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Friday, June 19, 2009
Plenty of question marks for U.S. in Confederations Cup

Ives Galarcep, Special to ESPN Soccernet

Two games, two losses, six goals allowed and two red cards. All that -- along with a truckload of new question marks -- is what the United States national team has managed out of its first two matches in the Confederations Cup.

The tournament was supposed to be a test to gauge how far along the U.S. team is a year ahead of the World Cup, and the early results of that test have not been good. The Americans have followed up a very encouraging first half against Italy with 135 minutes of mistakes, flat performances and uninspired play that has U.S. fans wondering if the national team is doomed for another early World Cup exit.

What has been made most clear so far is that the current U.S. national team still has some growing up to do. The absence of several veterans from the Confederations Cup roster meant this young squad would need some leaders to emerge and some new players to step up and show that they could impose their will on the U.S. team as well as its opponents.

Nobody has really stepped up, and no new stars have emerged. There have been some promising developments, but not enough to call the Confederations Cup anything but a failure to this point.

While players such as DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Sacha Kljestan have disappointed, U.S. coach Bob Bradley must shoulder his share of the blame as well. Not blame for the results -- because we all knew that beating Italy and Brazil was going to be extremely difficult -- but blame for the team's lack of composure, organization and heart. Bradley can also count himself guilty of some highly questionable lineup decisions against Brazil, specifically the decision to start a pair of out-of-form players in Beasley and Kljestan. While he isn't about to be fired, Bradley absolutely must learn from his Confederations Cup mistakes, just as the players who have let him down must learn from their own failings.

Here are five things we have learned about the U.S. after two Confederations Cup matches:

1. DaMarcus Beasley is finished as a national team player (for now).

When Beasley endured a terrible performance in the loss to Costa Rica it was tough to imagine he would get another start for the U.S. team any time soon, but he did, and Bob Bradley and the national team paid dearly for that second chance.

It is clear that Beasley is not only out of form but is lacking confidence, and a national team can't afford to be anywhere near that combination. Beasley should spend the rest of the year focusing on getting his club career back on track. If he turns things around he will definitely merit a look come 2010.

With Beasley out of the picture, it is time for Bob Bradley to take a serious look at the left wing prospects currently excelling in MLS. Brad Davis and Colin Clark have played well and both merit looks, while U.S. Olympic team winger Robbie Rogers is healthy again and should be in the mix. All three have to be in the running for Gold Cup roster spots.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Egypt
Sunday
Rustenburg, South Africa
2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

2. Clint Dempsey is burned out

While he has been nowhere near as bad as Beasley, Dempsey has not looked quite right in recent matches. Whether he is simply tired, or perhaps just not clicking with his U.S. teammates, Dempsey isn't providing the spark expected from one of the U.S. team's most highly regarded players, especially considering the successful club season he just enjoyed with Fulham.

What can be done? A rest would be a start, and that rest should begin Sunday. There are other players Bradley needs to look at, and Dempsey needs to recharge his batteries ahead of the crucial Aug. 12 qualifier versus Mexico at Estadio Azteca. If the Americans are to have any chance to beat the Mexicans, Dempsey needs to be at the top of his game.

3. The U.S. team desperately needs some more creativity in its attack

The lack of production from Dempsey, total loss of form of Beasley and absence of injured striker Brian Ching have left a serious void in the U.S. attacking department, with the offense too often consisting of only long balls, the occasional Landon Donovan run and set pieces. There just hasn't been enough in the way of quality passing, continuous possession and production of chances on a consistent basis.

Enter Jose Francisco Torres and Freddy Adu, two of the most creative players on the U.S. roster. Neither has seen a minute of playing time in the Confederations Cup, but it is clear that one or both players need to start seeing some time if the U.S. attack is going to snap out of its recent funk. Torres is the more complete player, with better defensive characteristics to go along with good vision and excellent touch, but Adu has done well in previous national team cameos against top competition and will need to get a serious look at some point this summer, either against Egypt or certainly in the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup.

4. Jonathan Spector has locked down the U.S. team's right back spot

When Frankie Hejduk suffered a groin injury that threatened to keep him out of the Confederations Cup, there was some concern about whether Spector could handle the job, as he was just returning from a two-year injury ordeal. Spector quickly eased those fears with a solid performance in the win versus Honduras, and he has continued his impressive form in the Confederations Cup.

Spector held his own against the combination of Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Grosso before another good showing versus Brazil. He was beaten on Brazil's first goal, but Spector showed an ability to defend the wing as well as get forward effectively. His overlapping run and passing combination with Landon Donovan led to Benny Feilhaber's shot off the crossbar. As it stands, veterans Steve Cherundolo and Hejduk will have a hard time taking the job away from Spector, as long as he can stay healthy.

5. Jay DeMerit is a very capable starting center back

It might seem crazy to think a back line has done well after giving up six goals in two matches, but Spector, DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu have all played well in spite of a lack of support from the attack. DeMerit has had his shaky moments, but he has been better than expected in place of injured captain Carlos Bocanegra.

What DeMerit has done, if nothing else, is establish himself as the clear No. 3 central defender, something that has been lacking for the U.S. team for some time. His quality play makes you wonder whether Bradley might consider using Bocanegra at left back once he is healthy (Bocanegra plays left back for club side Stade Rennes). Jonathan Bornstein has actually done well in the starting left back role, though, so DeMerit might have to wait for another run of playing time.

There are plenty of other questions that remain unanswered, from whether Feilhaber can deliver a good 90 minutes to whether Ricardo Clark can be trusted to avoid silly challenges and whether Bradley had learned his lesson about playing Beasley and Kljestan, despite their very questionable form.

Some of these might be answered when the U.S. plays Egypt on Sunday, but there probably won't be enough answers to keep the 2009 Confederations Cup from being a forgettable experience and a failed test for a young U.S. team that still has a long way to go to be ready for World Cup 2010.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.




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