U.S. grinds out drab win against Barbados
Chances are that about 15 months from now, the U.S. will be celebrating its qualification to the 2010 World Cup. When that day comes, Sunday's 1-0 win over Barbados -- one in which the U.S. prevailed 9-0 on aggregate in their World Cup qualifying series -- will be largely forgotten. Thank goodness, because this was an unimpressive performance that induced a near-terminal case of boredom.
Granted, Sunday's match was a no-win situation for the Americans. If they play too well, then they're simply piling it on against an overmatched foe. Play poorly, and they'll be forced to take the walk of shame back to the States, all the while trying to explain how a side sprinkled with amateurs could hang with a team comprised of full-time professionals.
The latter scenario is essentially what happened, although Barbados deserves a fair amount of credit for this. The Bajans played with a great deal more tenacity, and the addition of Wigan Athletic defender Emmerson Boyce made for a much more organized defense.
A few interesting -- and understandable -- personnel choices by U.S. head coach Bob Bradley also created some less-than-ideal circumstances. In an effort to shoehorn some fringe players into the lineup, the U.S. manager deployed DaMarcus Beasley and Freddy Adu up top, with the duo taking turns occupying the lone forward role. It made for the smallest attacking tandem since Bradley trotted out Chris Rolfe and Landon Donovan against Mexico 16 months ago.
In the first half, this lack of physicality up top didn't hinder the Americans too much. While the U.S. attack wasn't lightning quick, it was playing fast enough, especially with Adu providing an element of surprise. Outside backs Drew Moor and Heath Pearce were constant threats going forward, providing good offensive support. And when Adu's through ball to Eddie Lewis in the 21st minute allowed the veteran to score the game's only goal, it seemed just reward for the way the U.S. had controlled the opening exchanges in the match.
But credit Barbados for sticking to its task. Playing only for pride, the Bajans soon realized that ratcheting up the physical play would do plenty to stifle the Americans' undersized attack.
In the second half, Barbadian pride morphed into considerable self-belief that a shock result could be achieved, with the U.S. dodging a few bullets. The biggest was when Boyce rattled the crossbar in the 57th minute after he latched on to a knockdown by Mark McCammon. A bit of justice then appeared to be delivered in the 85th minute, when a McCammon cross was deflected away by U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan, but right into the path of John Parris, who duly slotted the ball home. But McCammon was ruled offside, and the goal was waived off.
One could surmise that it was the Americans' lack of game management in the second half that was largely responsible for letting Barbados back into the match, and there were times when more patience, rather than hitting hopeful long balls, would have better served the U.S. cause. But the absence of a forward who could hold up the ball may have been an even bigger contributor to the team's offensive struggles. The Americans' approach work out of midfield was often decent enough, but with the likes of Adu forced to receive the ball with his back to the goal, he was often overpowered, allowing Barbados to steal and try to nick a goal in transition.
It's a scenario that isn't likely to be repeated once the semifinal round of qualifying starts, which is why this narrow result is as insignificant as last week's blowout was, at least in terms of the team's future prospects. And given that the match was a glorified friendly, the attention turns to individual performances.
The only problem is there were really none of note. Yes, there were a few "wow" moments by players like Adu and Moor, but not enough to lead one to think they will result in more playing time. The central defensive duo of Danny Califf and Jay DeMerit did have a few anxious sequences, but was solid overall. Yet like Moor and Adu, neither player likely did enough to alter Bradley's thinking too much, especially given the caliber of the opponent.
All the more reason to burn the game tape, and look forward to the semifinal round of qualifying.
Player ratings (scale of 1-10)
Brad Guzan, 4 -- His aerial game didn't look at all convincing, especially with regard to his catch/punch decisions.
Heath Pearce, 5 -- Was an absolute terror going forward in the first half, but his passing got more suspect as the game progressed. His poor finish on a first-half breakaway showed why he plays in the back.
Jay DeMerit, 5 -- A typical DeMerit performance: solid tackling, but he seems to lose more balls in the air than he should, which probably explains why he has not moved ahead of Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu in the defender pecking order.
Danny Califf, 6 -- Has assumed the primary backup position to Bocanegra and Onyewu and didn't hurt himself with this performance.
Drew Moor, 6 -- Was one of the prime attacking threats for the U.S., which is both good news and bad news. Also defended capably, including a vital block of a Jonathan Nurse shot in the first half.
Eddie Lewis, 5 -- Took his goal well, but went long stretches without seeing the ball.
Michael Bradley, 6 -- Was solid in the first half, and his passing was sharp throughout. I still get the nagging feeling that he could have done more to put his stamp on the game.
Danny Szetela, 4 -- Just gave the ball away far too often. Out of all the bit part players to get playing time on Sunday, Szetela did the least to seize his chance.
Sacha Kljestan, 5 -- A day in which his defense was actually better than his attacking game, although the more he slid into the center of midfield, the more comfortable he looked.
DaMarcus Beasley, 4 -- Operating as a lone forward certainly does not play to Beasley's strengths, but he did little to help the attack. He seemed to spend most of the day bailing out of tackles.
Freddy Adu, 6 -- Was the only U.S. player to try anything remotely unexpected, and the goal came from one such effort. He needed to be sharper on the ball in the second half.
Chris Rolfe, 5 -- Didn't do badly in his brief stint, but he still seems way down on the forward depth chart.
John Thorrington, 6 -- Actually gave the Americans a much-needed spark on the right side of midfield, and seemed to link up well with club teammate Rolfe.
Chad Barrett, NR -- Traveled a long way to earn his first senior cap, but earn it he did.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.