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Let's just say we all owe Jonathan Bornstein a beer. Had the much-maligned left back not scored that dramatic equalizing header in extra time Wednesday night, the U.S. would be staring at an extremely depressing home loss to Costa Rica.
The game was meaningless from a competitive standpoint, save for the "Hexagonal champion" bragging rights at stake (and the emotions involved, as Grant Wahl writes). But that performance, combined with the other plot twists, would have been a real downer on which to wrap up the Hexagonal. The dazed U.S. played a dreadful first half. Defenders didn't make that extra effort to stop Costa Rica's attackers, and it was breakdowns in the center of the back line that led to Bryan Ruiz's pair of goals that staked los Ticos to a two-goal lead.
To make matters worse, Oguchi Onyewu is out for three to four months with a torn patellar tendon, Charlie Davies is still in a hospital and the U.S. looked extremely rattled and vulnerable. Keeper Tim Howard was screaming his head off all game for a reason, and Bob Bradley's scowl as he walked off the field at halftime was no joke.
But enough of the negatives. With the World Cup already booked, the Americans battled back again and grabbed a point in an incredible show of courage and fight. They deserve all the credit in the world for their fifth comeback result of the Hexagonal, especially after going down to 10 men and playing with heavy hearts.
As is our task here, we'll take stock of the bubble players on the team in a game where, disturbingly, it was mostly the regulars who looked shaky. Qualifying is done, but there will be plenty of friendlies in which Bradley can evaluate and call in more players (and, sadly, fill in for the inevitable injury or two). Consider: In the U.S.' clinching qualifier in the last World Cup cycle, only 12 of the 18 players on that team were on the 23-man roster at Germany 2006. In the previous cycle, 13 of them were in the 23 at Japan/South Korea '02. You get the idea. In any case, let's start the South Africa 2010 hype machine now.
Bornstein. After some early mistakes, Jonny B settled down and turned in if not one of his better performances in a national-team jersey, certainly his most memorable since shutting down Mexico's Jared Borgetti nearly three years ago. The 24-year-old did a solid job on Costa Rica winger Pablo Herrera (especially on that ballsy hit-and-run steal in the 56th minute), made a handful of smart clearances and pushed forward in the attack often. And what more is there to say about that goal? Bornstein's performances haven't always been pretty or consistent, but Bradley has stuck by the kid he groomed himself when he coached Chivas USA. On Wednesday night, Bornstein showed the faith in him was well deserved.
Looking to take off
Robbie Rogers and José Francisco Torres. These were the two subs I most wanted to see and they were both a big factor in the Americans' change in energy and attitude late in the second half. Rogers was a threat down the right flank every touch, and Torres' calmness as he moved the ball upfield was impressive. These kids gave a big effort out there and earned closer looks.
Conor Casey. It's hard to ask Casey to give an encore of his two-goal performance in Honduras on Saturday, so it's not a surprise the target man didn't shine. But he didn't show the pretty first-touch adeptness of that game either, and squandered two good chances. He did, however, put himself in good positions (just ask Landon Donovan, who knew he should have passed it to Casey on his 37th-minute miss), moved well off the ball and got back well on defense.
Stuart Holden. Let's not forget this was only the Houston Dynamo youngster's second start with the "A" team, so it wasn't that surprising he wasn't able to duplicate the lightning in a bottle that made his recent play as a sub so exciting. But Holden didn't do much to cheer about, either. He had some decent crosses, but his play didn't stand out. Ironically, when he was taken out in the 69th minute, it was his replacement -- Rogers -- who put in the Holden-like late-game effort.
Need to diversify
Center backs. With Onyewu out, Jay DeMerit, Chad Marshall and Jimmy Conrad all could get playing time in upcoming friendies. Objectively, that isn't a bad thing since the back line needs the help. It's a bigger problem, though, when you consider that Gooch and Carlos Bocanegra still need more time to work on their communication together.
American strikers. I can't express how saddened I am about Davies. He's one of my favorite interviews on the team, a great kid and has a promising future. For now, I'm simply hoping he'll be able to walk on his own. Replacing his speed and touch in the front is another matter. None of Bradley's other current options at forward -- Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Casey, Kenny Cooper -- has Davies' wheels (though Donovan or Clint Dempsey are possibilities up top). At this point, Jeff Cunningham or even Freddy Adu or Robbie Findley should stick close to their phones.
Over to you. Did you love seeing Torres and Rogers get their chances? Wishing they had more minutes? Scared stiff about the defensive situation, especially on those Ruiz goals? Who should get the call to fill in for Davies?