A hat-trick for Adu, a brace for Szetela, a tap-in for Altidore, and suddenly things are looking much rosier for the Baby Nats then they were after opening Group D play with a draw against the Koreans. The 6-1 thrashing of previous group leaders Poland puts the US atop the group and makes qualification for the knockout stages seem a much more distinct possibility than it was before the kickoff in Montreal. A win or draw against Brazil on Friday will see them through. Even a loss could result in advancing in second place (should Poland and Korea draw or Korea win but not make up the goal differential amassed by the US) or even as a "lucky loser" third, since 4 of the 6 third-placed finishers will advance as well.
So what changed? For one thing, Poland are no South Korea. They didn't possess anywhere near the stamina or quickness of the Asian side and that gave the US time and space in which to play their patient passing game, probing for holes and then exploiting them ruthlessly when they started to appear late in the first half. The only change to the lineup was the insertion of Anthony Wallace for Tim Ward at left back. While Wallace did have a nice assist on a Szetela goal, his real contribution was to play simple and not make mistakes. It also seemed that Rongen had his fullbacks play more conservatively in this match, which both stymied the Polish counter and allowed Zizzo and Rogers the space and freedom to really run at the Polish defense on the wings.
Zizzo in particular was running riot and his weaving runs set up Adu's first two goals (though that first took a lot of individual brilliance from Freddy). If he's got his Italian passport lined up, I think that Zizzo may take the Hill/Feilhaber road directly from UCLA to Europe. Szetela and Adu also did well for themselves in the big shop window and Freddy in particular might start getting back some of the attention that has dried up of late from across the pond. Consensus seems to be that Szetela is on his way out with a host of European clubs prowling about, but he may have just upped his price tag a bit. Altidore also looked threatening, with the Polish keeper denying him on multiple occasions before he finally found the net, and Sturgis showed the touch and poise on the ball that have made him a such a highly touted prospect.
Is one game enough to send some of these guys across the Atlantic? Probably not, but if they continue to impress, the offers will surely come in. But is that a good thing? Maybe yes, maybe no. Szetela and Adu seem pretty much stagnant in MLS right now and could probably benefit from a move, but it sure would be nice to have the likes of Altidore, Zizzo, and Sturgis boosting the quality of young American players in MLS for a least a few years before they jet off to roll in piles of crinkly Euros. Maybe that's a bit selfish, but I don't want to see MLS become a league of journeyman American hacks, foreign stars, and past-it national teamers. The league is young and vibrant, and youthful American talent is vital to both maintain that image and to grow the reputation, quality, and depth of talent playing in the league.