Saturday, January 24, 2009

That Was Actually Somewhat Friendly: USA vs. Sweden Soccer

Tonight the US men's second squad played against Sweden's second squad in a contest to see who could move into the discussions of playing on their respective country's first team.  Plenty of folks who will start real games were missing from both squads, to be sure.  Any Sweden team that doesn't have Zlatan, and any US team that doesn't have Landon Donovan are not real teams.  The US won 3-2.

Highlights via a non-Fox Sports network, and a dude who had time to insert music (which wasn't necessary).

But it did provide a window to see who might be helping the US win some qualifying games, who might help them lose a few, and who might be seeing some clock in World Cup 2010.  

He has yet to post his review, but Cardillo over at That's On Point will surely do a better job of this than me  (update:  Cardillo's post is up).  If you like soccer, make sure you read his take, too.  (Here's his preview)  We'd not be us if we didn't tease our discussion with one assumption that Cardillo made that was completely wrong:  "I'll assume Sacha Kljestan won't feature unless as a sub. "

Sacha Kljestan did feature, for ninety minutes, and big time.  Cardillo's assumption, I think, was based on the fact that Kljestan has done enough to cement a place on the 2009 qualifying team without having to play in this game.  Yahoo's Martin Rogers provides some cover to that--his presumed World Cup roster has just two guys who played in tonight's game--Kljestan and Brian Ching.  Regardless of his place on the squad, Kljestan played, and played damn well.  He scored all three of the the US goals (which is somewhat misleading, as two came from deadball situations (which is also misleading, because one was an absolutely perfect strike from about 30 yards out).  

First of all, it should be said that the entire US defense was given a helping hand from an overly circumspect Swedish attack.  When they pushed in the second half, Sweden was rewarded.  The fact that they stayed so passive for 45 minutes is a little odd, but there is a saying about gift horses, and how you shouldn't look directly at them, because then they know you are scared of them.  Something like that.

Goalkeeper Troy Perkins was kind of an enigma.  He wasn't tested often, and failed when he was, but it is hard to fault him for the two goals that were scored against him.   The starting wing-defenders are both keepers in my mind--Jonathan Bornstein was solid and pushed up his side, as did Marvell Wynne on the right.    Wynne was well on his way to being the second best player on the pitch for the USA, but I do have to tag him for Sweden's second goal--he got sucked in way too much into the center of the field, leaving the Swede's most dangerous assist man wide open to serve a very dangerous ball into the box.  On the other hand, it was Wynne's ballsy overlapping run that put in him into the box and got him fouled for a PK.  For those of us who still curse the name David Regis, it was very promising to see two wing defenders who understand when to overlap and join the attack and when to hang back.  And they know how to hit.  Wynne in particular threw shoulders that made Swedes fly off of him in completely legal fashion.  

On the whole, I think both Wynne and Bornstein have probably earned extensive looks from Bob Bradley.  The center defenders were not asked to do much, and didn't do much.  Michael Parkhurst, who I consider a young and interesting player, and Danny Califf, who I consider to be a bit of toolbox, didn't do anything to distinguish or hurt themselves.  Califf picked up a yellow card on a clumsy challenge, and spent a lot of time passing back to his keeper when he had zero pressure on him, and generally did the things that Danny Califf does that make me not like him much.  He made me miss Gooch.  Late sub Wingert didn't have time to do much but make one overlapping run, which he kind of fucked up.  Wingert will need some injuries to a suddenly deep US defensive third to get any burn in actual qualifiers.

the midfield was intriguing, and super spazzy.  Kljestan was obviously rock solid--did I mention he scored all three goals?  One from a (brilliant) free kick a good 28 yards out, one a PK, and one as a product of good running off the ball, and some fine Brian Ching holding.  But Kljestan wasn't just a goal scorer--he was all over the damn field; winning tackles, generating fouls, and sending nicely weighted balls onto the sidelines.  He's won himself a center midfield job, and he's going to be a damn surprise for people who think that the likes of Claudio Reyna is as flashy as US Center Mids get.  Rico Clark was, as he always is, super spazzy.  I don't know how else to categorize his game.  He runs around like crazy; he makes tackles, both good and bad, and takes shots that beggar description both in terms of their audacity and their stupidity.  He's not to be trusted in the center midfield, especially as a "defensive" or "holding" midfielder.  I'd rather have a guy who can truly defend and hold, like Pablo Mastroenni, or forego the whole "holding" midfielder position, and throw in another attacker (michael bradley?) there.  On the wings, there were a bunch of young dudes I had not heard of previous to this game.

Robby Rogers played well, though it took some time to find his feet.  John Thorrington was much the same.  Both of these guys have tons of speed to burn, and when they are just a bit less spazzy, they could be good.  They've got some time to develop, as they won't be taking over for Dempsey (The Deuce!) or DeMarcus Beasley any time soon.  Same thing holds true for the subs--Rolfe and that other guy who didn't get enough time to do anything at all.

Striker is still the big mystery position in the US camp, just as it has been for what feels like a solid decade.  And boy, we are still seeing some of the same wrong answers.  Brian Ching started this game, and played damn near 80 minutes.  Don't get me wrong--Brian Ching is a fine old guy who can hold the ball and rifle shots just a few feet wide of the net.  And he won some free kicks tonight, and assisted wonderfully on Kljestan's final goal.  But he's certainly less talented than say, Jozy Altidore, who is just maybe too young to be counted on in the World Cup 2010.  Ching played well in this game, but had opportunities to finish for himself and failed on those.   Fellow starter Charlie Davies was barely present.  He will not be seen in a US jersey on a pitch again any time soon.  Substitute Kenny Cooper reminded us all why he is a 27 year old getting talked about--he works hard, and we really are struggling to find strikers.  He was a hard-working goof during his time on the pitch.  A more talented striker, given his opportunities, would have scored twice.  A less-hard working striker would have never had his opportunities to begin with.  Kenny Cooper is a charming goof who can't score outside of the MLS--he's slow, he's almost comically bad with the ball at his feet (scissor kicks! dummy to no one!) and his size is almost a detriment, as everything he does looks like a foul.

Winners:  Marvell Wynne, Jonathan Bornstein, Sacha Kljestan

Losers:  Rico Clark, Kenny Cooper, Danny fucking Califf.   (Note to Danny Califf:  No way are you cool enough to pull of a tattoo sleeve, my friend.)

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