The 1-0 loss to Paraguay may be sitting poorly with some fans of the U.S. Men's National Team, but don't let the result fool you—it was a positive night for the Yanks.
Remember, the point of these matches is not the result, but the process. Bob Bradley entered 2011 with a lot of questions to answer before the summer's Gold Cup, and last night helped answer a few of those.
So, instead of taking the traditional game summary of tactics and formations, let's look at what tangible and empirical answers we got last night, starting the good and ending with the bad.
- Timothy Chandler
If we learned anything from the World Cup this summer, it's that we need a mix up at the back.
That point was further proven Saturday when Bradley trotted out a back line of Model T's—Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu are too slow a pairing in the middle, as are Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra out wide. Even the best defender from the Cup, Steve Cherundolo, is aging and lacks the pace required of the modern day international fullback.
The 21-year-old (as of last night's match) German-American is chock full of talent and potential. He has been a game changer in both of his first two matches, providing the width in the U.S. 4-4-2 that no fullback has ever given us. He is also skilled on the ball, delivers a very good cross, and defends well.
Let's not heap too much praise on him yet. He's still got some work to do as far as tackling and positioning goes, but there is no doubt he's the best fullback prospect in the player pool. He followed a great second-half against Argentina with an equally great 80 minutes against Paraguay.
- Eric Lichaj
Lichaj should have seen more playing time in these two matches. He has the same motor and similar speed as Chandler, and is probably a bit better a defender. He showed well against Paraguay, getting forward frequently and even threatening with a long throw-in.
- Tim Ream
Ream continued to show signs of why he should be a starter this summer. He certainly has some weaknesses—his pace is lacking, he's not exceptionally strong in the air or in physical duels and he gets a little too lackadaisical on the ball for American fans with more sensitive stomachs. That could hurt us in matches with physical, less-skilled CONCACAF opponents.
However, his distribution out of the back offers the USA something it's never had. He takes pressure off both Michael Bradley and Ream's center back partner, because he can find a 40-yard diagonal or an early through ball, freeing up Bradley to get higher or providing his partner with an outlet.
Who should be the US center back pairing?
Sure, Ream wasn't great against a more physical Paraguay attack and could be partially faulted for the goal. He may not fit Bob Bradley's mold for physically imposing center backs. but he will develop strength and he was a huge reason the US saw most of the ball all night.
He's ready to step into a starting job full-time, especially given the fact that DeMerit, Bocanegra and Onyewu still lack the pace and skill, and are too similar to continually pair up.
- Michael Bradley
Bradley built on a solid second half against Argentina and was much improved in the Paraguay game. His distribution was solid, and he provided the best scoring opportunity, only to be denied a golazo by a diving save from the Paraguayan keeper.
Michael clearly does best in a center-mid duo rather than a trio. Communicating with one other teammate is obviously easier than two. This, coupled with Stuart Holden's injury, means 4-4-2 is probably the go-to shape for the US right now.
- Clint Dempsey
If any one player is emblematic of the American attitude of play, it's Deuce. He was feisty and effective last night, consistently creating opportunities for himself and other players. He wasn't particularly sharp, but after a long haul carrying the Fulham attack on his shoulders, that's to be expected.
He definitely thrives in the 4-4-2 interior forward position, and you can tell he loves combining with Juan Agudelo, whose ability to get wide provides acres of space for Dempsey to do his work.
- Jermaine Jones
After a poor showing against Argentina, Jones showed the same passing range and work rate Americans drooled over after his debut against Poland. He came on as a sub and did everything Maurice Edu couldn't do in terms of moving the ball ahead. He and Bradley seem to work well together.
- Juan Agudelo
I'm still skeptical about heaping praise on Agudelo because he is still 18. However, he's earned all the praise he's getting right now, and he really is playing like "The Chosen Juan."
His versatility makes him an ideal forward in Bradley's system. He can play wide, off a target, or lead the line. He's very similar to Charlie Davies, but probably more savvy.
Let's be clear: He's not a goal-scoring machine, but he is very, very creative. I don't know if he's even a really good finisher yet, but he'll learn.
- Yelldell/Hahnemann (backup keeper)
The least of Bradley's concerns at this point is his goalie. Tim Howard is still one of the best keepers in the world, and he showed that by stifling a sizzling Argentinian attack Saturday.
The only question here is who backs him up, and who steps up when he retires (note: Timmy has at least another World Cup cycle in him, if not more). The answer to both of those questions may not be the same.
Marcus Hahnemann is clearly not the immediate backup choice. He can't get time for Wolves, and his stint in the national side has been average at best. He was serviceable against Paraguay, but a considerable step down.
David Yelldell may be the man for the future, but his body of work is too small. He did nothing bad or good against Paraguay due to the States dominance of possession.
For now, the best backup —and heir apparent—is the recently-absent Brad Guzan. He's young and experienced enough to serve as both the best backup and future number one in the pool.
- Jonathan Bornstein
Enough said. He's clearly only there because of a loyalty Bradley holds for him and because there is a lack of quality at the position. Keep Carlos Bocanegra there, slide one of Lichaj, Jonathan Spector or Chandler over, or look to Zach Lloyd, Sean Franklin (natural right back, I know) or even Bobby Convey.
In any case, the option is better than the blunder-ridden Jonathan Bornstein, whose poor service, unawareness defensively and overall inconsistency is disheartening, to say the least.
- Maurice Edu
Last night was a poor showing for Mo. I think he still has a lot to offer, but he's clearly behind Bradley and Jones.
Edu moves the ball well side-to-side and is generally reliable in possession, but his passing range is unspectacular, and his superb work-rate is out-shined by a deficiency in skill in comparison to Jones.
I'd still like to experiment with Edu, or even Jones, as a center back. If Bradley isn't ready to throw Ream to the wolves, I'd like to see Edu's speed and comparatively better distribution in ahead of Onyewu or DeMerit.
Cakes left a lot to be desired from his play in both friendlies this week. He seems to be a step behind his former pace, and his receding hairline is the least concerning sign of the aging he's shown lately.
I think it's time for Donovan to consider one last move abroad. As strong as MLS is becoming, the improvement in his play after just a brief stint with Everton was noticeable—almost as noticeable as his slack play since coming back to MLS.
- Mix Diskeruud
With Holden out, Mix has a chance to assert himself as a true attacking midfield threat in the side. His inability to get minutes was unfortunate, and if he and Agudelo were neck and neck coming into the week, Mix is trailing by a few lengths leaving. In a deep midfield and a system favoring 4-4-2, he may not have as immediate an impact as he, or hopeful fans, were expecting.
- Jozy Altidore
Jozy is having trouble fitting his play to his body, much like Freddy Adu, but on a less severe scale.
Altidore is a striker stuck in a target forward's body, and his play is a confused blend of the two right now. He is most effective getting wide and allowing Donovan to cut inside, but the entire right side of attack, minus Chandler, was out of sync last night.
What Jozy needs most, however, is confidence. I don't expect him to become a back-to-the-goal threat overnight, though I'd like to see him develop into a true target in the next five years. But he does need to get quality minutes—and a few goals—in Bursaspor, or else the American attack will continue to be very dry.
In the end, it was a positive two games for the US. The emergence of Chandler, the continued development of Lichaj, Ream and Agudelo and the improvement in organization and offensive composure from game one to game two shows the team is on the right track.
There are still concerns, mostly in forward and center back positions. The lack of goal production from our forwards continues to be an issue, and lack of speed in the back line still seems to limit our attacking options.
Those concerns aren't overbearing, however, and possible answers are on the table.
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