Bob Bradley’s first set of games leading Team USA into the next four years proved to be nothing more than an experiment ending in a couple of draws against Poland (2-2) and Colombia(0-0) this week.The lineups were jumbled over the two games and there were several formation changes ranging from 4-3-2-1 to 4-3-3. These games were a needed evaluation of what the team has headed into the next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. As of right now, the United States has only one remaining friendly on the schedule before the end of the year and its important to sort out what the team will look like for the future. The final score of the game for all intents and purposes meant nothing in these games, but there were some obvious things learned in the process.
Jozy’s time to mature has come
As seems to be the case with Altidore it’s a mixed review with almost as much good as bad. He continues to try and find his place in the U.S. squad. At times, Altidore looks lazy on the field. He did find the back of the net against Poland, but that was overshadowed by him being out of position for an offside that was inexcusable and getting nothing out of several scoring opportunities. In the Colombia game he struggled with the 4-3-3 line-up often, finding himself out on the wing and losing the ball when pressured. In order for the U.S. to be successful, they will need to find a way to get goals out of their forwards. Jozy needs to find ways to get more chances in the box where he can use his size and strength.
Pairing Clint up front with Jozy is becoming more and more attractive especially with the emergence of Stuart Holden in the mid-field. Due to injuries on his club Dempsey has been starting at forward and it has seemed more of a natural fit for him. Dempsey is versatile and can play multiple positions, but with the group of mid fielders developing he is needed more up top to compliment Jozy. Dempsey did come on in the second half of the game against Colombia to wear the Captain’s Armband for the first time, but was ineffective in the midfield in his limited minutes. His gritty determination and nose for the ball will help produce badly needed goal opportunities up front.
Stuart Holden arrives
Stuart Holden was the one of the clear bright spots for the U.S. squad this week. He was absolutely outstanding with his free kicks and corners. His hustle created opportunities throughout the game and he proved to be creative with the ball. His versatility is just what the team needs in the midfield creating chances. He should be a clear choice for a starter in the future.
Michael Bradley inconsistency
Michael Bradley did a solid job as a defending midfielder; however, his passing needs to be addressed. He simply does not make good decisions when passing the ball.
Against Colombia, one of his lazy passes almost gave up a break away in the first half. Against good teams, his inability to put a crisp pass on the mark will be disastrous.
First look at Jermaine Jones
Expectations have been high for this German transfer, however he didn’t exactly disappoint. Let’s be clear: Jermaine Jones is not the superstar to build the team around going into the next World Cup that some hype has suggested. At the same time, Jones proved that he understands how to stretch the field with long accurate passing, something the team desperately needs.
You can see his value when he hooked up with Altidore against Poland. He is a welcome addition to the squad.
What’s the story with the back line?
The back line played pretty well against the speedy Colombian forwards, and had decent moments against Poland. Bocanegra Spector, and Oneywu were solid although, Oneywu is clearly struggling with fitness. Eric Lichaj came on in the second half against Colombia and was pretty impressive in his first cap for the national team. If the defensive mid-fielders didn’t turn the ball over so often in bad positions, it would have looked better.
Overall these two friendly games looked ugly, but they weren’t supposed to be a showcase of the team's maximum potential, more of a showcase of where to start headed into 2011. It’s clear that team USA is still going to rely heavily on Landon Donovan’s play making ability and speed for the foreseeable future.
Donovan is still the spark that ignites the team’s play and creativity. It’s a noticeable difference with him in the lineup. But there is plenty of talent to bring together over the next 2-3 years. There were times during the Poland game that looked like the team could be more creative than any lineup sent to the World Cup. It will be interesting to see what lineups get sent to South Africa in November for a matchup with Bafana Bafana.