Monday, June 09, 2008

U.S. Finishes Friendlies, on to WC Qualifying

Last night's exhibition against Argentina in front of a very enthusiastic crowd in the Meadowlands was the U.S. national team's best demonstration of soccer yet this year. Thanks to Tim Howard's incredible saves, vigorous and intelligent defense, and a willingness to attack Argentina, the U.S. came out of the game with a 0-0 tie against the number one soccer team in the world. But for a header from Onyechi Onyewu that glanced off the crossbar early in the second, the U.S. could've come out of the game with a win (though they were also saved by a non-call on Howard in the penalty box later that half.) Clearly Argentina was the better team, and they immediately began the game with the brand of sylish and quick-thinking attacking soccer that they are known for, repeatedly threatening the goal. They certainly would've gone up early and often but for Howard's world-class performance. But the second half was clearly a different story. Argentina's attacks would fizzle on uncharacteristic mistakes, and the U.S. would take advantage of quick counters to get shots on goal. There's no mistaking the difference in quality between the two teams, but the U.S. played exactly as they're supposed to play against a superior opponent; tireless defense, superior goal-keeping to cover up mistakes and opportunistic counters, and that nearly got them out of the game with a win. The last ten minutes of the game were marred by a bizarre red card against Pablo Mastroeni, and Argentina's captain was sent off in the 86th minute after a hard tackle, but the rest of the game was filled with exciting soccer. The play of Eddie Johnson up top still leaves much to be desired, and frankly I don't see how he hasn't played himself off of a starting spot on the squad. But others, like newbie Heath Pearce with his solid defense and his ability to get forward on the attack, and the gradual return to form by stalwards like DeMarcus Beasley, make it clear that this team should be more than capable of beating Barbados in World Cup qualifying next week. Overall, it looks like this team and it's new generation of younger players might just be the sort of thing that legitimate World Cup appearances are made of.

On a side note, Landon Donovan earned his 100th cap last night, the youngest American player to do so. And Kasey Keller, former U.S. goalkeeper extraordinaire (and in my opinion, one of the best goalkeepers in world soccer history) was honored before the game for his incredible achievements with the U.S. team throughout his long international career. Both players are representative of the best of American soccer, and one can only hope that their achievements presage greater achievement for the team as a whole in two years.

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