Back on track, but just barely. Once again, putzing around with the ball in the wrong part of the park got us punished early. But the response, so sorely lacking in Costa Rica, was exactly what was required this time around. Sure there were questionable calls, but those are par for the course in CONCACAF. And sure we weren't nearly as comfortable closing the match out as we might have been, but the result was the one we needed (and the one I predicted, lest you doubt the terrible powers of my Nostradameter! ;-). How about we hit some talking points..?
* 1-1 at the half wasn't bad considering we were effectively playing a half-man down for the first 45. Mastroeni was useless. A step slow defensively, and it seemed like two since he mentally out to lunch as well. True, Dempsey gave up that soft ball for their goal, but Mastro was chasing the play, and gaining no ground on the man with the ball while seeming to jog in pursuit. And in possession? Please. Every time he picked his head up, he saw something he didn't like, and turned to pass back. True, Clark was probably a bit wasteful with a lot of his passes, but at least he was trying to go forward. Feilhaber's introduction was the no-brainer that Bob managed to get right this time.
* Speaking of Feilhaber. I wasn't convinced that he was recovered enough to make a difference, but I'll hold my hand up as being completely wrong. The introduction of a player able to keep the ball in heavy traffic, cover a decent patch of grass, and pick the passes that kept possession flowing was key to the second half performance. Not having a creative force in the middle in the first half meant we were much more direct and reliant on the counter and balls to the wings. Heck, not having a mobile presence to complement Clark meant the center of midfield was static going both ways. And while we're on successful repair jobs...
* Fullback fix! Both Spector and Bornstein had their gaffes, but they were roughly 800 times better than the mess in Costa Rica. Neither gave up much defensively, both contributed to the attack, and you can color me a little shocked at how well Bornstein held his own defensively, particularly in the air. I was worried after he leveled that early elbow, but he settled very well. I was also impressed with how hard he continued to work when the cramping got to him and he had to be pushed high since Bob was out of subs. Question: Can one performance make the left back spot yours to lose? Answer: With competition like Pearce and Beasley, you betcha!
* Every defender in CONCACAF has figured out that Donovan has one move--hit it past you and try to beat you with speed. While that didn't do much for him in the first half, his stamina was remarkable and he was blowing past defenders in the second. Despite that, I'm not convinced that he should be in midfield from the start. I think I'd prefer that he start up top to use his speed to get on the end of balls, where he won't need to beat anybody but the keeper. We've got enough potential providers in midfield that his vision doesn't demand his presence there. That said, he took a pressure-filled PK with aplomb and worked his ass off in this match, and I think it's a reasonable move to start him high, and pull him back onto the wings as the game progresses and his direct running isn't so easy to defend. While I'm on the Saprissa MIA's, I'll also pass out a merit certificate to Dempsey, who also worked hard, and though his long blasts over the bar and give-away for their goal hurt, he got his noggin on the corner to get the assist on the winner. The midweek letdowns from these two demanded a response, and we got one.
* Value the ball! There were some stretches there where we were keeping good possession, but down the stretch I was throwing my hands up at a rate of about once per minute as we hit ill advised passes, lumped the ball long, or were generally careless. A handful contributed to the problem, but there was one primary culprit...
* Message to Bob. Beasley sits until he's playing regularly again. If Bob had any hair, he'd surely have pulled it all out by the end given how many times Beasley lost possession cheaply. Hell, he even took a free kick, and not a long one, that drifted out of bounds after a few yards. Also, somebody must have been watching the tape from Costa Rica, because as soon as Bornstein pulled up lame and Beasley went to left back, Honduras pretty much paved a highway down that flank, so much so that we were dropping Clark into the gap between DeMerit and Beasley to cover the later.
* Way to go USSF! Lots of blue and white in the stands...but not so much red. I'm sure the gates were nice, but it might be nicer to have the team get some home field advantage instead of playing to houses packed by the opposition. Maybe it means we don't play in giant stadiums, but surely the team's success is worth that? Ah, who the hell am I kidding? Competence from USSF HQ?
* A final thought for Bocanegra. Here's hoping that hammy heals up, cause we're going to need him for the Confed Cup if we expect to do anything there. His winner was pretty much the definition of a "Captain's Goal," throwing his entire body into the diving header that won the game.
Ah, bueno! As I write this, the whistle just blew on another defeat for El Tri, this time in El Salvador. Of course, it means they'll be desperate when we visit Azteca in our next qualifier. Even assuming they thump T&T at home on Wednesday, they'll still be five points back of us and in a dogfight for the third automatic bid. That could play to our advantage if they're overly keyed up for the game. Still, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let's savor being back in the win column and six points clear of the play-in spot (4th place). The qualification picture looks a whole lot rosier than it did this morning...
...ah damn. I still can't shake this feeling, as much as I want to just enjoy this win, that Bob isn't the answer. He'll probably get us to South Africa, it's just that I don't think we'll do much when we get there. I suppose the Confederations Cup will give us a better idea, not just about the players, but about Bob as well. But there's still this niggling feeling I just can't shake that 2010 will be 2006 all over again.
So much for the afterglow.