If Tuesday night’s friendly against Paraguay was supposed to help U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley evaluate some of his better young prospects, then he had to come away feeling good about some blossoming talents. Unfortunately for Bradley and the national team, it was the play of some of his veterans that had to leave him feeling a bit disappointed.
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Facing a tough and resolute Paraguay side, the United States was unable to take advantage of scoring chances and an edge in possession as poor finishing and ineffective passing in the final third forced the Americans to settle for a 1-0 defeat against a South American opponent that posed a far different challenge than mighty Argentina did in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
The U.S. offense had much more of the ball, and circulated the ball in promising fashion for stretches, but far too often American build-ups were marred by poor shots, bad passes and good defensive plays by Paraguay (as well as a good number of cynical Paraguayan fouls).
It was pretty clear early on, that Paraguay came into the match determined to save some face after an embarrassing 3-1 loss to Mexico, which meant a very defensive approach, but even with an opponent content to defend and surrender possession, the United States still couldn’t solve its opponent.
On a night when the veterans would have been expected to carry the game, the U.S. team could do little with an opponent primed to be dismantled by an effective attack. On their best day, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan could have been expected to find the gaps and pounce on chances. On Tuesday night, Dempsey was active but effectively neutralized by Paraguay’s fouling and organized defending, while Donovan wasted set pieces and far too often deferred to teammates instead of going at the Paraguayan defense himself.
Donovan wasn’t the only veteran who failed to deliver on Tuesday. Jozy Altidore continued a slump that looks to be carrying over from the club level, where his goal-drought has to be testing his confidence. Jonathan Bornstein endured another forgettable night at left back while Maurice Edu had an uncharacteristically shaky night in central midfield.
As disappointing as the defeat, and some performances by veterans were, there were plenty of positives for the United States to take away from the match. Timmy Chandler was once again dynamic at right back, with his speed and aggressive attacking mentality putting pressure on Paraguay’s left flank.
Tim Ream was another revelation, earning his first start with the first team and making a smooth transition with a more talented group. Save for a shaky moment that helped lead to Paraguay’s goal, Ream impressed throughout the evening with his pin-point passing and steady positioning. Given Oguchi Onyewu’s struggles and the advancing age of the likes of Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra, Ream is looking more and more like a long-term solution at centerback for the national team.
The headline heading into the night’s game was the fact that the Paraguay match was Juan Agudelo’s first national team start. He wasn’t able to score his third goal in four national team matches, but he continued to show energy and confidence that makes you feel like he’s a good bet to start in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
Not all of the U.S. team’s veterans disappointed. Michael Bradley was a force in central midfield, re-asserting himself as the top central midfielder on the squad after putting together two strong performances this week while both Edu and Jermaine Jones struggled. His lack of playing time at Aston Villa didn’t effect his form. If anything, it made him take on this week’s friendlies as a chance to prove that he’s still the player who impressed at last summer’s World Cup.
Unfortunately for the United States, not enough of its World Cup stars stepped up on Tuesday night. Bob Bradley isn’t likely to worry about players like Dempsey and Donovan, who have made careers of stepping up when games matter the most, but for one night he and the national team had much more to be happy about with its youngsters than its veterans.
USA Player Ratings:
Marcus Hahnemann (5.5): Made a pair of quality saves and wasn’t to blame for the goal. A solid veteran, he remains a good option behind Tim Howard.
Timmy Chandler (7): Dynamic, fast and fearless, Chandler’s second national team appearance was just as promising as his first. His speed and crossing were impressive, and he showed versatility by playing well as a right winger. His stock keeps rising and he’s making a good case to get on the field this summer.
Tim Ream (6.5): His sharp passing out of the back gave the U.S. attack an added element, and his poise playing with the first team helped boost his chances of not only making this summer’s Gold Cup squad, but potentially challenging for a starting role. Could have done better on the goal, which keeps him from a seven.
Jay DeMerit (5.5): The veteran centerback has positioned himself as a viable option for Bob Bradley despite the fact he hadn’t played much in the past nine months. DeMerit turns 32 next month, but he looked solid yet again before coming off with a groin injury.
Jonathan Bornstein (4): Another forgettable performance from a left back who has struggled to repeat his promising World Cup efforts. His lack of playing time with Mexican club Tigres was evident as he mis-hit passes and looked clumsy defensively. It’s time for Bob Bradley to look at other options.
Landon Donovan (4.5): He moved well at times, and seemed to have more freedom to operate, but failed to do anything with it. His set pieces were forgettable and while he moved the ball well in the middle third, he wasn’t a threat in the final third.
Clint Dempsey (6): The most consistent threat for the Americans aside from Chandler, Dempsey spent much of the night being fouled by a cynical Paraguayan defense, Dempsey was very active and consistently put himself into position to threaten. He couldn’t break through Paraguay’s defense though, but at times he looked like the most likely American to do so.
Michael Bradley (7): For the second straight match, Bradley was the United States’ best central midfielder. He moved the ball well, worked out of pressure and came within an outstanding save of delivering the equalizer late. Any questions about whether he should start were put to rest yet again.
Maurice Edu (4.5): A forgettable night for Edu, who struggled with Paraguay’s defensive pressure in midfield. Uncharacteristic turnovers came in abundance and Edu left at halftime.
Jozy Altidore (4.5): Drew some fouls with his physical presence, but was largely invisible on a night when other attackers did well to get into the action. Paraguay’s big defense was well-suited to deal with Altidore’s strength, but he failed to connect well with Agudelo, Donovan and Dempsey.
Juan Agudelo (6): No goals or penalties drawn but Agudelo was certainly active. He faced his first truly tough defensive-minded opponent and found the going tougher than in past games. Right now he’s the most dynamic forward in the national team pool and while Tuesday marked his first national team start, it may be a while before he comes out of the lineup.
Carlos Bocanegra (6): Veteran came on and provided stability in the back. Remains a good centerback option despite being more needed at left-back.
Jermaine Jones (4.5): Some tough tackles, but also some bad turnovers during his 45 minutes. He had a chance for a last-ditch equalizer but hit it right at the ‘keeper.
David Yelldell (5): A big goalkeeper, he looked strong and confident in the air. Should stay on the radar in a thinner-than-usual pool of American goalkeepers.
Eric Lichaj (5.5): Showed good pace and attacking quality getting forward, but has fallen behind Chandler in the right-back pecking order.
Sacha Kljestan (5.5): Made some smart passes and looked sharp enough to make you think he should stay on the radar.
Jonathan Spector (NR): Played just ten minutes in midfield and didn’t get too involved.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.