June 7, 2009


Win Over Honduras Keeps U.S. on Track: USA 2, Honduras 1 (Steven Goff, 6/07/09, Washington Post)

With their first comeback victory in a World Cup qualifier in 24 years, the Americans (3-1-1) kept pace with first-place Costa Rica (4-1) in the six-team group that offers three automatic berths in next year's tournament in South Africa. Halfway through the 10-game schedule, the U.S. team will take a break from qualifying by playing in the Confederations Cup this month against the likes of Brazil and Italy. They'll resume the World Cup bid in August with a road match against Mexico, the group's co-favorite that has lost three of four after falling in El Salvador on Saturday. [...]

The Hondurans seized the lead after Clint Dempsey's giveaway in midfield. Wilson Palacios took advantage of space and set up Costly, who smashed a 25-yard shot just beyond goalkeeper Tim Howard's reach and into the lower left corner.

The goal marked the third time in the past four qualifiers that the Americans confronted a deficit in the first 15 minutes.

"It's concentration, it's decisions early in the game," Bradley said. "At the higher levels, you can't keep putting yourself in that hole."

But the Americans began to generate opportunities. After Bocanegra and Conor Casey missed chances, Donovan converted his second penalty kick in two games. Defender Mario Beata slapped down Oguchi Onyewu's through ball destined for Donovan deep in the box. Mexican referee Mauricio Morales awarded the penalty and probably should've red-carded Beata for disrupting a clear scoring opportunity. Instead, he showed a yellow.

Donovan's attempt was driven with velocity and direction, rocketing over goalkeeper Noel Valladares and into the upper right side for his U.S.-record 39th goal in 110 appearances.

The addition of Benny Feilhaber boosted the U.S. midfield effort after halftime and the Americans dominated possession. On the go-ahead goal, Donovan served a corner kick to the far side, where Dempsey won a header and directed the ball down in the six-yard box. Bocanegra pounced on the opportunity and scored with a diving header for his 11th career goal.

While it is necessary to blame Coach Bradley for fielding some dubious lineups and his seeming inability to change his gameplan during the action--as Wednesday--this set made much more sense for the US. Drifting Donovan out wider gave him some more room to operate--though his crosses get blocked ridiculously often. Casey (standing in for Brian Ching) and Altidore made for a powerful presence in front of the goal--though their first touches were rancid. Putting the Jonathan's--Spector and Bornstein--on the back-line seemed to settle Bocanegra and Onyewu, who stayed in position better on defense and went forward with more confidence on offense. And Feilhaber was a revelation. It would be fine to play the two defensive midfielders--Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni--in the center if you then put Feilhaber (or Dempsey) in a position between them and the forwards, a la Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

U.S. Soccer Keeps Searching for a True Home Game (GEORGE VECSEY, 6/07/09, NY Times)

Good for the United States officials for daring to put the game in a showcase stadium like this. Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who teaches economics at Columbia University, can dabble in probabilities and demographics. He committed to playing Honduras in Chicago, which was listed as 26 percent Hispanic according to the 2000 census.

By choosing its spots carefully, the United States has not lost to a regional opponent at home in 53 straight matches, going back to a loss to Honduras in 2001. They have won 43 and drawn 10, including 14 World Cup qualifying matches.

Although many of the Latinos in Chicago are of Mexican descent, Gulati did not think Mexican fans would be a major factor because their national team’s game in San Salvador would be available on television.

“We beat Mexico in the Gold Cup final here,” Tim Howard, the United States goalkeeper, said Friday, referring to the 2-1 victory in 2007 in front of 60,000 fans.

Howard praised the red-clad Sam’s Army, the United States boosters who follow the national team to all continents, and added, “We thrive in front of big crowds and big environments.”

There is a history of American players feeling like foreigners on American soil. In 1985, the United States scheduled a vital World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica for a small college football field in Torrance, Calif. An hour before the match, several thousand Costa Ricans came over the hill, waving banners and chanting.

The United States lost, 1-0, and a young American player plaintively asked the American coach, Alkis Panagoulias, when the United States would ever play a home game. His response was, “Never.”

That is not exactly true, since the United States does well against Latin countries in Foxborough, but regional qualifying matches remain a challenge in most major cities, including R.F.K. Stadium in Washington.

On Sept. 1, 2001, the United States dared to play Honduras at R.F.K., and the crowd of 54,282 sounded decidedly pro-Honduran, as their players kicked the Americans around during a 3-2 victory.

Since then, the federation has put the first game of the final qualifying round in 2001 and 2009 in cold, blustery Columbus, Ohio, and was rewarded both times with a 2-0 victory. Mexico has its own version of atmospheric difficulty. It is called Azteca Stadium, and the Americans will travel there on Aug. 12.

U.S. overcomes Honduras in World Cup qualifier (ADAM BEASLEY, 6/07/09, MiamiHerald.com)
Midway through the first half, the United States settled down, and the offense started to flow. Three times in 13 minutes, the Americans had a great scoring chance -- with their best coming in the 20th minute, when a free kick by Donovan found Bocanegra's foot, unabated in front of the net. But Bocanegra wasn't ready for the pass.

But late in the half, the home team finally was rewarded for its intensity. In the 41st minute, a pass from Oguchi Onyewu sailed into the box, kicked up and struck Mario Beata's hand.

Donovan took the penalty kick, which he converted with a goal to the upper-right corner. The goal was his 11th in World Cup qualifying, breaking Brian McBride's U.S. record.

In the 68th minute, the Americans finally grabbed the lead. Donovan delivered a corner kick to the far post, which Dempsey redirected with a header to Bocanegra, who knocked it past goalkeeper Noel Valladares.

The Americans were without major contributors Michael Bradley (yellow card suspension), Frankie Hejduk (groin) and Michael Ching (hamstring).

Bob Bradley completely overhauled his lineup after the Americans' lost to Costa Rica, inserting four new starters and moving defender DaMarcus Beasley to the bench after a shaky outing at left back.

Fresh Faces Help U.S. Solidify Squad: The U.S.’s revamped lineup played quite well on Saturday night and the performances of some of the fresh faces could be a big boost for Bob Bradley’s squad going forward. (Goal.com, Jun 7, 2009)
One of the heroes on the night was Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark, who played what can only be described as an inspired match against one of the most dynamic midfield tandems in the CONCACAF region.

“They scored on us in the first half, but I think we had the better of play and I think a lot of it started with me and Pablo (Mastroeni),” Clark said after the match.

The pairing of Mastroeni and Clark was one that many pundits would’ve questioned had it not been successful, but the two MLS veterans did well in keeping Honduras from building through the middle, and as a result the visitors were reduced to sending hopeful long balls forward throughout long stretches of match.

“I thought we did well with making it hard for them to play in the center of the field, cutting off passing lanes and making it solid in the midfield,” the Furham University product said.

With the match level at the half, Mastroeni, who played the full 90 minutes in Costa Rica and was showing signs of fatigue, was brought off in favor of Benny Feilhaber. Like Clark, Feilhaber was making his return to first team action after an extended layoff, and the two seemed to fall into step rather quickly.

“In the second half, Benny is a little more dynamic going forward, so I think that helped us out a lot to be successful,” Clark said of the change.

Centerback Oguchi Onyewu also hailed the play of the midfielder in front of him noting that they cleaned up a lot of the trash in front of him and Carlos Bocanegra.

“I think defensively our center midfield put out a lot of fires so it made it easy on our center backs throughout the game,” the Standard Liege star said.

Onyewu was also positive about the performances of his new defensive partners Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, crediting the two with stepping in a filling a vital roll.

“I think both Jonathans played very solid,” Onyewu said. “They stepped in when we needed them most and I really have nothing negative to say about their play tonight.”

The quality performances out of all of the fresh faces will have an added value for Bradley’s squad going forward. The team will fly out of Chicago on Monday with the final destination being South Africa and the Confederations Cup’s group of death, which includes Brazil, Italy, and Egypt.

US Rebounds With 2-1 Win Over Honduras: Bob Bradley’s players put in a much improved effort and walked out of Soldier Field 2-1 winners on Saturday night. (Goal.com, Jun 6, 2009)
Benny Feilhaber was brought on at the half to replace Mastoreni, but it was the only change made by either side during the break.

Yet it was Honduras who opened on the front foot, earning a corner that nearly led to a goal in the opening minutes of the half. But the U.S. defense held strong and the match quickly settled into a back and forth struggle in the middle of the park.

Dempsey got the first great look in the 61st, when a ball from Feilhaber found him unmarked at the back post, but simply put, the finish was lacking and the visitors escaped still level.

The match would take a turn in the 69th when the U.S. finally took the lead off of a corner. The ball in from Donovan found Dempsey at the back post. Dempsey nodded down in front of goal and a diving Carlos Bocanegra poked it home with his head.

The U.S. continued to hold the ball well, a stark contrast to Wednesday’s fiasco, and the talented Hondurans were forced to rely on balls over the top in search of Costly.

Adu now a star who fell to earth (LINDA ROBERTSON, June 7, 2009, NEWS OK)
Adu, an attacking midfielder, might get a chance in Saturday’s game against Honduras in Chicago or the Confederations Cup in South Africa. He must capitalize with more consistency and an all-around game, said Peter Nowak, who coached him at D.C. United and the Beijing Olympics. Nowak gave Adu tough love, suspending him as a 15-year-old when he complained about playing time and explaining the brutal realities of European soccer. Nowak knows. He began his pro career as a 15-year-old in Poland.

"I told him what we do here is like kindergarten,” said Nowak, just hired as coach of the MLS Philadelphia Union. "In Europe, the fans are not polite, the coaches are tough. The teams are run like huge companies. They buy you and they just wait. If you don’t work out, they sell you. For many American players it’s still a big lesson to learn.”

Yet Americans are learning. Tim Howard has become a star goalkeeper and Clint Dempsey a co-scoring leader in England. Oguchi Onyewu has won titles in Belgium. Michael Bradley is succeeding in the Bundesliga. Of the 37 players in the 2009 U.S. pool, 25 played overseas this season, proof that homegrown players are winning international respect.

Adu can’t blame his manager in Monaco or his size (he’s generously listed as 5-8) — DeMarcus Beasley also is short and even slighter. Nor can he blame the child star trap.

"Maybe sometimes it was too much, but Freddy loved the spotlight,” Nowak said. "He needs to look deep inside and ask, ’Where am I going?’ It’s not gaining weight and looking like Dwight Howard but how he presents himself on the field with his tactics, vision and imagination. It’s not back heels, scissor-kicks and ESPN highlights but fitting in with a team. It’s not about playing time but survival instincts.

"Excuses are baloney. When you got a chance to sing, sing like Luciano Pavarotti. The doors are open for him.”

Where is Adu going? Let’s hope not back to MLS. Landon Donovan, who struggled in Germany, took the easy route home and has been a domestic star but is left with the nagging question of what he might have been in Europe, the true proving ground.

Life moved so fast for Adu that it now seems frustratingly slow. No longer a phenom, he can still be a phenomenal player.

Bocanegra gives U.S. Soccer head room in Cup qualifier (Filip Bondy, June 7th 2009, NY Daily News)
Starting five players from MLS and four with fewer than 20 caps, this was hardly the lineup envisioned by officials when the qualifying cycle began last year with such great optimism.

The U.S. roster was strapped by a combination of injuries, rust, yellow cards and fatigue. While Honduras entered the match after full rest and preparation in South Florida, the Americans were coming off that loss in San Jose with little time to regain composure or vigor.

Bradley tightened his formation and made four lineup changes. He went with two forwards, Conor Casey and Jozy Altidore, dropping Donovan back to midfield. DaMarcus Beasley and Marvell Wynne were benched to start the match. In their place on the defensive line were Jonathon Spector from West Ham United and Jonathan Bornstein of Chivas USA. Bradley also tried Ricardo Clark of the Houston Dynamo in place of his own son, Michael, who was suspended with two yellows.

Clark was effective, clearing one ball off the line and another one on a delicate sliding tackle. The other newcomers were less impressive.

The best thing about Spector and Dempsey is that they're always looking to play the ball in front of the goal where it might go in, something that seems to come from playing in the EPL.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 7, 2009 7:15 AM
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