US Men's National Team: Second Half Changes Against Argentina Show the Potential

Wyatt EatonContributor IMarch 27, 2011

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 12:  The USA team (back row L-R) Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Ricardo Clark, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu and Jay Demerit and (front row L-R) Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan, Robbie Findley, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore of the United States pose for a team photo during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between England and USA at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on June 12, 2010 in Rustenburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The regulation soccer net is 8 feet high and 24 feet wide. Tim Howard stands at 6'3". Argentina, despite countless opportunities, could not find an inch of space beyond Howard.

It was only a matter of time before they would put at least one in the net, as Cambiasso converted in the 42nd minute on a loose ball rebound in the box off Messi's pass back into the area and Howard's kick save. That would be all the scoring Argentina would be allowed.

Bob Bradley's squad started off in a 4-5-1, with Altidore the lone striker. Michael Bradley was paired with Jermaine Jones just in front of the back four, while Donovan and Dempsey were positioned as the outside midfielders. 

It proved to be anything but effective against pass-happy Argentina.

Messi and company moved the ball around at will, with red shirts scrambling all over the place trying to find a mark. It was a beautiful display of soccer by the Argentines, and those watching knew that sooner or later they would strike.

Sure enough, Messi was able to find just a little bit of space, put a ball through the defender's legs for a close range shot. Howard would make the save, but the rebound would find its way right to Esteban Cambiasso,who was left off Argentina's 2010 World Cup roster. He slammed the ball top shelf into the net, putting his team up 1-0 just before the break.

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The Americans, meanwhile, looked downright out of sorts.

Rarely could they even put more than two passes together without losing possession. Altidore was unable to hold the ball up and wait for support. Too many times they tried making the extra move or extra touch, only to lose the ball and have to get back and attempt to defend the Argentine attack.

The focus, of course, was to try and slow Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world.

Messi's a small guy, but the ball is like a magnet to his feet, as he is very hard to dispossess. He's got an uncanny soft touch with his passes and always seems to find the open lane to put the ball through.

A magician with the ball, he was still looking for his first goal against the United States. Anytime he'd come close to goal, the United States did a good job of bottling him up and not allowing him a clean shot at net.

While the US defense did a commendable job of stepping in front and slowing him down, he still had several opportunities to put the ball in the net. Tim Howard was having none of that, blocking everything Messi brought his way.

Tim Howard, one of the best goalies in the world, is probably the most important player in terms of his team's success. Without Howard and his knack for coming up with some of the most incredible saves, the US would be in all kinds of trouble, especially tonight against fourth-ranked Argentina.

Needless to say, the Yanks were lucky to only be down 1-0 at the break. Clint Dempsey had an early opportunity for the US, but it was an easy save for the Argentine keeper. 95 percent of the half was spent defending against Argentina's relentless passing attack. 

After the break, Bob Bradley made three adjustments to his team's lineup. He brought in 18-year-old Juan Agudelo to replace Jones and Timmy Chandler in for Jonathan Spector.

The formation changed with these additions, moving to a more attack-minded 4-4-2, pairing Agudelo up front with Altidore. This proved to be the spark that the US so desperately needed.

Instead of getting run out of the stadium, the US responded, got the crowd back into the game, and proceeded to play a brilliant 45 minutes of soccer.

Rather than the defense just clearing the ball out to midfield only for Argentina to bring it back in, Michael Bradley settled into his role as central midfielder and ran the show. He and Maurice Edu seem to be an effective pair in the middle, with Edu pushing forward more on the attack and Bradley hanging back to receive the ball out of the defensive end. 

Donovan and Dempsey became more involved in the game, making runs up and down their sidelines, using Altidore and Agudelo for lay offs and quick one-two's. The possession was not as lopsided, at least until the last 15 minutes or so. 

In the 59th minute, Landon Donovan, needing to deliver a good ball off a free kick to give his team a chance at scoring, did just that. He found Bocanegra at the six-yard box, who headed the ball on target.

The Argentina keeper made a nice save, but the rebound found the foot of substitute Juan Agudelo, making only his second appearance for the national team. He was able to bury the ball into the back of the net, giving him his first career national team goal and tying the game at one apiece. 

The rejuvenated Americans began playing like a team with potential. The ball movement was a lot more crisp, passes were finding feet, guys were moving off the ball. Debuting their new red shirts with the blue diagonal stripe, the US had several opportunities to go ahead but could not cash in.

Howard continued to keep the US in the game with more quality saves, several coming off the foot at Messi. Many occasions resulted in Howard sprinting out after his defenders and giving them an ear full. Dempsey, also showing some intensity, got in the face of one of the Argentine players after a reckless challenge.

I love that passion. I love that intensity, that don't tread on me attitude.

That second half lineup displayed the potential this team has. They aren't a world powerhouse by any means, but tying Argentina sends a message that the US isn't a push over. Settling into that 4-4-2 proved they can work the ball instead of just clearing it out and setting the defense.

The key is getting Donovan and Dempsey involved on the wings. They are the two best players for the Americans, and the success of the US depends greatly on how they play. When they are involved and getting in crosses and shots, chances are the US is in the game.

However, if they're not involved, not getting the ball on the wings, not making inside runs and shooting the ball, the US will struggle.

There is some promise for some of these young guys. Agudelo stepped into the lineup and played well for an 18-year-old. Also, let's remember the US is without Stuart Holden, who suffered a knee injury only days before this match. 

The 2011 Gold Cup is nearing, and the United States, with their second half performance against Argentina, proved they can be a force in the soccer world and look to be in pretty good shape to win their fifth Gold Cup title.