Friday, March 5, 2010

10 Things We Learned About the US National Team in Holland

Ok, the Dutch are FIFA ranked third in the world behind Brazil and Spain. They are fantastic -- best Dutch side since their Total Football teams of the '70's. So even a listless Dutch performance is going to be a handful for the US national team. Still, we looked a mess out there and we learned some painful lessons:

1) We are really, really missing our injured stars. Dempsey's possession and ball control, Onyewu's physicality, Charlie Davis' pace -- they were all sorely absent in our performance against the Dutch. If a subset of those guys isn't back for June, we are in deep shit. I'm glad Bradley gave Findley a chance up front, because he was so awful that we know we can eliminate him from the squad for June.

2) Landon Donovan needs to be more consistently good. He was almost invisible against Holland. As he was against Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham for Everton last week. He needs to string three great performances together in South Africa if the US is going to have a chance.

3) Defending deep, ceding control of midfield, and hoping for a bit of luck with a long ball is not a winning strategy. I know Bob Bradley doesn't have a squad full of talent like the top European or South American sides. But man, is he that bad of a coach that he thinks he can play this way and be competitive against anyone other than Trinidad and Tobago? Come on.

4) Bornstein looked dangerously out of his depth. He conceded the penalty on an idiotic shirt-tug. He caused the deflection that produced Holland's second goal. He was abused on the left in the second half by the Dutch wingers, and literally fell on his ass while defending, almost allowing a third goal. He generally looked like a high school kid playing his first professional game. Shocking. I agreed with some of the commenters who said that he was Holland's Man of the Match.

5) Only slightly less worrisome is Specter on the right side of the defense. He looked ok the couple of times he came forward (he's good at early crosses), but he is very slow and not particularly imposing physically when defending deep. Elia toyed with him in the first half in the same way that Kaka did in the Confederations Cup. Against world class wingers like we'll see in South Africa, he could be badly exposed.

6) Our midfield passing was atrocious. The modern game is fast. One touch passing. Quick combinations. Movement off the ball. We did none of that, particularly in the first half. Terrible. We looked way out of our league.

7) Demarcus Beasley actually looked good. He came on in the 35th minute for the injured Holden and made some threatening runs at the defense, moved well up the wing, and even showed some grit against the very physical play of the Dutch. He's been so far off the radar screen that I kind of forgot he existed, but he certainly made a strong claim to a position in the starting 11. Much, much better than Donovan in the match against the Dutch.

8) Altidore looked like he's starting to come into his own. Often in past international football he seemed lost and frustrated. But he showed some real flair against Holland. A clever back heel / nutmeg on the touch line when trapped by two defenders, a couple of nice moves with back to goal, and that fantastic strike in injury time that almost produced the equalizer. His time at Hull has clearly helped him mature, and he's so athletic that when he starts playing with confidence, he could be scary.

9) We desperately need some good wing play. We have some of the best wingers we've ever had: Dempsey, Donovan, Beasley. Yet, until late in the second half you could have counted the number of attacks that came off wing play on one hand. Our central midfield was so poor in possession that the holding mids and defenders were just lobbing the ball over the top and hoping that Altidore or Findley could latch on to one.
I'd like to see Bradley try something like what we've seen at Fulham or Everton lately. Fulham play 4-4-2 but with Zamora almost a sole striker and Gera behind him. Everton play 4-5-1, with Saha in the Zamora role and Cahill as the attacking midfielder. We could play Dempsey (if healthy) and Beasley on the wings, Bradley and Feilheiber or Torres at midfield, and Donovan behind Altidore in the middle. Would give us a lot more attacking options than the lob-and-pray tactics we adopted against Holland.

10) If we play like we did against the Dutch, it will be three and out in South Africa. England will take us apart, and we'll likely draw (or lose) in our Slovenia and Algeria matches. It's hard to imagine that this was the same US team that beat Spain by two goals last summer (Spain's only loss in their last 24 competitive matches) and that went up 2-0 on Brazil, forcing the best team in the world to work for a late winner.