A win is a win, right? The US went into the Guatemalan cauldron, never the most happy of hunting grounds for US Soccer, and emerged with an important 1-0 victory courtesy of Bocanegra's noggin. Time to break out the bubbly and wave the flag . . . or is it? Cue the talking points . . . !
* The second note that appears in the text file I was using to keep track of my thoughts on the game is, "Ugh, this is going to be brutal (as usual)," probably in response to one of Pando Ramirez' flying challenges (the third note is, "Pando is going to hurt somebody") or Ruiz' scything elbows. And it certainly got there, no thanks to the standard-issue vagaries of CONCACAF officiating, the ultimate expression of frustration and aggression coming in the near decapitation of Eddie Lewis. This game had all the hallmarks of Roman legions facing down screaming hordes of spiky-haired, naked Celts. Technically superior and disciplined, those Romans, but naked aggression and the home-field advantage are powerful tools.
* So what's the deal with "experience"? Bradley's roster selection was veteran-heavy, probably a decent precaution given the likely conditions, but he still managed to squeeze his kid into another 90 ineffective minutes on the field. For my money, Baby Bradley was a big disappointment. He didn't seem to be thinking as quickly as the game was occurring, his turnovers and passing were abysmal, and his marking nearly cost us on a corner that Ramirez flicked on for what should have been the equalizer. My notes are littered with "What the hell, Mike?" and "Faster, goddamn it! Faster!" Yet it was one of those self-same veterans, Steve Cherundolo, a man with multiple World Cups and years at the top level in Germany, who nearly cost us with two stupid yellows. The first was probably questionable, given that Ruiz somehow managed to avoid cards despite flying elbows and boots left in too long, but the second was beyond stupid. He had to know he was carrying yellow, so why does he go and grab the dude's ankle? It wasn't like the guy was clean through on goal? Fortunately, (1) the Guatemalans leveled it at ten fairly quickly when the emotion of the occasion probably caused that absolutely mad collision, and (2) the ref wasn't afraid to be unpopular with the white-and-blue hordes.
* Boca earned the armband. He made some key interceptions at the back and buried the winner when it fell to him. You can't ask for much more than that, can you? Well . . . how about a little work on the distribution, Carlos? That too much to ask? And God help us if we're going to be relying on set pieces to get the goals in this qualifying cycle. We need some dynamism and creativity in there. That means a little youth infusion, so here's hoping the kids get the call in some of these matches that matter, cause I don't know about you, but I'm not going to go wild with joy if Hejduk, Mastroeni, and Ching are on the 2010 squad.
* Pearce was getting owned all night. Combine that with Dolo's terrible cards and sending off, and the state of US Fullbackery is once again called into question. We're pretty settled with Boca-Gooch in the center, and I still don't see anybody challenging Dolo at right back, but what are we going to do about the left? Pearce has potential (though that potential probably maxes out at "competent"), but he needs regular playing time with his club. And I really wouldn't mind seeing an alternative, but where to look? Fire up the torches and sound the alarums, the Fullback Watch is back on!
* Tim Howard is freakin' fantastic. England has served him well when it comes to taking crosses, but his handling and reactions were first rate as well, and he made great decisions to cut out little breaks and through balls. Too bad the Fish had to kick him in the face (enjoy the frozen white north and good riddance!), but we owe the man between the sticks, as we have so many times before. The names on the back of the jersey may change, but the quality in net remains consistent.
So we're off to a flyer in qualifying. Away to Guatemala was doubtless the toughest fixture we face in this round. With those three points behind us, we can focus on finding the best set of players that are going to get the job done in the Hexagonal. Blood the kids, settle on a system, and start banging them in the net. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective, though I'm expecting a bit more this time around than "effective", and I'm still not convinced that Bradley is the man that will make that happen. I'd much prefer him as an assistant to someone with more tactical ideas and international experience.