By Andrew Winner
January 19, 2008
After two weeks of hard training at the Home Depot Center, the Men’s National Team is chomping at the bit to get underway tonight. For the MLS players, this 2008 camp is their first real action since the offseason, so Bob Bradley has been running them pretty hard.
Although tonight’s match is a friendly, there’s still plenty at stake for many of the players in camp. With the European-based players absent, several new faces will get a chance to wedge themselves into Bradley’s long-term plans as World Cup qualifying begins in June.
Tonight’s opposition is Sweden, which fields a team missing many of its signature players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Freddie Ljungberg, and Olof Mellberg. Without further ado, here are my notes from the game.
1st minute – New players in defense for the Americans – Ramiro Corrales on the left and Drew Moor on the right. One of Bradley’s goals in this camp is to find some depth in defense so these two get the start. Eddie Robinson teams with Jimmy Conrad in the middle. Should be interesting to see how they hold up against a young, energetic group of Swedish attackers.
5th – A good ball in from Drew Moor on the right, who’s been active early in his first national team appearance. It looks like the United States will be able to keep possession against the Swedes – that means the outside defenders Moor and Corrales will be able to creep forward and swing balls into the box.
7th – Off some solid buildup play, Ricardo Clark gets his full weight behind his shot, but it’s saved and cleared away. In his first competitive action since last September 30th, when he famously mistook Carlos Ruiz’ ribs for the ball, Clark will provide solid defensive destructiveness and sprinkle in a few sparkling offensive moments, like that shot.
9th – Landon Donovan is manning the right wing for the Yanks. He’s the best player on the field for either team – we’ll see what kind of quality he has today. By all accounts he should make meatballs out of this second-choice Swedish team.
12th – Taylor Twellman almost latches onto the free kick from Brad Davis. Winning headers isn’t always about size. It’s about anticipation, as Twellman so artfully demonstrates time and again. He’s often the first to know where a ball will end up and runs to the spot, a quality he shares with a baseball outfielder. (It’s no coincidence that Twellman was, in fact, offered a minor-league contract by the Kansas City Royals before choosing soccer.)
In addition to his anticipation, his small but muscular frame allows him to slide through cracks in defenses to get his head on the ball.
15th – GOAL! United States 1, Sweden 0. The first goal of the match comes from an unlikely source. Eddie Robinson, earning his first cap, moved into the penalty box from central defense for the corner kick and picks up the scraps. Kudos also to the man who swung in the dangerous corner – Brad Davis’ left foot has been dangerous throughout the entire game. He’s making the most of his chance on the big stage.
18th – Sweden, as is their style, is opting to play long balls forward. However, the Swedish players haven’t been able to sustain any sort of possession or win any knockdowns. Therefore it’s difficult to evaluate the defenders, but the goal-scorer Robinson has been strong in the air.
22nd – Finally something positive from the Swedes, as they finally get some numbers forward. Clark, who is covering a lot of ground as always, tracks back to block the effort.
23rd – Great ball from Corrales on the left but Donovan can’t get on the end of it. Corrales, who is looking desperately for a move back to MLS during this transfer window, has been solid in the back, which is exactly what Bradley is looking for.
25th – Maurice Edu is not rewarded by the referee for his dive in the corner. Not too much action for Edu in the center of the park. As Sweden tries to keep it compact, the United States is going wide to generate offense. As such, Edu hasn’t had much impact on the game. However as Sweden keeps throwing the ball up the field for the target man, he and Clark are getting back and preventing the Scandinavians from winning the knock-downs.
Meanwhile, Corrales and the Swedish striker Pontus Wernbloom are having a nice battle.
32nd – One way to prevent Twellman from sliding into the open spaces is to grab him. One of the Swedish defenders demonstrates the technique ably.
33rd – Brad Guzan showing his worth. There are a few keepers in camp vying to be Tim Howard’s understudy. Guzan, last season’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, just came out to cut down the angle after a poor communication between Eddie Robinson and Jimmy Conrad leads to a clear-cut chance for Pontus Wernbloom.
36th – The familiarity between Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan yet to pay dividends. I liked Bob Bradley’s decision to go with the attacking tandem of Twellman and Noonan up front. They are obviously familiar with each other from the New England Revolution but the pair haven’t been that dangerous, especially Noonan, who disappeared for vast stretches in the first half.
Much has been made recently about Twellman’s failed move to England. I don’t think Preston North End would be a good move for him, simply because I believe so much of his success is owed to the chemistry he has with his teammates, including Noonan. However, I completely understand the desire to test yourself overseas and just see how far you can take it. Despite the improvement in quality in the MLS, the stiffest challenges still lie overseas. Plus, you can make a heck of a lot more money.
Now the Swedes have control of the game and for the United States, halftime can’t come soon enough.
38th – The United States calmly passes the ball out of their own defense, rather than just blasting it upfield and losing possession. And there you see the value of Corrales – his composure on the ball, linking up with the midfielders, and the Americans actually had something positive in their opponents’ third before giving the ball away again.
44th – Another corner kick for the Swedes. The Americans have to be worried – Sweden has looked most dangerous on free kicks from Anders Svensson. And don’t look now, but Corrales has just conceded another…
Halftime – Solid first half for the United States, but certainly some things to work on. It will be important for them to show more discipline defensively and not give up free kicks in front of their own goal. The vast majority of Sweden’s chances in the first half came from set pieces. Defensively, the back line has been solid against a mediocre Swedish attacking front, especially Eddie Robinson and Jimmy Conrad in the air. When you play Sweden, you know there will be aerial battles and Robinson especially has held his own in the air. However, Conrad and Robinson haven’t communicated as much as they would like and there’s room to tighten up a bit in back.
Offensively, Brad Davis has been the revelation in the first half, both during the run of play and also from set pieces. The Yanks aren’t getting much from Twellman and Noonan yet, and Edu and Clark became transparent on the attack as Sweden took control in the latter stages of the first half. I would expect some new blood up front to start of the second half, perhaps Jozy Altidore. Donovan also needs to put his stamp on this game.
46th – Three changes at halftime for the United States. Altidore up front as I suspected, and two new central defenders, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst. Goodson, incidentally, just signed a contract with I.K. Start in Norway last week, making a total of four Scandinavian-based players in this national team camp.
47th – Penalty! On the replay, it’s easy to see Altidore’s jersey being held by the Swedish defender. The penalty is an easy decision for the Canadian referee. Donovan to take it, with history on the line…
48th – GOAL! United States 2, Sweden 0. He’s done it! Donovan with his 35th goal in USMNT history, coolly slotting the ball home.
58th – Corrales takes a swipe in the ankle from a Swede well after the ball rolls out to touch. Amazingly, the assistant referee, not eight yards away, completely misses it.
62nd – The energy has left the game, which has taken on a listless quality. Neither team is showing the ability to link up passes in midfield. The game’s rhythm has disappeared.
63rd – Chris Rolfe comes in for Noonan. With Rolfe and Altidore up front, plenty of speed and work rate for the Americans. Great asset for Bob Bradley to be able to call on both those players in a friendly, as the Swedish defense is likely tiring.
70th – Altidore does well to earn a free kick on the left side and once again, it’s Davis and his crafty left foot lining up over the ball. This time, the effort disappoints. Davis is subbed off and gets a hearty handshake from Bradley, who had to be impressed with his performance today.
76th – Finally the United States is starting to put some passes together in the midfield once again. This time, it’s the technically talented Sacha Klejstan in the middle of it all. However, the lack of continuity is the exception rather than the rule, which bodes poorly for Edu, who hasn’t done much to improve his chances. Clark, who isn’t known for his offense, has been his usual solid self in defensive midfield, going from line to line to disrupt the Swedish attack.
78th – Something here as Corrales leads the break for the United States, flanked by several white-shirted teammates. It’s a terrifying instant for the Swedish defense, who look like they could be overwhelmed by the rapidly advancing Americans. However, what could have been a goal is diffused by a poor touch by Rolfe.
79th – Altidore sets up Donovan beautifully, but is judged to be offside. I didn’t agree with the decision, but it’s good to see Altidore and Donovan showing a rapport – one should remember that Donvan is only 25 years old. Altidore and Donovan will be playing together for while yet.
81st – On comes Jeremiah White for Donovan. White’s compelling journey to this national team camp has been chronicled several times in the past two weeks.
86th – Looks as though the game will end 2-0. It will all be over soon, thankfully, as the game’s quality has taken a significant dive in the second half.
Full Time – In all, a good showing for the United States. Although it wasn’t the most exciting game to watch, Bradley can’t argue with the 2-0 scoreline.
The players who stood out on the day were Corrales, Davis, and Robinson. Robinson is buried behind Bocanegra, Conrad, Onyewu, and arguably Califf on the depth chart, but the other two can play meaningful roles in the upcoming CONCACAF qualifying campaign.
Edu disappointed, but with his obvious potential at his young age he can be forgiven if he didn’t shine on the day. Altidore impressed in the second half, drawing the penalty that became Donovan’s 35th for the Red, White, and Blue. Guzan in goal was solid, making four saves for his first shutout at the international level.
With only two weeks in camp under their belt, including some painful conditioning work, the Yanks can be forgiven for not turning in the most compelling performance. However, a victory is a victory, especially against solid European opposition. I’m already looking forward to the renewal of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry on February 6.
Andrew Winner is a freelance soccer writer based in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at: email@example.com