The Americans remain winless this year in three games. Still, Coach Bob Bradley sees playing two games within four days as good preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup this June.
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”We really hadn’t had a good chance to be together with most of our core guys since the World Cup,” Bradley said Tuesday night after Oscar Cardozo’s 18th-minute goal gave Paraguay a 1-0 exhibition win.
”So this is important as far as refocusing ourselves, building on the things that we’ve done, but having an understanding now of what things need to be a little different … what’s going to stay the same, what’s going to be different. When you get together after a lot of months, just seeing form-wise where everybody is.”
Michael Bradley nearly tied it late in the match, shooting for the top left corner from outside the penalty area. But goalkeeper Justo Villar just deflected the ball with the fingertips of his right hand. Villar made another save, against Jermaine Jones, on the final play in second-half injury time.
Coach Bradley gave Juan Agudelo his first start with the national team after the 18-year-old from the New York Red Bulls scored in two of his first three international appearances, including Saturday night’s 1-1 draw with Argentina in New Jersey. Right back Timmy Chandler started, and goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Oguchi Onyewu didn’t dress. Goalkeeper David Yelldell made his national team debut, replacing Marcus Hahnemann to start the second half.
”This is a hard game for a forward,” Bob Bradley said of Agudelo’s start. ”This is where experience counts, and this is where you show what you’re all about, and so we’ll talk to him because this is where good forwards earn their money.”
It doesn’t get easier for the Americans, who play world champion Spain in their next match on June 4, their final prep for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Paraguay is getting ready for the Copa America in July.
Bradley called these two games important preparation.
”Everything has been to make sure that we’ve got a good sense of what it’s going to be like in May … with these guys coming out of club seasons coming into a camp and knowing that we have Spain, which is a big deal. But then three days later, we start the Gold Cup and understand the challenge,” Bradley said.
Clint Dempsey agreed that the Americans played well at times despite failing to score.
”The main objective is for the manager to see what his best lineup is going to be and what kind of squad he’s going to bring in for the Gold Cup, because that’s the most important thing, to make sure we do well in that competition,” Dempsey said.
The Americans had a definite home-crowd advantage with repeated chants of ”U-S-A!” at LP Field, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. The crowd of 29,059 set a record for a soccer game in the state of Tennessee.
The U.S. entered 2-1-2 against Paraguay, including three shutouts. But Paraguay reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup last year, and the Paraguayans have won two straight against the United States after also taking a 3-1 win at the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela.
The Americans had plenty of chances as they outshot Paraguay 13-5 but couldn’t find the net. Landon Donovan’s kick hit the outside of the left net in the 75th minute. Coach Bradley liked that they moved the ball around better than they did against Argentina, and Donovan said they had a few chances that might go in on another day.
”To be honest, I’m not disappointed with the effort, the willingness to pass and try to go forward and create things,” Donovan said. ”All that was good. … Our final pass wasn’t good, and give their goalie credit, he made a couple really good saves.”
Eric Lichaj entered in the 61st minute for Jozy Altidore, who scored three goals in his previous game on this field, against Trinidad and Tobago in a World Cup qualifier two years ago. Lichaj passed the ball to Dempsey in the 67th minute, but Dempsey shot high from about 9 yards.
”On the one that Lichaj put through, there was a slight deflection and I couldn’t get over it,” Dempsey said. ”So I’d like to have that one back.”
Then Paraguay nearly came back and made it 2-0, but Marcelo Estigarribia’s shot bounced off the right post.
Paraguay led 1-0 at halftime when the Americans failed to clear Hernan Perez’s corner kick. Cardozo, who plays for Benfica in Portugal, scored his fourth international goal, beating Hahnemann off a deflection by Victor Hugo Mareco.
After that, most of the play was on Paraguay’s side of the field, including two successive fouls on Dempsey outside the box that led to a yellow card for Enrique Vera. Jay DeMerit had a chance off a third free kick by Donovan late in the half, only to head the ball over the net on his final play before being replaced by captain Carlos Bocanegra.
Hahnemann, making his first start since Oct. 17, 2007 against Switzerland, had saves on two long shots late in the first half. The first deflected off his head, and he fielded the second by Enrique Vera cleanly.
NOTES: Chandler, who made his debut Saturday, made his first start on his 21st birthday. Fans serenaded him with a chorus of ”Happy Birthday” when he came out in the 80th minute, replaced by Jonathan Spector. … Bradley used all six subs, with only Mixx Diskerud not getting in.