Guatemala game a mixed bag

June, 8, 2007
Those of you who remember watching the U.S.' dour scoreless draw against Guatemala at the end of March were probably fearful that we would see a repeat performance from both teams Thursday. From my perspective, I was curious to see if Bob Bradley would be able to devise a new plan of attack to break down what would surely be yet another strong defensive effort from the Guatemalans. Here's what I took away from the U.S.' 1-0 victory:

1. Bradley must have been happy after a first half which saw the U.S. carve open the Guatemala defense several times with a neat combination of creative, incisive passing and swift ball movement, with a level of creativity not seen in the March meeting. On the downside, after going a goal down, Guatemala came out in the second half with a different attacking mindset and caused the U.S. problems with a very physical approach, especially in midfield. One wonders if the U.S. might ultimately be better off reinserting Ricardo Clark or Pablo Mastroeni (once his suspension ends) back into the middle to pair with either Benny Feilhaber or Michael Bradley -- in order to add a combative physical element. Both Feilhaber and Bradley play with good technical skill, composure and a two-way presence, but both seemed to struggle to assert their authority in the second half in the face of heavy tackling from the Guatemalans. I'd give Feilhaber the edge over Bradley at present in the pecking order.

2. Given his back-to-back hat tricks, it was a surprise to see red-hot Eddie Johnson start the game on the bench. Having said that, after witnessing Johnson's rather timid performance after coming on as a sub, it seems that Taylor Twellman was the right choice after all (doesn't hurt that he had the assist on the U.S. goal). Johnson might have shed his underachiever tag in MLS this season, but he has yet to put in a convincing performance for the Nats in quite some time. I'm starting to think Johnson is the soccer equivalent of a NBA player who excels in a fast break offense where he can just run the floor for transition layups and dunks, but struggles in the playoffs against defenses that pack the zone and forces him into half-court sets. By that I mean, Johnson looks great when he's given lots of room to run through onto the end of through balls, but whenever the opposition puts men behind the ball or forces him to play with his back to the goal, he looks completely ineffective.

3. Landon Donovan on the right wing. An interesting experiment by Bradley since Donovan has played there for the Galaxy in the past and rarely excelled in that spot. Having said that, I've always felt that if he improved his crossing, Donovan would make an excellent right midfielder or right wing. However, until the U.S. develops a true No. 10 or superior offensive creative force, it doesn't make much sense to play him out there. The other thing that continues to surprise me is why the U.S. continues to let Donovan take all the corners and free kicks. My thinking is this -- while Donovan is a decent crosser, he's hardly Beckham-esque in that regard and his delivery could probably be easily replicated by one of the others on the team. Given that he's one of the best finishers for the U.S., it makes far more sense for him to be hovering in the box to latch onto any potential half chances than taking those set pieces himself.

4. It's time to start Jay DeMerit over Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu's confidence right now is probably at an all-time low after a poor spell at Newcastle, and he was shaky against Guatemala tonight even before he got sent off. You could argue that the first yellow card he received was harsh but the second was boneheaded, a needless body check on a ball that teammate Carlos Bocanegra was probably going to reach first anyway. At some point, Onyewu needs to start curbing his tendency to foul so much in the final third.

5. In sum, a mixed bag with an impressive first half negated by a dire second half which was pretty poor from the U.S.' standpoint. Granted, the referee was incredibly lax with his definition of what constituted a foul, but it was surprising to see the U.S.' composure wilt to the extent that it did against Guatemala's hard knocks approach.

In any case, I'll be off on vacation starting tomorrow, so I'll check back in after a week or so. Take it easy.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to in 2005.


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