Monday, March 28, 2011

Not So Friendly

photo by tedkerwinvia PhotoRee

Argentina met the United States last night on a pitch specially designed to deaden the ball and make curling look like a fast-paced sport. The grounds crew at the New Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey must have worked overtime placing sand under the green carpet they laid down to muffle the ball's bounces and cause both teams to come up repeatedly short on their passes.  Playing slightly like the swamp it's built on top of, the New Meadowlands pitch acted as a 12th defender against Argentina, slowing down their vaunted attack and allowing the US to stay in the game in the first half when it could have easily lost the evening.

Instead of scoring, Argentina put on a passing show in the first half, keeping the ball away from the home side for several minutes at a time. The Americans packed it in on defense, sitting deep and looking for the rare counter-attack opportunity, but they had precious little to offer in offense after spending so much time defending. Working with a specially designed gameplan under beleaguered Coach Bob Bradley, the Americans attempted to outnumber and outhustle the Argentines as the defense came under the repeated attack of Lionel Messi and his boys.

Things changed in the second half, as the US began to show some ambition and matched the Argentines in their attacking intent.  Scoring a second half goal through newboy Juan Agudelo, the US Mens' team held Argentina to a 1-1 draw, a positive result for the home team and hopefully something for the Red, White and Blue to build on.

Not content to just use our own internal analysis, farlieonfootie sent two super-scouts to the game to further dissect the action, and their reports and observations can be seen below:

Here's the gameday report from USMNT Super-scout Mark:

Interesting game. In the first half I watched the most precise exhibit of soccer I think I've ever seen. In the second half, the U.S. played one of its better halves ever against what is undeniably a great team.

I liked the US's defensive shape throughout the game. They really packed it in and made it tough to score. Maurice Edu has taken his game to another level. I love the ground he covered tracking back and the athleticism he brought.

I think "athleticism" was the word of the day.  Our new right back Chandler, Agudelo and Altidore up front, and Edu give us a very athletic side. I don’t think we've ever had two better athletes up front who could both run and show skill. It’s encouraging that after years in the wilderness we could have a scoring duo for the next decade. (Or maybe they'll pull an Eddie Johnson on us and disappear.)  The Chandler kid on the right side also seemed to bring some offensive punch.

I thought the only downside on the evening was our fullbacks. Our midfielders showed a growing calm on the ball as the game went on, but our fullbacks don’t have much confidence in their feet to play at this level, and they're beginning to get a bit long in the tooth. They really struggled with Argentina’s quickness, although just about everyone in the world would do the same. Before the next World Cup we could be looking at a complete swapout of the back line, which is tough.

The midfield is getting awfully crowded. Stuart Holden is the best midfielder in the system, although I'm not sure where he fits into Bradley's system. He should be our offensive mid if we ever start to play with one, which would mean that Edu our Bradley gets benched. Awfully good players to get sent to the bench.  Maybe Stuart Holden can become a left back.... It’s been years since we had one of those.

USMNT Super-scout Scott adds:

Mark's first paragraph summed it up perfectly.  Here are some quick additional thoughts:

- Jozy Altidore played better with Agudelo in there;
- Spector may be out of a job;
- Onyewu seems a shadow of his pre-injury self. About all he could do is boot it upfield;
- Agreed that defense was swarming and disciplined;
- It could have been ugly but, instead, the USA played an inspired second half.

This is farlieonfootie for March 28.

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