This story first appeared on SoccReligious.
After a near-catastrophic meltdown on the Internet after a meaningless, albeit surprisingly overwhelming 4-0 defeat to Spain, the United States rebounded with a solid 2-0 victory over Canada on the back of a goal and an assist from the finally-emerging Jozy Altidore.
Though Altidore takes home the box score plaudits, the U.S. won this game from the back forward. Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Clarence Goodson replaced Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector and Oguchi Onyewu in the back, while Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey joined Spanish survivor Jermaine Jones in the midfield. Juan Agudelo was again paired with Altidore.
Overloaded Right vs. Overloaded Right
Bob Bradley—unfairly scolded for 'getting it wrong' against Spain—absolutely hit the nail on the head (tactically speaking) for this matchup. The U.S. came out with their "big game" formation, the empty bucket 4-4-2, and Bradley put what most would agree is his strongest XI on the field -- something he's been criticized for not doing in the past.
Generally, the U.S. favors the right side going forward in this formation, with Donovan hugging wide, Cherundolo overlapping, Jozy running the channel, and Dempsey—the Americans' best one-on-one attacker and the safest bet in a crowd of defenders—playing very narrow on the left. Canada came out in a similarly overloaded, right-sided attack. Will Johnson remained wide in the midfield, with Dwayne DeRosario moving all over the pitch but mainly staying to the right. Even lead striker Simeon Jackson did most of his work right of center.
This meant there were going to be numerical advantages at times for both sides, but the team with a bit more energy in closing down those disadvantages and a bit more skill in seizing them would win.
On this night, it was the Americans, and most of their danger moved down the right flank. Cherundolo struggled with the speed of Josh Simpson on the wing early, but his motor and Donovan's uncanny timeliness and ability to draw defenders forced the most threatening Canuck attacker to drop back and do the dirty defensive work most of the night.
It was no wonder, then, that it was a Donovan through ball to Altidore down the right channel that drew first blood. Altidore did well to shield off the defense and get a shot on target, and while Lars Hirschfield should have done more to keep it out, Altidore's power and Donovan's vision were superb in the build up.
The U.S. dictated play for the rest of the half, with Bradley eating up the ball going both directions and Jones marking De Rosario out of the game. Bradley, in particular, should be commended for doing the work of three men in the midfield. The U.S. can afford to be outnumbered in the center of midfield when Bradley covers ground like he did tonight. He had an impact all over the field, and while Jones struggled in spots with the ball, his presence deeper in the field allowed Bradley to get forward and join the attack.
The second half brought no changes initially. Canada came out feistier and threw a few problems at the U.S., but not for long. De Rosario began roaming more to find the ball, playing every position from a Messi-like false nine and an out-and-out number 10 to wide right and left. Jones worked hard to keep him out of space, however, and Canada's best player had little say on the game.
The second goal, of course, came from the U.S. right, as Donovan once again drew the attention of the Canadian defense and sprung free Altidore, who whipped a cross off the toe of a sliding Agudelo and into the left foot of an also sliding Dempsey, who finished clinically. Just minutes before, Donovan set up a similar chance, as he set free Cherundolo. The right back's cross found a diving Dempsey, who was just denied a spectacular goal on a diving scorpion kick. Again, it was the overloaded U.S. right side against an underwhelmed Canadian left side.
The game finished with an array of subs, mostly tactical, as the U.S. threw more men behind the ball and Canada more in front. Tim Howard put on a stellar display the only times he was tested, with two diving saves and one reflex stop to ensure the victory.
After much undue criticism, Bob Bradley set aside anticipation that he might favor the struggling, but traditionally favored, Oguchi Onyewu or Jonathan Bornstein.
Instead, he put out the players in best form. Goodson has been stellar in Europe for club this season, and Ream very effective in MLS. Their presence allowed Bocanegra to provide a steady wall against the strong Canadian right side, as Donovan, and Cherundolo picked apart the right.
Their showings, coupled with a Man of the Match performance from Michael Bradley and a confident outing from Altidore, proved enough to put the U.S. in a strong position to win Group C.
U.S. Player Ratings
Tim Howard - 9: Stellar shot blocking and effective management of an inexperienced central pairing: what more can you ask of the Everton stopper?
Carlos Bocanegra - 6: Not Captain America's best performance, but he was solid, and always willing to meet De Rosario higher up the pitch when the Red Bull attacker moved right.
Clarence Goodson - 7: Proved effective in stopping Canada's counters, and he's not going to lose any aerial battles soon.
Tim Ream - 6.5: A little nervous in spots, and not as comfortable on the ball as usual, but better defending from "The Prospect," and his distribution allows Clint Dempsey to stay higher up the pitch.
Steve Cherundolo - 7: Was better going forward than he was defensively, as Simpson gave him fits at times. Nonetheless, his motor is vital to this tilted 4-4-2 Bradley is working with right now.
Clint Dempsey - 7.5: A diving goal, a cheeky scorpion-kick attempt, and a dirt-stained kit -- just another day in the office for the Americans' toughest player.
Jermaine Jones - 6.5: Struggled in spots with the ball at his feet, but quietly dominated De Rosario out of the game. Needs to prove he has the engine to play empty bucket if he hopes to keep his spot once Stuart Holden held.
Michael Bradley - 8.5: Quietly emerging as the best player on the team. Superb short and long passing, and active all over the place. He covers more ground than any player in CONCACAF.
Landon Donovan - 7: Not the flashiest night for Landon, but his timing for drawing defenders and making the pass is incredible. Showed signs of illness, but good night, nonetheless.
Juan Agudelo - 6.5: "The Chosen Juan" still looks like he's trying a bit too hard to make an impact on the field, but had relaxed moments where his skill and instinct shone through. His run freed up the Dempsey goal, as well.
Jozy Altidore - 8: The goal was fortunate, but he did what he should have done on the play. The assist was better, and he displayed flashes of becoming a quality No. 9.
Chris Wondolowski - 5: I love me some Wondo, but he's not ready for this stage, yet. His nerves affected his touch, and he didn't have any impact as a sub. Be careful, however: if he settles, there's no better striker of the ball in the side.