A few quick comments on last night's US National Soccer Team's 2-0 victory over Mexico. This performance continued the recent domination of Mexico by the US - and I think last night's victory was one of the more important over the past seven years, even though it was "merely" a friendly.
When I saw the lineups for the match, I immediately thought the US was toast. Mexico brought their "A" team - even incluing 5 players in their 30s have have little hope of making a difference for the El Tri in the 2010 World Cup. Generally, these first-year-of-the-cycle friendlies are for testing new, young players to see if they can cut it at the international level. Not for Mexico - they wanted to embarrass the US. The US, on the other hand, went with a bunch of youngsters, and only a few of the veterans to the international game - including Landon Donovon, Pablo Mastroeni, and Carlos Bocanegra.
I'm delighted (and proud) to say the US proved me completely wrong. Thoughts:
~ Jonathan Bornstein looked great at left back. He started a bit slowly, but in the second half, he was just running right by the guys on the Mexican right flank. He provided solid defense after the first 10 or 15, and was a nice little offensive force later in the game. He could be a real find.
~ The defense was shaky at times on the flanks - but was (in my opinion) great after that first US goal, when Mexico POURED players forward (including 4 or 5 pure strikers) for about twenty to twenty-five minutes from 55-75 or 80. Over and over, Conrad and Bocanegra repulsed attacks, and when their was a break down, due to too many Mexican players in the box, Tim Howard was rock solid in goal. The defense certainly withstood an amazing amount of pressure and came through with the shutout. Jimmy Conrad was a deserving Man of the Match.
~ I was a bit disappointed with hometown Houston Dynamo Ricardo Clark in the first half - but in the second, I thought he was really composed, and smooth on the ball. He reminded me so much in the second half of American-great Claudio Reyna - so smooth, simple passes, never too flustered. Clark made mistakes, but I thought, in the face of a wildly attacking Mexican side, he was cool, calm, and collected.
~ Clint Dempsey really has the self-confidence (or arrogance, depending on your perspective) to become one of the real key-factors in this team over the next eight years. I'm hoping that his fitness issues are simply a factor of the off-season - but the last couple of times I've seen him play, he seemed winded early.
On the not so bright spots:
~ Chris Rolfe looked lost and completely unready for intenational football.
~ Eddie Johnson is really disappointing me. It just doesn't appear that he's willing to work hard. He appears to have the talent of an all-time great, and the work ethic of a rec-league player. Maybe that was simply in contrast to my final point:
Landon Donovan looked really, really good in the second half. I have not historically been a big Donovan fan. Last night, for the first time I can remember since around 2002, he really decided to put his stamp on the match, and I thought he did so. He worked so hard, both up top, working back into the midfield to get touches and provide a link, and - maybe most impressive to me - in tracking back into defense during that twenty-minute Mexican onslaught. He worked so hard - and absolutely deserved his late goal...and I was so excited to see him actually make an aggressive move to the goal and provide a nice simple finish. These are all things that I have historically been most critical of Donovan: poor finishing; not being aggressive; not working to get his touches. He really impressed me last night - on a significant stage. No, it wasn't the World Cup - but it was a full-strength Mexico, our biggest rival, and closest competitor in CONCACAF.
Of course, it doesn't look like their really that close anymore!