There was a sold-out crowd at Livestrong Park expecting to see the U.S. men’s national team flex its muscle and remind us that the Americans were still capable of winning the 2011 Gold Cup.
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The United States flashed some early promise when Jozy Altidore belted home a beautiful and emphatic goal, but the rest of the match was a study in frustration as horrendous finishing and disappointing performances from two unlikely candidates left the U.S. national team settling for an underwhelming 1-0 victory against a Guadeloupe side that never once held a lead in this Gold Cup.
There were individual bright spots, a surprising number in fact, but taken as a whole, scoring just one goal against a team the United States should have ripped to shreds was hard to pawn off as a confidence builder.
“We want to be better,” said Landon Donovan. “This is a game we should have won probably three or four zero, but the reality is we won. That’s all that matters at this point.
“We’ve got a few days of training to try and get better.”
“There’s gonna be nights when you’re not as sharp in the attacking third and in front of goal like you need to be,” Michael Bradley said.
“It’s still positive that we were able to create a great number of chances tonight. We’ll definitely take positives away from that.”
One player who struggled for positives from the match was Clint Dempsey. Normally the U.S. team’s best finisher, Dempsey looked little like the record-breaking goal-scorer for Fulham he was this past season, squandering chances he normally buries.
“Tonight I wasn’t good enough with my chances,” Dempsey said. “I just couldn’t buy a goal.
“In the ball played across from Bedoya, I should have hit it first time,” Dempsey said. “I thought no one was on me and I thought I could take two touches. A wrong decision on my part.”
Dempsey and Donovan both struggled to make the type of impact on the game normally expected of them, and with those two not quite on their game, and surprising starter Chris Wondolowski not providing much of a threat either, the U.S. offense wasted a night when the midfield and fullbacks actually moved the ball around very well.
That’s where the U.S. team can take away some bright spots. The team’s passing was as good as it’s been all tournament, though it can’t be overlooked that the passing success came against a Guadeloupe team that lost all three matches this tournament.
A much tougher test awaits on Sunday at RFK Stadium when the United States takes on unbeaten Jamaica in the quarterfinals. The ‘Reggae Boyz’ are playing good soccer, and creating chances with a fast and confident attack that should provide the toughest test the Americans have seen to date.
“I actually think that’s the kind of game we need now,” Howard said of the Jamaica quarterfinal match-up.
“We need a game where the pace is high, the tempo’s high, teams aren’t sitting in, they’re coming out looking to get us.
“I think you’re going to see some teams really try and get at us and I think that’s going to play in our favor.”
Whether it’s the challenge of a strong opponent, or simply the challenge to improve on a less than impressive group stage performance, the U.S. national team must do better if it will have any chance of winning this tournament, but as many were careful to point out, the real tournament begins this weekend in the knockout rounds.
“They don’t hand out the trophy after three games,” Michael Bradley said.
“So it’s important for us to keep improving with each game and know that the bigger games are still to come.”
If the United States is going to win those bigger games, it will need players like Dempsey and Donovan to recapture the form of tournaments past, and U.S. attacking players are going to have start taking advantage of scoring chances, which will become much tougher to come by as the competition gets tougher from here on out.
Tim Howard (7) Didn’t have much to do, but commanded his area and thwarted the few threats Guadeloupe could muster.
Carlos Bocanegra (7) Moved to centerback and provided some much-needed stability in the middle.
Clarence Goodson (6.5) Didn’t have much to do, but avoid any mistakes and was much sharper than in the Panama game.
Eric Lichaj (7) A very promising Gold Cup debut for Lichaj, who was effective getting forward and did well on all the threats that came his way on the left flank.
Steve Cherundolo (7.5) Back to the form he flashed in the opening win vs. Canada, Cherundolo was effective getting forward, and could have had a few assists if the U.S. attacking players could finish.
Michael Bradley (8) On a day when others weren’t providing much in the way of creative passing, Bradley delivered a boatload of quality passes, and covered a bunch of ground. A Man of the Match performance.
Jermaine Jones (7.5) Sat back and handled more of the defensive duties in midfield and he was a vacuum cleaner in the middle.
Landon Donovan (5) Another lackluster performance from Donovan makes you wonder if fatigue is playing a factor or if he’s carrying a knock of some kind. Lacked the pace and aggressiveness that makes him so dangerous when he’s on his game.
Clint Dempsey (4) Normally the U.S. team’s best finisher, Dempsey delivered a handful of shockingly bad misses. To his credit, he kept putting himself in good positions to score.
Jozy Altidore (7) Blasted home his 12th career national team goal and scored the goal that put the U.S. team at ease. Also drew a dangerous free kick that was close to a penalty, and played his best game of the tournament.
Chris Wondolowski (5) A surprising starter, he put himself in good spots, and moved well, but never could finish any of the plays off.
Alejandro Bedoya (7) Once again he came off the bench and provided instant energy. Came close to a goal and an assist in 26 minutes of action.
Sacha Kljestan (6) Like Bedoya, Kljestan was a good spark off the bench, and his passing was sharp.
Maurice Edu (NR) Was very good in possession during his five minutes of action.