In the spirit of the season, Bob Bradley pulled the tactical equivalent of lighting a sack of dog crap on fire and leaving it in the center circle. 4-1-4-1 with three holding mids, and the midfield four all in a line? The only thing that could possibly save such a pile of...well, flaming dog poop, would have been overlapping fullbacks. Hello? Jonny Spector? No-'stache, hairband Pearce? Anybody? I didn't see either of them forward of the halfway stripe on more than three occasions. Gooch may have been in an advanced position more often. The result? A predictably isolated Altidore. Loads of meaningless possession (save when giveaways turned into chances for the opposition). And one, count it, one "shot" in the first half: Onyewu, falling down, heading well wide from a set piece. Yuck.
Even in the second stanza, when Bob went 4-4-2 and loosened the reins a bit, allowing the game became more open and exciting, real chances were few and far between, generally coming from the usual US route to goal: set pieces. Still, with Dempsey willing to take on defenders, Altidore with bodies around him for flicks and quick touches, the fullbacks getting forward, and the central midfield cycling possession more quickly and changing the point of attack more often, there was certainly more entertainment to be found after the break than watching a sack of crap burn in the center circle.
Player-by-Player? Thought you'd never ask.
Guzan - Really only called on once, and he did the business. Little more you can ask of your #2. Still wish Villa would let him go out on loan to get some serious playing time.
Spector - Find a club, play regular minutes, find your form, then come back to the fold. Simply awful. Nothing going forward. Multiple giveaways. Scrambling defensively. Ugh.
Onyewu - Better than against Poland, but then he wasn't really tested much, was he?
Goodson - Again, not tested terribly often, but usually answered when called upon. I'd pencil him in firmly as part of the "core" group going into qualifying. Cut out a fair number of passes, wasn't wasteful with the ball, starting to absorb the local flavor at his club and look like a viking. Thumbs up.
Pearce - Tale of two halves. Didn't do much wrong in the first half besides not get forward much, and that looked to have been on Bob's orders. Even had me cautiously optimistic after cutting out a few dangerous moments. But the second half? Can you drop any farther off an attacker and still be on the field? Gave the ball away multiple times through dalliance and poor passing. Did combine well at times with Dempsey, but still isn't the answer to permanently fill the gaping left back void. Best of a bad lot?
Edu - Terrible. You would have thought restoring him to his proper position would have allowed him to play with more confidence. Nope. Gave the ball away with assorted terrible balls. Wasn't quick enough to switch play. With him out of the equation in the second half, the ball cycled from side to side and back to front with much more rapidity and precision.
Bradley - Along with Dempsey, looked a class above the rest of our players. Still a bit wasteful and casual with his passing, but drove the team forward, particularly in the second half.
Jones - One or two passes made you forget that he otherwise looked like an exotic Rico Clark. Foolish tackles, often slow and indecisive on the ball (though that got much, much better in the second half). He's still finding his way, and I'll hold out hope. I like when he plays deep, surveys the field in front of him, and distributes.
Holden - Had little to do in the first half, but came more into the game in the second when he had targets to pick out ahead of him and drifted into the middle, looking to play clever little balls. Also benefited from having an overlapping fullback. I thought he was just starting to find the game when Bob yanked him for Feilhaber.
Shea - Not quite ready. Thinking was about a half-step behind the game and he looked tentative. Still worth a couple of starts in the January camp to bring him along for his undoubted potential.
Altidore - Isolated and frustrated in the first, not just by a lack of service, but by a ref who clearly wasn't going to give him a call unless somebody shot him. Better in the second with a partner and more of the ball. Started to become a handful for the Colombia backs. Still, he had that chance from the Lichaj cross, but headed right at the keeper. That has to be better for a top-class striker. Lack of PT?
Parkhurst - Smart. Always cutting out the angles, connecting the passes. It's just a shame he's not either taller or stronger.
Lichaj - Looked good. Much more confident than Shea, the other debutant. Early promise was tempered somewhat by a couple of late giveaways that lead to breaks, but I liked what I saw: a proper attacking fullback, comfortable on the ball, able to cross (Holy crap! A US fullback that can cross? Am I dreaming?). Questionable positionally at times, but I'd like to see more please.
Feilhaber - Meh. I think we lost some impetus by bringing him on in place of Holden. Generally tidy, but a bit too static for my liking. Didn't do as much prompting as the rest of midfield. Hell, Parkhurst probably played more balls into dangerous positions.
Dempsey - Certainly looked a class above at times. Slick on the ball, combined well with others. Confident and willing to take on defenders. If I have one complaint, it's that he dropped a bit too deep as the second half wore on. Would have liked to see some attempts on goal.
Johnson - Not abominable, but not great either. Defining moment? Isolated against 34 year old Mario Yepes near the edge of the box and elects to pass backward. Really? Ugh. Go back to England.
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To be completely fair, Colombia rarely sent more than 3-4 attackers forward, and they generally sat deep, frustrating any counter opportunities and making it hard to play through them. They played a smart game against better opposition and had their chances to steal something. That said, a more ambitious approach from Bradley in the first half may have applied the pressure that forced Colombia to come out of their shell more.
As a tactical experiment, I think we can call the first half a failure, but we did learn some things about the player pool. I'd take Lichaj over Spector if I had to make call ups tomorrow. Likewise, I'd leave Shea and Johnson home, but definitely pencil in Goodson and think long and hard about Parkhurst, particularly if he can play on the flank. With Donovan in the mix and Jones learning his teammates and the system, the midfield is strong. The problem, as it's been for a while now, is the lack of goal threat from the forwards and the sorry, sorry state of our fullbacks.