The Paraguay friendly was an exciting affair with the U.S. attempting to take advantage of a spirited second half against Argentina.
A number of analysts felt the United States needed to assert a presence for 90 minutes, something that they did not nor could not accomplish against Argentina.
The game had more of a CONCACAF feel: disruptive, disjointed and ugly.
Paraguay picked up an early goal on a corner where both central defenders fell out of the play after early contact on the kick. However, the goal happened in the first half, and the U.S. had more than its share of opportunities to tie once again.
While younger players shined, the veterans (barring a few exceptions) did not execute, and the one-goal deficit was enough for Paraguay.
The U.S. had an opportunity to work on its 4-4-2 formation, improving its chemistry and play.
Bradley was even willing to work with different combinations of players, having the opportunity to keep the focus on Donovan and Dempsey (the core of any U.S. offense) late in the game just in case he needed an alternative for Jozy Alitdore and Juan Agudelo.
Unlike the Argentina game, there were no late-game heroes.
The United States lived up to its most significant fault: the inability to score goals.
Paraguay played a stringent and frustrating defense—a defense other teams will emulate if the U.S. goes down a goal in the Gold Cup.
Bob Bradley may be pleased with his young players in this contest, but even as the American player pool can replenish its supporting cast, the problems still remain the same: If the ball doesn't find its way into the net, then the U.S. can't win.
GK, Marcus Hahnemann: 4
Others might give Hahnemann a better rating, but he could have saved the goal. Should he have saved it? No—but that's the difference.
Hahnemann has always been the backup because he's a routine shot stopper. The great goalkeepers (a la Tim Howard on Saturday) stop the shots you're not supposed to. The U.S. has had a tradition of great goalies; the same needs to be expected of the backup.
D, Jonathan Bornstein: 4
Just because you get up the field doesn't mean you deserve accolades. Dempsey gave Bornstein plenty of room, especially since no one pressed the space on Bornstein's side.
At the international level it's not good enough to get into space; players must execute. Bornstein can't execute. He never could.
A left-sided player hasn't emerged, and that's why there hasn't been a replacement for him. Bocanegra will play here in the big games.
D, Tim Ream: 5
Really wanted to give Ream a higher ranking. He has much more control on the ball than any other central back being considered; add to that his poise and young age, and his performance is noteworthy.
But here's the difference: International defenders (especially in Europe) do what Tim Ream has done every day. The next step is for the youngster to assert his influence in the back in a way reminiscent of Onyewu before his injury (think a poor man's Nemanja Vidic for Manchester United).
D, Jay DeMerit: 4
A difficult goal and an early night because of injury, but at the start of the game as the United States tried to create flow and a tempo to the game, his on-the-ball skills came up lacking.
The backs failed on the goal all together (something rarely seen by the American side). Still, DeMerit will not be a starter in four years—if he is, the U.S. is in trouble.
D/M, Timothy Chandler: 7
One of the best additions to the U.S. team. He gets up the field well, his crosses are in play (Jonathan Bornstein and Carlos Bocanegra need to take notes) and his speed makes him dangerous on offense and on defense (he recovers quickly). He interacts well with the attackers.
Chandler played himself into contention for a spot in this year's Gold Cup.
M, Clint Dempsey: 6
The goal is to get Dempsey and Donovan on the ball; that's exactly what happened in this game. For Dempsey, it's clear he did the work to get open, moving all over the midfield. He trusted his left back to cover for him (a big risk considering its Bornstein), but it paid off, as Dempsey was more of an influence in the game.
This is the goal for the U.S. attack. If Dempsey and Donovan aren't influential, then the U.S. struggles. Dempsey did his part.
Did he hold the ball up at times when he should have played quicker? Maybe—but at some point, the rest of the team must adapt to the best players. It's time for the U.S. to play off of Dempsey.
The U.S. struggles in this department in general. When Mikkel Diskeruud took extra touches in his last game, the other players did not know how to adapt to a player that can hold onto the ball.
M, Michael Bradley: 4
Started off strong and had a great shot late in the game, but what else did he do?
Bradley's moments of brilliance earn him respect beyond the simpler and quieter parts of a successful midfield performance. Let's start with decent passing.
Bradley's best passes were drop passes. With more sophisticated teams (and passing stats), these are thrown out as the player is relinquishing offensive influence to another player.
It's not all Bradley's fault. It's clear there's confusion as to midfield responsibilities between him, Edu and Jones. They all play in each other's place and want to inhabit the same roles.
By the time Sacha Kljestan came on, I was hoping he was taking a central midfield spot in order to add a new look. Losing Stuart Holden hurts more than can be expressed.
Note: Bradley hasn't been subbed in a game since before the World Cup. There are games when he has warranted a substitution. It's time to keep track of minutes. Jermaine Jones could have taken his place and Mikkel Diskeruud for Edu. Even if it's not overt favoritism, it needs to be addressed.
M, Maurice Edu: 3
The biggest difference between this game and Argentina is the lack of distinct positioning between Edu and Bradley. One of the benefits of Edu playing farther up the field in the Argentina game was the inclination to play there when the formation changed.
In the Paraguay game, Edu played a more horizontal partner to Bradley. In essence, they played the same role and covered the same space. This hurt the U.S. and has been a problem for some time now.
It's time for coaching to fix this issue. Play a diamond; work on positioning in practice. Otherwise, the central midfield is a disaster. It doesn't matter who plays there.
M, Landon Donovan: 4
How Donovan plays—more specifically, if he can or can't execute on offense—directly affects how the U.S. plays. Donovan couldn't pass tonight. He had too many interceptions, and his service on free kicks was unacceptable.
This is not the first time Donovan has had a poor time with his service. He went through a tough spell before the World Cup. He needs to recognize his struggles and let someone else take the kick (just not Michael Bradley—his service on his one kick was just as ineffectual).
His missed volley summed up his night; sometimes, the ball doesn't end up in the net. Unfortunately for the U.S., when Donovan can't score, the U.S. rarely wins.
F, Jozy Alitdore: 4
He looked great in the second half of the Argentina friendly, with great touches and combinations, but what happens when the partnership isn't working that way?
Altidore is quickly turning into Brian Ching; he's a player that gets the ball and does little with it. His failure to execute caused the change in formation (at some point, there needed to be a different formation; remember the troubles after Davies was injured). Still, his future is safe until a replacement can be found, and there isn't one yet.
But Charlie Davies has scored a couple of goals in the same league with Agudelo.
F, Juan Agudelo: 7
In a stingy game, strength on the ball and timely fouls control the pace, space and possession in a game. Agudelo did his job. Unlucky on a non-called penalty he created by himself, but with the amount of set pieces either he or Dempsey created, the U.S. should have scored.
He did his part and earned his way into the Gold Cup squad. An impressive display for an 18-year-old.
D, Carlos Bocanegra: 5
Only garnered this high of a ranking because he was coming on after the flow and pace had already been dictated, and it wasn't in the 60-80 minute range when substitutes can put more of an imprint on the game. He had to adapt quickly and shut down fresh attackers. Boca has been here before, and he did a comparable job to DeMerit.
In the second half, his inability to hit a decent cross really hurt his game. Like Bornstein, when he gets up the field, he needs to execute.
In fact, his inability on the cross really changes the U.S. attack. Maybe it should move to a hybrid three-back system with the right-sided back pushing extremely high since he's much stronger on defense than on offense (and then only pushing forward on set pieces where he's so much more effective).
M, Jermaine Jones: 4
Again, one shot does not make a ranking.
Jones' passes were erratic. He spent too much time playing on top of his defenders (something all of the central midfielders have been guilty of) and didn't look to push forward.
Jones offered nothing that Bradley and Edu don't already do, and that a slew of MLS holding midfielders do as well. His frustrated collapse at the final whistle did not translate in fan support based on his performance.
D, Erich Lichaj: 6
Strong defensive play, and he was a great partner for Timothy Chandler. The right side of the defense is secure. He gets forward well—not quite as well as Chandler, but good enough. Lichaj needs to secure club team playing time, but Cherundolo's replacements are ready.
M, Jonathan Spector: 5
Unfortunately, the ways in which Spector can help an American squad (as a utility player) aren't currently needed. He really can't play from start to finish, and certainly not in the back, but he did a fine job as a substitute in the midfield, much in the same way he does for West Ham.
But that's not what the U.S. needs. It needs players that offer a new look to a predictable 4-4-2. A decent national team pool player, but he may not make a Gold Cup squad; specialization might trump utility.
M, Sacha Kljestan: N/A
Sure, he had a decent amount of time on the field, but he didn't add much to the game, hence the N/A score. The game didn't play his way.
Yes, he had a couple of combos and an early cross, but they came to naught. He did nothing to hurt the game, but nothing to add to it as well.
GK, David Yelldell: N/A
Played a whole half, but had no impact on the game. Yes, he had an amazing shot to defend, but there was nothing he could do on it; luckily, the post saved the day. The goal was out of his hands—much like the scoreline.
Overall, Bradley should be pleased with the progress his youth players have made. They can easily replace aging players, especially Chandler, Lichaj and Ream. All three have played more than once and have done well.
Agudelo is a great find and he will be an exciting addition to the squad.
Still, the inability to score—especially from the run of play—and the trend that "how Donovan plays is how the U.S. fairs" are problems needing a remedy.
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