The United States Men’s national team overcame a soft first half performance to battle out a 1-1 draw with a full strength Argentine side on Saturday. There were three really exciting things about the U.S. v Argentina match. The first was the red kits. They are brilliant, the fans were involved in the re-design of the kit and did not disappoint. They looked sharp and they carried the “indivisible” slogan on the sleeves, and the U.S. was just that on the night. The second was the play of Tim Howard in goal. He was brilliant yet again, and kept the match in reach in the first half. He had Messi and De Maria looking at him sideways a few times. His anticipation and reactions saved the blushes of a few players and kept the match in touch.
The most thrilling part of the match was the emergence of 18-year-old Juan Agudelo, who scored a scrappy equalizer early in the second half. He gave the U.S. more than just the goal though, he made great runs and was fantastic in combination play with his other teammates. He gives the team hope of having striking options. Jose Altidore is the first choice striker, the possible return of Charlie Davies and the emergence of Agudelo gives the team some potency up front going forward.
As for the game, it was the tale of two halves. The U.S. team opened very compact in the middle of the field in a 4-5-1 formation with Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu playing the center of a five man midfield that had Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the wings. Altidore was the lone front man and he struggled to hold on to the ball, he rarely had any support to help him out though. The full backs Jonathan Spector and Captain Carlos Bocanegra were targeted early on by the Argentinian side. Di Maria, Messi and Bonega had the run of the flanks. Poor challenges and lack of pace led to dangerous balls being placed into the box by Argentina. It took them until the 42nd minute to get the breakthrough. Messi had skinned Bradley a few minutes before and he got away from him again with his pace and then played a beautiful one-two with Di Maria that put him behind the defense. Spector made a poor diving challenge that Messi side-stepped, Bocanegra was the next victim as he was nutmegged by a pass from Messi. Howard made a great save that was spilled into a onrushing Estaban Cambiasso for the first score of the match. Heads for the U.S. team never dipped, but they were under pressure until the whistle blew mercifully for halftime.
Coach Bob Bradley made two substitutions after the break and went to a 4-4-2 to try and right the ship. He took off Jermaine Jones for Agudelo and Spector for the young right back Timothy Chandler. Their impact was immediate. No longer did Argentina have the run of the flanks, they were met with pace and forced into the middle where the defense collapsed on passing lanes and mazy runs by the lively Messi. Soon after the break, the U.S. team scored from a set piece. Donovan whipped in a ball from 20 yards inside the halfway line, Bocanegra headed it directly at the keeper, who made a good save but the rebound was pounced on by Agudelo for the equalizer. The stadium came to life and so did the team. No longer were they giving Argentina the space, they moved quickly to hamper and hurry the visitors. They started to hold up the ball and played neat combinations to open up dangerous counter attacks. They had a few attacks that lacked the final ball and cutting edge to deservedly take the lead. The had a few nervy moments at the back, as is expected with the quality that Argentina possess.In the end the draw was a fair result based on the two halves of play.
1-1 was a fair result that most Argentina fans will be disappointed by and most U.S. fans will be delighted by. Although there were a few performances by the U.S. team that were a bit worrying. Bradley was inept in midfield. His current lack of form and confidence has clearly affected his game. He was skinned by Messi and others on a regular basis, often being exposed as the soft underbelly of an otherwise hard defensive setup. I thought the removal of Jones and not Bradley would cost more goals. In the end, Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onweyu were stellar at the back and cleaned up for Bradley well. Spector is about to be overtaken in the setup. Cherundolo will keep his spot when fit, Chandler will be given every opportunity to win the backup role, and that could leave him out of the squad. His history of poor tackles and limited pace gives many teams a target to attack. West Ham has moved him to the middle of the park, the national team has too much talent their already, so I see him falling out of the setup.Bocanegra could be facing a similar fate. He is a rock and the captain of the squad, but his lack of pace is hurting the squad. He plays off the attackers to make up for it, but when you play good pass and move teams it opens up the rest of the defense. His saving grace is that there are no serious challengers to his position yet.
Altidore also looked a bit lost. His lack of games while on loan is showing in his game. He seems a bit off in his approach play, often running into two to three defenders instead of playing in those around him. He is playing with too much to prove and a lack of form, I hope he can find a club where he can get games and some resemblance of form. As stated before I do think that the strike force is growing in talent and that could take pressure off of Jose to perform.
The U.S. fan should be happy with the progress of this team. They are getting better tactically and they are growing technically. Players like Edu, Dempsey, Donovan, Agudelo, Davies and Chandler should push the squad forward. With the CONCACAF Gold Cup upcoming this summer, it looks like the U.S. team is getting stronger at just the right time. Mexico is also gaining strength, so this will be an interesting competition. But Mexico, please remember, Don’t Tread On Me!