leaving Michael Orozco
sufficient help from Michael Parkhurst
Yet if ever a cliché had its basis in fact, the Americans earned their luck, and held
on despite tiring noticeably in the final minutes. Brian McBride
battled tirelessly up front, holding up balls to find teammates with return passes while
absorbing punishing hits with nary a complaint. Sacha Kljestan
didn't deliver a killer ball but struck several accurate and perfectly weighted passes, and
broke up numerous plays with interceptions and tackles, including one near his own goal line in the final minutes. Freddy Adu
took a caution for complaining
about numerous hard tackles he believed to be fouls, yet plugged away regardless and took on defenders when played into space.
Since his days of coaching D.C. United, Peter Nowak
has emphasized that in addition to skill and flair, soccer demands running and fighting. On a damp field that occasionally came up in chunks, there were
times when they simply had to dig in.
For most of the 90 minutes, the Americans moved and switched positions competently, and when they were occasionally breached by energetic
Japanese interplay, they replied with a timely clearance, determined tackle, or the quick, brave goalkeeping of Brad Guzan
. Credited with just two saves, Guzan
intervened on another half-dozen occasions by smothering dangerous balls or punching away crosses.
Guzan, too, got a break to keep his sheet clean. In the final seconds of five
stoppage-time minutes, Parkhurst mis-headed a ball straight up into the air and Guzan went for it a half-second late. Substitute Tadanari Lee
got to there first
but his header under pressure cleared the crossbar.
The U.S. will need more polish and guile in their remaining group games against the Netherlands and Nigeria, whose 0-0 tie Thursday
leaves the Americans atop Group B. Yet being just good enough is worth the same three points as winning in a romp. GAME SUMMARY: Aug. 7 in Tianjin USA 1 Japan 0.
Goal: Holden 47. USA --
Guzan, Wynne, Edu, Parkhurst, Orozco, Holden (Feilhaber, 83), Bradley, Kljestan, Rogers (Szetela, 87), Adu, McBride (Altidore, 74). Japan
Nishikawa, Mizumoto, Nagatomo, Morishige, Uchida. K.Honda, Kajiyama (Lee, 64), Taniguchi, Kagawa (Okazaki, 84), T.Honda, Morimoto (Toyoda, 73) Yellow Cards:
USA -- Adu 51, Bradley 64, Guzan 87; Japan -- K.Honda 73, T.Honda 77. Referee:
Badara Diatta (Senegal). Att.: