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2010 WCQ: US MNT Barely Bests El Salvador

us-soccerBefore I delve into my analysis of the US Men’s National Team’s win over El Salvador in last Saturday’s World Cup Qualifier, let me first address an issue that annoyed me throughout the game. No, I am not talking about John Harkes’ color commentary. I am talking about the fact that 70% of the fans at Rio Tinto Stadium in freaking Utah were rooting for the Yanks’ opponents. Yes, you heard me right, 7 out of 10 fans @ our purported “home field” supported SLV.

Now, this is a free country, so anyone who wants to go to the game can do so, and I support that. I just can’t believe the number of SLV fans in Utah doubles the number of US MNT fans. Or, maybe I just don’t want to believe it. I am not saying we should hold the games somewhere our opponent’s fans won’t show, because that would be impossible. We could play Honduras on the moon and some Los Catrachos fans would find a way to build some sort of lunar module.

What I am saying is that people in the US need to start to get behind this team right now. The 2010 World Cup is literally 275 days away. It is not only time for our players to step up, it is time for fans as well. It’s hard enough for the team to overcome the crowd when they are on the road, so let’s try to not make them do it as home as well. I do not want to ever hear Sam’s Army drowned out by some other squad’s supporters in America ever again. Never.

OK, let me jump off my soapbox so I can actually start to analyze the US Nats’ performance against El Salvador on Saturday night. Now, this wasn’t a “must win game” for the US, but a loss would have certainly injured our chances to qualify for South Africa in 2010. As Landon Donovan (or as I call him now “LD”, instead of the widely used nickname I have promised I will never employ again) said before the match, “if we lose, we don’t deserve to make the World Cup.” 

Well, we didn’t lose. Thanks to LD, of course. But, we almost did. In fact, we could have lost. We gave up the first goal of the game to SLV, and we looked like we would drop the game and the points if we didn’t score before the half. Luckily for us, the refs (who called a questionable game) actually didn’t flag us for offsides on our first goal in the 41st minute. Then, we took the lead before half and never reliquished it. I am certainly happy with the result, but the performance?

Well, I won’t say I am “disappointed”, but I will say I “think we can do better.” Sure, we didn’t have some instrumental players due to suspensions (i.e., Clark and Onyewu), but we should have steamrolled SLV. They have heart (and they had the fans on their side), but we have much better athletes and these three points should have never been in jeopardy. Bradley did a decent job as coach once again, but which players proved their worth and which choked?

Well, as usual, LD was the “straw that stirred the drink.” He hustled all night and he was the offense’s impetus. He made a couple rash decisions, but he still earned his reputation as our best player. He assisted the 2nd goal (and what should have been the 3rd if not for a terrible offsides call). He gets my top marks. I also must once again pay homage to Tim Howard. Sure, he took a bad angle on SLV’s first goal, but he looked good and his 87th minute save was amazing.

Up top, Davies and Altidore further proved they should be penciled in for 2010 starting spots. Altidore was lazy at times, and I would like to see him work on his holding technique, but you cannot deny he is our most dangerous scoring threat, as he proved with the 2nd goal (and what should have been the 3rd). I am even more impressed with Davies, who seems to never tire. I hope the injury he came off with isn’t serious, as we will need him vs. T&T.

Who else solidified their 2010 starting spots? Well, Michael Bradley displayed his trademark hustle and Clint Dempsey (aka “MC Deuce”) scored yet another goal, so they maintained their strong hold on their spots. Both players often tried to do too much (or something too fancy) and cost the team when it came to possession. Plus, while Dempsey got one goal, he could have had a hat trick with all the chances he had. He just couldn’t finish, and I hated his cocky attitude.

The SLV game also gave us a chance to observe players I feel are on the bubble of becoming starters in 2010. Benny Feilhaber played decently once again and paired decently with MB, but he couldn’t spark the offense and I don’t think he plays defense as well as Ricardo Clark. Carlos Bocanegra (who many expect to start in 2010) again didn’t establish he is one of our best eleven, in my opinion. He looks past his prime and he made several mental mistakes vs. SLV.

Jonathan Spector was a pleasant surprise once again, and I would be hard pressed to come up with someone I would rather have playing on the outside in the back in 2010. I can’t say the same for Bornstein though, who made several bad decisions, including the risky clearance that led to SLV’s only goal. The funny thing is, throughout the game I kept thinking to myself I would like to see Spector push up more and Bornstein hang back and stay out of the attack.

As for everyone else? Well, Chad Marshall is a great MLS defender, but I don’t think he will play a big role (if any) come South Africa. He relies on his size too much, and he lacks the speed to keep up with the world’s best. Plus, refs seem to hate him. Stu Holden looked great again, and I think he will be a super sub come 2010. I wasn’t impressed with any of the other subs (Beckerman and Torres), but since they didn’t play long it was kind of hard to gauge their performance.

All in all, I can’t say I am happy that we had to come back from a deficit to beat a team as bad as SLV, but I can say I am thrilled we did it. We showed some resilience, which is something we will need come 2010. I didn’t learn a ton about our team on Saturday, but I saw LD again assume leadership over the team, which is about the most important thing we could have seen, so I am appeased. Hopefully, we can get another good result vs. T&T this week. We need it.

Happy Labor Day Everyone!