Saturday, June 2, 2007
China fails to test the U.S.
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- As far as dress rehearsals go, the United States' 4-1 dismantling of China couldn't have gone any better. Four goals are a welcome sight in any match, and the American defense looked composed for most of the game. Yet with the Gold Cup looming, one question still remains: Has the U.S. attack reached the point at which it can consistently pry open the packed defenses that they will undoubtedly encounter during the month of June?
The quartet of goals the Americans scored would seem to answer that query in the affirmative, and if Clint Dempsey had been more clinical in front of goal, the team's final tally would have been even greater. More importantly, there were times when the U.S. midfield played with the requisite speed and touch needed to break down an organized defense, with Benny Feilhaber's goal in the 28th minute a prime example. With the score tied at one, a quick series of passes in midfield preceded Sacha Kljestan's lofted ball that found Feilhaber in the clear, and ended with his deft chip beating both goalkeeper Chen Dong as well as defender Zhang Yaokun. Yet whether Saturday's success will transfer to next Thursday's set-to with Guatemala is far from certain for the simple reason that China put up little resistance. The vast majority of the physical battles went the Americans' way, and I can't think of one Chinese player who stood out, which makes me wonder just what a player like Dong Fangzhuo is doing on the books of a club like Manchester United. (Yes, I get the jersey-sale angle, but still.) There were also times when the U.S. seemed to abandon the quick touches that had opened up the Chinese defense, with the American players showing either too much or too little patience. Those periods -- most notably after DaMarcus Beasley's 10th minute penalty, as well as at the start of the second half -- came at a time when the Chinese were vulnerable. Of course the snug dimensions of Spartan Stadium had something to do with this. Kljestan noted that playing in Spartan is "almost like playing in an indoor game," and no team is going to dominate the opposition for the entire 90 minutes, especially at the international level. Eventually the U.S. put the game away courtesy of two set-piece goals, and given the good spells of play that the American attack had, I'm inclined to give them solid marks. That especially applies to Feilhaber, who not only got involved in the offense, but stepped in with some timely tackles that helped launch some American counterattacks, all of which caught the eye of U.S. head coach Bob Bradley. "Obviously it's tight in the middle of the field but there were still a couple of moments where [Feilhaber's] ability to size up the situation quickly helped him out," said Bradley. "I thought it was a good game for Benny." The same could be said for defender Oguchi Onyewu, who delivered his best national team match in a long while. After a winter of discontent in England, Onyewu was back to his dominating self in the air and capped off his evening with a headed goal from Beasley's free kick. His cohorts in defense did their bit as well, although Bradley will need to smooth out his team's defending on set pieces, which saw China break through for their only goal of the match in the 15th minute. On that occasion, an inability to clear a Chinese free kick allowed the visitors to scramble home an equalizer. As for the Americans' young trio of Charlie Davies, Kamani Hill, and Lee Nguyen, none of them were given enough time to really have much of an impact, although each player gave glimpses of their ability. But for them, this match was all about getting a taste of international soccer, and none were counted on to give a game-changing performance. For their teammates, it's a different story. Much was expected and on this night they delivered. Bradley's challenge now is to achieve that goal while integrating the compliment of MLS players he now has at his disposal. Player Ratings (Out of 10) Tim Howard, 6 -- Wasn't asked to do much, but did come through in the 18th minute when he touched Shao Jiyai's free kick around the post. Howard had little chance on Zhang's equalizer. Jonathan Bornstein, 5 -- The Chivas midfielder found it hard to find space on the small field, and he struggled with his distribution a bit more than normal. One terrible giveaway gifted the Chinese a rare chance, but he recovered to force a corner, so no harm done. Carlos Bocanegra, 6 -- The Fulham defender was solid in defense, although his weak clearing header preceded China's goal. That said, it appeared to be more of a team-wide breakdown (with a hint of luck) than the fault of a single player, and Bocanegra played well otherwise. Oguchi Onyweu, 8 -- "Gooch" was towering in the middle, and capped of his day with a well-deserved goal. Due to the opponent, it's tough to draw many far-reaching conclusions from this match, but given his struggles earlier in the year with the national team, as well as at Newcastle, this performance should boost his confidence. Jonathan Spector, 4 -- The West Ham defender performed adequately on the right, but he struggled with his touch on a few occasions, and his crosses lacked quality. DaMarcus Beasley, 6 -- Traded flashes of brilliance with moments of ineptitude, but the good outweighed the bad. Had terrific success with some slashing runs towards the middle of the field, but his touch and finishing seemed off. (Then again, when has his touch ever been "on"?) His delivery on Onyewu's goal was excellent, however. Michael Bradley, 5 -- Spent the first half struggling with the speed of the game, and always seemed to take one touch too many. He also went to ground on tackles way too often, and needs to pick his spots better in those instances. He did have his good moments however. It was his pass that sprung Beasley for his eventual penalty, and he improved in the second half. Benny Feilhaber, 7 -- Another big step in the right direction for the Hamburg midfielder. He seemed to be the first to adapt to the tight spaces, took his goal well and had some well-timed tackles. His pinpoint corner kick on Dempsey's goal makes me hope that we have seen the last of Landon Donovan in that role. Sacha Kljestan, 5 -- Considering it was his first international, the Chivas midfielder acquitted himself well, and it was his quick thinking that released Feilhaber for his goal. He'll need to polish his crossing, but a spot on the Copa America roster seems within reach. Clint Dempsey, 5 -- Started out wide, but gradually drifted up top, where he partnered well with Razov. He could have had a hat-trick had he converted all of his chances. He was too in love with the dribble for long stretches. No complaints about his goal though. Ante Razov, 5 -- A solid performance from the veteran, who showed good movement and some good touches in leading the American front line. Razov is pretty far down on the U.S. forward depth chart, but he didn't look out of place in this game. Subs: Kasey Keller, 5 -- I can't recall him making one meaningful save. It was a day at the beach for the veteran. Charlie Davies, 4 -- Showed tremendous pace, and brought the crowd to its feet with one mazy run. But Davies was also pushed off the ball a little bit too easily, making me wonder if his future for both club and country lies out wide. Frank Simek, 5 -- Slid comfortably into the right side of defense, and might have helped his cause in his quest to earn a starting role. Kamani Hill, 4 -- Had one darting run that caught the eye, but otherwise didn't do much. Lee Nguyen, 5 -- Wasn't on long, but showed some flashes of his renowned technical ability. Jesse Marsch, 5 -- With the game already won, Marsch earned his second career cap.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at email@example.com.