Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ATH: US Team Analysis v. Cuba

Lessons From The District
By Graig Carbino

You wanted a youth movement, and now you are finally going to get it. The US Men’s National Team dismantled Cuba on Saturday night clinching their spot in the final round of World Cup qualifying. The victory has allowed coach Bob Bradley to release many of his veteran players back to their clubs ahead of the next qualifying game in Trinidad on Wednesday.

The biggest shoes that need filling in Port of Spain will certainly be on the offensive side of things considering the attacking players (Donovan, Dempsey, Ching) that have left camp. It will also be interesting to see how well the reshuffled defensive unit plays in a pressure filled game that still means a lot for T&T.

As for Saturday's game....

1. DaMarcus Beasley is back: The biggest thing to take away from this game was the play of left-winger DaMarcus Beasley. Beasley just didn’t look comfortable in recent national team games. It was easy to see that he was still battling to return to top form after suffering a knee injury late last November in a Champions League game against Stuttgart. Beasley’s best quality as an attacking player is to make runs behind the defense and apply pressure using his speed. He was able to do this on Saturday, getting behind the last defender on two occasions to score the United States first two goals. Healthy, he is one of the keys for the US as they forge ahead in qualifying.

2. Landon Donovan never left: The big knock on Donovan’s game has always been consistency, or lack there of. Many an observer has chided the Galaxy attacker for what they call his tendency to float in and out of important matches. Not anymore. Whether scoring or not, Donovan is always involved in the build up of US goals that come from the run of play. Even when he is not on the ball, his continuous running opens up opportunities for his teammates to get into dangerous positions. He really has a professionalism about his attitude and game these days. He even made it back to LA on Sunday to feature in the Galaxy’s must win game against Colorado.

3. Cuba had no chance: Sorry to say it, but they just aren’t any good. How can you blame them though? You could see from the very start of this game that it just wasn’t going to be close and to be truthful, it shouldn’t have been. You basically had amateurs playing against professionals. Players with European pedigree against guys who work day jobs and then go to practice. The game in Havana was closer with the crowd and the field and the rain helping the Cubans cause. Not so much in DC where the US jumped all over them early and would not let up. A red card to Yoel Colomé in the 41st didn’t help matters and you could see that 6-1 score line coming a mile away.

4. Solid defensive unit: Cuba might not have offered much in the way of an attacking threat, but you have to play whoever is put in front of you and the US defense continues to look like a group that is ready to take on any and all comers. With the experienced Tim Howard in goal they have a player with major European experience who is really still coming into his own as a full time starter for the National team. He has taken the opportunity to start every big match for the US and run with it. Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu have forged a formidable partnership in the center of defense and barring an injury they will be the top pair going into the final round of qualifying. Steve Cherundolo and Heath Pearce bring solid defense and the ability to get forward and attack down the wings. Their next real test should come in either Mexico City or Costa Rica next spring.

5. Youngsters: Most US fans have been screaming for the likes of Adu and Altidore to be inserted into the red, white and blue lineup more often. That still may not happen, as Bob Bradley has shown a reluctance to mess with a winning formula, but we did get glimpse of what these young talents can bring to the table. Adu, Altidore and the debuting Jose Francisco Torres all provided a freshness to the attack when they entered the match at various stages in second half. Torres looked especially composed for 20 year old who was representing his country for the first time. Altidore scored a goal and looked dangerous on a few other occasions, while Adu darted down the left wing and provided the cross that led to Oguchi Onyewu’s goal. The future looks very bright to say the least.

To me this game was all about Beasley and the young guys. What you lose in experience you might actually gain in creativity and ball control when throwing some of the younger players into the mix. Thinking about Adu, Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan, Beasley and now Torres keying the attack for the US National Team must have fans around the country smiling on the way to the final round.

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