Fellow B/R writer and football fanatic Jeff Harbert was also in attendance. You can find his review of the action here. Read it, it's good. Jeff is also one of the Manchester United community leaders, if you're into the Red Devils.
I skipped class on Wednesday to travel to Chicago for the US Men's World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago.
As I sit here and reflect on the game, I'm absolutely certain that skipping class was the right decision. It's not often that the US plays a meaningful match within four hours of Michigan State. I had to take advantage of it.
The day started out with a tailgate. We had a small grill and a bag of charcoal that we couldn't light, as well as a healthy supply of cold beer (don't worry, I'm of age.) While my buddy James and I waited for the coals to get hot—or even warm for that matter—we decided to try and figure out what we actually knew about our opponents.
The answer was nothing. We both agreed that this reflects poorly on the American public education system, but that's an argument for another website.
The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic as well, but not as good as the last international I saw (It was US/Mexico—I'm spoiled.) My voice won't return for a few days yet because Sam's Army was doing what it could to make up for a smaller-than-hoped-for attendance figure.
If any of you happened to be watching the match, I was the guy in the Michigan State cap holding up the bottom of the gigantic American flag behind the goal.
Anyway, onto the actual match, which turned out to be a real cracker.
I had hoped to meet up with fellow B/R writer Jeff Harbert because he also had tickets, but we weren't able to find each other. No matter, we both got to enjoy some really good action.
Michael Bradley started the scoring in the ninth minute with a good finish from a Landon Donovan set piece. See the picture above. About six yards to the right, out of frame, is the T&T keeper in no position to make a save. About five rows back of the goal, I'm screaming like mad because I could see exactly what was about to happen.
Almost immediately after Bradley opened the scoring, Brian Ching had a chance that he let go begging. A US player (I forget who) put in a gorgeous cross from the left wing, which Ching bundled right into the waiting arms of a grateful T&T keeper. I think it's important to note that Brian McBride would not have let that chance go by.
Ching ended up atoning for that mistake later, capitalizing on a rebound created by an Oguchi Onyewu header to make the game 3-0. It wasn't enough to keep him on the field though, as Ching later made way for an equally-ineffective Eddie Johnson. More on the US forwards later.
The tactics employed by the US were decidedly un-American, which was a welcome sight. They seemed intent on controlling midfield through short, accurate passes and good possession football. It seemed like Bob Bradley had been watching tapes of Arsenal.
The tactical change is a very important one. The US traditionally likes to rely on the long ball, which doesn't make sense when you consider that pretty much every major footballing nation has a back line that is significantly taller than any of our players. I'm glad the US has finally seen the light.
Morale-wise, this was also a huge game for the US. This was their sixth straight clean sheet, but none of them were this pretty. They beat Cuba and Guatemala by 1-0 scorelines, and the offense looked as useless as an attempt to keep Arjen Robben from doing his best Greg Louganis impression.
At Bridgeview, the US dominated on the pitch as well as on the scoreboard. The 3-0 score was deceiving. Had the US finished some chances that they should have, and had the official had any concept of what an offsides call was, the US could have easily bagged six or seven goals. Barbados redux.
The US didn't field too many MLS players in the lineup, but generally those that played gave a good account of themselves. Sacha Kljestan's defense was rock solid, and much needed in the second half. Ricardo Clark came on for Michael Bradley and looked comfortable in a very short stint on the field. Landon Donovan was his usual dangerous self, creating the first goal, and showing several flashes of great creativity that didn't quite pan out.
The ex-MLS talent in Europe was also good as well. DaMarcus Beasley harried the T&T back line all night, forcing some mistakes and drawing the foul that led to the first goal. Tim Howard was only tested once, but he made a good save and commanded his area well. I had hoped for a Maurice Edu sighting, but he stayed on the bench all night.
This was a very encouraging step in the right direction for the US. With qualification for the final round of CONCACAF qualifying all but assured, hopefully Bob Bradley will take a chance and give some youngsters or MLS-based talent a call-up.
I'll leave you with a few short observations and questions still facing the team:
If Bob Bradley wants to give Eddie Johnson a real shot, he needs to start him, not bring him on after the team is up 3-0 and just sitting back protecting a lead.
Brian Ching needs to go. Now. I know he scored, but I can't help but feeling that Kenny Cooper would be a much better option.
This team is going to miss Oguchi Onyewu when he eventually retires from international play.
If CONCACAF ever wants to be taken seriously, they need to hire officials who know the rules of the game. I've never seen so many blatantly awful offsides calls. Also, they missed a few calls regarding possession from out of bounds that should have been slam dunks. It's not just this game either, it's every CONCACAF game that I can remember. Can't we hire Pierluigi Collina to train our refs?
If Bradley sticks with this possession football, the US will win the group with 18 points from six games. Easily.
If Bradley sticks with this possession football, the US will pip Mexico for tops in the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying. Not so easy, but it'll still happen.
Please tell me that the two Jonathans, Spector and Bornstein, would be much better options than Heath Pearce at the back.
It was obvious that the US had learned from less than stellar outings against Guatemala and Cuba. They quickly implemented the lessons learned from those games, and did it well. If they keep this trend up going into South Africa 2010, we could easily be making a return to the quarterfinals.
Tell them who we are! (Tell them who we are!) The mighty might US! (The mighty mighty US!)