Grading the U.S.' performance
Let the hype machine begin.
The U.S. looked to be heading towards a drab stalemate against South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Challenge, but escaped with a 1-0 victory thanks to a several players making their international debuts. A slick combination between Juan Agudelo and Mikkel Diskerud five minutes from time ended with Agudelo hammering his shot in off the crossbar.
In some ways it was a fitting end to a match that in many instances saw the younger elements of the U.S. roster outplay their veteran teammates. And certainly in Agudelo's case, you can bet that the irrational exuberance that often accompanies the emergence of younger players will be cranked up to the fullest.
But let's be careful to keep Wednesday's match in perspective. It was the first of what will hopefully be many tests for the likes of Agudelo, Diskderud, Teal Bunbury, and Tim Ream. And at least for these players they passed their initial exam. Next up will be a January test against Chile, and the hunger that was evident on Wednesday will need to remain when the U.S. national team reconvenes in January.
Let's also not forget that the U.S. was outplayed for long stretches and owed the 0-0 half-time scoreline to the heroics of goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Clarence Goodson. Is it a time to dream as well? Sure, just so long as players like Agudelo and Diskerud don't become prisoners to such hopes.
Player ratings: (1-10)
Brad Guzan, 8 -- Helped the U.S. survive some early South African pressure by delivering two point-blank saves. His spot as Tim Howard's backup has never been more secure.
Jonathan Bornstein, 3.5 -- Looked every bit like a player who's been off for a few weeks. Seemed to be chasing the game as he struggled to contain Bernard Parker, and had far too many aimless passes up field.
Tim Ream, 6 -- Not a bad debut all things considered. In the first half, Ream was dominant in the air, but a bit suspect on the ground and in some of his decision making. The second half saw improvement in all areas, with his composure coming to the fore. All he needs is a bit more time at international level.
Clarence Goodson, 7.5 -- Showed off his veteran experience and helped calm the U.S. down during a difficult spell in the first half. It will be interesting to see if his role expands going forward.
Eric Lichaj, 6 -- Lichaj got forward well, but struggled to contain Tshabalala in the first half. The second half was better for the Aston Villa man and didn't shy away from some aggressive tackles despite being cautioned earlier.
Robbie Rogers, 6 -- An encouraging performance from a player who seems to have been on the fringes of the full team for ages. Had some early giveaways, but soon embarked on some aggressive runs. Also tested Khune with a bullet shot that was hit right at the South Africa goalkeeper.
Brian Carroll, 4 -- The Columbus midfielder struggled to play his way out of pressure for roughly the first 25 minutes, giving the ball away way far too often. Finally adjusted to the pace of the game and helped solidify things defensively.
Logan Pause, 4.5 -- Played an almost identical game to Carroll; slow start, better finish. Alejandro Bedoya, 6 Had success tucking inside and linking with players like Bunbury and Gaven. Remains an intriguing prospect going forward.
Alejandro Bedoya, 6 -- Had success tucking inside and linking with players like Bunbury and Gaven. Remains an intriguing prospect going forward.
Eddie Gaven, 5.5 -- Had some bright moments in the first half, but was among those who succumbed to South Africa's pressure early. Like many of his teammates had more success in the second half.
Robbie Findley, 3 -- Poor touches and terrible link play characterized his 45 minute stint. He's done little to warrant getting additional minutes.
Jonathan Spector, 4.5 -- Shored up the left side of the defense somewhat after the departure of Bornstein, but was sloppy with his passing.
Teal Bunbury, 6 -- His physical presence alone opened things up for the U.S., and his hold-up play allowed the Americans to finally sustain some attacks.
Juan Agudelo, 7 -- Was active, aggressive, and took his chance with the composure of a veteran. Biggest challenge over the next several months will be trying to manage the insane expectations that will result from this game.
Mikkel Diskerud, 7 -- His moment of brilliance helped set the table for Agudelo's authoritative finish, and also had some timely interventions on the defensive end. Would love to see what he could do over 90 minutes.
Nat Borchers, 6 -- Came in midway through the second half, but the U.S. suffered no drop off defensively. Was solid throughout.
Gale Agboussamonde, NR -- Pressed into service late, the youngster helped the Americans see out the victory.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.