The U.S. squad's 2-0 victory over a makeshift Trinidad and Tobago squad, besides propelling the Americans safely to the semifinals, made one thing abundantly clear: the U.S. team is woefully lacking in effective attacking play without Landon Donovan.
Coach Bob Bradley fielded a mostly young lineup versus Trinidad and Tobago -- a team that's in the midst of a player federation dispute and is missing most of its World Cup veterans.
Trinidad and Tobago should have been ripe for the picking, but the U.S. forwards, Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson, couldn't take advantage of early opportunities. The composure Donovan usually offers in the front line simply wasn't present.
A good individual play by Justin Mapp set up the first goal at the half-hour mark, after a fruitless start by the U.S. The dribble run and cross by Mapp was quality, slightly eerie in its similarity to his assist in January versus Denmark. In this case, beating his defender allowed him to gift wrap the ball to Ching for an easy strike.
Despite that sequence, Mapp didn't combine well with the rest of the U.S. midfield for much of the game. In similar fashion, Benny Feilhaber, tasked with setting up teammates, was also ineffective in orchestrating the U.S. attack.
Although he showed some nice touches, Feilhaber had difficulty getting the ball to set up plays. Bradley didn't want to lay the blame solely on the midfielder, however, pointing out that the offensive effort often was choppy and disjointed, which did not offer the kind of rhythm that produces the best from Feilhaber's abilities.
"We weren't able to sustain the kind of rhythm today," Bradley said. "I wouldn't put it on him [Feilhaber] entirely. As a team, sometimes you have to be happy that you can keep it right and wait for your moments."
When Trinidad and Tobago opened up the game in search of the equalizer, spaces behind the defense were waiting to be exploited, yet the cohesion needed in the midfield to take advantage of that extra space was lacking. In fact, the U.S. ended up on its heels at the close of the half, with some rather desperate defensive plays the only reason the Soca Warriors did not close the gap.
When Donovan entered in the second half, the U.S. began to control the game firmly. The second goal was almost entirely his creation, from the give-and-go with Ching, to the speedy dribble run to the penalty box, to the pinpoint service to Johnson for the finish.
"I think [Donovan's] the best player in the U.S.," Ching said. "Anytime he's not on the roster, the national team is not the same. Without him, it's a little bit more difficult."
It leaves Bradley in a bit of a predicament that the U.S. squad continues to be so dependent on Donovan.
However, until the team as a whole or individuals in particular step up to show that the U.S. can be effective without Donovan, he remains as vital as ever. Without him, the squad too often looks simply inept.
Kasey Keller -- The captain of the squad had some uncharacteristically shaky moments in goal, gifting a potentially dangerous corner at one point with a poor play on the ball with his feet. A run to clear out a ball also exposed his lack of speed. Despite Keller's considerable experience and Bradley's politically correct attempts to remain objective on the question, it's becoming increasingly clear that No. 1 goalkeeper on the U.S. team is Tim Howard's post.
Frank Simek -- The young England-based defender had one of the best attacking plays of the first half, charging up the field on a counter that nearly paid off with a shot that went wide by not a whole lot. Considering the chances midfielders and forwards had frittered away at that point because of indecision, it was refreshing to see a defender willing to get forward and be dangerous.
Jay DeMerit -- DeMerit was safe, but not spectacular in any way. However, compared with the rather reckless way Oguchi Onyewu performed versus Guatemala, the steady performance might have been exactly what coach Bradley most wished to see.
Michael Parkhurst -- Displayed his trademark fine positioning to deny attackers opportunities, and was remarkably unruffled by the physical play of the Soca Warriors forwards. Slight miscommunications revealed him as the rookie on defense, and that might have been costly in a different context.
Jonathan Spector -- Spector unleashed a shot during the match that was so far off target that it was difficult to imagine he had at one point played as a forward. However, his defensive play was generally solid, although he tended to look for clearance kicks even when teammates were nearby for the outlet pass instead.
Steve Ralston -- The veteran should have been a stabilizing presence on the right, but at times Ralston looked as green as any rookie, with missed shots and miscues on runs. Ralston's comfort level improved considerably when Donovan and Taylor Twellman were both in the game.
Benny Feilhaber -- Of all the players on the field, the one with the highest likelihood to become the heir apparent to Donovan is Feilhaber. Yet his time at Hamburg may have emphasized the defensive part of his game more than anything else, putting him more in the mold of another destroyer than a creator. This is a role shared by fellow midfielders Rico Clark and Michael Bradley, as Clark freely admitted.
"Benny, he's a player kind of like me and Michael," Clark said. "When Landon came on, he had more of an offensive role."
Flush with defensive midfielders, the U.S. could really use Feilhaber demonstrating more offensive capabilities than he displayed versus Trinidad and Tobago.
Ricardo Clark -- The energy Clark brought to the match made him an extremely effective ball-winner. Although it would have been good to see him add punch to the offense, Clark seemed focused on showing Bradley he has learned to play the simple aspects of his role well. Mission accomplished.
Justin Mapp -- The rap on Mapp still stands, moments of brilliance punctuate stretches of play when he seems to drift. At times, Mapp still appears unwilling or unable to search out the ball, fight for it and contribute the kind of effort that will make him a game-changing presence and threat for the entire 90 minutes of the match.
"[Mapp's] game has to mature," Bradley said. "We see the moments when he gets the ball when he's able to slow down and speed up and get by people. He has to be more mobile when he doesn't have the ball, not simply wait for the ball to come to him."
Brian Ching -- Missed on more than a few looks, but did the little things well, holding the ball up, combining well with Donovan for the all-important goal, and always provided a threat in the box with his movement and runs. Needs to work on positional awareness to avoid offsides calls that nullify good passes delivered to him from the midfield.
Eddie Johnson -- The fleet forward scored his first international goal in more than a year, thanks mainly to Donovan, who was grateful Johnson had taken a lesson to heart from the game against Mexico this past February.
"Eddie, to his credit, learned his lesson from the Mexico game and got on his horse and made the run, and he got rewarded," Donovan said.
Although Johnson missed other chances, his speed and his recent confidence in league play make his potential loss with a leg injury a blow to the U.S.
Taylor Twellman -- Performed as a veteran forward should in his limited time, holding the ball up well and creating chances. Played Donovan through for a chance that should have been another goal.
Landon Donovan -- Donovan isn't making it easy for Bradley to leave him out of Copa America. He simply contributes too much, playing even more comfortably in the attacking-midfielder role and pulling the strings. However, he did fail to finish off a late one-on-one opportunity.
Michael Bradley -- Didn't play badly, but has yet to really distinguish himself with the squad, either. To be fair, though, he had little time to get a feel for the match in this encounter.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com and soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.