Now this was better.
The difference between the U.S.’s 0-0 tie against Argentina and the two dreary losses in the past 10 days (to England and Spain) wasn’t just that the Yanks got a result in this one against the world’s top-ranked team.
The bigger change was this: the Americans went for it.
They went for it by going for broke and attacking during the 15 minutes they were down a man in the second half, not just pushing men behind the ball. They went for it by getting in the Argentines’ faces (see: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu) instead of playing in fear (word from the England camp was that some U.S. players’ hands were shaking during pre-game handshakes at Wembley last week).
And they went for it by putting a nearly full-strength Argentine team on its heels during parts of Sunday’s game, performing better than arch-rival Mexico had in a 4-1 beat-down to the Albicelestes on Wednesday.
Oh, the U.S. had its issues, not least its continued inability to score goals. Oguchi Onyewu hit the crossbar with a header, but that was the closest the Americans got. Eddie Johnson put himself in some threatening positions in the past three games, but his nerve and his first touch continue to fail him once he gets into the penalty box.
Here are five other things we learned from Sunday’s night’s game:
• Freddy Adu needs to start against Barbados. It says here that Adu should have started against Argentina after being the U.S.’s most dangerous player against both Spain and (to a lesser extent) England. But Adu played well again against the Argentines after coming on in the 65th minute, pushing the offense forward and drawing several fouls, including a couple when he had no business doing so in one-on-two situations. It may seem crazy to some folks, but if Bob Bradley is going to continue to play two holding midfielders, I'd start Adu in the central midfield with Donovan on the right, Beasley on the left and Dempsey up top (at least until Jozy Altidore is healthy again).
• Tim Howard is in dynamite form. The U.S. goalkeeper made some marvelous saves, especially in the first half when Julio Cruz got in on goal and should have put Argentina on top. Granted, Howard got away with a clear penalty when he clattered into Sergio Agüero in the box (somehow drawing no whistle from the thoroughly overmatched ref, Joel Aguilar Chicas of El Salvador), but Howard was otherwise in control all night. If he keeps this up, Howard will save the U.S. points in World Cup qualifying.
• Concacaf referees are still a disaster. The missed penalty on Howard was bad enough, but Chicas’ red card for Pablo Mastroeni raised the bar for incompetence by a Concacaf zebra. It’s still unclear why Chicas gave Mastroeni a second yellow card in the 71st minute after a play in which Mastroeni didn’t even play a part. But television replays indicated that the referee simply confused Mastroeni for Maurice Edu, the player who’d actually committed the foul (and been shown yellow by Chicas just seconds earlier). How anyone could confuse Mastroeni for Edu is beyond me, but leave it to the man from Concacaf to make it happen. Absolutely disgraceful. Somewhere Peter Prendergast chuckles.
• Oguchi Onyewu is Mr. Plus/Minus. The positives and negatives of Onyewu were on display in a five-minute stretch of the second half. In the 47th minute, Onyewu crashed his header into the crossbar off a corner kick by Donovan, the closest U.S. chance on the night. But five minutes later Onyewu pulled his once-a-game boner by ranging way too far upfield, allowing Argentina to send a ball over his head on the play that eventually should have been the penalty against Howard. It was clear, though, too, that Onyewu got into the head of his mark, Argentina’s Cruz, with his physical play. (Side note: Argentina has a ton of amazing players, but I’ve never been that impressed by Cruz; it’s the same way I always felt about Claudio López when he used to get a ton of time for the national team a few years ago.)
• DaMarcus Beasley’s knee remains a concern. I know he’s just coming back from a long injury lay-off, but the old Beasley would have turned on the jets to beat Nicolas Burdisso to a ball in the U.S. attacking third in minute 42. Yet this Beasley just didn’t have that burst of speed in him.
Through-balls: I can’t think of any U.S. player who has a bigger difference of responsibilities between his positions at club and country than Michael Bradley. Why don’t we ever see the guy who scored 19 club goals last season doing anything remotely similar in a U.S. jersey? ... The old guys can still contribute: Mastroeni was pretty solid in holding midfield before his ejection, and Eddie Lewis continues to show some life in those old legs ... The U.S. still lost possession too easily, especially in the first half, when guys were too quick just to boot the ball downfield to no one ... Was it just me, or was it hard to tell the difference between the colors of the jerseys the teams were wearing? Maybe it was just the result of having to watch in blurry low-def, but one of the teams should have been in dark jerseys ... The U.S. outside backs (Steve Cherundolo and Heath Pearce) were more dangerous getting upfield in the attack than they had been in the previous two games ... Lionel Messi had some dangerous moments during his 45 minutes, but the U.S. defense did an O.K. job keeping him in check ... Too bad Altidore's dinged ankle kept him from getting any time before the Giants Stadium faithful before he heads off to Spain ... Dempsey was slightly better than he was in a bad outing against Spain, but he still hasn’t had a stand-out game for the U.S. in quite a while.
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