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Nothing ‘meaningless’ about U.S. defeat

May 26, 2010

SOCCER-WORLD/

USA 2 Czech Republic 4 was hardly a morale boosting result for American fans as their team prepares for the World Cup finals, which begin for the U.S against England on June 12.

Of course, as the ESPN commentators were at pains to point out, perhaps worried about viewers turning off from the team before the tournament has even begun, the squad on the field last night was missing key starters such as Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra (who instead was spotted chomping chicken wings in the stands) and Clint Dempsey. And as the ESPN crew also repeatedly reminded us, the result of games like these are “meaningless”.

But there is nothing meaningless about 90 minutes of football just over two weeks before the start of the World Cup. Sure, the result is secondary, but a lot of meaningful things can come out of games such as these. For starters, we learnt how good the U.S. back-up players are.

As an aside, I’ve never been a fan of friendly games of this nature, primarily because I think they cheat supporters who buy tickets expecting to see the national team play and end up forking out good money for a glorified training session. But I was surprised that U.S coach Bob Bradley fielded such a second string side given that, as I noted previously, he really needs to settle quickly on a starting line-up and get that team to gel. Does he really have time for experimentation?

Bradley cuts seven players from his 30 man squad today (13.20 ET on ESPN) and then he has a friendly against Turkey in Philadelphia on Saturday where he will surely field a first choice line-up. After that there is only the June 5 friendly against Australia in South Africa before the real business begins. In other words, 180 minutes before his defence comes up against Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

And what defence will it be? The heart of the U.S back-line throughout qualification was Oguchi Onyewu but after his performance on Tuesday, Bradley will surely be working on a formula that doesn’t feature the AC Milan centre-half. Onyewu was making his first appearance after seven months out recovering from a knee operation and frankly it showed. He was tentative and there are big questions arising from the way he didn’t jump when Tomas Sivok headed in to make it 1-1. When Onyewu left the field in the 65th minute he had a huge icepack swiftly attached to his knee. Everyone involved with the U.S team will be hoping the popular “Gooch” will be fit to face England but the evidence indicates he is a long way short of that target.

Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce were both tried out in the left-back position on Tuesday and – to put it mildly – neither impressed. That wouldn’t be a problem if first choice left-back Bocanegra was fit but it is not clear yet how well he has recovered from his hernia injury. DaMarcus Beasley, who had a good run out in midfield, can fill in at left-back if needed but one has to wonder what experienced campaigner Frankie Hejduk, not included even in the 30 man squad, makes of it all.

Clarence Goodson did OK at centre-back but it now looks more and more important that Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector come out on Saturday and give convincing performances at the back.

There was better news in midfield – as well as Beasley’s buzzing and Maurice Edu’s industry, Stuart Holden, who has spent most of the past three months injured, set up both U.S goals, showing his quality delivery from dead ball situations. A livewire presence on the right-flank, with the ability to whip in crosses from most positions, Holden has been the real find of the past year. The good news for England is that, at the moment, he is unlikely to start on June 12.

Up-front, neither Edson Buddle nor Eddie Johnson did enough to make a push for the final 23 man squad but ‘Supersub’ Herculez Gomez did, coming off the bench to score. There are plenty of obvious limitations about Gomez’s play which explain why he has spent most of his career as a journeyman, but there are two main reasons to take him to South Africa – his 10 goals in 14 games for Puebla in Mexico show his form (he just has that Toto Schillaci feel about him) and he is a player who somehow, just seems to make things happen as he buzzes with confidence.

And, after a rather rude wake-up call from the Czechs, the U.S. need all the positive vibes they can get.

PICTURE: Herculez Gomez (L) of the U.S. is congratulated by teammate Stuart Holden after Gomez scored against the Czech Republic in the second half of their international friendly soccer match in East Hartford, Connecticut May 25, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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