Sunday, January 20, 2008
Guzan the standout as U.S. blanks Sweden
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
CARSON, Calif. -- It's almost a shame that Landon Donovan's record-setting 35th goal in a national team uniform came in a friendly as non-descript as Saturday's 2-0 victory over Sweden. Surely a World Cup -- or at least a World Cup qualifier -- would have been a more appropriate venue for such an occasion.
Nope, the first friendly of 2008 proved to be the moment (assuming FIFA denies the Danish soccer federation's recent protest that Denmark's 3-1 loss to the United States on Jan. 20, 2007, in which Donovan scored, did not count as a full international) when Donovan consigned Eric Wynalda to second place in the record books. Not that the U.S. captain had any problem with the timing. Upon depositing his 48th-minute penalty kick past Swedish goalkeeper Rami Shabaan, Donovan enthusiastically grabbed the ball as a souvenir, the assumption being that he'll keep it in his trophy cabinet. But when asked about his plans, Donovan hinted at other possibilities.
"I don't know, [maybe I'll] sell it, just like Barry Bonds," Donovan joked. "It would go for about 20 cents."
Despite Donovan's history-making moment, the setting, level of play and result practically mumbled, "solid, but not spectacular." Of course, U.S. head coach Bob Bradley will take that description every time out, especially when most of the American players on display were playing their first competitive match in over two months. The passing was a bit ragged at times and the U.S. didn't create much from open play, with their crossing leaving plenty to be desired. But while Bradley noted that there were parts of the U.S. game that needed to improve, he was quick to accentuate the positive.
"It was a game that had good tempo," Bradley said. "It was a game that was physically challenging, and I think to come out of it with a good result is important. ... In all ways it was a good night."
Bradley went on to laud Donovan for his assertive play early in the match, which saw an energized U.S. team seize the initiative. Such aggression saw the Americans take a 15th minute lead when defender Eddie Robinson -- making his international debut -- smashed home a rebound after Pat Noonan's header had been saved by Shaaban.
But while the Swedes were also fielding a largely experimental side, it did contain the experienced midfield duo of Anders Svensson and Daniel Andersson, and the pair imposed themselves more as the half went on, leading to a Swedish revival. That rally was punctuated in the 33rd minute by two point-blank chances for forward Pontus Wernbloom, both of which were denied by U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
The display was a case of perfect timing for Guzan. It wasn't too long ago that he was a Chivas USA rookie who was getting shelled on a regular basis, an experience that Bradley said most other young keepers "wouldn't have survived." But Guzan did survive, improving markedly over the last two seasons. Last night, with the eyes of a Celtic scout upon him, he did more than anyone else on the field to raise his stock.
With Guzan's heroics helping the U.S. reach halftime with the lead, it was left to teenage wunderkind Jozy Altidore -- and Donovan -- to provide the Americans with some valuable breathing room just three minutes into the second half. Fed deep in the box by Noonan, Altidore won what at first looked like a dubious penalty until replays showed Swedish defender Mattias Bjarsmyr with a fistful of Altidore's jersey. Donovan stepped up to bury the spot kick, making history as well as an interesting coincidence given that it was Altidore who helped set it up.
Much like Donovan was when he began his international career, plenty -- perhaps too much -- is expected of Altidore. But if one were to take bets on who is most likely to eclipse Donovan's record, plenty of wagers would be placed on the New York Red Bulls' forward. His performance Saturday was of the step-in-the-right-direction variety, which will give U.S. fans hope that Altidore is still capable of paying off on such a bet.
Given that Donovan is still only 25, such a day, if it ever happens is a long way off. And there are still plenty of goals left in the U.S record-holder's career. Next up is Mexico on Feb. 6, and we all know how much Donovan has enjoyed scoring against the Americans' archrival in the past. If FIFA rules that Donovan's goal last year against Denmark did not take place in an "A" international, then perhaps a more fitting match for the record is still a possibility.
Player ratings: (scale of 1-10)Brad Guzan, 7 -- Celtic were watching, and they undoubtedly came away impressed. When Sweden assumed control late in the first half, it was Guzan who came to the Americans' rescue.
Ramiro Corrales, 5 -- Defended competently enough, but saw plenty of the ball and rarely did much with it. Did have one dangerous cross that Swedish keeper Shaaban headed away, but the U.S. needed more of that.
Eddie Robinson, 6 -- For a defender who excels in the air, Robinson's best moments came on the ground. Scored the all-important goal on his debut, an appearance that Robinson admitted afterward he thought would never come.
Jimmy Conrad, 4 -- Conrad could have staked his claim for increased playing time, but looked shaky in the 45 minutes of action. Not only did he lose his share of aerial duels, but his near calamitous mix-up with Drew Moor in the 34th minute nearly gifted the visitors a goal.
Drew Moor, 4 -- Another player who was less than impressive, even if you remove his aforementioned misstep with Conrad. His passing was just not sharp.
Brad Davis, 5 -- Had some good moments with his set-piece delivery, but really didn't do much from open play.
Ricardo Clark, 6 -- Back from exile, Clark showed his usual range and tackling, and was tidy enough on the ball, although he could have been a shade better. Some playing time against Mexico will be a good gauge of his progress over the last year.
Maurice Edu, 5 -- Wasn't horrible, but wasn't great either. Got forward well a couple of times, but it never amounted to much.
Landon Donovan, 6 -- Was active all match and also put in some vital toe-pokes on the defensive end. If there was one aspect of Donovan's game to take a shine off the evening, it was his crossing, which rarely found its intended target.
Taylor Twellman, 5 -- Had a few clever touches early where his telepathic understanding with Noonan was on display, but it left you wanting more.
Pat Noonan, 6 -- It's tempting to think that Noonan didn't do much, until you realize he had a hand in both of the goals. Whether this is the kind of performance to catch a European team's eye remains to be seen.
Michael Parkhurst, 6 -- Perhaps the biggest shock of the evening was that Parkhurst had a foul called against him. Otherwise, he was his usual composed self.
Clarence Goodson, 6 -- Probably had more success in the air then any other U.S. defender, and he didn't look out of place at all; a good first step.
Jozy Altidore, 6 -- Earned the U.S. a priceless penalty, and showed good progress from his debut against South Africa last November.
Chris Rolfe, 4 -- Struggled with his touch, especially when sprung by Corrales on a U.S. counterattack.
Sacha Kljestan, 6 -- Had some good touches and combined well with Clark on a couple of occasions.
Jeremiah White, NR -- Brief cameo for the Denmark-based midfielder.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.