Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adu On The Night

June 23, 2011

From the US National Team Players Association

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 23, 2011) US Soccer Players -- Let it never be forgotten that Freddy Adu is a big game player. He showed that decisiveness that was apparent early on in his career again on Wednesday at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Big stage, everything riding on a result, and it was an Adu pass that unlocked the opportunity for the USA to score the game’s only goal.

Sure, that move also required Landon Donovan making a run, seeing a passing line right in front of the Panama goal, and connecting with Clint Dempsey’s outstretched foot. That takes nothing away from the pass Adu made to find Donovan.

This raises an old complaint about Adu’s game. It tends to show up when it wants to, and normally in the high profile matchups. Unfortunately for Freddy, those games have been few and far between in recent years. Fortunately for the USA and coach Bob Bradley, given the proper stage Adu’s game doesn’t normally disappoint.

Where this leaves the US, not to mention Adu, is interesting. One game left in the tournament, a packed Rose Bowl against Mexico, and Adu still one of the best US players working at full speed. Let’s not gloss over that last bit. Adu makes his moves and picks his moments in the flow of the game. He’s shown before that when that flow picks up, so does he. It’s no guarantee of performance, but it also separates him even at this level.

Panama had enough examples of players enjoying the view for long moments on Wednesday night. That they even had the chance at a late equalizer is disturbing. It wasn’t that they were over-matched all over the field, it’s that Panama ceded space with no tactical benefit. They also took space that didn’t exactly help them.

Stringing passes along the width of the field closer to your own goal than the one you’re supposed to be attacking? Looking for the call at the same moment you’re supposed to be focused on that final touch? Turning the likeliest point of the US attack into a shoving match down the flank? With all due respect to what got them there, Panama rarely looked like a team on its way to a final.

In fairness, the USA also had their moments where they weren’t exactly creative with their use of space, not to mention the ball. Stretches in the first half looked like two teams eating the clock. That changed for the US first with the Donovan substitution at halftime and again when Adu entered in the 66th minute. Was it night and day? No, but it was a quick indication that there are more variants to the US game than what the team showed in the opening half.

Now the question becomes simple. Why wait? Against a Mexico team powered by the current best player in CONCACAF, it’s tough to hold onto the potential American trump cards until halftime. That’s the limit to Donovan’s role as a super sub, ending up in a situation where he’s pushed into service after things have gone wrong.

There’s a difference when a player enters needing to spark an offense versus needing to salvage something quickly after the team has gone one or more goals down. With Donovan two games into starting on the bench, we’ve yet to see that goals down scenario.

Now Adu is added to this mix, creating the potential for three levels of play for the United States.

Mark 1 is the standard lineup minus Donovan in Bradley’s return to a five man midfield and a single forward. That the forward has switched from Jozy Altidore to Juan Agudelo is almost irrelevant. Though the two are the same height, Altidore plays bigger than Agudelo. For his part, Agudelo appears to be quicker with his runs. Either way, it’s not a crucial letdown in quality.

Mark 2 is subbing out one of the midfielders for Landon Donovan. That’s a new trick, and one perfectly suited for the later rounds of a tournament. More can be made of it than is necessary, especially for a team that was in search of something coming out of the group stage. Donovan understands not only his role, but just about everything else happening on the field. That’s what makes him Landon Donovan. Of all the established players to press into sub service, he’s the one.

Mark 3 is now Freddy Adu, changing the complexion of the US with one appearance. Adu is that big game player looking for that big game moment. Even if he’s only seeing the final half hour, he should find plenty of them. That was certainly the case against Panama where he followed up his decisive pass with a run at the middle of the Panama defense.

That’s exactly what the USA needs against Mexico. Decisiveness, pressing upon Mexico early that there’s a plan in place that won’t be easy to disrupt. Mexico has taken their quarter and semifinal games into overtime against over-matched teams. They were and are the class of this tournament, but they’ve also proven susceptible to tournament malaise. Part of that has to be the squad shuffling they did mid-tournament, but this is still a squad built on individual quality with most of those individuals still there.

Playing to that strength, Mexico remains dangerous from minute 1 to minute 120. That’s how the US has to treat them, taking nothing for granted in yet another high profile Gold Cup final between the best in CONCACAF.

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